Meta-Emotions and Sexual Wellbeing

“Knowing how your sexuality works is important; welcoming your sexuality as it is, without judgment or shame, is more important….[t]he hard part is liking your sexuality as it is, when for multiple decades the world has been trying to convince you that you’re broken.” Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life,” Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

Can you guess what the most important element is in determining a woman’s sexual wellbeing?

Is it having a beautiful body? Experiencing orgasm easily? Liking certain sexual activities? Certainly, if you believe pop culture, you might think any of these is true, and you’d be wrong.

The most important element in determining a woman’s sexual wellbeing is how she feels about her sexuality or any aspect of it—her body, the time it takes to orgasm, or what she likes or dislikes. How she feels is more important than her sexuality itself. “Meta-emotions are how you feel about how you feel…It’s how you feel about what you’re experiencing,” according to Emily Nagoski in “Come as You Are.”

How we feel about our sexuality is complex in our sex negative culture, where few of us receive positive input about any aspect of our sexuality. A woman who enjoys kink may feel shame because of family or cultural messages that label kink as “warped”; another woman may feel shame because she is slow to orgasm and feels like she can’t ask her partner to take the time she needs to climax; yet another may like sex, but feels inhibited because media images have taught her to loathe her overweight body. In each of these situations, the woman’s issue isn’t her sexuality. Rather, how she feels about her sexual expression, her sexual functioning or her body is what affects her wellbeing. The same is true for men.

In hearing from so many of you in the last year and in my own healing process from the effects of sex abuse, family and cultural messaging, I’ve learned it is important to recognize meta-emotions because negative meta-emotions are the only thing we ever need to change. We really are fine just as we are, in our unique sexual expressions, what turns us on, our bodies, our functioning.

Here’s the nugget: when it comes to our sexuality, our own internal experience is the best source of knowledge about what is ok for us. Nothing else and nobody else gets to weigh in: not culture, not religion, not a sexual partner, not the media—only you.

As my own body changes, I’m noticing my meta-emotions and working at letting them go. Sometimes, I’m fine in this changing body, other times, I feel irritated about it all. On the days I feel the best, I’m in a place of acceptance rather than criticism. Join me this week—commit to noticing your meta-emotions about any aspect of your sexuality. Simply noticing is the gentle path to awareness, release and self-acceptance.