Esther Perel is a world-renowned sex and relationships expert and the bestselling author of Mating In Captivity. Her exclusive mbg class, The Essential Guide To Sparking Your Erotic Intelligence, will help you create the relationship you’ve always wanted and take your sex life to a whole new level.
We all have a sexual biography. Very early in life, we receive messages and experiences from those around us about our body, about pleasure, nudity and touch. You may view these as innocuous or irrelevant, but they are formative in how we experience and approach relationships and sex as adults. In order to cultivate passion and desire, it's important to ponder what stories you received about gender, sex, and sexuality.
Start a fresh page in a journal and jot down your first thoughts, memories, and associations as you explore these questions:
1. What were the first messages you received about sex?
Scan your memories for anything that was spoken, seen, or enacted during your childhood. Was sex something to be feared or avoided? For instance, many women receive warnings about sex leading to pregnancy. Was sex seen as a predatory act inflicted on you rather than something you might desire (e.g., "Boys will do anything to get in your pants," or "I hope you don't have to do what your father did to me.")?
Was the body a source of shame (i.e., "That skirt is far too short")? Or was it viewed as part of a loving exchange—for instance when you saw laughter, hand-holding, and glances between your parents? Were you embarrassed by sex? Did you feel uncomfortable talking about it? Or did you simply learn about it as a biological function, a matter of pipes and plumbing that led to procreation? Alternatively, it may have been impressed upon you as a powerful way to connect and experience love, connection, and closeness.
2. What have you done with these messages?
These messages enter the sinews of your skin and lodge inside of you. Fill in the blank on any of these statements if they reverberate within you:
- "Good girls don't…"
- "A real man does…"
- "A real woman would…"
- "I can only orgasm if…"
3. To what extent have these messages opened or closed you?
Emily Nagoski writes about how everyone has accelerators and brakes during sex—things that inhibit or propel us. Accelerators can include smells, visual cues, or a specific type of touch. Brakes can include fear of getting caught, not feeling sexy or attractive, or worrying that we are going to get an STI. What are your accelerators and inhibitors?
4. Was sex central or peripheral in your family life growing up?
I always ask this question of my patients. Frequently people answer that sex was never talked about, that it was taboo, that it was peripheral. But when you dig deeper, a different story emerges. For instance, were you abused or violated or asked to keep a secret that made you feel dirty? Was there infidelity in the family that was hushed up? Was sex never mentioned or actively hidden?
I find that once we catalog all the different ways sex was avoided or negatively emphasized, there are very few left in the room who still believe sex was peripheral. Ironically, what is unspoken grows in size and weight: It sits like a hefty elephant in the middle of the room. Explore this question for yourself and see what you find.
5. Have your sexual experiences reinforced or challenged the messages you received as a child?
Have you encountered a completely different world of sex as an adult or have your childhood beliefs been confirmed? Think back through recent and past experiences and examine how sexual legacies from the past have shaped, intruded upon, or opened you up to possibilities.
And finally, pick ONE sexual message you received that you want to change. What myth would you like to debunk? By identifying what is there—by speaking it, seeing it, and even revealing it to others—you become ready to begin again.