Are you…?……….’Doing it’, that is?
Ok, so I better confess straight away that I am not ‘doing it’ and haven’t done anything remotely like ‘it’ for (gulp)… almost a year and a half now. (Yikes! Did I really just admit that publicly…? Yes, yes, I did.)
Now, before I go any further I want to state that I FULLY intend to have sex again, what follows is NOT going to be a nun-like rant extolling the virtues of abstinence, the cessation of desire and the disavowal of the body, far from it. But, I’m not going to lie, there have been points over this dry spell that I have lamented over whether I have somehow accidentally made my own ‘abstinence’ bed, and now I have no choice but to lie in it….ALONE. FOREVER. It has the most severe hospital corners, these sheets are just crying out to be mussed up. At times it has felt, and can feel like, that in my late twenties I have unwittingly ended up taking a vow of spinsterhood and entered a Convent , where I have been duped into donning a less than flattering floor-length habit and forced to relinquish my bodily desires to the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment…. Hail Mary.
Now, this sexually fallow period has been for the most part enforced by my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. In many ways I’ve had no choice in the matter. When you suffer from this illness sex really couldn’t be farther from your mind. Feeling turned-on or desirable is completely out of the question and even if you were be up for it, there is no WAY you would have the energy to go through with it, not even if the sexiest man alive was to walk straight into your bedroom. Plus, right now I live with my Mum: far from ideal. But my ‘illness imposed’ sister-of-the-cloth existence has also been decidedly ‘self-imposed’. I definitely also took a vow of celibacy by choice.
This enforced period ‘off the horse’ has really pushed me to walk all around it, examining this beast from every angle and to delve deeply into exactly what sex means for me and to work out what I want from it (trusting that the day will come when I will actually get to have it again!) I needed to work out exactly where I had been going wrong all these years. So why write about it? I have hummed and hawed about writing on this topic because it’s such a touchy and taboo one, and to do so honestly means to make myself pretty vulnerable and walk into the shadows for a bit, but I decided to forge ahead as I feel that I have honestly learned more about sex in this past year and a half of having none of ‘it’ whatsoever than I did in ten years of having it, and that I have come to some pretty mega insights that I think are really worth sharing. If my laying myself bare between the sheets in this way helps someone else to begin to work through some of their own unprocessed sexual issues, then it is totally worth it. Rest assured I am laying myself bare here, not anyone else that may have shared a bed with me at any point. But I will say that these days I have no shame. And I realise this is in fact a GOOD thing. The shame around sex is actually one of its biggest problems, if not the biggest problem! As is fear. There is no place for fear- not here, not anywhere; it is so damaging. So I hope that my fearlessness in sharing what follows will go some way to help to dispel unnecessary fear for others. The reality is that sex can be a minefield. And we’re all traversing it. So let’s talk about it.
Here’s what I learned… Warning- as with most things, shit’s gonna get DARK before the light breaks through… but if you manage to make it to the end, it’s pretty orgasmic.
Before I get down to the nitty-gritty it might be a good idea to give you a brief rundown of my romantic history to date. It went something a bit like this:
A few innocent enough high school sweethearts –>First Love. Long-term relationship of a few years (sensitive, funny singer-songwriter) END –> followed by a couple of years of sleeping with more men than your average woman does in a lifetime –> CRASH –> Nervous Breakdown –> Recovery (yay!) –> Long-term relationship for a couple of years (kind-hearted, pure-souled humanitarian Adonis) END –> followed by a year and a half of sleeping with more men than… (Oh wait, do I see a pattern here?!) –> CRASH –> NERVOUS BREAKDOWN –> Recovery (yay!) –> YEAR OF CELIBACY –> New found self-respect (YAY!) –> carefully chosen sexual partners…. (Or so I thought…) –> a year + ‘on-again-off-again’ relationship (much older, tortured abstract painter a.k.a my own personal kryptonite in human form) where I ended up being treated like a football in a demoniacal game of keepy-uppy: kicked about, kneed, and head-butted, never allowed to touch the ground, only to be, in the end, trampled under-foot and BURST.
–> CRASH –> Loss of self-respect (boo!); (It is no surprise that in hindsight I can now see that this is when my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome began) –> A couple of short flings with incredible men (inspirational, international, socially engaged artist), (highly attuned, nature loving, documentary photographer/DJ) but as amazing as these men were these romantic endeavours were fruitless and were never going to get off the ground as I was a heartbroken, deeply insecure, sick mess; I was a shell of my former self. Cut to –> –> –> –> –>
–> Tiniest twinge of attempt to get ‘back on the horse’ (handsome Machiavellian Product Designer a.k.a. great for someone, but not for a ‘half-crazy, anti-consumerist, forest-dwelling hippy-dippy’ like me, although at the time it would be more accurate to name myself something like ‘power hungry, soul-starved, contemporary art curatorial protegee’.)
–> (Who was I kidding, I was WAY TOO ILL FOR ANY OF THIS!)
–> CRASH (acceptance of my illness, yay!)
–> –> –> –> –> –> CELIBACY.
And that was about a year and a half ago, and here we are, up to date! Luckily there have been lots of periods of Recovery (yay!) –> Recovery (yay!) –> Recovery (yay!) since then (Oh, and also, after a LOT of soul-searching, I can now refer to ‘human kryptonite’ as the much more palatable ‘my biggest teacher’)
So…. Promiscuity. The OED says ‘Having or characterised by many transient sexual relationships’. When you look at the definition online the example they give of using it in a sentence is: ‘she’s a wild, promiscuous, good-time girl.’ So, yes, I was definitely what you would call a ‘wild, promiscuous, good-time girl.’ In fact, I remember the first time I ever heard that word being used to describe me. I was fifteen, I was at a high school party. I was drunk, of course, probably on lurid coloured alcopops or Malibu (classy). And I was kissing a boy who was not my boyfriend. (In my defence it was hard to resist: he was older, played guitar and sang, talked to me about Led Zeppelin, Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd and confessed to having secretly admired me from afar for ages… he even learned ‘Foxy Lady’ for me). Anyway. My brother called my Mum to come and collect us as according to him I was ‘being promiscuous.’ I was of course, but in the end he did go on to be one of my early high school sweethearts.
After I ended my first long-term relationship (I felt I had to see the other side of the coin) that word followed me like a shadow throughout the ‘single’ days of my late teens and early twenties. If you have read my article ‘Confessions of a Hedonist: Dissecting a Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery’ you will know that I liked a drink, and a smoke, and to pop pills, and snort things, and so on. And I was big into clubbing – techno and electro mostly. I was also majorly into boys. I somehow managed to convince myself, in the same way that my friends did at the time, that by being sexually voracious and believing that variety was the spice of life, we were emancipated females. We felt why shouldn’t we have casual sex much in the same way men did? Why is he a ‘ladies man’ and she is ‘the town bicycle’? I don’t necessarily mean one night stands, in fact I haven’t had that many of those – for me it was more short flings that were more or less sexual and rarely turned into anything more. There were always admirers to either lead on or fend off, succumb to or scorn; or failing that, others to pursue. I’m not saying I was predatory, I was not any different from anyone else as far as I can tell. I was, however, an entirely different person during the day to the one I was at night, loaded up on booze and class As. I’m not going to say there weren’t fun times, of course there were, I met and dated some truly wonderful men. I had two loving long term relationships, and there were also nice dates and playful innocence, and moments of real connection with others, but talking about the nice stuff just doesn’t quite fit in with the theme I’m going for here… When I look back I see that sadly for the most part, it was hollow. Is there anything more painful than waking up with someone the morning after the night before where you are facing away from one another at opposite ends of the bed? Many a time if I’m honest I think I just didn’t want to go home to an empty bed to have to ride out the comedown alone. And I really wasn’t the best at being promiscuous and inconspicuous. I had this thing where I could only sleep with people I knew (and being on the clubbing circuit meant that everyone more or less knew everyone) and so I managed to garner myself quite a reputation. My brother, again, hit the nail on the head when he said I was ‘looking for love in all the wrong places.’ And he was so right. I had such little self-respect that I could quite easily give my body away, but my heart (and soul) never got a look in. In fact, to be as ‘promiscuous’ as I was, my heart had to surround itself with impenetrable bullet-proof glass and my soul had to flee my body entirely, as it could not stay present when I was disrespecting both myself and the men I was with to such an extreme level. (Guys, I’m sorry- I really am). I was also a master of sabotaging relationships: my speciality was self-sabotage. Ironically- whenever I actually met a guy I really liked (and this has happened only a few times, both in the long-term and the short-term relationships) what tended to happen was that the sexual connection between us was somehow infuriatingly lacking! It’s like I could have mind-blowing sex with men who only wanted me for my body, but God forbid you wanted me for my mind, or more importantly, for my heart or soul (and of course by that I mean, to respect me) if that was the case then I would literally freeze and sex would be nigh on impossible! What was that about? Has this ever happened you? Unfathomable floundering sexual chemistry with someone you’re really into? If it has, I suggest to you, think twice, delve deeper. Now I realise that men who were in possession of their souls and whose intention it was to respect me (and perhaps given the chance to attempt to love me: body, heart, mind and soul) had no chance. Being with them would stir my heart to open, ever so slightly, and in response to this my soul (more often than not out of my body) would feel safe enough to chance coming back in. But when it came back in it would then have to feel all the pain it had been keeping itself away from when it was out of the body: it would, if it wanted to have an experience of true sexuality, have to face up to the wounds. The wounds were simply too much to face, and so truly loving sex was impossible. Sex with heart and soul would go on being impossible until real healing took place…. And so these relationships never reached the heights I know they were capable of. (It took me YEARS to realise this, when this was happening it was on a completely unconscious level.)
Lesson: You will not be able to let anyone else respect you unless you first of all respect yourself. And if you don’t, no one will.
During my period of celibacy I have worked out that, for me personally, there was a very good reason for my inability to sleep with men who wanted to respect me. Don’t worry, I’ve thought long and hard about sharing this…. (Deep breath)… I was raped shortly before my sixteenth birthday. It was how I lost my virginity. The last thing I’ll say about the ‘story’ was that it was in many ways one of those classic tales of ‘young girl drunk at a party so convinces herself that there is no way she could have really known whether she consented or not.’ Why on earth am I sharing this ‘story’ publicly? Because I know just how common it really is; far too many young women have ‘stories’ exactly like this, and I know how many of us are too ashamed to speak up about it. It’s not even so much about speaking up; it’s about admitting it to ourselves in the first place. I didn’t. I kept a lid on it for ten years, TEN YEARS! And when I finally did admit it, it took me several months of intensive therapy before I could even bring myself to use the word ‘rape’ in relation to what happened. I’m a very sensitive person, I can only speak from my own experience and this really affected me deeply on an unconscious level and I NEEDED to process it in order to heal. In many cases, and in mine, it’s not about the perpetrator at all: there are no court cases, or policemen or anything. It’s about YOU. And how it has affected your relationship with yourself, and your relationship to yourself as a sexual being, as a being who is worthy of giving and receiving LOVE. The completely decimating levels of guilt, shame, and feelings of unlovableness, unworthiness and ‘dirtiness’ that events like this cause (the words ‘soiled goods’ spring to mind) can, if repressed, fester and rot in the body until they eventually manifest in some kind of emotional, or even physical illness. I know. I spent 10 years repressing my own story. And it made me sick. Really sick. And even though I didn’t realise it at the time, it affected every single romantic endeavour I ever attempted to embark upon- whether it was a one night thing or a three year committed relationship. More than once it led me to the worst possible men for me; and worse than that it stopped me from letting the good guys in. I thought I was ‘sexually liberated’ as I was able to sleep with lots of men. In fact I was anything but this. It was an illusion. Equating love and sex was impossible for me. I could love, but I couldn’t have sex, I could have sex, but I couldn’t love. Trauma causes this. So can having pretty severe ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ issues to work through- I had both. It is only since I became ill and really started to question this that I have managed to coax my soul back into my body, with the help of an excellent therapist, and also some crazy new age alternative therapy hokery-pokery along the way. It has not been easy. I’m sharing this as if there are any women (or men) reading this who have had similar experiences and have yet to fully admit it to themselves, then you might just want to think about taking the lid off that and face that shadow. Whether it be the parental issues (I could regress and use a whole host of colourful adjectives and expletives to describe mine, I’m sure they could do exactly the same for me! Bless them, but instead I’ll group them under the same heading as the ball-bursting ex: ‘my biggest teachers’). So whether it is childhood issues, or trauma, of maybe even like me, a double whammy (more common than any of us would like to admit) whatever you do, if you decide to open that can of worms, do it SAFELY. It doesn’t matter if it was last month, last year, or a decade ago. If you haven’t made your peace with it, the likelihood is that it WILL be having its way with you. It is so important that we fully acknowledge anything that has happened to us that has caused us pain and suffering so that we can NAME it, ACCEPT it, OWN it, FORGIVE ourselves and anyone else involved (ultimately for US, not for them, leave them to their own karma) and finally RELEASE it. This applies to everything that has hurt us, not just sexual trauma. By going through this process of self-actualisation, and really committing to honouring the hurt parts of ourselves throughout it, we take back our power, which had up until that point been taken from us. (We realise that we in fact allowed it to be taken from us. We will not let that happen again). Therapy helps, therapy really helps.
Lesson: If we have suffered trauma then we need to reclaim our own bodies and reclaim our self-respect in order to reclaim our sexuality. This is hard, messy work, but it has to be done. Your body will thank you, your heart will thank you, your soul will thank you. Your next relationship will thank you (although I can’t speak from experience on that one just yet).
And most importantly: There is NOTHING to be ashamed of.
Shortly after I bowed out of my last (non-starter of a) relationship and started to open to night after night of cosy PJs in bed alone, with some or all of the following: book, low playing folk music, journal, hot water bottle, cuddly toy (shhh…) as opposed to anything more steamy, one evening I attended a talk at the local Buddhist Centre. A female order member spoke about her decision to become an ‘Anagarika’ : someone who has renounced most or all worldly possessions, does not own property and lives a life of celibacy. She claimed that she was the happiest she had ever been in her life. As she spoke of her past ‘love addiction’ and disastrous relationships and all the other addictions (booze, drugs, you know, the usual) that eventually had led her to undertaking this vow, I heard a little voice inside me say ‘noooooooooooo!‘ As I listened to her deliver, with warmth, her convincing and sensible reasons for forgoing any future sexual entanglements and the hopelessness, in her eyes, of romantic relationships, I found I was unable to stop myself from totally projecting my situation onto hers. Had I just committed sexual suicide and renounced myself to the life of an Anagarika?! Even the very thought of it made me SO SAD. I went home and cried. I thought: Am I wrong to think that I could fall in love and it could be positive, respectful, beautiful, equal, long-lasting, honest and true? Is that an illusion I should just give up on now? Something I’d JUST began to allow myself to believe in the first place, with my newly mended heart, after a decade of thinking true love was non-existent? But after dialoguing with myself about it I realised that her truth was not my truth (in actual fact I had spent some of the talk glancing out of the corner of my eye at the cute Buddhist boy sitting across the room from me…) And although I knew I would have to be celibate for a while, my illness demanded it above all else, it was a temporary measure. Phew! Yes. Of course I do want to love everyone equally (as an Anagarika does, no favourites) but I still want to love someone in the special way, including the special naked way. ‘Normal’ Buddhists follow a set of precepts, one of which is ‘abstain from sexual misconduct.’ N.B. ‘Sexual misconduct’ means all the soul-destroying stuff I talk about above, not sex full-stop. I should say though, although I take a lot from Buddhism, I do not call myself a Buddhist. In fact, I take freely what suits me from several belief systems, but I am not devoted to anything and I am in no way a ‘believer’ (apart from, perhaps, in the sense that the Monkees were singing about!) No, I disagree with many things in established religion, often vehemently. I am a spiritualist, and at a push, maybe a bit of a mystic. I am in pursuit of one thing: Truth.
Lesson: A period of celibacy, rather than push you further down the ‘get thee to a nunnery!’ route, might ironically instead, cement the fact you want to open your heart to a full relationship-to love, be loved, be in love, with the right someone, oh, and have lots of sex (more on that in the final section).
I have cheated. I’ve been cheated on. They both hurt like hell. Since becoming celibate I can safely say that I will do my very best never to hurt someone like that again. I respect myself, and by natural extension, I fully respect others. Of course, I can’t control whether or not anyone will ever cheat on me, but as I said earlier- if you respect yourself, other people tend to respect you too; if you don’t, they won’t. I’m all for fidelity. With the right someone. With the right soul.
My period of abstinence has allowed me to see that in order to have a full relationship, where love and sex are both present, the soul needs to inhabit the body. And of course, if you have a broken heart, you need to give it all the time it needs to heal (that deflated football needs to be slowly re-inflated, breath by breath, and taped up with some jazzy brightly coloured tape before it can be played with again, PLAYED WITH in a good way, I mean, not kicked about all over the shop!)
My understanding now is that – You can connect with someone on a sexual level, yes, you do not need your heart to be involved for this to happen. You can connect to someone on heart-based level without needing to connect to them on a sexual level, yes. But ultimately if you want to connect to someone on BOTH the sexual level and the level of the heart: YOU HAVE TO HONOUR YOUR SOUL.
How do you go about doing this? You stop listening to the voice of the Ego. You listen deeper, you get really quiet and you listen, until it begins to speak to you. It will tell you what will really make you happy. You follow it as best you can; it knows where it is taking you. (You might want to read my article on Meditation) And if you need to do any soul work: processing childhood issues or any history of trauma, then that’s gotta be done too.
The idea of honouring our soul and being able to share it with that of another in relationship makes me think of those heart-breaking lines in Bob Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.’ He sings ‘I once loved a woman, a child I am told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul/don’t think twice it’s alright.’ Some people we connect with romantically only want us for our bodies, that’s the easiest part of ourselves to give, and that’s how we get dead to ourselves. Some people want us for our bodies and our minds, slightly better, but we can get REALLY hurt this way. Some people want us for our hearts too, now we’re talking, this is a lot harder to give, your heart has to be healed, and open, but it is possible, and beautiful… and if we’re lucky enough some people will want all of the above, and to connect to our SOUL, and this is truly magical: body, mind, heart and soul. But this requires an incredibly high level of awareness and an evolved soul; you’ve got to have your SHIT SORTED!
Being celibate has allowed me to realise something important: These are the only people you want to be considering giving anything to; and this is the kind of person you want to BE, well I want to be anyway.
The question is: is there just one of these people for each of us? Surely there can only be a select few at most? In another song ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ Dylan sings ‘We had a falling out, like lovers often will/ to think of how she left that night it stills brings me a chill/and though our separation, it pierced me to the heart/ She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.’ I’d hazard a guess that he’s talking about the same girl here: a true soul connection, sadly unrealised. Think twice Dylan, think twice! Or what about the line in Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover You Should Have Come Over: ‘She’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever.’ Breaks my heart. Every time. Ultimately, being celibate has allowed me to re-open to the idea of soulmates. An idea I had written off a long time ago after being so disappointed in my futile search for love. I was a cynic for too many years, and during that time my fears were usually confirmed. These days I am a devout idealist, and you know what? The strangest thing- see the positive intentions/hopes and expectations I have? More often than not they tend to manifest exactly as I’d envisaged, or even better than I could have imagined! Wow- who knew?!
So, yes, I believe in soul mates.
Let me get a bit crazy hippy-dippy for a minute… The New-Age definition goes a little something like this: Essentially we are all one soul, but when we began to incarnate in human bodies a series of splits had to take place. First into ‘soul groups’ or ‘soul families’- these are the people you just ‘get’ and they ‘get’ you- your ‘soul sisters’ and your ‘brothers from another mother’. Rarely your actual family, hell no, at least not for the majority of us anyway, bless them, I do love them dearly. Then we have ‘soul mates’, these are the folks from your soul family that you are physically attracted to in a sexual way, no incesty vibes, and you can really really love these guys. You can have several of these, and they all help your soul to evolve and you theirs (break ups always tend to be amicable, in the end). I have been lucky enough to meet a few of these: some realised, some unrealised, some yet to be realised?! We go through these until we are ready for our ‘twin flame’ or ‘twin soul’ (which represents the final act of splitting- the masculine and the feminine – although this could of course be between two women or two men- spirit is fully accepting of LGBTQ) and this person is literally the other half of our soul- one in the universe for each of us, and you have to have a pretty damn evolved soul to even incarnate at the same time as your twin flame, it takes lifetimes and lifetimes to get here. Apparently it’s becoming more and more common. Have I met mine already? Time will tell. Have you met yours?
Lesson: Soul mates exist. Believe what you want of course but the idealist in me wins out over the cynic.
As I have said, I am not religious. I am as against dogmatic religion as much as any devout atheist is. I am however a very spiritual person. Another very spiritual person was St. Teresa d’Avila, a Carmelite nun in the 16th Century. But she was far from your run-of-the-mill, sexless, habit sporting sister, oh no, Teresa was a proper mystic, and I like to think if she had a theme song it would be called ‘God is my boyfriend and he’s damn sexy.’ Teresa wrote incredibly controversial books on the ecstatic experiences she had in prayer (that is, only once she had gone through some pretty major tests and trials until she had done all her ‘soul work’- purging and purifying all the the crap we are saddled with: the kind of stuff I talked about earlier). These ecstatic experiences were pretty damn steamy to say the least. She would be in blissed-out full body orgasms for hours, sometimes even days on end. She was known to levitate too, naturally. Her practice of prayer, or meditation, allowed her to be ‘ravished’ by spirit. Now. Think about what an orgasm feels like. Imagine that but throughout your entire body, and imagine being able to achieve this simply by sitting down with your legs crossed and closing your eyes. During my period of celibacy I began to be able to experience this through my meditation practice and by practicing Kundalini yoga. Sure, it takes dedication and work, but you can do it, I did). From the moment I experienced this I KNEW: Sex is sacred, SEX IS SACRED! (funnily enough the words that poured uncontrollably from my mouth were, you guessed it: ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my GOD!’) If there is a ‘higher power’ (believe what you want) then far from calling for prudence, abstinence and sex purely for procreative reasons, the big I AM is a full-on sex addict! With the right someone. The heart and soul HAVE to be involved. Same goes for solo-sex. Totally sanctioned. If there are angels, they’re all at it. I don’t know about you, but this blew my mind. And it opens up a whole new world of sexual possibility in the future. With the right someone.
Tantric sex weaves the physical and the spiritual together, the Sanskrit word literally translates as ‘woven together’. Having had a glimpse of this for myself, in many ways I literally can’t wait until I have the right someone to weave this together with. Makes me excited to ‘get back on the (big orange) horse.’ Time will tell.
Lesson: SEX IS SACRED.
And at the end of this period of solitary soul searching. What now?
Well as they say True Love waits.
And right now I am very happy to do just that.
Good things come to those who wait, right?
So… here I am, full of heart, and an empty bed, waiting patiently for the right someone. And I have to admit, I’m not quite ready yet myself, I’ve still got some healing to do. (But I’ll tell you this, after all this abstaining, things have finally started to heat up again and I do from time to time catch myself glancing at my proverbial watch…)