Better Sex through Mindfulness project

Other than the first two or three years after my epiphany, I’ve had low libido my whole life, so when I came across Lori A. Brotto’s Better Sex through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire a little over a year ago, I bought it and promptly started reading. Unfortunately I didn’t get far. The mindfulness it was asking me for felt out of my range.

I had assumed that mindfulness was a thing I’d be good at. I’m observant. I’m introspective. I’m a highly sensitive person. I have good physical awareness for both movement and health issues. So it threw me for a loop when a body awareness exercise felt difficult.

But maybe it shouldn’t have. Now that I give it some thought, there are also ways in which I can be rather disconnected from my body. Relatively recently I developed a tendency to hold my breath under certain circumstances and it took some time (and a trip to the doctor) before I figured out what I was doing. I always have a certain degree of muscle tension, especially in my neck and shoulders. And then there’s the big one: the nighttime jaw-clenching habit that I’ve struggled with for my entire adult life. Oh yeah, that!

There’s also the puzzling fact that I have no memory of my first orgasm even though I’m certain that it was with a boyfriend (pretty sure I know which one), and resulted from him giving me oral sex. I’m also certain that I didn’t dissociate in the moment, but my former sexual shame seems to have cast the memory of it adrift. In reading about dissociation (the current SB4MH prompt), I also brushed up on the related concept of emotional detachment, which is much more familiar to me, especially as demonstrated by my mother who I believe experienced some kind of sexual trauma as a child.

Although I set the Brotto book aside, I started trying to tune in more to certain physical sensations that I seem to habitually ignore.

For instance, I don’t really feel hungry when it’s time to eat, and I now wonder whether my lack of a sense of hunger is somehow learned and is an example of an idiosyncratic disconnect between physical sensation and awareness. It’s a real issue because it leads to issues and symptoms relating to low blood sugar, especially when I’m not able to eat on a schedule like while I’m travelling. This is something where mindfulness might really help.

I’ve also been paying more attention to the times when I feel (spontaneously) turned on. I’ve found that I rarely feel any arousal at all, and if I do, the sensation tends to be very mild and easily ignored. It’s usually only perceptible it in the morning when I wake up, and getting up to go to the bathroom or retrieve my vibe has often been enough to kill it.

In addition to working on this ‘remedial physical awareness’, I also started meditating. In the past I’d never got beyond a bit of dabbling but this time I actively sought out meditation classes as a way of building a foundation for mindfulness. I found a Buddhist class that was conveniently located and had a set of talks aimed at beginners. Perfect! While I haven’t quite gotten into a regular meditation routine, I now feel that I have the foundation I was after.

And with that, I think I’m ready to dive back in to Better Sex through Mindfulness!

As I read Brotto’s book, I’ll be using each chapter as a writing prompt as a way of encouraging myself to slow down, reflect, and engage with it deeply.

Below is the table of contents, which I will link to my posts as I work through it.

Introduction

Chapter 1. Sex in a Multitasking World

Chapter 2. Seeking Sexual Ecstasy – From the Couch to the Brain Drug

Chapter 3. Introducing the Raisin

Chapter 4. Becoming Aware of Your Body

Chapter 5. “Your Attention, Please!”

Chapter 6. How Mindfulness Works

Chapter 7. If You’re Happy and You Know It

Chapter 8. It Takes Two

Chapter 9. Tuning In to Pain

Chapter 10. You Have My Attention – Now What?

Chapter 11. The Next Chapter of the Present Moment

Masturbation Monday

emotional disconnection, sex and loneliness

Extreme fatigue makes me very thin-skinned. I become even more indecisive and I second-guess myself terribly. I revert to my deep programming, which makes me profoundly critical of everything and everyone (including myself), and I tend to become unable to see anything positive, whether that’s noticing beauty around me or remembering anything I’ve learned on my journey into sex positivity. I don’t much like myself while this is going on, but at least when this happened the other day due to the rigours of travel I was still aware that once I recovered I’d probably feel better emotionally. And I that’s what happened. Luckily, Jaime has the patience of a saint.

Despite the epiphany I had about sexual shame almost 5 years ago now, and the subsequent realisation that I also have difficulty with trust, I find I’m still struggling with a lot of the same sexual issues that I did before the epiphany.

Confession time: I’ve not had partnered sex in a year, and not because of lack of opportunity. Although things heated up for a while after the shame epiphany, I haven’t been able to sustain that. My libido is low, I don’t get turned on, and my only strategy to address this issue is to continue to read any book I come across that seems relevant. I know that it’s possible to enjoy and want and seek sex but I haven’t figured out how to make that happen for me.

This is, to put it mildly, deeply frustrating. As a child I was taught to be self-critical. I’ve been frustrated about my sexuality not being what I wanted (or what thought it should be, which is different) for pretty much my entire adult life, and it’s very easy for me to interpret this as meaning that there’s something wrong with me, which makes me frustrated with myself.

I haven’t known how to deal with that so I’ve either simply said the no that I felt (a more recent approach), or pushed myself to do the thing (my default). But I see now that, for my issues, pushing myself doesn’t work. In fact, I think it actively causes me harm. It’s comparable to the way that men are typically taught to keep pushing things forward (through a woman’s “I don’t really want this but I can live with it”) until they hear a no, but in my case both Wolf and Jaime are keen to give me pleasure (whatever that actually looks like for me) and I’m putting all the pressure on myself. If I don’t respect my own no, I’m vitiating my own consent. In other words, I am to some extent victimising myself — a sobering thought.

A few months ago I listened to a podcast about procrastination as a writing issue and one point stuck with me: shitting on yourself for perceived problematic behaviour not only doesn’t stop the behaviour, it can actually reinforce the very habit you’re trying to change. This is the harm of perfectionism. So to change the habit I need to be kind and generous to myself, which I find challenging. I also need to spend time figuring out what I like and what I want because, honestly, I don’t really know. (I do have a strategy for this but I haven’t done much work on it yet.)

The other day with Jaime I discovered a new factor that I’d never been aware of before. During a spanking he checked in with me from time to time to ask how I was feeling and what I was experiencing emotionally. He was asking for information but this was also a cue to be mindful of my emotions, which I found really useful. I told him I was experiencing the spanking physically but I wasn’t aware of any emotions that went with any of what he was doing and I felt completely disconnected from his feeling of being loving toward me, taking care of me, being invested in my pleasure, or anything else of that nature.

The next day, he was giving me oral, and when I checked in with myself regarding my emotions I found that I was experiencing it in an exclusively physical way as well. On top of that, I also felt the profound vulnerability that I feel with sex. Jaime takes good care of me and I know he’s seriously invested in pleasing me but I couldn’t perceive it. I just felt disconnected and lonely.

Why? My first belief about sex was that it’s a man taking something from a woman, and despite everything I’ve learned or taught myself, remnants of this view are still entrenched deep in my psyche. The mind has a tendency to use all evidence to confirm its deeply held beliefs (aka self-image or self-schema), and if any evidence can only be understood as contradicting that paradigm, it’s typically ignored.

In addition to this incorrect paradigm, I also have some sub-optimal general emotional wiring: my parents didn’t connect with me in a healthy and loving emotional way as I was growing up, and I’ve recently realised that I’ve always felt emotionally orphaned and fundamentally lonely. (If that rings any bells for you, you might be interested to read Jonice Webb, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.) In the context of sex, it feels as though I lack the emotional sensors to detect warmth and caring and love.

As often happens for me, I wasn’t really aware of the intensity of my feelings during the encounter until I started thinking about them consciously, and in this case discussing them with Jaime (and weeping throughout — this shit is fucking difficult). I let him know about the isolation I was feeling and asked him to try to create an emotional connection with me verbally.

And you know, it actually seemed to work. Hearing explicitly that I am loved made me feel it in a way that physical affection has never been able to successfully communicate because of those generally incorrect messages about what being physical and sexual with another person actually means. And I enjoyed myself more, which from a rational perspective is unsurprising, but to actually feel it as an experience felt a little bit like magic.

The vulnerable feeling generated by that first sexual encounter felt similar to the thin-skinned feeling from fatigue in the way it brought my deep programming to the surface. But what if it doesn’t just bring up the ugly? What if the whole package of programming is summoned up to the surface and can be communicated with directly instead of through the layers of learning and rationality that usually muffle it? If so, this could represent a shortcut in the process from knowing something intellectually to actually feeling it. Our initial experiment suggests that this might be true.

Sex for me is still fraught and likely will continue to be for some time. The epiphany about sexual shame and the realisation that I have difficulty trusting are both essential elements but the fact that I’m still having the same kind of difficulties as before proves that they aren’t the whole story. I feel like I’ve just stumbled upon another key and I’m feeling optimistic again, for the first time in a long time.

I think I feel like blogging again

If there’s something that I want to understand but don’t (or at least not as fully as I want to), I keep revisiting it until I have the answer. One issue that’s like this for me is why I slowed down so much with blogging. Yes, I’ve discussed this before, but I’ve discovered some new factors, and I’m feeling optimistic.

I posted a lot in 2015, my first year. I had a lot to say, and while I was suffering with undiagnosed depression, the fact that I wasn’t able to work much ended up giving me more time to write, and fortunately I had enough brainpower for it. Wolf came back that summer and in the fall I started teaching dance more than I had been. In 2016 I posted somewhat less.

I think the original causes for the slowdown were depression (starting in the fall of 2016) and the fact that my sex life was cooling off so I had less to write about. No doubt the depression affected my sex life, but it was also cooling off for its own reasons, not yet fully understood (this is something I’m working on now). Then I went on antidepressants, which basically doused what embers of libido that remained. I strongly suspect that the antidepressants also muted my creativity, so even if I had something to say, it was hard to give enough of a shit about saying it to actually write and publish. My many, many unpublished drafts speak to that issue. In 2017 I had half as many posts as 2016.

I was feeling better by December 2017 (yay, depression essentially gone!) but stayed on the antidepressants until spring on doctor’s orders. I felt my cognition rekindle; it took 3-4 weeks but when the change came it was pretty sudden (yay, I can think!). And that was over six months ago, so where has the blogging been? In 2018, I had half as many posts as 2017.

The way I had originally defined the scope of the blog has become limiting to me. I think this is key, and it’s taken me a few months to really absorb it. I kept having ideas of things to say but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say them here. Weird, since this is my blog to say what I want, but it’s taken me a while to give myself permission to talk about other things beyond the original scope of the project. I’ve felt limited by the name of the blog (which I chose four years ago when things were different), but I don’t have a better name yet, so fuck it. For now, it stays. I intend to revise my About page to reflect the new scope, in bits, as the mood strikes. If I tell myself it all has to be done in one go, it becomes overwhelming and doesn’t get done at all.

I’ve just become aware of a few other factors – less significant, but they go some way to filling in the remaining gaps. I might have mentioned before that I have a new(ish) laptop and I’ve found it difficult to adjust to. The keyboard is different and I get typos more often than before. So that’s annoying. Also, the screen is smaller than I’m used to so editing photos is less fun and more hassle. I have a nice big monitor for my work computer, which spoils me for the small one.

In addition to this, I have few reasons to turn on the laptop, and it being off is a barrier somehow. I don’t really know why, but it’s definitely a thing. I’m much more likely to putter on the blog, and especially reply to comments and comment on other people’s writing, when the laptop is already on.

Wolf has been gone for a week now and I’m rediscovering the routine I had while he was away doing his doctorate. During the day I like it quiet. No music. No talk radio. No TV or Netflix or YouTube. Just silence, other than the sound of a bit of traffic outside and sometimes the wind. (Actually, a lot of wind lately.)

OK, this isn’t really any different from when Wolf is here. But in the evening, it changes. I now have to do the cooking and dishes, and I want music on while I work around the house. When I want music, I go on Soundcloud, which I do from my laptop because of technical reasons. And lo, now my laptop is on every day, and I can just decide to write a little something or do other blog maintenance and it feels so much easier.

Brains are weird.

slow burn

I have never been a fan of quickies and that seems unlikely to change any time soon.

Before my epiphany, sexual shame put a damper on everything. I didn’t feel sexy. I didn’t experience spontaneous arousal. I didn’t experience much arousal even with help. On the rare occasions when I got warmed up, it took a long time to get there and Wolf and I would usually take, oh, 2-3 hours.

The last quickie I can recall was pre-Wolf, so a long time ago indeed. My boyfriend and I had been attending a low-key social event at a restaurant one evening. As I recall, we ducked out to his car in the parking lot and we had 15 or 20 minutes before we needed to give someone a ride home. I don’t remember anything more about it (and what I do remember is very hazy), but I must have been very turned on and that pleases me.

Thing is, as a rule, I still don’t get turned on easily at all. I think my libido is just naturally low, and having had all of my early learning about sexuality tainted with that deep shame, I suspect it continues to affect my relationship with sex even now, despite the fact that I don’t feel that specific shame anymore.

I’ve been trying to figure out my turn-ons but haven’t gotten very far with the project, or there just aren’t many. Either way, it’s a source of frustration. And on top of that, depression and medication have taken their toll. The slightest flicker of libido is therefore welcomed, but if I’m going to act on it, it needs a tremendous amount of coaxing to ignite, like damp wood.

And you know? Fast and furious just isn’t my style. I don’t do anything quickly. Shopping, travelling, crafting and sewing. I like to take my time with all of it, and if I rush, I don’t enjoy it.

So for the foreseeable future, any sex is going to be slow sex.