A sea of pleasure.
That's how I remember thinking about the best sex I'd ever had, in that moment.
There's something to be said for the power sex has in our lives and relationships. We're surrounded by it but often incredibly disconnected from the actual experience. We're told what to do, how we should perform, and how we should please our partners, but we often sacrifice intimacy and spontaneity in the process. We judge, shame, critique, and hate ourselves and others for the sexual acts we've done, not done, and even worse, had done to us.
How can we liberate ourselves from our Puritanical inner demons?
That's a question I've been asking myself for a long time.
I've had a complicated relationship with sex for as long as I can remember—as I'm sure most of us probably do. I grew up in a very conservative, religious environment where any mention of sexuality was forbidden. I was sexually assaulted when I was 12 and consequently had all of my sexual agency taken from me.
I started acting out and pursuing older men when I was 14, as a way to fight back against the voices of shame and deeply rooted pain that were clawing for my attention. At 18, I was having sex as a way to try to get love from men, many of whom did very questionable things to me.
To say I have a sordid sexual past is an understatement.
I had my first real wake-up call when I was 20 years old, living on my own, having just broken up with a man who was more than a little emotionally unavailable. Although it was a short-lived relationship, we did have sex on our second date. The sex was good...I guess. But there was a major problem I couldn't get out of my mind—and that was my inability to be present.
For as long as I could remember, I was very enthusiastic about sex. I was a very sexual young woman who craved, desired, and put herself out there for sex.
But when I first started having sex, I found myself unable to engage.
Instead of being in the moment, enjoying the pleasure, or ravishing my partner, I was disengaging from the experience entirely. I separated my emotional body from my physical one and became disembodied, watching myself engage in the act, as if I was a third party.
I wasn't really there.
At first, I thought maybe it was just a fluke. A lot of people have first times that aren't picture-perfect, so maybe I just had try again next time. As you can imagine, next time soon turned into every time, as I kept trying to find a way to explain the dissociation I was experiencing, without making myself the problem.
It was when I had a questionable sexual encounter earlier that year that I first had my hackles raised around this issue. I had been flirting with a guy I met on a dating site, talking on the phone well past midnight. Long story short, I asked him if he wanted to continue our conversation in person that night, but I hadn't known that a) he'd been drinking or b) that he wanted to have sex (I get that most people don't invite someone over after midnight if it's not about sex, but we hadn't mentioned sexuality at all during our talks).
When he got to my apartment, I immediately felt pressured by him to say yes and we ended up having sex that was not only dissociative but completely disembodying. I felt as if my right to my body was being taken away from me, in my own bed.
Fast-forward to the wake-up call a few months later, after being with that sexy, Latino man on a Tuesday afternoon. When he started to kiss me hard, I instantly felt that inner longing to be touched, to be taken. But soon enough, that was replaced by that same sense of disconnect—desperation to get outside of my body, of the experience, again, after convincing myself the demons had been exorcised for good.
I thought that I'd learn from the mistakes I made with that shady character, to the point that sex was going to be enjoyable the next time. I figured if I started to be more selective in my dating partners, I'd be in the clear. I was wrong.
I was the problem.
I realized that it didn't matter who I dated, who I decided to have sex with, how I decided that, or what his intentions were, because this disconnect was about me and only me.
So, I turned inward. I listened to my own voice. I heard my hurting inner child.
She didn't want to be touched.
That was the problem—I was projecting this hurting inner child onto my sex life now and I did not want to be fucking touched. I was desperate to get out.
When I understood this, I took that check all the way to the bank.
I decided to cut myself off from sexual energy and practice celibacy. I was going to leave romance, sex, and dating behind to find something more sacred—a holy relationship with myself.
Now, I had good intentions, I really did. But after the ego-driven repression wore off, I found myself back to being stuck in dead, lifeless sex.
I found myself reverting to old ways of thinking that came from the patriarchal, Puritanical system I was raised in.
Suddenly, I became ashamed of any sexual thought that occurred to me. I felt trapped every time I thought about a cute guy I liked. I felt stuck in my own body. When I would get undressed to take a shower, I felt dread. If I felt desire, I'd instantly clam up with fear and shame. Sexuality was becoming my enemy rather than my friend.
When I understood that I'd gone from one extreme to another, that's when the real light bulb moment happened. I started to see that this approach was making those issues of body shame, insecurity, and disgust with myself rise to the surface. I understood how connecting to this false mindset rather than the truth of my sexuality was bogging me down and encouraging me to hop back on the dissociation bandwagon faster than I could even say "yes."
So, I finally took my power back.
I ended my celibacy in a sacred yet unexpected way. I dropped the story about how I needed to wait for the "perfect" guy or the "ideal" relationship in order to break down my sexual barriers. Instead, I went far out of my comfort zone, to a one-night stand. Well, a one-Sunday-afternoon stand, at least.
I wasn’t emotionally invested in the guy; instead of trying to rationalize every detail of our encounter, I just lived in the moment. I was present. Even though it wasn't the most pleasurable experience I've ever had, it was better than anything I'd felt before.
I realized, "I'm still here. I'm still on this bed, in this body."
I didn't leave.
Hell to the fucking yes.
That experience led me to my next partner, who would blow the lid off the entire vessel that was my sexuality.
We also met on a dating site and, truthfully, I thought our date was going to be a dud. I was pleasantly surprised by his warmth, charm, and intellect.
One date soon turned into sleepovers, secrets in the dark, and warm, passionate embraces.
I remember when it was clear we were going to take things up a notch during our second sleepover. I decided to open up to him and share all of the gritty details of my past—the trauma, the pain, the abuse. I told him everything. He just held me and listened, affirming my truth.
I also told him about the dissociation—something I'd never done with a potential sexual partner, ever.
He wanted to know what he could do to prevent me from slipping into numbness. I told him that being close, looking into my eyes, facing me, holding me before, during, and after would help keep me present.
He listened and he acted.
That's when the floodgates opened up and the sea of pleasure emerged.
I'd never experienced such a sacred act of sex. It was beautiful. It was life-affirming. It was love.
Finally, I was free.