It’s not (all) about sex
When I was writing for DIVA Magazine (the UK’s lesbian and bisexual women’s magazine) as their Sex/Life Editor (2013-2015), a reader responded to the promotion of one of my articles on Facebook with words to the effect of: “Not sex again. I want to read DIVA, not Cosmo. Can’t you write about something more interesting?”
My aim for the Sex/Life pages was not to write Cosmo-style “how to” or “ten top tips” type articles about the act of sex. Rather, I always sought to say something about how people express their sexual selves, what this means to them, and what role their sexual energy plays in their lives. I interviewed butch-identified lesbians about how they negotiate and navigate their sex lives with femme and other butch women. I wrote about asexuality and celibacy. I shared my experience of working with a tantrika and receiving a healing, yoni massage. I talked to Dossie Easton, author of The Ethical Slut, and told the readers what she had to say about turning seventy and her five decades of being a radical, sexual pioneer. And much, much more. Alongside those articles I wrote erotic stories that centred on emotions and feelings, lust and desire, as well as who put what where and how. My own interest in the topic of “sex” has always been more expansive than simply describing the act. I am trained in conscious sexuality, have worked as a sexual surrogate partner in a sexual healing programme, and view myself as an explorer on the path of sexual expression. My personal desire lines are filled with curiosity and a quest for self-growth, as well as my basic, horny needs to fuck and be fucked.
I wondered if the woman who wrote on the DIVA Facebook page had even read my articles. If she had, surely she would have realised that they were way more interesting than “just sex”?
Expansion is a word that keeps coming up for me as I write about desire lines. Expansion is about wanting more: to be more, to have more, to experience more… And yet there are conflicts with this. One conflict centres on the imperative of knowing and believing that we – each of us – are already ‘enough’. There is nothing lacking. We are already perfect and whole. We do not need another experience or another person to ‘complete’ us; there is no quest for a missing ‘other half’. Another conflict concerns what we have been conditioned to believe about our wants and needs: the challenges we can experience in even knowing what they are, and then the subsequent obstacles we face in being able to ask for those needs to be met. Following on from this, many of us have further issues with actually being able to receive: questions can arise about worthiness and deservedness.
It is complicated.
However, I am not sure it needs to be.
Think about that word ‘expansion’ for a moment. How does it make you feel? I picture myself with arms outstretched, ready to embrace the world, soaring, vibrant, alive.
Now think about the opposite: ‘constriction’ or ‘contraction’. Becoming smaller, stagnating, being less and less of who you truly are.
I know which I choose.
I choose to keep growing and evolving; to keep looking for, noticing, and walking my desire lines.
Some of these desire lines appear within existing relationships and, of those, some are to be walked alone, and others are journeys that I can take with my partner. Some are very private, internal, quiet paths; others take me out into the world, to fresh adventures and new sexual landscapes. My desire lines are rarely about “just sex”.
What comes before sex?
When I was a teenager, I knew about masturbation but didn’t have a clue how to go about it. So I experimented. I touched myself under the covers at night, rubbing and rubbing at my clitoris and getting nothing in return except a sore and tender vulva. I saw an advert in a magazine for a catalogue of sex toys. If I sent a postal order for three pounds, I would receive the catalogue and a bonus gift of a “Lady’s Finger” vibrator. I sent off for it. I don’t remember if I ever looked at the catalogue, but I did take the vibrator under the covers and press it directly to me. The sensation was intense and not at all pleasant. I still didn’t know how to masturbate.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I discovered the missing element for my successful self-pleasuring. A very good friend (who later became my lover) offered me a book of erotic short stories: lesbian, BDSM stories written by the inimitable Pat (now Patrick) Califia. Macho Sluts was a pretty extreme introduction to the world of fantasy, but a very effective one for me. Involving more than just my body during my masturbation was what had been missing in my attempts to get myself off. In my naivety, I had thought that sex (and orgasm) was a physical experience. I had believed that, if only I could find the right way to stimulate my clitoris, I would come. Immersing myself in the fantasy stories of Macho Sluts, and keeping both hands above the covers, created more wetness, and more sexual tingling in my body than my previous attempts ever had. When I touched myself after finishing reading a story, the scenes still playing out in my mind’s eye, the results were much more thrilling and fulfilling. It still took time to learn the ways that my body likes to be touched (and I am still learning), but adding in the energy of fantasy, emotion, and connection, made all the difference for me. I had to learn what my sexual energy felt like, before I could work out what to do with it.
People may choose different ways to connect to their individual, sexual energy. For some, reading erotica can help paint a picture and create physical and emotional sensations. Some others prefer the more direct visual and auditory experience of watching porn. For others still, who may be more in touch with their own energy body to begin with, drawing up sexual energy with their breath, using sound and movement, and using visualisations, might be techniques that work.
It is tempting to make judgements about the ‘better’ or ‘right’ way to connect with one’s own sexual energy. But I prefer to allow “different strokes for different folks” on this one. Yes, there are discussions to be had about the influence of the porn industry, consent and coercion of those who work in it, and how to create ethical porn, but, for now, I want to focus on what it means to have authentic connection with our own sexual selves.
Letting the energy flow
It has to start with you having a sexual relationship with yourself. Betty Dodson (artist, author, sex educator, and a legend in the world of sex positivity and empowerment) describes masturbation as a love affair that can last a lifetime. Getting to know how our own sexual energy feels precedes all the subsequent learning about how we like to be touched. It is, after all, our sexual energy that seeks the expansion. Yes, there are more tricks and techniques to be played with (a la Cosmo’s ten top tips) but, ultimately, desire lines are about expanding who we are and not just what we do.
Was it relevant that my first experience of expanding my sexual energy was via BDSM erotica? I don’t know. I do know that those particular stories resonated with me: my body hummed at the same frequency as the words on the page. I felt my sexual energy begin to swirl and dance inside me in spaces that had previously been sealed off and vacant.
Many years later, in an Urban Tantra workshop with Barbara Carrellas, I was invited to breathe my sexual energy up through my chakras. Lying on the floor with the other participants all around me, I breathed and visualised my energy, I rocked my hips, and I listened to the ecstatic moans of my immediate neighbour. I felt my energy build in my pelvis and breathed it up to my belly. Then up further still into my solar plexus. As I moved the energy into my heart with my sounds, movements, and intention, I began to cry. My heart was still stuffed full of grief at the death of my lover three years before. Bringing my sexual energy into such close and intimate contact with my heart freed more of my grief. The facilitator instructed the group to draw their energy into their throat, their third eye, and finally, their crown chakra. All I could do was keep breathing and allow my tears. The last element of the experience was to hold and contain all the energy generated before releasing it as an energy/breath orgasm. I wasn’t ready. Instead, I raised my hand and one of the space holders came to ask what I needed. I needed to be held and comforted, allowed to feel the contrast between my desire to expand my sexual energy and my wish to keep my heart small and safe. It wasn’t just about sex, and it wasn’t only about grief – it was about what happens when we surrender to fully experiencing all of who we are.
There was another opportunity, at a later workshop, to experiment again with my breath orgasm. That time I moved the energy up and up and up, through all of my chakras. When I released it, I felt an extraordinary peacefulness. Not the explosive bliss of a physical orgasm but, instead, something that felt like a spiritual one. A deep sense of calm and stillness.
This awareness of my sexual energy exists in my encounters with my lovers too. For years I struggled to have any kind of orgasm. They would come and I would be left feeling frustrated and broken, but claiming that I was satisfied (either after faking an orgasm or simply saying I was finished, with no need for anything more). There are still times when I can’t come. Then there are times when a physical orgasm leaves me spent and sodden. And there are other times when I move to a deeper place inside of me that is more than my genitals, more than my heart, and more than my body. The orgasm that takes place there feels like an implosion. It feels like the creation of a black hole: a vast and serene spaciousness. When I emerge from that place, I am more than I was before.
Ready for more?