The Healing Power of Sexual Liberty
We’ve just returned from 5 days at Temptations, Cancun, an adults-only topless-optional resort. It was a great trip, equal parts fun and relaxing and it took me a bit further down the healing path that began for me five years ago when James and I opened up our relationship.
Conventional wisdom is that society has rules for a reason. They are in our best interests as individuals and as a group. In my opinion, this isn’t true at all — at least not as relates to rules and mores that do not actually impact anyone else. In other words, policing of morality amongst consenting adults is not beneficial, and is in fact, in many cases, harmful. It wasn’t until I began flouting these traditional mores that I understood fully how harmful they had been in my own life, not because they were in and of themselves wrong, but because they had been imposed upon me rather than chosen by me.
I’ve written some already about how the sex-positive, body-positive, affirmative consent oriented “lifestyle” club that we used to go to helped me heal in so many ways. It’s where I first began to understand what it was like to fully own my own body and to be in complete possession of my sexual self. Most women grow up being socialized to believe that their sexuality is for male enjoyment and consumption and I was no different.
Through media representations and direct experience, both women and girls learn their appearance is social currency and begin to take the male gazer’s perspective (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997). The process of habitual body monitoring, wherein women monitor their bodies as they believe outside observers do is called self-objectification. Over time, as women place more attention on their appearance, they began to internalize this observer view of their bodies as a primary way to think about themselves and end up placing greater value on how they look than how they feel.
Getting to spend time in a venue where that was explicitly not the case gave me self-confidence in new ways. It’s the hallmark of such clubs that consent is taken very seriously and that women are largely in charge of what goes on there. This means that women are safe to embody their full sexual selves without worry of being harassed, stalked, leered at, groped, or any of the other things that many women deal with on a daily basis out in the regular world while fully clothed. Women are looked at with enthusiasm by men (and other women) but as full humans with attractive appearances and not as mere bodies to be accessed.
Starting to be sexually involved with women and with more than one other person at a time further disrupted old notions of the ingrained roles of coupling. Delving deeper into polyamory (which is about more than just sex) has brought so much growth to us individuals and as a couple. It’s forced us to talk about things that most couples never discuss and to get clearer about what our wants and needs are, as well as our boundaries. Instead of simply doing what we’ve been told by society, we have had to discover what works for us and to create our own roadmaps. This has taken a fair amount of intention and work, particularly when I found myself deeply in love with another man, but ultimately it has taken us on a journey to have healthier, less possessive, less co-dependent relationships, with each other and with other people.
A few years back we moved and haven’t found a club in our new city that we like as well as the one we used to go to, so it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to really fully experience that level of body positivity and sexual self-expression in a public venue. That’s one of the reasons that we decided to vacation at Temptations. It is not explicitly a “lifestyle” resort and in fact, about half the people who go there are what is termed “vanilla,” meaning they are more sexually conventional. But none-the-less, the resort has an astronomical rate of returning guests, I think in part because the more open environment is just such a welcome change from more traditional, more restrictive mores.
Not all the women at Temptations go topless, but probably a good 85% do. For the most part, the only ones who don’t are younger women who although they are more likely to have conventionally attractive figures, don’t have the self-confidence to bare their breasts in public. They tend to still be more bought into traditional mindsets. It’s one of the blessings of getting a bit older to be able to strip a lot of that away. Amongst the rest, there all types of breast sizes and shapes, as well as all types of body sizes and shapes. No-one is being shamed or stared at for having a less than perfectly flat stomach, or for having small breasts. No-one is being ogled or leered at either. It’s just really comfortable to be able to walk along the beach or swim in the pool in a more natural state. Appropriate clothing must be worn indoors and in the restaurants, but outside, it’s a veritable sea of breasts and there was something that felt very normal about that after the initial adjustment.
As we were checking in to Temptations, the concierge was asking about our interests. Did we want to do any sight-seeing or day trips? Were we lifestyle and if so, did we want a day pass to go to their sister property, Desire? We’d heard about Desire for years and thought that maybe it would be a bit too young for us or a bit too wild. But, we decided that if we had a free opportunity to go check it out, that we definitely should. I’m so glad that we did!
Desire is affirmatively a lifestyle resort and it’s for couples only. This doesn’t mean that there is a lot of hooking up going on. It simply means that the people who go there are comfortable with unconventional life. Across the board, nearly everyone goes naked around the pool and at the beach, and definitely all the men do. All the women go topless at a minimum. If you think a sea of naked breasts takes a moment to get used to, you’d better believe that a sea of penises truly does. Female nudity is fairly ubiquitous, but Americans, at least, are not used to much male nudity.
Still, you get over it fairly quickly because it’s just what’s done and everyone else is comfortable with it. It’s not a particularly sexualized atmosphere. None-the-less, coming out of the bathroom into the mid-day sun with no clothes on at all took a bit of courage. It’s one thing to be half-naked in a dark club with a few drinks in you, but to walk out into the public eye in the middle of the day entirely sober, without a stitch on, was a leap. Still, it’s one that we were both glad that we took. All the people we met, both guests and staff, were so friendly and welcoming. We spent the entire day, naked in the pool, sipping something cool, chatting with various people, and making new friends. When we got back to Temptations, we commented upon how truly relaxed that we were.
Maybe it was that literal nakedness helps promote more figurative nakedness, and people were just real and authentic. Maybe it’s that there was zero dominance hierarchy in play and we never felt anything but completely welcomed and accepted. Contrary to our preconceived notion, most of the people there were in their 40s and 50s and the wildest thing that went on was that one of the staff poured a shot of pina colada on my breast so that my husband could drink it off of me. In any case, we will definitely be going back for a longer stay.
While we were away, I was corresponding with my friend E. L. Byrne, who has also found a lot of healing of the wounds inflicted upon her by society through reclaiming of her own sexuality. She was showing me the draft of a new piece she’d been working on called My Sexual Liberation Doesn’t Belong to You and I really resonated with it. I told her, “my sexuality and my expression of that are for me! I may invite someone else into that but it’s first and foremost for me- even within my marriage, and that has been incredibly healing!” My body, my appearance, and my sexuality are not a commodity for consumption. They are simply aspects of who I am in totality. My husband does not control me sexually or in any other respect. We are partners who walk along together and co-create our lives. Sometimes that involves emotional or sexual involvement with other people. There is no possessiveness because there is no underlying assumption of ownership. We choose each other and we decide the parameters that best support that choosing for us.
James and I have both found healing and growth through this process, but for me, in particular, it has been nothing short of revolutionary. For most of my life I have felt like a prey animal whose main function in life was to be consumed by someone else, whether literally or visually. Even in the earlier parts of my fairly egalitarian marriage I had internalized stories about what it means to be a wife. Those stories kept me from being all of who I truly am. Taking the lid off of my sexuality allowed me to become not only more whole, but more fully self-expressed, and no-one has benefited more from that than James.
Is it possible to break through these societally imposed narratives without public nudity or multiple sex partners? Of course, but it’s difficult to embody something that you’ve never experienced first hand. And you also don’t know what you don’t know. I thought I was in a very partnership-oriented relationship with very healthy and satisfying sex life, and I was — I just didn’t realize how much better it could get until we went on this adventure together and I truly re-claimed myself in full.
© Copyright Elle Beau 2020
Elle Beau writes on Medium about sex, life, relationships, society, anthropology, spirituality, and love. If this story is appearing anywhere other than Medium.com, it appears without my consent and has been stolen.