February 2017: Sexuality
In December’s blog, I opened the discourse about sexual assault. And in that blog, I introduced the idea of the messages we receive about what it means to be a sexual being.
We are bombarded with social images and concepts about what it means to be sexual with the opposite sex. Standards are set. Often there are competing and conflicting standards from media, parents and family, peers, institutions, religious convictions, etc. Fairly new on the scene is the concept of a spectrum for sexuality and gender. Not everyone fits conveniently into a heterosexual box or even a male-female polarization. And if you happen to be one of those people who is not easily “defined” by sexual standards or gender boxes, it can be very confusing and even complicated. Other issues surface including sense of self, victimization and abuse, exclusion, isolation, defamation, equality, and the list goes on.
Sexuality is deeply personal. It is not as simple as checking off a box, joining a certain group. It is tied to our very essence—our soul. How we see ourselves is impacted by the messages we receive about what it means to be a man or a woman (which can be very limiting) and what it means to engage in sexual experiences. In order to embrace who we are as individual persons, we have to set aside gender at the same time as honour the bodies that our essence comes in. In my utopia, people will learn what it means to be fellow (as in equal) human beings (without prejudicial labels) before stepping onto the trampoline of gender and sexuality. However, we are not there yet. Not even close. It is a different conceptualization to consider humanity at the core with gender and sexuality as expressions of a unique person—having no bearing on their value or ability to contribute to communal life on this planet.
So we have two things held in tension: gender and sexuality along with equality; which is a whole other discussion that I may take on in a future blog. And once again, I went in a direction different than intended; so let’s get back to what was initially on my mind: what we believe it means to be a sexual being, and what we believe about the act of sex itself.
Each sexual encounter can hold different meanings. There is the physical release (including all those bonding hormones that can make it a wonderfully satisfying experience; but for some, the focus is the adrenaline rush, not intimacy). There can also be a spiritual connection, when we invite that to be a part of it. And there is the intense confusion when the physical release by the body, naturally responding as it does to stimulation, is combined with manipulation and control. There is also the mental shut down (dissociation) that prevents a person from having any positive associations with sex or blocks unpleasant sexual experiences. Definitely not one-size-fits-all.
As for beliefs about personal female sexuality, one author* has broken it down to four basic cultural beliefs:
1) I must be good to be worthy of love.
2) I am not really a woman unless someone desires me sexually or romantically.
3) If I am sexual, I am bad.
4) I must be sexual to be lovable.
None of these internalized messages are healthy perceptions of oneself as a sexual being. They are reflections of an externally-based sense of self: how others perceive me influences my worth or value. Human value is innate. Everyone has the Breath of Life. It is not determined by external forces such as money, power, actions, acquisitions, attention, accolades, or achievements. No one person is more valuable than the next. We may do different things with our unique lives, but one’s choices do not determine one’s value. Our choices determine the trajectory of our lives. Our choices give expression to our human uniqueness. And the choices of others do not have any bearing on our value—maybe what happens to us, but not our core value.
Seeing ourselves as worthy of love and respect from the inside generates a different way of being in the world—including how we express our sexuality. Our sexuality is not about proving a point, earning approval, fulfilling obligations, performing a duty, or serving another person. It is not about inferiority or superiority. We need to reclaim our sexuality from the harmful internalized messages. It is part of being human, not a means to an end.
On my healing journey, I’ve had to reclaim my sexuality as being part of who I am, not a right or duty or something to be denied, hidden. I have had to untangle the conflicting messages I was fed. Sex isn’t bad. Being good doesn’t mean not having sex. I don’t have to be “good” (non-sexual) to be worthy of love. Nor do I have to be sexual (“bad”) to be lovable. A man’s attention does not validate me as a woman. I do not need to be desired to be female or even a person of worth and value. I am a person in my own right—it is not dependent upon how others see me or treat me.
My personal choices are a way to express my sexuality on my own terms and within my own boundaries. It is not something to be taken advantage of, violated, or exploited. I must also respect the boundaries of others and be mindful of how my choices may be received by others. Being a whole (integrated) human being in our society is not black and white. It is not a matter of right or wrong. It requires being respectful of ourselves and others. It is a delicate dance that requires we pay attention to subtle shifts in body language, the words people say, and what remains unsaid.
Sexuality is first and foremost about respect, with safety and security a close second. It is about setting boundaries as well as honouring boundaries. It is about understanding innate worth and value. It is not about defining ourselves to fit social standards but about understanding who we are at our very core.
May your journey of self-discovery include what it means to be the person you are in the package that you come in. Namaste: The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.
*Ready to Heal: Break Free of Addictive Relationships by Kelly McDaniel (2012), pp. 73-8.