One of my favorite stories from a former student happened over Thanksgiving dinner. We were several months into the semester and were diving deep into sexuality conversations. I witnessed her blossoming and coming into her own. She began the semester shy about the topics and held back in group discussion. Her thoughts came alive in our interactive journal and, through our private discourse, her confidence grew. As she found her confidence, she explored her opinions and posed insightful questions. These started emerging in class discussions. She realized the world didn’t end when she stated her opinion or experiences or lack of experience. She shifted from measuring every word to ensure she didn’t stand out or didn’t shine the light on herself to stating her opinion on a topic and letting it stand as is without holding her breath until there was a reaction to analyze. It was a palpable transformation.
“Catherine” came back from visiting her family on break and said in reply to my question about how her holiday was, “Well, I found out that the world isn’t taking this class with me!”
“Do elaborate….” I replied.
She went on to set the scene. There were about 15 of her family members gathered around the Thanksgiving table: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, and siblings. Dressed to the hilt, wine poured, blessings given and a spirit of love and family in the air. They were making chitchat and the conversation lulled.
She said the first thing that came to her mind.
“Well, what do you all think about masturbation? Do you all masturbate?”
Mashed potatoes went flying, and there was a mixture of gasping, laughing, guffawing, and “what in the world-ing” happening next.
She was just stunned.
The conversation ended with a hurried flurry of changing the subject and side glances and culminated in a private ‘talk’ with her parents about her grandmother’s heart condition. After our class finished laughing, she said, “We talk about things like this ALL.THE. TIME in our class, and everyone just chimes in. It is so normal. It is so freeing! I forgot the world isn’t having conversations like we are! Professor they should be! What are we going to do about this? ”
This question was one we pondered for quite some time that day. Others shared what it was like for them. They loved the class, they loved the changes they saw within themselves and they loved living in truth and having a space to be genuine. We all agreed how much we looked forward to the class because of the uniqueness of the setting. But we also understood it wasn’t easy living in our day to day life with people who aren’t shifting through these changes too. Some relationships were straining. Some no longer felt like a fit. Some relationships flourished but others felt a lot of tension.
So what do you do?
We shuffled around the issue.
If you are to be the change you want in the world, how do you live in a world that isn’t changing with you?
How do you relate as a growing, changing person in an environment that isn’t changing or perhaps doesn’t want to change? We concluded that it wasn’t easy but the first step is starting the conversation.
The world SHOULD be having conversations like ours. One person at a time. One group at a time.
Her story wasn’t necessarily the ideal entry for the context but it started the conversation. At the end of my ‘Do’s lis’t is the end to her story.
Our class discussion gave me pause for thought – there are some Do’s and Don’ts to consider in the realm of sexuality conversations.
Context is everything.
1.Be sensitive to where the other person is (people are) on the sexuality conversation comfort meter. .. Do not assume anyone or everyone wants to hear about your sexuality journey. Also, do not assume someone else knows how to express their thoughts and opinions on sexuality matters. When you ‘go there’ for the first time with someone, tread with light footsteps like you are walking through a field of awesome flowers. Keep walking, but mindfulness keeps the blooms a-blooming! This is about opening the door and having the ability to keep it open. You could certainly blast your way in and see how it goes but my experience is that you’ve torched the village and no one is hearing the good you have to share, they are distracted by the carnage.
2. Be a positive sexual ambassador out in the world. Sort of like a sexuality superhero – rescue others out of their cave, but be a hero to yourself as well.
First, discern what your motive is for the discussion. Shock factor? Stating your opinion? Seeking help or support? Reaching out to help someone? Trying to connect on a deeper level? Flirting with them?
Check yourself. Serve yourself best by knowing your approach to the topic is based in good and will serve your journey.
Once you know your motive and are sure it isn’t completely self serving, consider their needs and find true ground that fits the needs for all in the situation. I know from the years I’ve been starting these conversations that people are hungry for this conversation. People really want to be asked questions and to be given a space to share their opinions and experiences. Especially if the space and questions are genuine and take their needs and personality into account too.
This isn’t about a one way conversation. This conversation should serve everyone’s journey.
3. Look for allies. We all won’t think the same way, which is a good thing, but conversations supported with allies often yield more fruit.
If you are new to having these conversations, start having them with someone who you feel safe with already. When you’ve had some positive interactions with the topic, branch out to those who you think have differing opinions or are new to the conversation as well.
I’ve encouraged the start to these conversations in my e course and retreats and the stories I receive about how resistant some people are to the topic never cease yet my students/clients are so surprised to experience it. As hungry as most people are to talk about it, their ability to do so without shame, embarrassment or judgment is a skill not common. So be in a place where that sort of reaction is something you don’t take personally and set the example of those emotions being a normal part of the process. Accept and don’t shut them down. Consider them seeds that are planted and will grow.
4. Be your own expert and encourage the other person to be their own expert, too.
State your opinions but give room for others to disagree with you. Show you are willing to learn and willing to give space for others’ opinions. Give space and show respect. This models what you want them to do. There are plenty of times I’m talking with students or clients or even people I meet during the day and I have a completely different opinion on it. My first reaction may be judgment or even horror but I try to keep an open mind and to give space for where they are on their journey. I may voice my differing opinion or I may just witness their story silently. I take the personal out of it so that there is room for growth. For both of us.
I don’t sway to whoever I speak to and agree with everyone. I know where I stand. Stand by your opinion, but be open to other perspectives. Sexuality is always evolving, and being open to changes, big or small, will help aid your sexual agency. You will also set a great example for others as they learn from you and with you.
There are times when what I know is being said is dangerous and I will speak up. But I don’t make it personal. These are the people I want to reach the most and who really need what I am good at doing. So I don’t torch the village. I set boundaries but I leave the door open.
One of my biggest rules in Be Your Own (S)expert is to know where you stand and where you don’t and to let others do the same in their own life. It is a must if you are going to be a kick ass expert on your own life.
5. Be a trail blazer. Be the lighthouse of sexuality!
Watch and listen to this video. It is self explanatory. It makes me smile every time and inspires me too.
Don’t be afraid to be the lone nut but also don’t be afraid to be the first follower too. This is a movement. I’ve known this about my work for some time now. I’m out to help change the world’s attitude about sex and sexuality. One fabulous person at a time.
Come back and finish the blog after you watch the video. I don’t want you to miss the end.
6. Be patient with yourself and others in the dance.
You won’t always get it right. People won’t always respond in a great way. It is okay. If this was an easy topic, there wouldn’t be so much negative stuff attached to sex and sexuality. We’ve had decades and centuries to perfect the awkwardness and dissension surrounding sex and sexuality so it won’t be smooth sailing always. But sometimes it will be. Enjoy those fun dances. Be okay standing by the wall watching others dance at times. Choose to sit out of some dances.
But dance. And dance your dance and applaud other’s dances too.
So…the end of Catherine’s story? Her mother and grandmother each had separate conversations with her over the next winter break. Both proved to be positive and provided a vehicle for further connection. They revealed that they wished they had grown up in an era and environment where they could express themselves more freely and were so proud of her for taking risks. Catherine struggled with being a ‘good girl’ and having the two most influential women in her life cast their blessing was a strong pat on the back for her.
Catherine started becoming the person in her group of friends who they could go to to ask questions and ‘confess’ their shame to and she found strength in being a safe harbor for them. As they grew, she grew. And vice versa. The sisterhood. The safe environment. The synergy. She understood. She later contacted me and talked about this insight. It was beautiful.
And she continues to grow. She is such a self assured young woman now. She’s found her voice and stands in her truth.
See what can happen when you ask a group of family members over turkey if they masturbate?