Have you ever wished you felt sexier, wondered what “sexy” even means or grappled with barriers in your desire? I loved chatting with Dr. Alexandra Solomon about these topics and more. We discussed her latest book and answered questions on turn-ons, “fitness” compulsions that interfere with intimacy and, with Dr. Megan Fleming‘s help, low desire live at Diesel Bookstore.
Listen below or search for Girl Boner Radio on your favorite podcast app! Read on for partial, lightly edited transcripts.
“Maybe someday there will be no need to take sexy back because the sexual self will begin as, and remain, an integrated part of who we are.”
I love this quote from Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want, by Dr. Alexandra H. Solomon—an expert whose work I’ve admired for some time. I recently had the chance to chat with her live at Diesel Bookstore in LA about her mission to help women reclaim their inherent sexiness, the role men who care about women can play in this process and more.
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Onto my chat with Dr. Alexandra Solomon. Alexandra is passionate about helping people show up for their relationships with compassion, integrity, and awareness. She’s on faculty at Northwestern University, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, and the author of two books—Loving Bravely: Twenty Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want andTaking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want. She maintains a psychotherapy practice for individuals and couples, teaches and trains marriage and family therapy graduate students, and teaches the internationally renowned undergraduate course, “Building Loving and Lasting Relationships: Marriage 101.” A sought-after speaker, she’s frequently asked to talk about love, sex and marriage with media outlets like The Today Show, O Magazine, The New York Times, Vogue, and Scientific American. And I’m so grateful to share her wisdom with you today.
Thank you all so much. Thank you for being here.
Alexandra, your book is amazing. Congratulations on Taking Sexy Back… I know what a labor of love a book is. Could we start with talking about what that means? Taking Sexy Back. Who took it, right?
That’s right. So we think of the word sexy as an adjective, right? And I think that each woman, and probably each man as well, has a particular kind of relationship to that word. And in my experience as a woman, as a therapist, as a faculty member, it is a fraught, loaded word, and one that women often feel like they need to pose as a question. Like, “Do you find me sexy? And what are the conditions in which I get to be sexy, and who determines what sexy is?” And so it’s oftentimes something that is in response to the gaze of another.
And so what we’re doing in this book is we make sexy from an adjective into a noun. And so this book ends up really being couples therapy between the reader and her sexy. Capital Y, Your; capital S, Sexy. And so it really is a journey into what is this part of you, and does it, did it ever, feel like it belonged to you? And what might it be like if we located the sexual self, the erotic self inside of us, like what new possibilities open up?
You talk about the messaging we receive from all sorts of different influences, including sex education, which is pretty lacking still in our culture. I wonder if you could share a memory from your own life and journey, something that you learned early on that maybe disrupted some of those ideas a little bit for you of what authentic sexuality would be.
My memories of sex education were that it was very much focused on biology, on reproduction. And then there wasn’t really anything about our relational quality. And for most of us, it is that way. I had a student say to me last year after a lecture I gave, “I’ve never heard sex talked about without shame, without disease.” Paired with it.
So certainly, those public health aspects are vital. But it’s not everything. And so my sex education really came from Sunday evenings. I’m an eighties girl. So on Sunday evenings I would take my Walkman and I would hide, put my head under my comforter, and turn on Dr. Ruth. And that was when she was in her heyday. And it was like my dirty little secret. Nobody in my family knew I was listening, and so it became this sort of split inside of me that I was, for all intents and purposes, a very good student, a very good daughter, you show me a rule, I follow the rule, and it was like this was this little enclave where I would just be fascinated by the callers and the questions and the conversations.
Can we talk about Dr. Ruth for a moment? I find it so fascinating that when we think about sex and sexuality, so often we think about society’s ideas of what sexy means when we’re talking about women and families. And Dr. Ruth broke those in so many different ways, in really awesome ways. She’s not someone that you would expect to be talking about sexiness. Although I think she’s very sexy, but I’ve heard people say, “It was like my grandmother talking to me about sex.” What did you feel about her? And also the perceptions that we have as a culture about an aging woman being sexy.
Well, it’s beautiful – another way that she subverts those paradigms. And it’s even interest in her size – she’s a lot in a little package. I remember just feeling like she was so wise. Was really grateful to have that be a part of my world, but also something I didn’t really feel –
I guess I could talk to my girlfriends about it. My girlfriends and I knew which parent had which magazines hiding under which beds and we would kind of steal a glance into a Joy of Sex or a Kama Sutra book that we found somewhere. But it was something that really didn’t feel like it was woven into the rest of my life.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue work in this field? When did it become such a passion professionally for you?
It’s interesting, because I have been a couples therapist for 20 years now, and I’ve been training graduate students and then teaching undergraduate students. But there’s a way in which my field is also split. We have couples therapists over here and then we have sex therapists over there. And so it’s another way in which there’s like those people over there and then these people over here. And because I had been very identified as “these people” – a couples therapist – and I had no training in human sexuality, which is quite bizarre when you think about it because that’s what I’m sitting with, are marriages, relationships, like these intimate little systems. But what I was trained to do is just help the couple communicate more effectively. And if they’re talking well, then the sex will follow. You don’t ever have to look at the sex directly. So, there’s a way in which that reinforced the taboo nature of conversations about sex.
It wasn’t until relatively recently in my career that I was like, “No more feeling like I can’t authorize myself to really deepen into these conversations.” I think also just the nature of podcasts like yours and the research is finally catching up. The research around female sexuality is catching up. So there’s ways in which it’s taken all of us a long time to be like, “We have to just normalize this.”
She feels healthier after breast implant removal. He wants her to wear a padded bra during sex.
Yes. And thank you for doing that. It’s so huge… I would love to talk about a few questions that we’ve received. One you received from one of your fans or followers. You received one about a woman who had her implants removed, and you said that now she feels 100% healthier, but her husband has asked her to wear a padded bra when they make love. What was your first impression when you heard that?
I think that’s one of the beautiful things that we do in this work. She and I will never probably meet face to face. But she felt safe enough to ask this important question. And I think, as a therapist, I tried to walk a careful line of speaking from a place of big picture rather than speaking to her experience.
The first thing I thought is that there are two entire stories that go into this moment. We don’t know all of the nuances of who each of these people are. I don’t know what her story was when she first decided to get implants. What was the story behind that? I talk a lot about decisions that we make being guided by one of two things, being guided by love or being guided by fear. Decisions we make that are guided by love are just trusting the bounty. Trusting plenty. Feeling from a place of deep authenticity versus fear being a place of “should” and “I don’t know.” So if it was sort of a “should” that she felt like the culture told her eight ways to Sunday about how breasts should look…. Was there a piece of her that felt like she needed to do this in order to meet some standard, and then at some point she decided? It sounds like the implants had made her ill. So she has them removed and she’s feeling wonderful. She is feeling well, she’s feeling healthy, and now her partner is struggling.
Well, her partner has an entire history of his own conditioning around his sexuality. So when he says, “I want you to wear a padded bra,” I don’t know if he can make the bridge to how unintentionally hurtful that might be. If we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt, he’s coming from a place of his own whatever, the intent probably isn’t to make her feel bad, but the impact is she feels badly. She feels ashamed and embarrassed, but I was wondering also, when I think about especially in heterosexuality, the sexual narrative – I’m so aware we’re sitting in a public courtyard – the sexual narrative of heterosexual sex is incredibly erection focused. The entire storyline hinges on what’s happening with his erection.
So I wonder if when he says, “Please wear a padded bra,” if he’s afraid, that he doesn’t trust his body, that he can really ease into, have some time to reset his sexual energy around the shift in her body. So maybe the way in which he’s trying to spare both of them what he feels would be a failure if anything changes around his erection in this new sexual chapter. But instead of saying, “Babe, here’s my worry. Like, I don’t know. I love you. I love us. I love the love we make. It just may be a little while until I understand how to work with this new, you know, the way that your body now feels.”
If he could say that, then maybe she could be like, okay, wonderful. Maybe it would feel really liberating to both of them, but I wonder if he’s trying to prevent, in his mind, a perceived problem.
That’s a really good point because, when I first hear the question, I feel protective of this woman and to know more about this scenario would be so helpful. Of course, because there’s also a chance that this person is maybe being controlling.
And if that’s the case, that’s a very different thing. But most people are not. So it also brings up the issue of having difficult conversations, which I hear from so many people that’s the hardest thing to do. And, somehow that it’s easier to say something like, “I need you to wear a padded bra,” than to peel back some of those layers and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and really talk about those things, especially in this performance based culture, like you said.
So what would be a first step for a couple in that situation? Let’s give them both the benefit of the doubt and say they’re both really good-hearted people who want the best for this relationship. What should they do?
You’re right, it really might be a controlling narrative, and if we’re going with benefit of the doubt, he also has an entire lifetime of being conditioned to, “Breasts should look like this.” And very few of us have the bodies and the physiques that are shown to us in media, in erotic material.
I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s hardwired into people.” But we sexualize things as a culture. Other cultures see bodies very differently than here. So, because we all have these influences of “this is what sex looks like,” we kind of can train our bodies to have arousal attached to certain stimulus or stimuli. But we can also choose what turns us on in a positive way that we want to be turned on.
Right. And we can create new neural pathways. If it has been, “This erotic material turns me on; this behavior turns me on;” it doesn’t have to be the only thing; we can always expand that menu.
So thinking about what would we want for them? If she is going to kind of push back a bit or take an opportunity to expand a conversation, what I would want her to say is, “When you make that request of me, the story I tell myself is,” so those words, “the story I tell myself is,” it’s Couples Therapy 101.
We so often don’t do that. We assume what’s in our partners’ heads and the longer we’re together, the more we feel like we really know everything that’s inside their heads and we really don’t.
So the first thing I might want her to do is just say, “When you make that request of me, the story I tell myself is that you think I’m ugly and that you are not drawn to me anymore. And the feelings I have about that are I feel really deeply insecure and somewhat in conflict, because I, of course, want you to delight in my appearance and I want you to delight in our love making, but there’s this competing truth…and that is I feel better than I ever have. I feel healthier. And so there’s a part of me that just won’t succumb to a feeling of ‘I regret that I had them removed or I’ve done something wrong or I’ve hurt us,’ because my health is actually really supportive of both of us.”
One of the things that occurred to me is curiosity around how it was brought up: how he asked this question, because there are so many ways. If you’re talking about yourself and your own feelings, we receive it very differently than saying “You don’t do this” and “You’re not doing this” and “You don’t look like this.”
I wonder if it came across as a judgment or if it was a very tender, “This is hard for me to say, but I can’t function when you’re not wearing a padded bra.”
I feel like empathetic listening for both of them would be so powerful. I know there’s no one right answer, but what would be a healthy goal in that scenario?
Maybe one healthy goal would be intimacy-promoting. If there are ways in which she’s also grieving, maybe she’s grieving the loss of these breasts and she may feel like this was a really hard decision in some ways. So they could grieve together the loss, and in some ways, that’s what a relationship is. We are constantly grieving the loss of the younger us, of how we looked before children. That’s what it is to love across time is to grieve, to attend many, many, many losses of each other’s, like aspects of self, and then celebrations of new parts of self that come forward.
But I feel like they’re missing that opportunity for them to both say together, “Those were lovely breasts. The perk was lovely. So much gratitude. Thank you for those breasts, for what they did for us for that time. And they’re gone, and goodbye. Best wishes. And now let’s get to know this new body.” To really honor like what sensations are awakening for her. So, he could really show up in that sexual space in service to her. They could really explore together this new body, this new aspect of body. But can he step into that? Can he be curious? Can he serve? Can she allow herself to receive his curiosity? That’s what I would really love for them.
Yes. I’d also love to find out from the man where he got his ideas about breasts, and I think we can make a lot of guesses about that. I think we all receive messages about what “sexy” traditionally looks like. I think sometimes by asking ourselves those questions, we might think that we actually want this person to do this particular thing or to wear this or to not wear that. But some introspection can really be helpful.
I know that for me in my own journey, realizing some of the messaging I had absorbed and not realized that I had was just so empowering. You can get a little angry about it and go, “Wait a minute. This is not something that I even chose. It just sort of happened to me.”
I’m blessed to work at Northwestern, where I have graduate and undergraduate students that are working with me. I’m really blessed with this incredible writing team, and we would bump up against these things, where sometimes it would be really strong in one of us, and sometimes really strong in another, where we would just move a ton of grief and anger through us as we were working on these different aspects of this book. Just as you’re saying, like the stuff that we internalize that we did not ask for, that can make us potentially even alter our own bodies to question the perfection that is in the body exactly as it is.
I know in my own relationship with my body, I have been relating to it as a project my entire life. It’s something that needs to be improved on or worked on or altered. So I resonate with my first reaction to this question. It was sort of like, “No! You are beautiful and whole as you are and your sexuality is so much bigger than any shape or measurement or anything.”
So, that anger and that grief are, I think, really important because they push back against – the alternative is shame. The alternative is either the culture’s fucked up or I’m fucked up, and I would so much rather put it back on the culture and the messaging, the stuff that we did not ask for. Can I say “f’ed up” in a public space?
A newlywed’s fixation on food and exercise is interfering with sex.
No alarms went off. So I think we’re okay. No one’s arrested us yet.
This ties so well into another question. This is from one of my listeners… Tim said, “My partner and I got married last year and there is no honeymoon period sexually. I’m worried his fixation at the gym and bodybuilding are getting in the way. He claims he’s doing it for health and confidence, but he’s tired all the time and actually seems more self-conscious. Yesterday he spent hours at the store picking out special foods and supplements when we were supposed to be spending time together. Instead of romance or sex, we had a big fight.”
I feel so much for both of these individuals as well. What struck you as you were listening to that?
I think there is this false idea that once I get to X, whatever it is, once I bench this many pounds, or once my waist is this many inches, or once I weigh this many pounds, then my libido will come back. Or then I will be – it’s so easy to put the goal out there.
And then what happens a hundred times out of a hundred is you get to that goal and then it’s not enough. Because there’s a new goal and it was never the right question in the first place.
So something is blocking Tim’s husband’s ability to be present, to just soften into connection and intimacy and being versus doing. But we don’t know what it is. And the hard thing about Tim’s spot, is that if his husband is really lost in an eating disorder, in an addiction, in a compulsive behavior, what Tim says is very likely to bounce right off his husband and just not have an impact. That’s very sad. The addiction, compulsion, takes us out of intimate connection. Really the intimacy is with the addictive pattern rather than with the other person.
I really feel for both of them because I suspect his husband may be really hurting. Sometimes, we develop an addiction because we are trying to hide from a wound we haven’t addressed, a trauma. And that becomes a way to kind of contain all emotion, create order from something that feels rather chaotic. I don’t know if it’s something about the new marriage that maybe has pushed some of that old pain forward. So the force of that old pain is now being met with the force of the compulsive exercise. But those would be all kinds of questions that I would be wanting to explore if we were sitting with them.
Yeah, absolutely. I found it really interesting that the focus of this question is about sex and there’s this expectation because it’s the new time in the marriage and all of that, but when there is some sort of, whether it’s disordered eating, or compulsion, it’s never just about the sex. It’s probably manifesting in all areas of both of their lives. I feel like it’s a whole other entity almost.
And I found it interesting, the timing, too because I feel like if it was leading up to the wedding that this was happening, that’s something that we see a lot. This idea of “I’m going to slim down to look ‘hot’ in my wedding photos” and it can become a bit of an addiction. It’s so socially acceptable, which is so difficult because you get praise for this thing that you’re doing that’s becoming very, very painful and destructive, which I think ties in so well with the messaging in your book about what sexy even means and reclaiming it for ourselves.
What do we do when it’s rifling against the messaging so much that all the forces around you are saying, “No, but this is how it works?” That can feel pretty frustrating.
Absolutely. What you’re saying is so spot on. We don’t what Tim’s husband – the kind of feedback he’s getting in his life, and we don’t know his whole story. He may have felt like he was overweight as a child or marginalized in his social community as a child growing up. So there may be an effort to kind of heal that story of the chubby little boy or you know, whatever it is. So it’s things that potentially really predate the relationship.
I guess I would want Tim to be able to just say to his husband, “If you ever are available for some observations or a conversation about your relationship with the gym, I would really be interested in having that.” So in therapy, we call it “going meta,” sort of asking a question about talking. One step up of like, “I’m aware that I’m having some feelings about your relationship with the gym and I want to tread really carefully. But if you are available for that conversation, I would love to talk.”
And I think, too, as someone who has gone through times when I had similar kinds of compulsions, questions that don’t involve food or a specific exercise or something, if someone’s on the treadmill saying like, “Oh, I think that’s getting a little overboard,” that is definitely going to bounce right off.
As you were saying, a lot of those things kind of just don’t sink in and, if anything, you become very defensive. For me, what was really helpful was hearing, “I’m concerned because I really care about you and I love you and you don’t seem as happy as you were. There’s something. I feel like there’s a struggle going on and I just want you to know that I’m here and I’m not going to judge you. And do you want to talk about it? Could I help you find some way to talk about it?” Because I think that that step of getting help is so challenging as well.
I think that it can be really polarizing. And the more, in this example, Tim says things like, “You were at the gym for three hours” or you know, trying to kind of like call out behaviors in order to get his husband to see it. The more it’s like that, then the more his husband is going to start to hide and start to deny and defend. So that sort of accusation/defensiveness becomes a cycle unto itself. And the more one of us holds one pole, the more the other is going to hold the other pole.
So the way you are languaging it, around, “I love you. Here’s what I notice. These are my concerns,” it’s a lot of transparency, and to ground it in Tim’s concerns.
That’s beautiful advice.
The other thing that you highlighted a little bit is the honeymoon notion. It’s another notion that during that early months and early years post-marriage we ought to be in a sexual whatever.
Like it’s all downhill from there, right?
So this is another performance expectation that we “should.” Whenever those “should” come in, those are really unsexy. “Shoulds” do not invite us into a space of connection.
The reality is that to become a husband is to become a different version of self. And it may take a little while to settle into, “Okay, so who are we now to each other?”
All those narratives we had about watching our own parents’ marriages, the messages we internalize about the nature of marriage itself, can really sit heavy with us and then can confront that idea that during the honeymoon period we “should.” So I would also want them to just to lift that off of their plates about any expectation of who they should be sexually to each other now that they’re married.
Her sexual desire is MIA.
Yes, because pressure is not very arousing… I have a question that actually came to our resident sex therapist, Dr. Megan Fleming, and she answered via an audio clip. This question came from Amy, who wrote this: “I’m 32 years old and really struggling with lack of desire, like almost none. It’s really problematic because my husband feels rejected and he is so frustrated. Help.”
So here is what Dr. Megan Fleming of greatlifegreatsex.com had to say.
Amy, great question. And so fun to follow up on the conversation and interview with August and Alexandra. I want to remind us, as Alexandra says, that all sexual problems are couples’ problems and I really like her equation of love, which is “My stuff plus your stuff equals our stuff.”
It’s so important that you and your husband together recognize it doesn’t feel good honestly to either be the gatekeeper as a low libido partner, or the one with a higher libido, who often may be feeling sort of rejected and not desired. So it’s important that you both look beyond any sort of stories of the shame and blame to discover together new possibilities.
I also think that it’s so important that we’re doing the self-exploration, because low desire is almost always determined by many, many factors. So first, certainly, speak with your doctor, because we want to rule out that it’s not hormonal changes, depression, anxiety, side effects of medications. The biggest sex organ is our brain. Although often there’s the cognitive component and all of the inhibitions, shame, blame, guilt and all the inhibiting factors that can be impacting desire. We definitely want to rule out any of the organic or medical ones.
One of the core ingredients is always looking at what are the conditions for sex? And the foundation of arousal is relaxation. The first condition is sort of [being] rested and relaxed. And if you’re like a lot of women, you know, at 32, I don’t know if you have young children at home, but there’s often a feeling of overwhelm and running on empty–the antithesis, obviously, of the relaxation and the correct conditions.
And it’s really starting with self-care. I always say self-care is not selfish. Because you really want to be in a place that – it’s like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. On the bottom of that is shelter, stability, security, food, what we need to live. And then higher is the self-actualization. But desire is really higher up on the scale. So we first have to make sure you’re covering the basics and your foundations.
And then from there, what are your turn-ons? I think women really have an opportunity to empower themselves by exploring and discovering their turn-ons. Because as I like to say, often we’re turning ourselves off long before our partner even enters the room. And so, explore fantasies. A great one is reliving peak experiences. Really bring them back with mental rehearsal in your mind’s eye, and embody the sensations of those peak experiences. And again, what were those sensations and what were the thoughts or the fantasies? Because we really want to relive them and learn from them.
And also to think about, because I speak to this as well, the role of scheduling sex. I know that that never sounds sexy, but it’s the idea that we schedule a vacation and we don’t enjoy that any less… Say it’s Saturday at two o’clock, maybe it’s after nap where you are rested and relaxed. You can’t command what you’re going to feel any more than you can command yourself to be sleepy. But we can again create those conditions.
And so, you know, maybe it’s after the nap, what are some of the fun things you do that are connecting? Maybe it’s taking a yoga class together and sort of getting your heart rates up, whatever works for you. But it’s really in the moment spontaneously deciding what you want to do because you’ve carved out the time that otherwise most busy couples don’t have. And therefore, again, nothing has to happen. But certainly a lot of fun is more likely to happen, and you’re creating those great conditions.
So, other than that, I would also recommend my own Rekindle Desire program. It’s a 60-minute self-help audio program and workbook. So you sort of work through it at your own pace and it definitely has experiential exercises in there, which I think give us keys and clues to really knowing what our turn-ons are.
And also, of course, I’m going to recommend Alexandra’s book Taking Sexy Back. I just love her book and I’m recommending it to all my clients as well as Emily Nagoski’s Come as You Are. And, Amy if [after utilizing those] resources, you feel like you’re still sort of stuck or challenged or find it difficult to want to want, definitely reach out to an AASECT-certified sex therapist or counselor, because you absolutely don’t want to be alone.
You are not alone, and there are absolutely qualified professionals who can help you.
Thank you so much, Dr. Megan. She brought up so many wonderful points. I love what she says about scheduling sex, how it sounds so boring, but you plan a vacation and that just makes it more exciting because you have something to look forward to.
Another one of those romanticized ideas that if we have to schedule, it is somehow isn’t romantic and that desire ought to always be spontaneous. And that is not the lived experience of many, many women, especially women who are partnered in monogamous relationships. And now very recently with research done with men. I can’t think of the gal’s name who just wrote a book about how much male sexual desire is also responsive.
So we’re responsive to the conditions and whether the conditions are connection first or as being in the schedule. Our sex drive is not this innate animalistic thing. It needs to be cultivated and nurtured and nourished, within us, and between us.
Because we’re lacking education, and we don’t learn much except for, as you mentioned, we learn still about diseases, and we learn about abstinence, typically. We don’t really learn about pleasure, we don’t learn about a lot of things. We end up having to lean on what’s available, which for a lot of people is porn, or just depictions they’ve seen in movies.
What role has media played, do you think, in the ways that we define sexy, especially for, I guess for everybody, but in the context of your book, the ways that women feel, like sexy versus feeling sexually empowered and embraced.
Because one thing that I hear a lot is, “Oh, you’re in the sexual empowerment space. That’s really interesting because we don’t need that. We see sexy everything everywhere.” Like “women are too sexual” is what I hear. And I think that misses the point.
I think about that in terms of this question. So she is feeling low drive, low desire, and her partner is feeling disappointed. So if he’s trying to kind of motivate her to please him, to connect with him, to not disappoint him, then there’s a risk of sex becoming a performance or a duty. That’s what we oftentimes see in the media is sex that is performative or for somebody else’s pleasure.
So there’s a way in which this dance that the two of them are doing in their own marriage in some ways mirrors all of patriarchy. There’s so much lineage there about the idea of women’s duties to their husbands, and women’s bodies being for everybody else’s pleasure but their own. So I feel so much for them. It’s like this dance is the two of their dance, but it’s also the dance of an entire cultural system.
I really want her husband to be able to unpack his story of “I feel rejected,” because that is also part of this patriarchy is that a man’s status is determined by her interest in him. Female interest determines male worth is one of the other stories of patriarchy.
So how else might he expand his repertoire of how he feels her love? How he feels that he’s really shining in her eyes and if he had a wider repertoire for feeling loved by her, for feeling cared for by her, for feeling connected to her, it might just lift off the pressure enough for her desire to be like, “Oh wait…I feel my desire because it doesn’t feel like you’re just looking at me like, ‘do you love me now? Am I good enough now?'”
So if he can kind of step back, wide and out, that then she can have some space to step forward. Which is what we’re saying, empowerment. For her to feel sexually empowered is for her to feel like, “Okay, I’m stepping forward.” There’s that agency versus just “All I can do is receive and lift the gate for him to enter in.”
Yes. And in very specific ways, too.
How has this work, especially the work you did for this book, impacted your own sense of self?
Last weekend I was at a book signing and a woman came up and bought the book for her daughter who’s 24 and she said, “My daughter is just really kind of confused in her life. She’s not sure where she wants to live. She’s not sure of the work she wants to do. She’s not sure about her relationship status. She just is feeling kind of so paralyzed and not grounded. I just want to get her this book.” And this thing came together for me, which is about the process or the journey of integrating, healing.
Weaving in the erotic self is grounding. It’s centering. It’s saying, “I’m not going to have bits of me scattered all over the place. I’m going to bring all of me. I’m going to have access to all of me. And the more I have access to all of me, the more I can be really clear on what’s a yes and what’s a no, what my boundary is, where it is, why it’s there. I can speak my truth with love.”
I get tearful saying it. I think that’s what the book has been for me as well. It’s like me pushing back against all the ways in which I thought, “I can’t write a book like this because I’m a mom. I can’t write a book like this because I’m in my forties. I can’t do a book like this because I’m a therapist,” all these sorts of stories about why I can’t authorize myself to speak in this voice, in this way, about these things that really, really mattered to me.
And in my own process with the book, I’ve collected all those parts of me, and now I can show up more fully in spaces and feel more aligned about what I’m choosing and what I’m not choosing. And that’s such a gift to my clients, to my students, to my husband, to my teenagers, you know, to me. So that’s what this book is about.
If you could summarize it in a nutshell, what do you most hope that readers, specifically the main demographic, the people you were thinking about when you were writing these words? What is the message you hope people take away?
When they bump up against shame in any aspect of their relationship with their sexual self, that they don’t take that shame as truth, that they take that shame as a reflection that they’ve inherited something that they did not ask for, and that they can meet that shame with a deep, deep well of fierce self-compassion, and that from that place of self-compassion, that’s when a new path opens up. And you don’t have to know what that new path is. You don’t have to know where you’re going. You just have to arrive in that space of “Okay, there’s shame here. I meet that shame with self-compassion, and I stay present to that, and then I release the outcome.” Then you just trust the next thing comes forward.
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