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The healing power of S-E-X

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

Pleasure is powerful. Orgasms fight oppression. Sex is so much more than just fun.

I struggled to figure out how to put this, but I’m just going to be direct: I’ve been having incredible sex lately.

I don’t tell you this to brag (although my partner wouldn’t mind that lol), but because I’ve spent the last eight months in a near-constant state of awe at the powerful healing and liberation available through the container of sex and pleasure, and I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if we harnessed the incredible decolonizing power of pleasure, both as individuals and as a culture.

Of course in order to talk about how amazing the sex has been lately, I have to start by acknowledging that even though I’m now a certified clinical sexologist, I spent the majority of my adult life having very not-amazing sex.

The truth is that I had no idea it could be like this.

I didn’t know sex could provide such a powerful container for healing, transformation, and freedom. I didn’t know it could help me explore and express my deepest wounds so that they may be witnessed, accepted, and healed. I didn’t know it could challenge my deepest identity, or push me to find and embody the limits of myself.

I also didn’t know about pleasure– how pleasure can be medicine, how sustained pleasure can slip someone into a flow-state-like meditation, and how talking about pleasure can exponentially multiply it.

All this not-knowing has actually provided a bit of an obstacle for me whenever I sat down to write about sex over the last few months. It’s one of those “you don’t know what you don’t know” situations. I didn’t know what I was missing, and even if you had described it to me a few years ago, I wouldn’t have understood, and more importantly, I couldn’t have accessed it.

That’s the sticky part. How can I talk about sex and pleasure with you all, when everyone’s journey is so unique? And what about the possible damage done by sharing, compared to the good?

Having spent so much of my life struggling with an inability to access sexual pleasure, I’m well aware that writing about pleasure can be like describing a glass of water to someone dying of thirst. I’m even afraid that if I had read this very article years ago, I would have come away feeling diminished, ashamed, jealous, and sad.

Why is my body so broken? I would have wondered. Why do other people get to have amazing sex and I don’t? What’s wrong with me that I’ve never had ____ kind of orgasm/pleasure/experience?

I don’t want that for you. I don’t want you to walk away from this article feeling smaller and more frustrated. The thought of it was almost enough to not hit publish.

And yet… I can’t talk about sex and pleasure without sharing where I’m coming from, and I feel like I have to talk about sex and pleasure.

After all, I’m in the business of liberation and healing – and pleasure is one of the most powerful (free) resources for liberation and healing available to us.

  • When you’ve been taught that “people like you” aren’t worthy of experiencing abundant, luscious, free-flowing pleasure, it’s wildly healing to regularly experience such pleasure.

  • When you’ve been taught the capitalist propaganda that the connection and joy you seek is on the other side of buying something, it’s incredibly empowering to realize you can access it for free.

  • When you’ve been taught that sex and bodies are sinful and dirty and gross, it’s unspeakably freeing to step into sex as a container for fun, play, connection, joy, and pleasure.

  • And when you’ve defined yourself and your worth by your ability to make other people happy, be what they want, and put their needs and desires over your own, it’s nothing short of life-affirming, transformative, and revolutionary to name and pursue your own desires; to prioritize and revel in your own pleasure.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this.

Growing up as a girl, I learned that my value in the world came from turning men on, making them want me, and then giving them whatever they wanted. Maybe you did too. (Honestly I hope not, but a lot of us did.)

It’s like that meme about asking women to comment with how old they were when they remember first being sexualized, and then the comments are flooded with hundreds of answers ranging from about five to fifteen.

So many of us were children when we were first sexualized, growing up in a world that celebrates women for their appearance and ability to provide pleasurable sexual experiences to others, while stigmatizing their own desire and pleasure.

It is an act of decolonization for women and femmes to re-define “good sex” as including abundant pleasure, joy, connection, and the satisfaction of our desires, instead of the way so many of us learned to define “good sex”— as an absence of pain, and the satisfaction of a job well done when we’ve pleased our partners.

Think I’m exaggerating?

According to the book Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein (an absolutely horrifying but fascinating look into the modern teen girl’s sexual culture) a lot of teenage girls these days think of giving blowjobs as similar to giving a goodnight kiss— something you do just so the guy you went out with isn’t disappointed. But when asked how often the boys give them oral sex in return, the answer was “practically never, but I wouldn’t want them to anyway because it’s so personal.”

Why is this?

Because our culture teaches us that sexual desire, pleasure, and orgasm are for boys, not girls. Because boys are taught that they deserve (and are entitled to) the sexual pleasure and satisfaction they desire, while girls are taught not only that their role is to provide pleasure and satisfaction (instead of receive it), but also that it’s something they owe to the boys who want it from them.

In their research on high school girls and oral sex, April Burns, a professor of psychology at City University of New York, and her colleagues found that girls thought of fellatio kind of like homework: a chore to get done, a skill to master, one on which they expected to be evaluated, possibly publicly. As with schoolwork, they worried about failing or performing poorly—earning the equivalent of low marks. Although they took satisfaction in a task well done, the pleasure they described was never physical, never located in their own bodies. They were both dispassionate and nonpassionate about oral sex—socialized, the researchers concluded, to see themselves as “learners” in their encounters rather than yearners."

It gets even worse when we look at how race intersects with sex and pleasure, and the experience of being transgender or disabled. Black women are raped and sexually assaulted at significantly higher rates than white women, and Indigenous women are even higher than that. Transgender women are raped and sexually assaulted at significantly higher rates than cisgender women, and disabled women at higher rates than able-bodied women.

In short, people at the bottom of each socially-created hierarchy of power and privilege are experiencing higher rates of sexual violence, in part because they are viewed as existing for the pleasure and satisfaction of people in positions of social dominance— people like white able-bodied men, for whom pleasure and satisfaction is seen to be their birthright.

Think about how enslaved black girls and women in the US were regularly raped by their enslavers. Those men felt entitled to sexual pleasure and satisfaction, and those women weren’t even seen as deserving basic human rights or bodily autonomy, let alone pleasure or satisfaction.

Because of the racist, sexist, homophobic, gendered, and ablist conditioning around sex and pleasure, it is an act of liberation and revolution to engage in sexual healing and reclaim sex and pleasure for someone who was taught that those things aren’t “for them.”

This is why I feel so strongly about the power of sexual healing, and why sex and pleasure have become some of my most important resources for decolonizing my own mind and body, stepping into my power, supporting my personal growth and transformation, and cultivating intimacy without ownership.

This is especially true lately, having found a partner who I am madly in love with, and who is equally interested in approaching sex as a container for self-exploration, self-expression, connection, healing, and mutual liberation.

It’s worth mentioning that a huge part of my sexual healing journey was done while I was single, and to be honest, I cannot recommend this enough.

I was alone the first time I orgasmed using anything other than a vibrator or water pressure. I was alone the first time I squirted. I was alone the first time I now understand to be a g-spot orgasm. I am not one of those people who think a rich sex life or sexual healing journey has to include a partner, because curiosity and a desire to get to know myself has brought me to places I never could have gone if I had been taking someone else into account.

But let me tell you, none of that prepared me for the kind of sex that has been taking place since I met my current partner.

I cry a lot during and after sex these days, both from an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the intimacy and pleasure we conjur, and due to the powerful energetic release of old baggage and oppression-based beliefs such as:

  • It’s normal for my partner to orgasm, but not me.

  • Asking my partner to give me pleasure is greedy and selfish.

  • Letting my partner spend time pleasuring me will eventually make them bored, irritated, resentful, and in a position of demanding “payback.”

  • There is a finite amount of pleasure I can have per day, so no matter what I might want, I have to stop and just be grateful for what I got after I orgasm.

I feel those old beliefs dying, old wounds healing, old chapters closing, with each new sexual experience with my partner.

Learning to access and prioritize your pleasure can be a part of your therapeutic and healing work. Decolonizing your sex life (ie: refusing to define sex according to penises or male pleasure/orgasm, dismantling internalized purity culture/slut-shaming, and reclaiming your pleasure) is good for your health. Going on a sexual healing journey can be a part of your anti-oppression work.

Yes, sex and pleasure are that powerful. And of course, all of this has everything to do with body image.

So let’s chat.

All this week on social media I’ll be talking about sex and pleasure — answering questions, reviewing a few sex toys I like, and generally spreading the message that sex and pleasure are positive and important.

A few questions to get your juices flowing as you explore your own relationship to sex and pleasure:

  1. Where are you in your sexual journey?

  2. How do you define “sex”? Why? How would you define it in your dream world?

  3. What would your ideal sex life look like? Feel like? Sound like? Smell like? Taste like? What would your ideal sex life include always, sometimes, and never?

  4. What are some beliefs you’ve learned about sex that you would like to unlearn? How can you go about unlearning them?

  5. What are you exploring, learning, healing, or releasing in your solo sex life? How about your partnered sex life?

  6. What do you currently crave, and what are you currently sick of when it comes to sex, pleasure, and sensual touch?

  7. What holds you back from getting what you want, and what are you working on to move through or release it?

<3 Jessi

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