January 31, 2012 § 4 Comments
It takes a lot of time and intense work to actually become sex positive, not just in theory as a political stance but practically in our own minds and bodies. Healing from even the everyday sort of sex trauma our society dishes out is a process. Souls are slow growth crops. But miraculously resilient.
I want to encourage folks to keep the faith. At thirteen I believed even thinking about sex was wrong. At nineteen, I could not feel any sexual energy or sensations without becoming almost unbearably sad. At twenty-six, I experience a ton of joy in sex and feel that sexual energy is an healing and sacred force in my life. I still have a very long way to grow, but I’m far enough along now that I only rarely crash into total despair. And I see a lot of people I’m close with progressing in their own journey, each of their lives adding to my hope for broader societal and global change.
I thought I would list a few things that have helped heal and grow for readers to consider trying. If anyone has something that has helped them they’d be willing to post, please do!
1) Re-parent and re-educate. Most of us learn about sex in vague, patchy, loaded awkward ways by people trying to control our choices. As adults, we are our own guardians and teachers, and we can choose to re-teach ourselves, to unlearn sex-negativity and shame by seeking out sex-positive environments. Put in some new messages from books, conversations, websites to defy the sex-negative messages of the past. I feel more is better, just tipping the scales of what’s in my brain on the topic of sex.
2) Talk about sex with safe people. Most of us only talk about sex, often in limited and uncomfortable ways, with partners whose feelings we’re preoccupied with. Most of us haven’t learned to talk about sex before we attempt to do so in high stakes situations that make it difficult. Talking about desire and consent, experiences and thoughts with close people we aren’t in sexual relationships can help in pushing past the taboo and shame and awkwardness of the learning process and give us the skill when we need it. It can also teach us about letting down boundaries, what is safe for us and what is not. And it can be a good context for working on consent skills as we navigate our own comfort levels and those of our friends.
3) Learn from solo sex. Most of us learn first to have sex with ourselves. And what we often learn is how to make as little noise as possible as we rush to relieve the stress of pent-up sexual tension before shame – external or internal – catches us. Naturally, when we get with a partner, we have sex the way we have learned how. We can begin to move away from shame and towards remaining embodied and to externalize our response in the safety of solitude in order to be better prepared to be with partners.
4) Learn to manage triggers. A lot of the same feelings come up in solo sex that come up in partner sex, and sometimes it can help to learn to manage them alone. Just identifying when we are triggered – when our response has to do with experiences in the past that are interfering with us responding in line with the present – is important. And there are lots of skills to manage our response. I always point to Staci Haines book Healing Sex as a masterpiece of creative and radical values put to work, and I wish there was an equivalent written those of us who do not identify as survivors of child sex abuse.
5) Write about it. Obviously, at some point I even decided to write this blog, but long before that, I started writing about sex in my journals. I wrote about past experiences many of which were still loaded with extreme and difficult feelings, wrote out questions of what I believe and what I wanted and wrote towards answers, wrote about numerous books and articles and new sexual experiences as I processed them. I got to know myself a lot better. Putting something into words can get it out of your head, away from haunting you, and out where you can really see it objectively and start to work with it. Even if you have to burn it immediately after, I suggest writing about sex in every form that occurs to you.
Lastly, what I did not list was to learn about rape culture and learn about consent. This blog is written for people post feminist awakening to the reality of sexism and rape culture and in the midst of a personal process of change. If you’re on here, you’re probably doing this work and know how great it is, but I thought I’d write it out.
January 17, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Before becoming mindful of consent most (and more likely all) of us participate in rape culture. There are a million different parts to play. From actively coercing others imagining ourselves entitled to what we take, to betraying own consent by communicating consent that is not authentic or following a prescriptive pattern in sex or relationships rather than negotiating for who and what we want, to good old slut shaming, to advising our friends to compromise boundaries for the sake of protecting attachments to partners, parents, traditions – it seems nearly every situation calls upon us to either reinforce or defy a status quo of coercion.
I doubt if anyone comes to feminism, to consciousness of consent, without some regret over the past, some grief to tolerate, some healing to do. Awakening to feminist consciousness is a crisis. We see with a new lens, not only our society but also ourselves. We have to learn to stop coercing, as we pick up the habit long before we are conscious adults. Consent doesn’t just happen. It is not habitual, not the status quo.
I’ve talked before about the other side of the coin of coercion – about all the sex that does not happen because people are coerced not to have it. I care a lot about this sex, because only a world where consensual sex becomes the norm — where it is understood and talked about, represented in art and media and the backbone of law regarding sex, and so on – will clear lines be drawn between sex and rape, coercion and consent, justice and injustice, abuse and love.
In this post, I’d like to talk about even more sex that doesn’t happen, specifically the sex that does not happen because we have become mindful of consent but do not know how go about ensuring it while initiating sex.
Sex doesn’t just happen, we learn how to make it happen, just as we learn how to make anything happen. I’d say there are essentially three ways we can learn to make sex happen a) blatant coercion, like bullying and physical violence b) cryptic coercion, like manipulation, flattery, and begging and c) consensually. There’s a lot more skills taught for a and b than there are for c. We learn from our society how to make sex happen predominantly by using coercion. Even if we’re lucky enough to have decent technical sex education, we don’t learn the necessary skills to negotiate consent.
For the consent-minded, sex is spooking. Consent requires upholding boundaries between ourselves and others and knowing how to negotiate situations in which the choice is made by all parties to let some of those boundaries down. Consent paranoia – that panicked, decidedly turned-off feeling we get when suspect our partners are not consenting or consenting falsely – is a decidedly healthy, enlightened neurosis. But I should like to think we move forward and learn the skills necessary to represent our own consent and interpret that of our partners accurately and consistently.
Maybe you’re a brash egotist who learned how to check your privilege and will have smooth sailing from here. But the rest of us shy freaks need to get into some dialogues and work out how to gain some confidence and grounding with sex and consent. The first sexual experience I had after becoming a feminist with another recently feminist friend got more and more anxious and stilted until I said, “I’m not sure what you want,” which brought out a relieved response of, “I’m not sure what you want either.” That experience petered out because neither of us really knew how to get a grasp on what we wanted or trust the other person to express consent and not be persuaded by a desire to please.
One thing I’ve learned is to translate my consent paranoia into expressed consent confusion, not just to feel anxious about consent but to recognize and name how I’m feeling and ask the other person for more information if I can. It finally occurred to me to ask Valerie, “How do you express consent?” From her answer, I realized there were times I was reading her response all wrong, assuming her responses would read like mine.
In films, consensual sex “just happens.” In life, people have to make it happen, write the script, direct, provide technical support and dramaturgy – the whole thing. It’s essentially a creative process, and I think most of us are at least partially if not desperately blocked. There is often a lot of consent confusion to clarify before we can decide how to act. Personally, I am happy to be in a place where while the sex might not always be happening, there is no risk of the rape happening instead. But I’d like to move on from here.
While I may not be coercing people (including myself) into sex, I do sometimes find that sex is not happening because I and my partner don’t know how to initiate it. There are lots of questions to answer after consciousness of consent hits you. How do you ask questions without killing the mood? How to you redirect what’s happening if your response to what you initially asked for is not what you expected without worrying too much about our partner’s feelings or confidence? How do you know what you want? How do you consensually ask your partner to choose for you? How do you learn to read someone’s response to interpret nonverbal consent? How much responsibility can and should you take for another person’s consent?