As a little girl, I was extremely aware of my clitoris.
I honed right in on this unique, sensitive part of me and discovered treasures in its folds: tiny remnants of toilet paper.
My parents didn’t hide their bodies at home. I unashamedly gawked at my mother’s bare breasts that hung from her ribs like deflated balloons.
Would I be like her one day?
It stood out to me that people didn’t show these body parts in public. I paid close attention to the cultural rules of what we weren’t supposed to do with our bodies. Nervously stealing glimpses whenever I had the chance, I discovered that it was pretty easy to find sex in the middle of the night on our huge TV.
Sex was in movies, magazines, TV, the mall, and the neighbor boys’ comments. It seemed to be everywhere, except in my parents’ bed.
My room was right next to theirs, which was silent every night. Beyond having two children, there seemed to be no sex in our house. I only remember seeing them kiss one time.
As a child, there was a stale taste of loneliness and subtle depression in our house. I intuitively knew that the lack of sex between my parents was a problem.
One time, my father snuck me and my sister into an R-rated drive-in movie. I’ll never forget the moment when a sexually explicit scene filled the entire windshield.
There it was, the thing that didn’t exist in our family. Sex.
A woman was getting rammed from behind, up against a glass shower door, and her huge breasts got bigger each time they pressed into the glass. I froze, completely mortified, wishing that moment had never happened.
Would I be like her one day?
Not long afterward, at seven years old, I decided that what was most important to my future survival as a woman was to be “good in bed.” My plan was to be some kind of racy sex queen for insatiable men. I would have my pick of all the men, and my eventual love relationship would surely be stable, happy, and fruitful.
But what would make me good in bed? I need to have a strong sexual desire. I should move in ways that turn men on. I have to moan, twist, and be highly orgasmic. And, of course, I need to be creative and well-versed in wild and interesting sexual positions.
I should ooze sexuality.
My vision was that by the time I was in high school, everyone would be talking about how “good in bed” I was, and they would all vie for the chance to be sexual with me.
As you might expect, this wasn’t how it played out.
Most of my friends had sex before I ever did. I dressed awkwardly, with no sense of fashion. I wished for attention but fumbled clumsily when I actually had feelings for someone.
I’m sure my development was “normal,” but I had the uncomfortable feeling of always being behind. My first sexual experiences were mixed at best; I liked the tingly orgasmic feeling that would mysteriously rise, but I also felt shy and private, and sometimes, the way boys touched me didn’t feel good.
I had no idea what to do about that.
I took my orgasmic research home to the safety and solitude of my own bed. I didn’t know how to be open and vulnerable in my sexual self-discovery while an actual person was right there with me.
Images I’d gleaned from TV, movies, magazines, and books filled my fantasies as I learned to orgasm and dreamed of all the boys desiring über-sexual me.
I put a strange, strong pressure on myself to be a sexual dynamo without ever tuning into my actual body experience and my sexuality while I was with someone. I wanted to seem sexual when I didn’t yet know how to be sexual.
I never thought much about what sex actually felt like; my survival and success revolved around how I was perceived, not how I felt. When sexual touch hurt, I didn’t know how to give voice to my experience because that seemed to undermine the perpetually horny and ready-for-action persona I wanted to project.
My moans of pain sounded exactly like my moans of pleasure; maybe they were semi-consciously disguised to sound that way.
It took me decades to recognize that my sexual experiences were performances. If I had been able to be more honest at the time, I might have asked my lovers, “Are you attracted to me? How do you feel about me?” and also, “I’m scared sometimes. The way you are touching me hurts. I want to feel more pleasure.”
Instead, I tried my best to wow my partners with sexual prowess and when a connection would end, I surmised that I simply wasn’t sexy enough.
Over time, I eventually recognized a deep, gnawing, underlying fear that was driving this entire sexual complex: what if I’m not a sexual being?
Remembering my mother’s lonely breasts, I realized that, underneath, I was afraid that I had inherited a some kind of sexual apathy. The surfacing of this awareness (finally in my 40s) led me to the authentic desire to actually get to know myself as a sexual being.
I observed myself.
I definitely thought about sex a lot and could feel sexual feelings. My body orgasmed relatively easily, and I had a true longing to touch and be touched. It is hard to tease out how much of my desire was psychological and how much was physical, but I felt enough interest in sex to mostly release the fear.
One day, in a small-group workshop filled with people I trusted, I stood up and confessed my deep fear that I wasn’t a sexual being. Caring eyes gave way to uncontrollable group laughter.
They could sense my sexual nature way more than I could: to them, my sexuality was undeniable. In that moment, I decided to trust that I must, in fact, be a sexual being.
I began seeking experiences where I could feel my sexuality and finally began to find lovers who were slow, communicative, and present. I learned some basic communication skills that are helpful to have with sexual partners, and I practiced having conversations with lovers about my body and pleasure.
Slowly, I began to settle into my sexuality. Instead of being solely concerned with my partner’s pleasure, I can now close my eyes, tune into my own experience, and receive, finally feeling my body from the inside.
Now, when I hear myself moaning, I consider whether it is from true pleasure or if it is my conditioned response, and I adjust accordingly. I notice when I am doing a classic performance move, like gyrating my hips, and shift my awareness to discover what movement—or stillness—comes naturally instead.
I relish pauses in the sexual experience. Slowly, I am learning to ask for the kind of touch I desire and mustering the courage to tell my partners when something doesn’t feel good.
I think my lovers enjoy this about me. They benefit from my relationship with my sexuality as we are able to be present with each other. They get to know the real me. Finally, I am able to show up without an agenda and can participate as an embodied sexual being.
It has been a long road, but I am finally settling into my sexuality. I still wish to experience tidal wave orgasms, female ejaculation, and cosmic transportation to another dimension. I long to not chase orgasm but luxuriate in oceanic arousal instead. I have had tastes of these kinds of experiences but desire to experience more for myself.
I was recently speaking about sex candidly with a teenage girl. She told me that some boys were more “experienced” than others. I had to laugh. Since these boys had had intercourse a few times, they obviously knew a lot more.
I am so relieved I can arrive in sexual situations with an empty and open mind, with no tricks to display from any of my “experiences.” I want each time to feel like the first, as though I had never been sexual before. For me, finally, sex has become an experience I can participate in and receive—a discovery, as opposed to a show.
And what happened to the performer in me? Who knows, she might resurface as an unabashed exhibitionist someday.