“Don’t ever touch yourself. The only person who is allowed to bring you sexual pleasure is your spouse.”
These were teachings I’d received since I was a child about masturbation and sex. I learned at an early age to not ever touch myself in a loving way and to wait until I was married to ever allow my body to be turned on sexually by another person, and never by my own hand. I knew that to do so was perverted and wrong.
Was it any wonder that I hated my body? Was it surprising that I felt unattractive and had a difficult time believing that I was worthy of touch and love?
I was a virgin when I was married and had a somewhat satisfying sex life. I followed all the teachings that I believed wholeheartedly. Many times I abstained from any touch that was not “appropriate” or according to “church standards.”
Yet, I observed as my little, innocent, naive children touched themselves innocently and pleasurably as they grew, and began to wonder what was so very wrong about self-pleasure?
As I began to question my own faith and religion, I found myself wondering about all the teachings I had been presented about life, love, relationships, and sex and how they were all related to one another. Was it so evil to touch oneself and feel pleasure at your own hand? How did I know what helped me achieve sexual satisfaction if I didn’t even know the workings of my own body personally and had to rely on another person to figure that out?
Did my self loathing and disgust with body have anything to do with my own lack of ability to touch, my lack of familiarity with my physical body, my difficulty in acceptance of myself missing from the lack of loving touch that I could have been giving myself but was not able to?
And one day, everything changed.
One dark and difficult afternoon, I sat alone in my bathroom feeling extreme fear and pain at the lack of acceptance of the bag of bones that I carried around with me. Would I ever accept myself for me? Would I ever be good enough? Would I ever be physically beautiful enough in my own eyes? What was missing?
I had carried six beautiful human beings through this body. I had loved and held and cried and laughed with this body. Yet, somehow I was still hurting.
And as I cried for the lack of love I felt for my own self, I found myself doing what I would do for a friend in need: I put my arms around myself and enveloped my body in a hug as tight as I could manage.
I sat there for hours, sobbing as I held myself, pouring all the love and gratitude I could muster into all the broken parts of my body that were wanting and hurting and lonely and feeling unappreciated. I thanked every part of myself that had done its job—my stomach for digesting my food, my uterus for carrying my beautiful babies, my skin for protecting me, my brain for thinking, my breasts for nourishing my children and providing pleasure beyond description, my legs for carrying me every day without a thought, my heart for loving so openly and my arms that have held and hugged and carried so many heavy loads.
And then I took myself to my bed and I laid there and explored my entire body—the body I had been afraid of and ashamed to touch. I reached and touched every dark place that I had only reserved for someone else and had not allowed for myself. I felt every sensation and nerve ending and breathed into every moment without judgment for the first time in my 34 years of life.
I discovered myself for the first time.
I loved myself.
And I opened myself to a new appreciation for my own body and for love.
One thing I have learned about love and sex is that everything begins with the self. Before you can be a good lover, you must learn how to love yourself. You cannot give what you do not have to give or do not understand. It starts with gratitude for your own body, and then leads to surrender and letting go.
Part of surrendering is allowing each feeling to wash and pass over you openly, without fear. Meet each feeling with curiosity. What does it feel like? How is your body responding?
Make noises…cry out, groan, and scream. Release the tension in your mouth and relax and let your lips hang loose. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly and expect to meet a specific standard sexually before we consider that we are “normal.”
In pleasuring ourselves, there is no right answer, no specific formula, just sweet surrender.
When we enjoy that pleasure and learn how our own body responds, we can open to others sexually in a more eager and willing way—because we understand how we function and how we can give to another. The more we open, the more we understand ourselves, and the more we desire to share our joy.
How can we fully give to another if we struggle to know or understand or even love ourselves? How can we help our lover to know and dance with us in the way that fulfills us if we don’t even know what we need or want?
We need to explore, learn, and taste the deliciousness of our own bodies, revel in the miracle of our own touch, feel the response that rises beneath, pour love and acceptance into the parts of ourselves that we have rejected.
We need to heal. We need to open.
We need to be the love that we crave from another human soul.
For when we have surrendered sweetly to loving touch at our own hands, we will be able to receive touch from our lover in a way that can break through the walls of our heart and crack our soul wide open.
Author: Stephanie Parry
Editor: Catherine Monkman