The New York Times’ Op-Ed columnist, Maureen Dowd couldn’t resist jumping into the conversation about women’s sexuality, S & M and why some very smart women enjoy surrendering to a powerful man, in her recent article, She’s Fit To Be Tied (NYT April 1, 2012).
Even with this article that openly discusses the legendary Story of O and the suddenly hot Fifty Shades of Grey, we are still dancing around the lies we tell ourselves about sex. We are sex-obsessed. We are obsessed with wanting it in all its flavors, deny that we want it, and then hide it when we get it the way we want it. It takes a lot of guts to be a normal real person in the real world living a fully integrated life, i.e., embracing your sexuality.
It’s fine for creatures of fiction to go off the deep end ŕ la Story of O or Beauty in Anne Rice’s contribution to erotica and have nothing else to do but devote themselves utterly to sex. But real people, the ones who dare to step outside the sexual box, are in fact indistinguishable from everybody else. They are housewives, farmers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, cops, factory workers and high flying financiers (oh how bodice-ripper writers love those financiers—thank you Goldman Sachs).
Even though sexual desires are absolutely normal, as soon we have the nerve to admit them, even to ourselves, we immediately have to plaster it over with shame and denial. Take Kathy, one of my sexuality coaching clients, who called me the other day filled with frustrated longing.
“I want to be shameless,” she cries. ” ‘I’ the professional, ‘I’ the parent, ‘I’ the daughter, and ‘I’ the secret slut… I have denied myself so much for so long, that I don’t know what I want anymore. I want to be shameless. Yet without the scaffolding of shame, self doubt, second guessing and fear of failure, I don’t know who I would be. Some days shame feels like all I have.”
Kathy’s misery echoes exactly the same anguish I hear over and over from women and men. We are confused by society’s multiple conflicting messages. Give into your desires; don’t you dare. Be faithful; try swinging. You don’t need a partner; you are nothing without one. Be monogamous; try polyamory or open marriage. Then there’s the old standby: cheating.
It’s making us all a little crazy. We’re fragmented. We’re taught to box off our sexuality from the time we’re little kids (U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was pilloried for advocating masturbation). I mean, we’re talking about cutting out the core of one of the most basic and necessary of human behavior from the rest of our lives. That leaves most of us isolated, angry, anxious or in therapy trying to identify what’s wrong and then attempting to reconnect to what’s been sealed off. No easy feat. Most of us ping pong between salacious voyeurism and repentance and repression. We’re programmed to fear our desires, to treat them as alien invaders that threaten the very fabric of a “normal life.”
We don’t have real language or real live people to help us even think about this in a rational context. All we have are fetishized images that keep us in perpetual heat while the gatekeepers of “morality” slam the door on sex ed and information. We are a country at war with sex.
It takes the kind of courage needed to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, to live out loud. The truth is, we’re all at risk for becoming The Scarlet Letter‘s protagonist Hester Prynne. If people knew what we did behind our closed bedroom doors or in private sex clubs that exist in every state in this great nation, we can be pretty sure that there’d be hell to pay. Anyone who’s been outed knows the stakes: lose a job, get booted from the PTA, and worse, publicly shamed.
I know whereof I speak on this one. I outed myself. I figured, What was there to be ashamed of exactly? That I was happier? A better wife and mother when I finally unearthed my deeply buried sexuality? Yeah, well… I penned a funny memoir of my midlife coming of sexual age for a well regarded, crunchy granola, squeaky clean publishing house. They knew exactly what I was trying to say: I am “Everywoman,” with two kids, a 30-year-old marriage, money problems, and my mother. That I could dive into the “sexual underground,” find out that I, a powerhouse of a CEO, really liked the freedom I found in “surrender” and l could get home in time to cook dinner and have quality family time. I found healing on my journey, and I wanted to share it with the world.