• Angie Gunn LCSW CST

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

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.

Daily sexual self actualization or embodiment is a valid goal, one worth approaching with the same fervor we might have for food planning, exercise and other wellness practices.

So who is your sexual/ romantic self and how do you even begin to explore it?

First, it's important to know that you and your sexual/ romantic 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 or romantic 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 or romantic 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).

Here's an image to break it down!

When you look at this image, do you know what would fall into each category for you? How would you define your identity, your attraction and expression? 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 selves. So it's okay if you're feeling stuck. Often here's a lot of conflict between the three parts. 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 an activity to try:

Think about your sexual self:

Do you like what you see? Is this the image of a sexual being you would be aroused by? 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 can you gain awareness of the desire to mold your expression to a partner's or societal expectations, and balance compromise and reciprocity with practicing asking for, asserting, testing the waters, with bits of your inner sexual self?

Imaginative sexual/ romantic exploration:

Now imagine shifting that imagery, to allow your fullest sexual self to flourish:

From a perspective of acceptance and curiosity, imagine a visual representation of your sexual and romantic self....this is not your current physical form or sexual behavior within a relationship, but an exaggerated view personifying your sexual identity, story, fantasy, climax, expression and body. Who are you as a sexy fantasy creature? What does your sexual body look like? How do you move and interact with others? What is the shape, color, textures non-verbal cues, accentuated features? What is it's motivation and desire, if there were no judgement, shame or fear? Imagine it meeting a mate (or two) in a beautiful field. How would it engage, initiate or recieve?

What is your self love (masturbation/ sensual touch, thoughts, exploration) like and how might you enhance it to increase exploration and discovery of the hidden gems within? Perhaps try to explore this new vision of yourself while masturbating (or engaging in some other touch or reflection that feels good). Does it impact how you engage with yourself, as a sexual being?

This can seem silly but looking at our sexual self as distinct from the rest of our embodiment allows for just enough distance to take a non-judgemental objective perspective. These parts of you are real, valid, and worthy of expression and exploration. How might you show love and compassion to these parts right now, and long term?

Some of you are doing these things and I am so thrilled for you. For those who are new to this, be patient with yourself and honor the walls as you hit them. You can always try again another day. And, feel free to reach out to get support and allow us to join you on this journey to sexual exploration and healing.

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