A simple google search will reveal endless blogs, podcasts, and discussion boards about
masturbation, solo sex, self pleasure and exploration. There are sex positive communities and information that I am in awe of and grateful to for giving me a springboard to start this writing, so why am I doing it? What do I have special to say? Let’s go through some of the why’s in this writing projection.
I am writing this blog for you, the reader and also for myself. A few months ago, I went to a panel hosted by AnaOno that focused on sex and intimacy after breast cancer. The panelists included a psychologist, a breast cancer patient, a representative of Penn Medicine’s Basser Center, and Dr. Dana Shanis. As a breast cancer survivor myself, I know deep in my bones what the world of pleasure, sensuality, sex, foreplay, and intimacy look like after surgeries and treatment. After a double mastectomy, reconstruction, harvesting my eggs and chemo which caused me to lose my hair, my body is fundamentally different. Sensations are lacking in some places like my breasts that were once wildly alert to the lightest touch. I will not sit here and adopt a voice of “I know all of this and I have it figured it out.” I don’t. I’m learning. Every day.
What I do know is that there are many heartbreaks that follow cancer, but one that I have heard time and time again from my breast cancer sorority members (for those of you who are new to breast cancer land, it is the sorority you never wanted to join), once we get to know each other, let down our guards, and really dig into where we are at, is how hard sex becomes. For me, the act of taking my shirt off in sexual scenarios has caused me to have a literal panic attack and have only had sex with the lights off. Yet, before cancer one of my favorite things to do was take showers with a partner or just lay there having lazy morning sex in the full light of day. For the duration of treatment, I became a medical specimen- a desexualized sick person. While some people love being bald, I didn’t not like it one bit. I did not like being mistaken for a boy. How scary to have my body be looked at full of its scars. For my friends in partnerships, their lovers become their caregivers seeing them at their worst and I am told that the transition back to wife and girlfriend can be bumpy at best.
So, how do I come back to myself? I’m 35. I like being touched, caressed, and licked- all of those verbs, but this kind of desire builds differently now. How do I explain to a potential partner what I like if I don’t even know myself? I have no language for this.
And while much of my lens that I’m looking at this project is colored by breast cancer- and no, that is not the soft pink of the breast cancer ribbon, this self-exploration is needed for all women. Our bodies, needs, and wants change over time for whatever reasons- age, stress, or just because. No matter what traumas we may or may not have experienced, the idea of pleasure as a human right, which was brought to my attention by Sophia Wallace in her TED talk on cliteracy is something that we all deserve to know and create within ourselves.
For now, I am jumping into this focusing on self pleasure for a few reasons. First, I want to know what my own needs are so that I can come to any partnership with a strong relationship with myself. I want to leave the shame and pain I carry from past traumas behind me so that I am not haunted by what was. While I am currently single, no matter what our relationship status looks like, sensuality with myself is a relationship I believe in firmly. There’s fun, pleasure, and play to be had here in this body of mine, and I want to find it. Yet, in partnered sexual moments, I have tended to lean towards people pleasing and have often sacrificed my own sexual urges to that
of my partner. I don’t want that.
Secondly, this is the time of COVID-19, where many of us are alone or climbing the walls with limited social interaction, so I have easiest access to...myself. I live alone and haven’t had sex, or even a hug, in months. And we might as well find all of the pleasure we can during these strange times.
Lack of language
As I have sat down to write these words, I have noticed my own lack of language around these topics. What do we call our vulvas? What are the words to describe sensations of pleasure or pain or that realm that mixes both? As a student of physical therapy, a healthcare discipline, I don’t want to over medicalize these things or somehow disconnect them from my own body. A great teacher of mine once said that the language we use around body parts and experiences can indicate connection or disconnection from our emotional selves and our physical selves. So another aspect behind the “what” to enjoy is also “how” to find pleasure where I can fully inhabit my skin.