What is sex...for you?

“Staying away from your erotic feelings, masturbation, and sex separates you from a powerful part of yourself…that could feed vitality and energy into every aspect of your life. By avoiding sex, you lose a very deep means of connecting with yourself and others, not to mention the delight, joy, and fun that sex can bring you.” Staci Haines, “Healing Sex: A Mind-Body Approach to Healing Sexual Trauma.”

When you were growing up, what did you learn about sex from your mom and dad, grandparents or other close relatives? Did your families talk about sex? If so, in what way? If you attended church, what did your church tell you about sex? What did you learn about sex and how you were supposed to be as a sexual being from your culture, the newspaper, television, and now social media?

As important, what did you learn about sex from your own experiences? Were you able to have positive sexual experiences as a younger person (late teens, twenties, thirties) or did the scripts you learned about sex from families, religions, cultures shape how you approached sexual relationships? More important, were your early sexual encounters positive experiences for you? Or were you left wondering what all the fuss was about or worse?

Was your sexual development undermined further through inappropriate touch, sexual abuse, incest, rape or date rape? Left unhealed, sexual wounds certainly will derail a healthy sex life and the ability to enjoy non-sexual intimacy.

Did anyone ever teach you—through words or example—that sex is a positive, life-affirming force that can be pleasurable and deeply connective? That when people can openly share, explore and discuss their sexual selves in an accepting, non-judgmental environment, sex can be a powerful unifying force that can bring deep connection, enduring tenderness and intimacy that can permeate a relationship? Certainly, that’s not the message I got about sex until about eight years ago! The good news is that as adults, we can consciously drop the old, unworkable scripts and develop healthy new sexual realities.

Though I enjoyed sex physically when I was younger and have always been blessed with a responsive, orgasmic body, I didn’t begin to truly experience sex as a connective, joyful, positive, life-affirming energy until I began to heal sexual wounds and reclaim my sexuality for myself at about the age of 45. And the connective nature of sex didn’t really click for me until I was about 48. I am profoundly grateful that I’ve been able to come to this place of peace around my sexuality—it has been empowering and healing in a way I never could have imagined. Putting old scripts to rest certainly has been a huge part of becoming empowered--sexually and more generally!

When most of the messaging we get about sex is either negative or confusing, it can be challenging to open to the possibility that sex can be very wonderful, and even more challenging to explore what that might be like. Our scripts, fears, wounding and shame can keep us from even wanting to—much less attempting to—open that door. I have so much compassion for people who have closed down their sexual selves—having been there, I know that when we close down in one area of our lives, we close down in others. As Brene Brown says in Daring Greatly, “We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.”

This week, I urge you to sort through your messaging and scripts about sex. What is sex—for you? Are you happy and fulfilled as a sexual person? If so, THAT’S FANTASTIC! If looking at your sexuality feels negative, unsafe, blocked—does it have to stay that way? Are you willing to explore this—or does it feel too scary? What might it take for you to clean out the negative history in your sexual past, and reclaim sex on your terms?

Understanding our past can help us become free to form ourselves in the present; it can also help us to have compassion for ourselves—to see that so much dysfunctional thinking about sex really isn’t ours and belongs in the past. If sex isn’t a positive force in your life—whether you are with a partner or not—consider what you can do to reclaim your right to a healthy sex life, regardless of your age.