• Angie Gunn LCSW CST

Who is your sexual self? Have you met them yet?

Updated: Jan 12

When was the last time an acquaintance in the grocery store asked "how are your genitals doing today?" Recently, I was asked about my somewhat non-existent work out routine. Giggling slightly, I hinted that sex was generally my only daily exercise. The acquaintance shuffled away quickly with a "have a nice day."

If it were up to me, that conversation would have morphed into a lengthy discourse about my current sexual expression, partners, interests, and ways I create opportunities for my body to feel good. But these conversations are so hard. We dwell in a cultural framework which idealizes certain bodies and erotic imagery for marketing and media, but shuts down productive sexual health conversation and sources for care. It's uncomfortable for many to just talk to their partners about their desires, often because they don't know what they are or how to communicate them. Despite significant distress as a result of sexual conflict within ourselves and in relationships, sexuality remains the most overlooked piece of human development, expression and growth. This is a scary thing to tackle, especially for those of us who've struggled with intergenerational trauma, shame, and subjugation of our sexuality.

In the same way that we don't inquire of others sexuality at the grocery store, we rarely check-in with ourselves regarding our sexual goals, needs, and overall sexual health and well-being. We want to help shift this narrative.

Have you considered the differences between what you want in relationships and what you crave in sex? What do you do when they don't line up?

Often this conflict leaves us even more confused. How do we know the difference? Who is your sexual self and how do you even begin to explore it?

First, it's important to know that you and your sexual self exists independent of any relationship, social norm or part of your history. In this moment, your sexuality is potentially available and sending you cues for engagement.

Second, while our sexual selves have the potential to thrive and find integration with the rest of us, other systemic forces impact us and make it harder to do this work. We miss those erotic cues, or completely subjugate these parts of ourselves, as a result of the current sociocultural framework.

In more simple terms: it's not your fault you grew up religious, or in a family that didn't talk about sex, or in a time period before the internet and access to more information and exploration. It's not your fault that you were shamed for your queerness, your desire, your exploration and play. It's not your fault that you were married young, or having sex to please others, gain belonging and fulfill the expectations you were given. It's not your fault that you were assaulted, or impacted by other systemic oppression which made access to pleasure more challenging (ie: bipoc folks, trans folks, those impacted by classism, sexism, racism). And also, it's not too late to shift this trajectory.

Third, your sexual self is not defined by one word or concept- but it's a complex multilayered self. Three key layers exist: Your identity (mental concept of who you are, orientation, labels- including asexual or aromantic, demi, bi etc.), your attraction (your desire- what do you actually like, what stimulates your body and mind in erotic/ romantic/ sexual/ sensual ways), and your expression (what do you actually DO, with whom and in what ways).

Fourth, your sexual and romantic/ relational self are NOT one in the same. They sometimes include competing interests, values, and needs that often don't line up. That's okay, because it provides an opportunity for more complex conversations and explorations of the parts of you.

Here's two images to break it down!

When you look at these images, do you know what would fall into each category for you, for both your sexual and romantic/ relational self? How would you define your identity, your attraction and expression in each domain of self? What hinders you from this awareness?

A few notes to consider, as we mentioned about MOST humans don't know the answers to these questions and have very little awareness of the complexity of their sexual/ romantic/ relational selves. So it's okay if you're feeling stuck. Often there's a lot of conflict between the three parts and between the ideas of who you are in sex versus in relationships. Your identity (how you think about yourself) may be in stark contrast to how you live, meanwhile you may be uncertain about the desire piece. It's okay for there to be confusion, especially if you're just starting this conversation with yourself.

One way to approach this work is to use your creative skills to push past the current logistical/ cultural/ shame and stigma... to allow you imaginative exploration.

Here's some questions to help!

Think about your sexual and romantic/ relational self, do you like what you see? 

Is this the image of a sexual being you would be aroused by?

Is this what you imagined your relationship(s) would look like?

How does it mesh with early representations of yourself when you first began your sexual journey? If you were able to shift the image, what is one thing you may alter?

If you had the ability to move your figure to an ideal relationship, sexual or romantic configuration what would it look like?  

How do others perceive your sexual self and what impact does their perceptions have on you?

In what ways do you mold your expression to a partner's or societal expectations?

What would it take for you to balance compromise and reciprocity with practicing asking for, asserting, and trying out what you may want or need?

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