You’ll read on my website and hear in my e-courses, retreats and speaking engagements that I use the term sexuality much more than I do sex. I also describe what I do as helping empower women through a purposeful examination of sexuality.
WHAT??? ‘What are you talking about?’ you may ask. Most people get what sex education means or understand what a sex therapist is addressing but sexuality education or a sexuality therapist? We should EXAMINE our sexuality? How do we even go about that?? And why should I?
When I use the term sexuality people often think I mean either sexual orientation or sexual behavior. And that’s okay. It is what we are taught. This binary definition is our society’s default.
What I do addresses sexual behavior and orientation but I also mean so much more when I reference ‘exploring sexuality’. And once you understand that difference, things start to really take off in this area of your life. It is a crucial understanding to comprehend in order to grow in this area of your life. And when you grow in this area of your life, the changes influence all areas of your life.
Trust me—I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it.
Sexuality vs. Sex
There is a lot of debate over this terminology in the sexuality professional world. At the last conference I attended, there was even an hour long panel discussion about which term to use and, ultimately, it was decided that sex was preferred because the general public doesn’t know what sexuality means and it was preferred to use sex to ‘get you in the door’.
Well…. I think that is horseshit and is not serving any of us individually or our society as a whole. You can learn this. You SHOULD learn this. And we should change the terminology collectively. You are smart and you can get this, you’ve just never been exposed to it and the reasons why this is important.
Let’s clear up the misunderstanding.
Sex is sexual behavior. Sometimes people say sex when they mean gender but sex is one subject—what sexual behaviors we experience.
So what am I talking about when I say sexuality?
I’m talking about our essence.
Sexuality is our foundation. Our core. Sexuality is the representation and embodiment of our fundamental nature and an enormous part of our life source. I believe a holistic view of our sexuality is an examination and journey into our heart core and heart spirit.
Sexuality is the root and grounding of who we, a great informer of our personality, the way we show up in the world and the unique manner in which we connect with others in the world.
This may sound really fluffy and vague still to you. Do you believe me or think I am making waaaaaay too much of this whole thing? This is normal if you think there are more important matters to attend to. Again, we aren’t taught this and we don’t grow up thinking that sexuality is a lifelong conversation and not an embarrassing but fun class once a year in school. We aren’t taught how important this topic is and we aren’t given a lot of models of how much our lives can improve across the board if we put time towards it. We also aren’t often give a safe space to talk about the private knowledge of how devastating it is when this part of our life is in shambles or a challenge.
If you are doubtful, hear me through….I rarely have someone walk away from my sexuality soapbox as a nonbeliever!
We are taught an elementary version of sexuality but this situation is also made complex because sexuality isn’t a definition. I believe it is a concept. A concept that is befuddling, fluid, and changes as we grow and experience life. Our sexuality informs our life, our perspectives and our interactions and our experiences, relationships and stage in life in turn influences our sexuality. It is cyclical, it is circular. But it remains as the core of WHO we are. Always.
I get really nerdy when I start talking about sexuality. I think it is so cool and interesting!
How strange is it that sexuality is the essence of who we are yet we aren’t taught how to conceptualize it, talk about it, or enrich it? For many of us, we are lucky if even know it is a part of us. Let alone know it is something we should put energy towards understanding.
I could talk about this on my soapbox for hours. But I’ll move on….
Circles of Sexuality
If I were to ask you to name 10 things that come to mind when I say sex, I guess you’d say things that are sexual behaviors, terms related to sexual orientation and maybe a few body parts. If I then asked you to word associate with the term sexuality, you will most likely lead with sexuality orientation, maybe some woo woo words that are more about sensuality and perhaps a few gender orientation phrases. You are right with these answers but I want you to hit it out of the park and really GET it so that we all have common terminology and so that you have a foundation to focus on.
Let’s get more technical.
In 1981, Dr. Dennis Dailey developed a model called the Circles of Sexuality. It was a pivotal culmination in looking at sexuality from a holistic perspective. It is referenced quite a bit in the sexuality professional world.
If you were looking at the original graphic of Dr. D’s work, you would see 6 interlocking circles like the Olympic rings but more like a circle of circles.
The circles break down sexuality into manageable groups that together form a more holistic vision of sexuality. Sex(ual behavior) is within it but just a part of it. So is sexual orientation (it is termed Sexual Identity most frequently). But it doesn’t stop there. As the years progressed, the circles have slightly different terminology and order and what follows is the basic concept.
Sensuality—Awareness, acceptance of and comfort with your body; and how your body experiences pleasure physiologically and psychologically, your enjoyment of your body and the bodies of others. And also includes things like body image, human sexual response cycle, skin hunger, and fantasy
Intimacy-This is about your ability and need to experience emotional closeness to another human being and have it returned and focuses on your emotional needs and behaviors such as caring, sharing, loving/liking, risk taking, vulnerability, self-disclosure, and trust.
Sexual Identity-The development of a sense of who you are sexually. It includes a sense of gender which encompasses gender identity, trans issues, gender role, sexual orientation, and biological sex.
Sexual Health and Reproduction- This circle is about the attitudes you possess and behaviors you enact in related to having children, health care of your sexual anatomy, and health and consequences of sexual behavior. This facet includes factual information, feelings and attitudes, physiology and anatomy or reproduction intercourse and also includes the that ‘birds and bees’ talk and traditional sex education.
Sexualization- This segment addresses the use of sexuality to influence, control or manipulate others. Sexualization entails seduction/flirting, withholding sex, sexual harassment, sexual assault/rape, and the continuum of sexual violence. It also refers to things you see in the media showing unrealistic sexuality or using sexuality to sell unrelated products or things we see on movies and television shows.
And finally, the circle where most people have the easiest time wrapping their head around–Sexual Behaviors and Practices –This includes a big list of behaviors such as intercourse, oral and anal sex, fetishes, kink, and includes practices such as monogamy, polyamorous relationships and celibacy.
The circles of sexuality overlap to show that each circle affects the other and work together to formulate a more holistic way of understanding what sexuality is and how it is pervasive in who we are as a person. Within each circle there are positives and negatives. Also within each circle, there will be things that relate to our own lives and things that are irrelevant.
I do not think the Dr. D’s circles are the complete picture of sexuality with missing elements such as lifespan issues, sexual values and mental and medical health beyond sexual anatomy. I also believe desire and pleasure should have their own circles but…..it is a great foundation and starting point.
Our Journey of Sexuality Education
Talking about sex and sexuality has ebbed and flowed through the centuries and in our era through the decades. We are in a place currently where the conversation is much more acceptable than in the past few decades but the focus in most discussions is about sex –sexual behavior and sexual orientation and not a broader, more holistic view of sexuality.
We see this very clearly in the sex education that most of us received or are receiving. It is typically fear based, uses out dated anatomy lessons and focuses on prevention of the terrible, scary stuff that can be associated with sex. Most of us, if given any sex education at all, are inundated with fear and shown the negatives of sex but not exposed to the wonderful aspects of sexuality.
But intuitively, we knew it.
So we tried it on our own. We asked questions to safe people. WE stopped talking about it with people who judged or shamed us. When the Internet came on the scene, we searched it. We would DIE if our Google searches or website visits were made public. The conversations grew. They weren’t perfect but it was a start. We did our best. And honestly, so did society.
We do what we can with how we are raised, who we are raised by, the cultural era of the time, the information we are exposed to and the amount of interest and comfort we have with the subject. Let’s be kind to ourselves. But let’s also not settle for sub par.
We weren’t taught that there is so much more to explore and understand than the nuts and bolts and that this bigger, deeper than is called ‘sexuality’. We aren’t taught the circles. We aren’t given a space to talk about the holistic view of sexuality. Thus, we don’t develop the skills to enrich this CRUCIAL part of our life. And it is killing us.
Individually and collectively.
I don’t say that dramatically. I say that because I’ve seen it first hand. I hear it in detail in my work. And I lived it in my own life.
The problems influenced by our sexual culture are vast—large amounts of sexual trauma, unwanted pregnancies, body image crises, lack of libido and desire, fear of pleasure, unhappy partnerships/marriages, porn addictions, and the list goes on.
Although there is more information on the Internet these days that involves bigger scope aspects of sexuality like pleasure and the positive parts of sex, most conversations still start and end with the mechanics of sex. It is moving in the right direction but isn’t where I would like it to be.
Yes, let’s start with sex and anatomy but let’s not end there. I am on a mission to take the concept of sexuality to a much deeper level.
We need this change in our national sexuality education. For our children and for future generations. We just HAVE to do better.
And for those of us who are in adulthood and already completed ‘formal sex education’, it isn’t too late for us. I see HUGE transformations with just this ONE tweak.
The first one.
Understanding the complexity of sexuality and how we relate to it privately and how our sexuality shows up in the world and interacts with others.
I am so passionate about my work because I’ve seen how having holistic and mature sexuality education heals, enriches and enlivens lives. I’ve helped others do this and it changes relationships with yourself, with others and ultimately our society.
And the best part is that it is fun! Even the hard work of unpacking the old messages that no longer work for us. The releasing of those old scripts brings such joy and lightness. You won’t want to stop thinking about it and talking about it once you begin this journey.
It is so worth it. YOU are so worth it. And the generations that follow us are worth changing this culture for now.
I’ll close with my current concept of sexuality and how I describe it:
“Sexuality is a reflection of the expression of who we are as human beings. Our essence. Who we really are. On a superficial level and on a deeper, inner level. It is informed by our values, attitudes, behaviors, physicality, beliefs, personality and spiritual selves. It is complex. It is a social construct but it is real. Very real. And fluid-ever changing and reacting to our experiences, decisions, our lifespan stage, and our development. Sexuality shouldn’t happen to us. It is something that we have a say in and can be empowered because of it. Sexuality is fun and it is a positive piece of us. It is beautiful, it is a life force and it is a wonderful expression of who we are and how we relate to others. ”