Happy Summer Solstice everyone! I feel like I've been waiting for this summer for a very long time. I feel like I've been in an emotional winter for a few years now and am finally shedding some layers to more fully allow joy and expansion. Emboldened by this new energy, I feel called to touch on a somewhat taboo subject: sex.
Such a vast and loaded topic! While our culture is obsessed with sex, we are also painfully disconnected from it on a sacred level. Even within the rich healing community of which I am a part, sex isn’t emphasized much. I feel we are all amidst a sexual awakening at this time, and we all have a role to play in the unfolding. While my therapeutic specialty is not necessarily sexual health, it is a dimension of healing that I am committed to exploring in myself and in the service of others. What I want to talk about specifically around sex is sexual wellness and awakening. Along the same lines, there is one inquiry I feel particularly curious around right now: Where am I/Where are we holding shame about my/our sexuality? In the spirit of self-discovery, herewith, my thoughts that I hope are useful to you in your own journey.
When did Sex Become Bad?
Did you know that the word “whore” wasn’t always considered a bad word? Words for sex and the female anatomy are some of the most reviled in our language. Sex used to be sacred, connected to divinity. The word whore has an Indo-European root that simply means “desire.” It later evolved into kamah, which meant love, as in the Kama Sutra. In Ancient Egypt, temple priestesses were skilled in the art of sacred sex and sex was understood as a divine practice of cosmic union, bliss, and new life. In ancient Greece prostitutes were legitimate members of society, who owned property and paid taxes. The split in consciousness around sex—it’s transformation from a sacred act to a shameful one—occurred as the patriarchy and dominator religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) rose into power. Concurrently in the Dark Ages, whorealso begins to take on a negative connotation to mean “repugnant” and “putrid.” This is where a lot of our sexual awareness still resides—in the Dark Ages!
Taking the Shame out of Sex
We live in a sex shaming culture, not a sex positive society. The predation of the feminine negatively impacts everyone, and disproportionately oppresses women, people of color, LGBTQIA individuals, and children. Because of the sad state of our sexual awareness, sex education is barely even taught in schools, and it’s certainly not offered from a conscious perspective. (If you’re indoctrinated into a Catholic education as I was, you can also expect to receive an extra heavy layer of shame for being born into sin, and, if you’re a woman, being responsible for the fall of man.)
In my work with my clients, I find that there is a tremendous amount of shame around sex. Many people don’t enjoy sex and have some kind of tension around it. We live in a culture that is aligned with the patriarchy, which is fear-based. This amounts to a lot of shame about everything, and sex is no exception. Sex has become completely devoid of the heart and soul connection. We’re not in a functional relationship with it, and it’s no surprise that there is so much unconsciousness, confusion, dysfunction, inappropriateness, and assault. We’re all holding that collective shame within us.
So, where do we go from here? How do we support a sex positive culture instead of a sex shaming one? The work starts with each of us.
Some questions to consider:
Are there ways you hold shame around your body, sexuality, or your sexual preferences?
What are some stories you’ve been taught that reinforce this?
See if you can name what’s coming up for you around these questions. What do you notice in your body?
Do you feel you are part of community where it is safe to affirm your sexuality?
We are already wired to experience sacred sex and access our divine sexual nature, we just have to remember that our cultural programming isn’t the truth. Naming is a powerful spell breaker! I find that it’s helpful to name and see some of the major differences between the shameful and the sacred:
My Sexual Identity
To me, sex is steeped in unconsciousness. Though on a spiritual path for the last 11 years, sexual healing isn’t something I intentionally held space for in my process until recently. I feel fine to share that I’ve generally enjoyed a pretty healthy sex life and never had any major issues around it until a few years ago (which I will get into in a bit). I am a white, cis-gendered mostly hetero woman, which means I enjoy a lot of privilege when it comes to sex and see things through my lens.
Growing up as a dancer and then studying yoga in my early 20s, I always felt pretty comfortable in my body.While I’ve withstood the occasional grope on the train and inappropriate sexual advance in the office, no one’s ever laid a finger on me in a way that has caused me significant harm. However, emotionally, I feel I haven’t enjoyed the most supportive environment for healthy sexual development. For instance, growing up in a conservative Catholic culture, I was almost suspended for wearing too-short shorts to school, but was then encouraged to wear even skimpier clothing to cheer for the boys—a mixed and confusing message. Later, when I was about 17, I felt depressed and went to a “Christian” counselor who informed me I was probably depressed because I was sexually active. So these kinds of experiences were all around during my adolescence and the message was the same: You should be ashamed of your body and your sexuality. Oh, and you should be thin, beautiful, and submissive in order to receive love and approval.
Additionally, I hold the sexual trauma of the collective: of my friends, of my clients, of my sisters and brothers. We all hold this collective trauma, and reclaiming and rediscovering our sexual selves requires an examination of both the systems we participate in and where we have the opportunity to make different choices.
What even is a healthy sexual identity? What’s “normal”? With the BDSM and sex workers’ awareness movements, we are learning that a healthy sex life can take many forms. As the traditional binary systems continue to breakdown, we are challenging the often-harmful male-female dynamic and creating space for more diversity and inclusivity. As this is happening, it feels there is more room for a dialogue about one’s sexual identity, needs, and desires.
I always knew that there was a dimension of myself that hadn’t been fully realized around my sexuality. And this is the process of waking up, becoming more and more your authentic self. Sexual energy isn’t exclusively about attraction and arousal. It’s our pure vital essence. It’s feeling blissed-out, turned on, enraptured with life. It is an infinite wellspring of energy. Tapping into this part of life and ourselves is our right as humans, and we all deserve a safe and supportive space for this process.
Our Sexual Stories
About 5 years ago, despite being in a loving relationship to someone I am attracted to, I started to become disinterested in sex. This was, in part, because I was in the middle of a depressive time in my life. But there was also a physiological layer, and I discovered that my hormones were a mess after being on birth control for 17 years. (What a cruel irony—we give women the right to birth control, only so it can wreak havoc on our endocrine systems.) I was hypothyroid and had no libido for years. It sucked. I felt embarrassed that I didn’t feel sexual anymore, like there was something wrong with me.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 27-34 percent of women suffer from low sexual desire (Clay, 2009). Sadly, there are virtually no options for women suffering from decreased sexual desire in mainstream medicine, unlike for men. Hilariously, my OBGYN had no encouragement for me and suggested I go back on the pill. But luckily, I had the support of my partner and found some wonderful practitioners to help me figure out a plan. Getting my groove back wasn’t as simple as putting some Maca in my morning smoothie. It required a deeper examination of what was going on. For me, I needed to do three things: 1) spend some time understanding how I had been conditioned by my family and culture to feel badly about sex; 2) accept that I was in a process of feeling unsexual; 3) connect with supportive resources and formulate a healing plan.
I’ve spoken to other folks who are in similar situations, perhaps because they tend to fall more on the asexual end of the spectrum, or because they have recently become mothers, gone through menopause, or haven’t yet addressed some sexual trauma. Our culture shows us the sexual ideal is being hypersexual. It can actually be liberating to not have sex on the brain all the time—it frees up time and energy for other things. We might not always feel super sexual, and that’s ok, too.
Some Beginning Steps
As I said, I am not a sexual health expert or tantrika (someone who is trained as a guide to assist in the sexual awakening process), however, I do feel my story, experience, and associated healing work are valuable to share. When we heal ourselves, we heal others and the planet. This extends to our sexual healing as well—it’s quantum. It’s pretty radical to allow for a deeper sexual integration and it’s not something most of us have been conditioned to do, so it might feel scary and unfamiliar at first.
Saying No and the Function of the Second Chakra
In infancy and into childhood, our chakras grow in tandem with our development. Our second chakra, which is located just below the navel, is connected to our sexual organs. It goes online around the time we learn to say “no.” In a healthy family system, a child is encouraged to learn how to say no and learn to differentiate between their own needs and the needs of others. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t conditioned with the healthiest of boundaries and never truly learn how to say no. Saying no happens from the sexual center. If you are a sexual trauma survivor, as an adult you may struggle with consciously saying no and feeling safe in romantic relationships.
In my clinical experience, I’ve found that people generally have an easier time in their own sexuality and in sexual relationships when they are able to trust themselves enough to know when to say no. The sex organs actually hold a consciousness and it is possible to set up a dialogue with this part of your body. In Focusing, the type of somatic modality I use in practice, we invite a connection with various “felt senses” within the body. Safety is crucial in sexual healing, and connecting with the part of you that can say no is imperative so you can proceed at your own pace.
Seeking Outside Support
How does one approach supporting a sexual awakening? Who needs sexual healing? Even though I’m connected to a comprehensive network of healers and practitioners, it was difficult for me to even know where to turn for help. Fortunately, there are people out there offering different approaches to support your sexual healing and awakening. I’ve listed some at the end of this post.
Sometimes there aren’t finite answers to our questions and it’s more helpful to be in the inquiry. Here are some additional questions that may be useful as you consider what kind of support you need:
Do you feel you’re allowed to feel good about sex?
Do you feel you have any barriers to experiencing pleasure?
Do you feel uncomfortable in your body? Do you feel uncomfortable having an orgasm with yourself or with someone else?
Do you have any emotional or physical sexual trauma that may need to be addressed?
Do you have any gender/non-gender binary or sexual orientation inquiries?
Are you terrified of intimacy and enjoying sex because it makes you feel vulnerable?
What kind of support do you feel you need to explore your sexuality?
It sounds so basic, but many of us are not accessing true relaxation. I’m not talking about mindlessly scrolling through Instagram to unwind. I’m talking about deep, theta-brain-waves, shavasana-gong-meditation, sleeping-in-a-cabin-in-the-woods relaxation. You have to be able to relax to enjoy sex. If you’re new to sex and want to explore what intimacy in a relationship feels like—you have to relax. If you’re interested in studying tantric sex and kundalini because you want to learn how to ejaculate and have multiple orgasms, then guess what? Relaxing is the first step there, too.
In her book, Pussy, Regena Thomashauer says that the absence of the feminine is the absence of pleasure. Many of us are not very comfortable being relaxed and feeling pleasure. We think we want it, but it’s actually a difficult state for us to experience. The more you can support your parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest system) the easier it will be to begin your journey. Perhaps you have an aversion to relaxing. Certainly, in NYC it’s easier said than done. It’s easier to relax when you feel safe. It’s easier to access relaxation in nature, so spend some time in a park or near a body of water, which can be particularly therapeutic. If you need help making a practice of relaxing it could be a perfect opportunity to up your self-care and work with an alternative healthcare practitioner.
Holding Compassion—This Isn’t Just About You
Feeling not totally awesome about sex? It didn’t start with you. Because there is no separation between us, and because we physically and psychically hold the energy of our lineages, we are all truly holding the shame around sex in one way or another. Can you be kind to yourself in your process? We are all doing the best we can. There are very few models for sexual awakening and enjoying a healthy sex life. It’s an education most of us didn’t receive. We must unlearn much of our programming and relearn how to feel good about sex and feel good in our sexual selves.
I’m in no way blaming my parents or community for my sexual programming, but I am cutting some major cords in this process. That’s uncomfortable at times. I love myself enough to know that I’m worthy of feeling awesome about my body and my sexuality. Everyone is. Can you care enough about yourself to honor this kind of work? Can we create a nonjudgmental space for everyone to explore whatever we need to explore? This isn’t going to happen overnight.
“The valley spirit never dies, it is named the Mysterious Feminine. And the doorway of the Mysterious Feminine is the base from which heaven and earth sprang. It is there within us all this while. Draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry. – Tao Te Ching
Sexual Plant Allies
If you’ve been following me, you’re probably aware that I’m not a fan of the “this plant for that symptom” formula. I believe plants desire to help us heal and evolve on much more sophisticated levels than simply alleviating a physical issue. There are plenty of aphrodisiac herbs, but I’m not interested in listing a bunch of plants that might make you want to have sex—mostly because I think that’s a drastic oversimplification of sexual wellness.
Here are but a few herbs and flower essences:
Ashwaghanda—one of the most well-known herbs for boosting sexual potency
Dark Chocolate—yes, really! It does contain dopamine-releasing constituents that make you feel more in the mood.
Milky Oats—this is one of my favorite all-around herbs for nourishing and toning, also helps make the system more juicy and sensitive to stimuli
Damiana—pulls any nervous energy from the mind down, and enhances circulation to the genitals, also makes you feel happy and relaxed as it’s an antidepressant
Shatavari—helpful in balancing hormones and improving sexual function
Rose—I like to use rose as an essential oil or in tincture form, it’s long been associated with love and sex
Skullcap – helps you relax, relieves tension, particularly helpful for repetitive thoughts and over-thinking things
Tulsi – eases worry in the heart, boosts mood
FES Calla Lily—to explore questions around gender and sexuality
FES Basil—to explore any over-attachment sex and sexual addiction, restores the spiritual dimension of sex
Delta Gardens Ladies Mantle – strengthens ability to tap into feminine power, for blocked creativity, lack of confidence
Bloesem California Poppy – integration of inner king and queen, enhances masculine and feminine balance, insight and inner knowing
Plants for sexual healing can be used for physical concerns like lack of lubrication and erectile dysfunction. They can be used to address low libido and infertility. They can also be utilized for sexual emotional and spiritual healing. Plant medicine can be applied topically, such as a CBD yoni oil. Or they can be taken internally as a tincture, tea, flower essence, or food. A newer application of plant medicine I’ve become really interested in recently are yoni steams, which deliver herbs via steam to the pelvic region for a wide range of sexual, menstrual, and reproductive issues.
Conclusion & Additional Resources
In my own healing, I realized I needed to create more of a heart connection to my sexuality—this was the antidote to the over-attachment to the shame, and this process is ongoing. I was really identified with the sheer pleasure of sex and focused on my first and second chakras. But there’s actually much more energy and a deeper experience available to us in sex if we allow the sexual energy to move into the heart. I wanted to create a medicine that would help facilitate the heart-yoni connection. I’m going to be offering this medicine in collaboration with my friends at Collective Hand next month, so stay tuned.
The sexual revolution is happening. Here are some righteous resources to help you on your way!
Sexuality, Spiritality, and Kundaliniby Leslie Temple-Thurston
The work of Juliet Haines, a teacher and sexual awakening facilitator
The work of Jennifer Patterson, an herbalist, trauma and grief worker, and author of Queering Sexual Violence
The work of David Deida, a spiritual and sexual counselor, and author of many books for men
OneTaste, offers courses in Orgasmic Meditation
OMGYES.com, intelligent sex education
Slutever.com, blog exploring pro-sex feminism, BDSM, and sex work
Sex Workers Project, sex worker support and education
Arvigo Mayan Abdominal Massage, excellent for any kind of sexual trauma
The work of Kimberly Ann Johnson, a vaginopractor and author of The Fourth Trimester
Clay, R. (2009) American Psychological Association Vol 40, no 4, p 32.