Almost a year ago I wrote a post called Male Sexuality and How Shame Hurts Everyone, and it is one of my favorite things I've ever written. But today I want to talk about the shame around female sexuality, which is different in nature, at times more obvious, and just as damaging.
I'm feeling a lot of shame today, guys. I don't want to make this post too confessional regarding recent events because I can only speak to my own feelings, but I do want to extrapolate on some patterns I have noticed in myself, in my own life, and in the fears I carry pretty regularly.
I feel like I'm often supposed to be the poster child for no-fucks-given regarding sexuality. And often I am. But it's a compulsion more than it is a choice. There are times I wish I could reign myself in, stop tweeting about kink, stop reposting pictures of my friends' clown orgies (link surprisingly SFW), stop being so loud about my submission. But I can't. It's my bliss. And when I find it, when I experience those moments of that perfect and exquisite high, I want to shout it from the mountaintops. I feel safe. I feel loved. I feel accepted. Holy fuck yes.
And I can't say that some folks haven't expressed gratitude for my leading the way in that regard, and that is cool. My being loud about my sexuality helps some other people to be more accepting of their own, and that is awesome news.
A valentine I got at last year's R10xLive
It's a constant battle between my desire to be loved and my desire to be loved. No, that's not a typo.
There is a deep, irrepressible drive in me to make myself known, which I've talked about on here before:
Sometimes I think that's the driving force behind almost all of my writing, is the desire to be seen. I'm forthcoming about my feelings here not only because my dedication to authenticity better serves my work and you the reader, but also because I am handing the fucking keys over to anyone with balls enough to get in the car and drive. I'm an open book here -- literally and figuratively -- and I so wish that someone would come along and exploit all my deepest desires to make all my fantasies come true. It's all there if you want to figure it out.
And truthfully, I am hard to figure out. My sexuality is complex and layered, linked to fears and traumas and demons I have trained to pull the cart rather than chase my heels, passionate and fierce and yet also closely guarded and fragile. The more I write about it, the more I live it, the more it comes into clarity for me and hopefully for those who may one day share it with me.
But the more I do that, the more fierce and open (and political, even) I am about who I am, the more I also fear painting myself into a corner where I can easily be ostracized. Sometimes I regret my entire career, my book, my brand -- it is so easily judged. I am so easily misinterpreted, so readily held to a schema that doesn't get at the wholeness of me. I know in theory that staying true to myself and my passions is the best way to attract the partners who are right for me, but in practice it's scary. Because sometimes I feel like my weirdness, my complexity, makes me completely unlovable. Unlovable because I am incomprehensible. And you cannot truly love what you don't understand.
I once tentatively approached a partner about adding a dominance/submission element to our sex, and he, familiar with the kink world only through a few lame parties, apparently, replied to me, "All those fucking people think they're vampires." ... Still other men who never even made it to the intimacy stage with me responded to my history of pro-domme work with remarks like, "Babe, why would you do that? You're like, so smart." And there was always a ceiling to those relationships, there was always only so far they could go, because I wasn't able to be there with my whole self.
I don't need to touch on the garden variety slut-shaming we do in society. We judge women on their number of sexual partners, the way they dress, the point in a courtship at which they choose to be sexual, the way they express their sexuality -- it is no wonder that most women also have trouble confessing their actual turn-ons, even in anonymous scientific studies, even perhaps to themselves. Me on the other hand, I want everyone to know what I'm into, because I want to be seen, because I want to be loved for what I really am. And then at the same time I worry that that same drive is achieving the exact opposite effect, because my sexuality is weird, and also because it is weird that I'm talking about it.
And there you have it. My desire to be loved conflicts with my desire to be loved. Show me emotional respect. I have emotional needs.
Last Sunday night I attended a Sex Geek dinner after the Sexual Health Expo, a private event for sex and relationship coaches organized by my mentor Reid Mihalko. We had a roundtable discussion about our careers in sexuality, our issues. I asked the table a question: "Do you ever worry that by being so open about your own sexualities that you might be putting your partners at risk? I would never expose a partner in my work, but if I'm talking about my own kinks, doesn't that sort of imply that the person I'm fucking probably matches up with them to some extent?" I got every answer from "Yes, you should worry, especially if there are kids and costly divorces involved" to "Maybe you should give up your relationship so you can be on the front lines of doing the important work." (The latter seemed completely backwards to me, as it is my passion for relationships that causes me to do this work in the first place.)
This is particularly relevant as I continue working on my memoir about the four years I spent as a pro-domme and 24/7 lifestyle submissive. I feel a throbbing, unquenchable need to write this story, for my own healing purposes and also because I think the world is owed a memoir that is authentically and affirmingly about kink and not about shamey shock value. The more I go down this path of transparency, the more my drive to be seen takes over and spews my id everywhere for the sake of my own authenticity and the promotion of sex-positive shame-free culture everywhere, the more I worry I am making myself into a sacrificial lamb -- noble, honorable, but way too bleating and bloody to want to date.
Even worse perhaps are those instances where someone thinks they understand my sexuality and then immediately reduces it to obvious props and cliches without further listening to me. This is where I feel particularly guarded, protective of what's mine. Just last night I was texting with a cute but problematic guy, trying to express some of this stuff around my kink, and he replied, "I'd resort to belts and spankings. No words necessary." As if simply beating me was enough of an understanding of my submission to be intimate with me. This kind of thing makes me feel so misunderstood, so unsafe, that I want to suture up my own vulva. Maybe I could communicate with people like this, inform them as to what I do and do not like -- but like I said, my sexuality is so complex, so difficult even for me to explain, and this person is already projecting a fantasy on me that I am not complicit in. And I just want to run.
To be honest I sometimes hate identifying as a submissive because so many guys see that as permission, or as a quick route to a good time. Because I'm sex-positive, because I'm outspoken about sex and kink, I must be easy, I must be into whatever their idea of kinky sex is, I must also be disposable, because I'm a slut, because I am open about my sexuality. Back in my pro-domme days, I took on a lover who claimed to be in a don't-ask-don't-tell open relationship with his girlfriend, who from all their photos looked to be the picture of WASPy conservatism (as did he). In bed with me, he fucked me so that my head banged repeatedly against a shelf, and then came into my eyes without asking permission. And I could see the thoughts that made him feel that this was okay: She's a dominatrix. She's kinky. I can finally do all the things that I don't get to do in my relationship with my girlfriend whom I love. The hidden message is, She's a slut. She's chosen this life. She doesn't deserve the same respect as my partner. Besides, she likes it.
The crux of this is that I am having a really hard time fighting for the authentic expression of my sexuality while also demanding the acknowledgment of my worth as a valid relationship partner.
Because you see, that space that is created in sex, that sacred space where time disappears and my partner and I strip away and become our most primal selves, for me, is where our greatest intimacy exists -- literally and figuratively. That is, for me, a relationship's greatest blessing, the bliss that I crave most in my life. Why would I want to be in a committed relationship where I couldn't express my deepest truths? And why is it that talking about my deepest truths so often seems to bar me from committed relationships?
The Madonna/whore complex is not a new thing, but you guys, it's fucking 2015 and this is bullshit. And I feel that pressure, that notion that I am offered the choice to be one or the other but never both -- as Emilie Autumn croons, a devil or an angel with no in-between. But as Tennessee Williams quipped, "If I got rid of my demons, I'd lose my angels." My kink feels spiritual. My sex feels angelic. And demonic. The beautiful vertigo of conflicting narratives. Light and dark intertwined. "We seek to ascend, and so we descend."
I feel bad for women like me who face this dichotomy, but I also feel bad for men who, consciously or not, operate under it. The idea that a legitimate relationship necessitates us suppressing our desires is just so fucking wrong and awful you guys, it fucking rips my heart out and makes me want to scream so loud the moon could hear me. A plea. Change this, universe. Stop. Change this. Fuck.
Alright, fuck it. Here is why I am writing today. I cannot speak to my former lover's true motivations, but I can say this much: A man who has consistently expressed deep gratitude and investment in the intimacy we shared over the past year -- intimacy that consisted of exploring things he'd never before me been able to confess to wanting, intimacy that for my part was blissfully and life-alteringly the closest I have ever come to feeling fully understood in my sexuality -- told me last night, completely out of the blue, that he is leaving our sacred space in favor of a vanilla, monogamous, traditional relationship. One in which he postulates that he probably will not confess and enact all the things he did with me. And I am feeling shame. Shame, and wrongness, and my greatest fear -- being at my deepest core unlovable because of who I am.
(Also, today is my fucking birthday, and I seem to have really bad luck around that.)
I can't speak to his reasons as I'm sure they're far more complex than I could summarize here, but I can speak to my own feelings, and my feelings are that it is really fucking unfair that wanting to make someone feel safe to explore their innermost sexual terrain could be something that could actually count against one as a legitimate partner. Seriously, that is deeply fucked up.
Get right with yourselves, people. No one is exempt from intimacy. If you refuse to accept your desires you have three options: you can repress yourselves and hide from your partners until you suffocate from misery, or you can allow yourselves to be seen and be rejected which will add to your shame, or you can allow yourselves to be seen and be accepted, which strangely is even worse, because your partner's acceptance of your desires will go to war with your shame around them. If you don't like yourselves, you will disdain your partners for liking you, thinking them shitty judges of character and therefore unworthy of respect, or you'll assume they don't actually know the real you and that it's only a matter of time before they find out the truth and reject you. And you will run from them because it is easier to hide than it is to see yourself reflected in them.
Writing this post (and crying nonstop since I woke up) has been kind of a shitty way to spend my birthday, but it feels like the thing I must do, the only thing I can do right now. My intention for this next year ahead of me is to reconcile my desire to be seen, understood, and engaged with in my sexuality with my desire to also be loved, cherished, protected, kept safe, and honored as a partner. I am going to try to convince myself that I am not as shameful and unlovable as I feel right now. I am going to own my angel and my demon alike.
But I'm not gonna lie you guys, given our current society, it feels bleak. I struggle between closing off to protect myself whenever I feel falsely projected onto and trying to be open to possibilities that have yet to present themselves. That balance is a tough one to navigate. I want to be understood for my sexuality, but revealing it so often seems to leave me misunderstood, misjudged, shamed.
Some of my friends have come forward today to console me, and it was this sentiment from my friend Nathan Darling that hit me in the truest way possible:
I feel like this is the part where I am supposed to say something, like "there is someone out there for you, don't give up, it's all going to be for the best, he wasn't worthy of you," or some other senseless shit to make you feel better... but fuck all that. What I want to say is congratulations for daring to face your dream face on, for daring to hope it could really be this good, for just basically stepping into the unknown of hope... sorry he could not meet you there.
So, in spite of my shame, my fear, I'm daring to face my dream. Will you?