No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

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sandpiper
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No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

I'm a 19-year-old woman and I've never enjoyed masturbation. I vaguely remember being a small child and touching my vulva with curiosity, but I lost interest and didn't do it at all for the entirety of my teen years, because it doesn't feel any different from touching any other body part, like an elbow or an ankle. I've never really experienced any sexual attraction or desire either, so it didn't worry me too much that I don't really experience any sexual pleasure, since I assumed sexuality would just never be a part of my life.

Fast forward: now I have a lovely, kind, communicative boyfriend who does experience sexual desire, attraction, and pleasure. We haven't had intercourse, but we've both performed oral on one another and experimented with our hands. All these acts make me feel pretty neutral. I like doing things that feel good for him because I care about him and like seeing him enjoy it, but when it's my turn I just don't feel much.

We've only been trying acts involving genitals for a few weeks, so I'm sure it partly comes down to practice, but I don't really know that I feel physical pleasure from anything we do. I definitely enjoy the emotional connection of sharing time and attention with the person I love, and I feel really cared for, but it makes us both frustrated that I feel very little physically. He's my best friend and is nothing but gentle, understanding, and kind; I'm completely comfortable with him, and I don't have shame about sex or anxiety about my body that get in the way. I just don't feel much down there physically besides the surface level awareness of being touched (pressure, location, etc). The nerves work fine- it just doesn't really feel good. I'll see a gyno this summer (for the first time) just to rule out anything physical.

I only recently "found" my clitoris- its head is too tiny to be visible at all but I can kind of feel a tiny knot. Touching it with less pressure feels like nothing, and with a lot it feels really unpleasant and nauseating, like my intestines are being stirred with a big metal stick. I'm open to trying a vibrator but considering the fact that even this amount of clitoral stimulation feels this unpleasant, I'm pessimistic about adding more.

We're going to be apart for the next few months and I want to get serious about masturbation so I can try to learn some ways we can make me feel good together. However, I've had no luck so far. I'm just using my hands, but I've done everything I can think of and none of it feels interesting. I'm doing my best to go in with no goals in mind and just explore my body, but I've tried so many times and it all feels really boring to me. Sexual media is really boring too.

A lot of similar threads on here advise to only try masturbating when you're "turned on"- I don't think I've really ever been. I've only recently started recognizing wetness happening sometimes when I'm with my boyfriend, but that physical reaction isn't accompanied by any mental arousal or genuine excitement about any sexual activity. I know some people only have responsive desire, so I've been really open to pushing through the apathy and waiting to see if I become genuinely into it down the line, but I just... don't.

I've read a lot of articles, as well as Dr. Emily Nagoski's book Come As You Are, and while I understand female sexuality is varied and it's okay to be the way you are, I just feel really alone. I am okay with the idea of never experiencing much physical pleasure, and the emotional aspects of closeness and making someone else feel good are enough for me, but at the same time, I feel really broken. I know that my lack of enthusiasm contributes to feelings of insecurity for my boyfriend, even though he's aware of the situation and is completely understanding, and I really hate knowing the way I am hurts him. Also, both partnered and solo sex seem like something really fun that everyone is enjoying, and it honestly just feels like I'm missing out that I've never had any of those feelings.

When I'm not comparing myself to anyone else, I can feel kind of okay with the way I am, but any time I hear a friend or see a piece of media or read an article, I'm reminded that other people have so much more. That sends me down a miserable spiral of feeling broken and inadequate. It's a feeling I've grappled with through our entire relationship (6 months).

How can I learn to experience physical sexual pleasure, by myself or with a partner, when nothing has worked? What's the best way I can take advantage of this time apart to learn to feel good?
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there, sandpiper. This was a lot of very vulnerable and personal stuff to share, and I appreciate and honor the amount of trust you put in us sharing it. I'm so sorry you're feeling so alone, and I'm sorry you're feeling broken. I hope I can help with both.

I'd like to start by assuming that there isn't anything wrong with you, nothing in need of fixing. Because there isn't, no matter what is or isn't going on. Plus, no good ever came, I don't think, of anyone starting from a place of thinking they just weren't right.

There is a world of diversity in human beings, human bodies, human experiences and this very large thing we call sexuality. There's no right way of experiencing any of these things. There's no way everyone does. Even what's in media is only so representative: so much is left out, so much is oversimplified, and so much is expressed in ways that only can be expressed in that way in the first place, you know?

So, can we start by figuring that you are you, a unique being like the rest of us for whom everything is working as it should be? Where we know that for sure, how things feel for you in some big ways and how they do for your boyfriend seem to be really different. And what both of you are expecting -- and it sounds like wanting -- from you and your sexual life together -- also sounds really different than what a) is actually happening, but also b) than it sounds like actually works for you right now.

I am feeling pretty concerned that it sounds like you're actually, on your own, not super far from a place of peace and acceptance with yourself that would let you explore yourself, your body, and your own sexuality as it is to find out about it in an open-minded way, but that what he wants and expects (including some stuff around what sounds like work he might need to do for himself?), and then what you do, based on outside expectations, are both creating barriers to that. Do you know what I mean?

What do you think about using these next few months for getting more serious about THAT? Bt "that" I mean: more serious about leaning into really exploring who you are and what your sexuality/sensuality/whatever you want to call it might look like without all of these external forces? I can think of some paths (some books, some writing prompts, some things to think about, some things to try) to suggest to get started in that direction (and they can include masturbation -- which doesn't have to be genital or only genital, btw -- if you want!) if that sounds promising to you, and I'm happy to help. I want you to feel good, too, including emotionally. <3
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Hi Heather!

Thanks so much for your response. I've been urged to accept myself the way I am by a friend and by Dr. Nagoski's book, but I've always kind of pushed that advice off because I feel like it doesn't apply to me. I guess that doesn't make a lot of sense, but the common narrative about sexuality is so different from my experience, and my experience is so different from what I'd like it to be, that it's far easier to think of myself as broken (and potentially fixable somehow) than it is to accept that this is "all I get".

However, I've been pushing it for so long ("it" being trying to make masturbation work and otherwise doing and feeling things I feel like I "should" which just don't come naturally to me) and I just feel so frustrated and so stuck, which is what made me reach out for advice. At this point I think I'm willing to try the paths that stem from accepting myself the way I am (or trying my best to) even though this is something that's pretty hard for me. I'd love to hear your ideas (books, things to think about, etc).

Thank you so so much again. <3
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

I'm so sorry to hear that you have felt that way, but I'm really happy to hear that you feel open to trying to come at it from a place of self-acceptance. I honestly feel like no matter where that lands you, it really is the best place to start.

I have to grab a quick half hour meeting, but then I want to circle back with a couple ideas about places to start! I'm glad you've read Emily's book (we're casual friends/colleagues, and she does great work, plus I do think it's a good foundation for a lot of this), I can think of some other good leaping off points. More shortly!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

Actually, a couple quick questions first, if you don't mind!'

1) Would you say that you have a similar experience as you do with what you're calling sexual pleasure with all kinds of physical/sensory pleasure? Does it feel good to you, like on your hands, to touch your partner? Do you get pleasure in your daily life from things like how fabric feels, or certain smells, tastes and sounds? Do you experience pleasure in moving your body, or doing other things with it, like feeling sun on it, taking a shower or both, stretching, resting...?

2) Do you have any trauma history that you're aware of? I just want to be sure to be cautious where I step or with what I suggest if you do, or to bear it in mind if it might be relevant with anything in this. :)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Thank you! (Also, so exciting that you're friends and colleagues! I've also read Burnout, and I really enjoy Dr. N's work.)

1. Good question! General sensory pleasure is definitely something I've learned and gotten better at with time. I like to feel the sun on my body and take warm showers. I've been dancing for a few years and I love it. I like moving and feeling strong. I like how warm my partner's body is and how soft his hands are. I'm always trying to be aware of these kinds of things, note them, actively enjoy them and be present in them when they happen. I find it kind of hard to be present the same way with sexual experiences- I get bored or frustrated and kind of float away and even though I've been trying, it's still a challenge to stay present and mindfully aware. But I'm pretty good at staying present and enjoying other physical sensations, like movement and warmth.

2. No trauma history that I'm aware of!
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

Burnout is also so genius, isn't it?

I'm excited about your answer to the first question here (and cool beans on the second, as well -- that definitely will make this easier all around).

So, I have a couple ideas to start with, and this is a bit of a fork. It may be that all of these prongs don't turn out to fit for you, but I think that it's worth at least checking them all out first to see.

For starters, since you're obviously a reader, I think that a read of Angela Chen's Ace might be a good thing for you to start with. I'm not sure if asexuality is where you're at or not, but whether it is or it isn't, I think that your feelings around and reactions to ace ideas, feelings, and experiences will be informative and helpful. And certainly, if it strongly resonates with you, it may be that some of this is about you yourself being on the ace spectrum in some way.

I also feel like if you can get your hands on some reading about disability and sexuality (and queer sexuality, and I'll get there in a minute) it could really help you out here. I really had me eye on Tobin Siebers essay, "Sexual Culture for Disabled People" from the anthology "Sex and Disability" for you but I can't find it separate from the book anywhere for you, alas. But there's a few quot from it I at least want to pull that I think really speaks to why I think sexuality from a disability justice framework might help you out here:

...co-thinking sex and disability reveals unacknowledged assumptions about the ability to have sex and how the ideology of ability determines the value of some sexual practices and ideas over others.

...people with disabilities are claiming a sexual culture based on different conceptions of the erotic body, new sexual temporalities, and a variety of gender and sexed identities...they represent disability not as a defect that needs to be overcome to have sex but as a complete embodiment that enhances sexual activities and pleasure.

While certain aspects of the body are not open to transformation, sexual desire and erotic sensation are remarkably flexible. For example, people with paralysis, who have lost feeling in traditional erogenous zones, have found ways to eroticize other parts of their body...As feminists have made clear, normative sexuality requires a distinctive mapping of the body into limited erogenous zones.


It might be obvious already where I'm going with this, but in case it's not, I'll make it clear. The idea a lot of us have that sex is about only specific parts of the body and specific activities has always been wrong, and was mostly something that was invented by very limited heterosexual and patriarchal (and ableist!) culture mostly centered around reproduction and partiarchal power. Sure, the genitals have a ton of sensory nerve endings in them, so yeah, we can feel a lot of things there. But the lips and fingertips, for example, have about the same amount, so the same is true of those parts. And bodies are so, so varied, as our experiences of and inside them, so how those parts feel to us -- our whole lives, at different times of our lives, in any given experience -- is nowhere near universal. Disability frameworks and queer frameworks support this diversity waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better than your average heteronormative ones (where what sex is is mostly about genitals, centered around intercourse, everything else foreplay, etc.).

I'd love for us to talk a little bit more about that, so I'll just leave that as a starting place to think about for right now, but if you're open for a journal/writing/thinking prompt, I think a good one for you to start with might be this:

• Take a piece of paper and set it up so you have six columns. At the top of those columns, write: taste, sound, sight, smell, touch, movement. Then, under those columns, just start free-associating and writing down anything that fits in each of those columns that you find any kind of pleasure in (if you have any disabilities or limitations in any of those things that make any of them fraught or painful, just leave it: this is about what's positive and useful for you and joyful, not about a homework assignment you have to do). Don't think about what is or isn't sexual or sensual -- it doesn't matter. This is just about what is pleasurable -- what feels good in some way, what brings you joy, what makes you like being in your body and where you feel present and alive in it.

That feel okay to start? LMK, if not, always happy to have another go!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Thank you so much again for all of the time and detail you're giving me. I've been wanting to ask someone who isn't my partner or a friend forever about this, and I really appreciate it. <3

I'll add Ace to my list, thank you! Asexuality is something that has always resonated with me, but I never expressed it, even to myself, because I assumed it would change. For example, all my friends at the start of high school had identified outwardly as asexual. None of them still do; they're all queer in various ways and they learned from and valued the experience of that identity, but it no longer serves them.

I've never explicitly identified with any labels for my sexuality; I've definitely liked people of different genders, but it never sat right for me to call myself something like bi or pan when I'm missing the whole sexual element, so I just gave up on labels and I don't really feel I need them. I inwardly have always identified with asexuality but I've never expressed it or even believed it entirely about myself because I assumed I would "grow out" of it. And I'm still waiting, and I suppose it might still happen, but now I'm almost 20 and I'm starting to suspect sexuality isn't just going to be dropped on me from the sky one day as some final misplaced piece of adulthood.

It also doesn't help that one of the few close friends I reached out to about this happens to be in the "real human asexuality is rare or impossible and you're just repressed and you'll feel fine in an actual sexual situation" camp. Looking back, that perspective wasn't really helpful or correct at all.

Strictly speaking, though, using the word asexuality to describe the experience of not having any sexual attraction, even if I don't like it or I think it will change, is right on the money for me. I don't really understand what sexual attraction is personally; it's not something I can identify having ever experienced myself. It's obviously just a piece of the pie for me (and for many, but not all, other people like this): it's not just sexual attraction I lack, but also any sexual desire, mental arousal, physical pleasure, etc. I guess this is probably a piece of it that can't be changed much; I don't know how I can work on making myself experience sexual attraction when I don't understand how that feels or how anyone could force it to happen. I guess it's naive for me to just ignore that part and assume it doesn't impact the rest of the pie. Maybe I need to start identifying with it more. It's something I've only discussed with my partner and a few closest friends; it's not something I'd feel the need to "come out" with more generally, but at this point I don't even feel fully comfortable and at peace with calling myself asexual privately, because it's something I wish I could change. I just hesitate to identify with something I don't like and which I hope to change, but if that hope is misplaced I guess I should maybe work on accepting it. Do you think accepting this (with or without the asexual label) is necessary in trying to work around it, and/or do you think I have some wiggle room to somehow intentionally make sexual attraction happen for me? I just don't want to trap myself in assuming this is "just how I am" when I wish I was more.

Thank you for the quotes from the sex and disability essay! I see exactly what you're saying. This is something I was thinking about last night: people experiencing resentment and dread in partnered sex are told to stop trying sex and start exploring other kinds of touch without sexual expectations, right? I know this isn't quite the same thing (especially considering the point that sex can exist in actions all over the body) but I was thinking that maybe just putting genitals off limits for now and trying to see if I can enjoy any other sorts of touch with myself would be a good start. A few months ago I got really frustrated and decided to quit trying masturbation and just concentrate on appreciating other bodily experiences, like dancing or sitting in the sun. Coming back to it after that, though, sex of any kind is the same dead end it's always been. So maybe putting certain things off limits for now that I know I associate with years of failure and frustration, and doing my best to be more open to any manner of positive touch experiences in other parts of the body could be a good step.

I'll try the writing prompt, thank you! I don't really have a lot in the first few columns right now- I feel really apathetic about food and don't really care what it tastes or smells like, I listen to music often to be culturally informed and to keep trying to get something out of it but it doesn't do much for me that's enjoyable, and so on- but I do at the very least enjoy various experiences of movement, warmth, etc, and I can think of some visual art and nature that I like looking at, so I'll start there and see if I can find some items for each column.
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

This is all good stuff! By that, I don't mean easy: obviously a lot of it is really challenging and loaded and has even been painful for you (and ooof, so sorry about the friend in there who was the very opposite of helpful). By good I mean rich when it comes to having a lot of information and places to go.

I feel like before we talk more about asexuality and whether or not it's the right place for you, reading something like that book where you can just simmer in a lot of material from that space and those voices and experiences -- and that all IS coming from an affirming place -- is probably a better way to go first. Are you down for that?

I feel like a better way for us to go in conversation right now is to start with this:

Thank you for the quotes from the sex and disability essay! I see exactly what you're saying. This is something I was thinking about last night: people experiencing resentment and dread in partnered sex are told to stop trying sex and start exploring other kinds of touch without sexual expectations, right? I know this isn't quite the same thing (especially considering the point that sex can exist in actions all over the body) but I was thinking that maybe just putting genitals off limits for now and trying to see if I can enjoy any other sorts of touch with myself would be a good start. A few months ago I got really frustrated and decided to quit trying masturbation and just concentrate on appreciating other bodily experiences, like dancing or sitting in the sun. Coming back to it after that, though, sex of any kind is the same dead end it's always been. So maybe putting certain things off limits for now that I know I associate with years of failure and frustration, and doing my best to be more open to any manner of positive touch experiences in other parts of the body could be a good step.


I do actually think that what you're suggesting is a good idea, and I'll add this to it: even the idea that what "sex" is is as limited as what you -- and most folks -- think it is, to the point that it's easy to say what sex is kind of tells us how problematic a framework that is. I mean, ultimately, as you said in part of this, sex can exist in actions across ANY of the body. I'd expand that even further: sex can be anything and everything that feels like an expression of whatever we consider our sexuality to be. Sex can be eating an orange if eating an orange feels sexual to us. Masturbation -- which is itself a kind of sex -- can be rubbing our stomachs and only our stomachs (or sitting in the sun!). Sex with a partner can be a full-body massage, or about us only touching them with out hands and them not touching us at all. And those are but three examples of literally millions, billions, of possibilities. What sex and sexuality can be is really as vast as what pleasure can be, as vast as what art can be, as what love can be. So I also think that part of this exploration for you is going to potentially be about casting off previous ideas of what sex and sexuality even is, starting with as much of a blank slate with those things as any of us can, and finding out what those things are for YOU and what you WANT those things to be for you. Does that make sense?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Yes, that makes sense! We can come back to asexuality once I've read Ace and thought about it some more.

You're right that I've been pretty constrained by a cultural narrative of what sex "is", and this is really helping me think about it in a new space. On this new blank slate, my first question might be what "feeling sexual" might actually feel like, which you probably can't 100% answer for me. Say, if I like eating an orange or sitting in the sun, what might make those necessarily sexual or non-sexual experiences? Does this come back to mental arousal, or is that something separate? How much of that is perception and how we decide to frame an experience? How much is it something you can/must think your way into, versus just being aware and experiencing it if it happens?
Heather
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

Here's the cool part: there are no rules. Seriously, there are none. What your sexuality is, what's sexual for you, what sex is to you? All of this is up to each of us. No one but us gets to decide, it's just something that WE decide for ourselves based on what it feels like for us.

If it helps to have a comparison, I've also been a musician my whole life. What music is and isn't is so subjective and so personal, and also so experiential. Even if I'm hearing what sounds like music in one rainstorm, for example, the next rainstorm may not be a musical experience for me at all, even if it fits the criteria objectively (like say, it's rhythmic, or the way it is hitting the top of trash cans is creating melody, and I can hear it, and there are patterns, etc.). Here's an example of something similar with sex: someone can have a sexual healthcare appointment where a doctor is touching the same parts a partner did the night before but have that not be a sexual experience at all, when the night before it was! Again: all of this is so subjective and so dependent on context, the difference in experience from day to day and place to place, our headspace, how we frame or think about things, all of it.

So, what makes things sexual or not really is...well, you and your perception and experience of them. And then what you decide. :)

But if that feels so vague as to be useless, I might suggest that a couple places to start when you're looking for clues are things that are about pleasure, that make you feel good, that make you feel alive and vibrant in your whole body in some way, that feel like tapping into something a little deeper, more closed off, or more personal than you might normally access in all of your daily life. (Even that is still subjective, though!) When you first posted here, you did write about your enjoyment in doing sexual things to your partner -- it sounds like that might be one important aspect of your sexuality, too, providing pleasure for others, so perhaps that's an integral part of your own unique mix, experiencing other people's pleasure or providing pleasure as pleasure (empathic pleasure?). You also talked earlier about dance and movement and feeling strong. Sounds like that might be part of your mix (ecstatic dance is something that shows up in a lot of cultures and religions historically and is wound in with sexuality for plenty, actually).

How does all of this feel?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Thanks for the ideas! I also just read your article about what sexuality is (with the intersecting circles) and took a lot of notes about things that might be in each. I definitely think it's helpful to expand definitions of sex and sexuality like this, and I'm enjoying getting to note more about, if nothing else, my personality and things I like to do.

I think the way that individual context makes a given experience "feel" sexual is at the root of a lot of my anxiety. I usually don't particularly "enjoy" kissing for instance- at least, not in the way I'd typically think of as physical pleasure- but one or two times over the course of the months I've felt a little bit of something more, which I chalk up to somehow feeling more physically up to it beforehand (mental arousal?). Each time I've wracked my brain to figure out what was different and how to recreate it, and I know practice is probably important here, but I take detailed notes every time we do anything "sexually" (though I'm realizing the scope of that is flawed) and I just haven't pinned down anything that gets me there. I've brainstormed some things that could hypothetically help, like feeling especially loved and cared for and safe, but I just don't feel like I have enough info from a few fleeting seconds of feeling something different over the course of months. This is also leaving me really empty of ideas of how to cultivate any sort of sexual interest/arousal/desire on my own, since that's not something I've experienced.

Creating pleasure for others is something I marked down in my circle diagram. It's not a feeling I'd traditionally call sexual- it's like making a nice dinner for someone you like and being pleased with a job well done when they like it. But I'm realizing these sorts of metaphors hold less water when you realize even the apparently "non-sexual" comparison activity could be sex... :) Still, it's definitely a part of the spheres making up my sexuality, though I don't know that it's pleasurable in a way I would think of as sexual.

This definitely gives me a lot more things to try and a lot more places to start from! I think it's really good for me to realize that feelings and emotions that are positive but not necessarily what I would think of as physical sexual pleasure (like that feeling of a job well done in pleasuring someone else, or the way it feels good to exercise and dance) can still be a part of sexuality. I still feel like there's a big gap between the specific sorts of feelings, real for me or imagined, that I've percieved as sexual, and other nice feelings like the above, but I think it's helpful for me to consider that those various other nice things can be part of a bigger "sexuality" picture.
sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

I've also been thinking a lot about this:

"things that are about pleasure, that make you feel good, that make you feel alive and vibrant in your whole body in some way, that feel like tapping into something a little deeper, more closed off, or more personal than you might normally access in all of your daily life."

It's a really interesting perspective to mix in. This is how I feel about dancing (I do swing/jazz/blues dancing, mostly partnered until the pandemic took that away from us, now doing my best with solo stuff). It's not a feeling I'd traditionally describe as sexual, but it's the peak of enjoying movement for me (something that I've only really been discovering over the last couple of years- dancing made me want to work out more because it showed me so much play and joy in all kinds of movement). I've expressed to my partner that it's something that's really special and important to me, but he has big hang-ups about dancing and his own work he needs to do there.

I definitely think this is a space I need to explore more in this context. All the most pleasurable physical experiences I have had are of movement, of dancing with others or alone or just otherwise working out in my room. This might be a place where I could work on other ways to frame and explore those various feelings and where they can lead me.
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

I'm really glad to hear what sounds like a shift in how you're talking about this already. You sound more relaxed to me, and less pressured. I hope that you feel that way. I hope you can feel more and more that way. Honestly, feeling any kind of pressure with any of this...well, pressure is the enemy of pleasure, just in the biggest way.

I hear you that it's hard to observe a lot of these things in the moment because a) those moments are often very hazy at the time (and we usually want to stay in them and keep them that way!) and b) they also can come and go quickly. One thing you might want to do for yourself is just keep a running journal to jot these things down -- these memories of pleasure when you do have them, rather than trying to make notes of them in the moment. They'll come back to you: sense memories do tend to do that, and that way, you can just let yourself enjoy them when they're going on rather than taking yourself out of the moment, you know?

It's funny you bring up dinner. Before I say more, is it okay with you if I share something personal from my own life and relationship?

In terms of what you're saying about dance and your partner, I do want to be sure we try and stay centered on you for now, but that said, I think that I would like to put a future bookmark in what you're saying here. It sounds like you have done a LOT to try and meet your partner where he's at with HIS kind of sexuality and the kind of pleasure he wants to explore. Like...a LOT. I don't think of myself as a great dancer, either. I get it. (And my partner was a theater and dance major, so is a great dancer, so I also get the intimidation factor when your partner is and you're not!) But I do think that when the time comes for you two to spend time together again, it's more than fair for you to make clear that dance is very clearly a big part of how you find pleasure and at least sensuality, if not sexuality, in your body, and to ask your partner to try and meet YOU in that to the best of their ability at least as much as you've been trying to meet them in theirs to the best of yours, you know?

But in the meantime, I do think more time spent in dance, and maybe thinking about/feeling how you can use dance as an avenue to connect to what is sensual by yourself is a good path. Sensuality -- really connecting to our senses -- and sexuality and really intertwined, and so often the latter kind of gets all the cultural attention when really, without the former the latter isn't even all that rich or interesting, IMHO. Sensuality (and then things like our life histories, our personalities, and our communication styles and relationships, etc.) is also part of what makes our sexualities unique, rather than all the same. It's one of the big ways we find out what makes our sexuality OUR sexuality rather than some script someone else wrote for us.
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sandpiper
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

You're right- while a lot of this still makes me feel anxious and frustrated with myself, I definitely feel more open with accepting my experiences as they are right now than I have been for months now. Thank you so much for guiding me through this.

I actually do keep a dated journal for partnered sexual experiences. I only started about a month ago when we started having manual and oral sex, but I'll definitely expand the kinds of things I record and makes notes about to other kinds of partnered pleasure in the future.

Yes, feel free to share from your personal life and relationship! Thank you.

I agree about the dancing. I've definitely done a LOT when it comes to persistently and open-mindedly trying things I've never felt a genuine desire to do, so it seems only fair for him to try to meet me here. I brought it up yesterday and ask that we try again sometime (we tried exactly once, he got really stressed after a few minutes and we dropped it before we'd even done any steps, I was just talking him through things we could do) when we're physically back together and he agreed. Hopefully that's something he and I can work through together- it would really mean a lot to me.
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

It is absolutely my pleasure. I'm always so happy to do anything I can to help liberate anyone from feeling the way you came in feeling. It's just awful, feeling like that.

So, what I was going to tell you is that in my current relationship one of the biggest things for us that we've considered our "foreplay" is cooking together. Like, hours-long sometimes bouts of making elaborate meals, the dance, as it were, of that, all of the sensory stuff involved there -- music on, taking our time, and then enjoying the meal, the whole thing. That was so well-established as part of our sexual life that when we had a major change to our lives with the pandemic and another aspect and my partner's teen kids moved in with us full-time, and we couldn't do that anymore, we literally have had the most impossible time figuring out how to even DO our sexual life because that, all of that stuff that wouldn't even be filed under sexuality in so many people's ideas of it, is so central to it for us. Just one example of how something can be so much a part of sexuality or a sexual relationship that is not well-represented in media or standard-issue sex talk.

I'm really glad to hear that about the dancing! That's wonderful. :)
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Thank you. There are definitely still mental pressures and frustrations and it's going to take time, but I already feel much better than I have been feeling about this forever. (And the fact that this CAN feel better when I try to accept more about myself is really encouraging!)

That's such a good idea with the cooking! Funny story here too, actually:

Before my partner and I got romantically involved, we were really really close friends for a year and a half first, and a lot of how we got there was cooking together every single weekend one semester (we both had decided to write cooking blogs separately as part of an assignment, and then just started doing the cooking together). It's something we've been unable to do for over a year for pandemic reasons (no kitchen we can both access) but in the fall it's going to be possible again. It really was one of our favorite activities in the world to share, and I'm really excited to see what it can look like in the context of our current relationship.

While I've really missed cooking together, I hadn't really thought of it in the context of enjoying time together and shared sensual experiences that potentially set the stage for other parts of sexuality! This is such a cool idea and definitely something I'll bring up for us to explore more together. Thank you so much for sharing that story with me!
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

Sure! I rankle at the term “foreplay” for a lot of reasons, but one big one is it’s often used to describe things that are very much genital or other kinds of sex-sex, you know, NOT stuff that comes before or can soundly be thought of as orbiting sexual main events. I think we all benefit by really widening what “sex” is, not just folks in the spot you find yourself in.

How are you feeling going into the weekend? I have a bunch of events (for my next book and family stuff), so won’t be here: do you feel pretty good until Monday? Or do you want to talk about some more things to focus on?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

I completely agree!

I'm always open to more ideas and things to focus on. That being said, I feel pretty good about this weekend. Enjoy your events! I'll give these things some thought and maybe I'll have more questions or ideas distilled by Monday.

Thank you!
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Heather »

You're welcome. Talk again soon. :)
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

I know we're trying to keep this centered on just me, but most of the experiences I'm trying to draw from are from a partnered context, so I have some thoughts from that context that might be useful (I know you're away this weekend and I don't need anything immediate, just kinda thinking out loud here by writing this!):

Here's an observation that came to me through your cooking story. Neither I nor my partner have great work life balance; a typical evening spent together typically looks like work, work, dinner, more work, giving up on work late at night, and promptly trying to make sex happen. It's obvious in retrospect, but that doesn't really work for me! I'm looking back on experiences that were my favorites- even without particular physical pleasure, those where I felt most comfortable, least pressured, most loved- and realizing there was always a transitional activity, like showering together or cuddling and talking about our relationship, during those times. I think having an activity there, like cooking or dancing or cuddling, is (in retrospect) a really big help. Going right from doing homework, studying, or logging hours at my job to immediately trying to be intimate with someone is very "Wait, what? Where am I? Who is this?" and I need time just paying attention to my partner and some shared activity in order to switch gears.

I think I put a lot of this inner work off for months because I put the bar so low for myself. Why try if it's not going to feel enjoyable anyways? When I'm trying to believe that this can, in fact, be good, I'm better at taking steps to try and achieve that. Being more open to that, remembering the good things and believing they, and more, are possible, shifts my priorities from "let's get through this" to "how can I improve this?".

I'm glad I'm taking this time to stop right now and really think about it. I had the same "sure, do whatever, I don't care" attitude towards intercourse, but seeing as I've/we've never been able to fit more than a single finger in there and even that isn't comfortable, we pushed it off for until we work through the pain and discomfort more. I've only recently started realizing that the solution here isn't angrily trying to find ways to make the mechanics of my broken non-complying body work with what I want to "let happen", because no amount of lubrication does anything when paired with pressure and self hatred. Rather, the much more difficult path of "I'll physiologically relax enough to let that happen when I actually genuinely want and enjoy it, which will probably take a lot of time and inner work" seems like the only thing that could get us anywhere.

I find myself thinking about how so many animal species co-evolve sexual organs and strategies that are in competition; males with ones designed to force sex to happen, and females with ones best equipped for getting away from it. It's not the same thing, but I guess human intercourse is also more difficult when someone isn't really into it. So it's only been a recent realization for me that my enjoyment is kind of mechanically necessary, which brings me to my current point of grappling with "maybe my enjoyment is possible and valuable for more than just the mechanics of making something happen for someone else?" That possibility is new territory for me, and that's something kind of scary to realize. I guess it's human giver syndrome (to borrow a phrase from Burnout) and something I need to be more aware of.

Maybe it's partly because the first alternative to "pleasure doesn't matter, just make sex happen" that I can think of is this very assertive "pleasure is your birthright" narrative, and that doesn't fit right for me at all. It feels like pressure to be someone I'm not, experiencing something I'm not. It feels like something about me is fundamentally wrong. At least when I think of pleasure as something that doesn't matter, I feel like it's okay for me to be how I am. When I start to try to prioritize it, even if only to make something work for another person (like where I was when I first came to you for help), I feel a lot of pressure to do something that seems impossible for me. Obviously I need to craft a new philosophy on pleasure that is neither of these, but I don't know where to start.

So now that I'm here, in this place of realizing making these experiences actually fun for me and not just tolerable is important, and maybe not just for the other person's pleasure and confidence (still working on believing this one), I've been brainstorming a lot of things I want to try and communicating them to my partner (slowing wayyy down, seeing what happens if only I'm allowed to initiate, always having an "us time" activity like cooking or dancing transitioning us between work and anything sexual, sensate focus exercises, grounding techniques like talking through where we are and what we're doing and talking more in general during sex, the very basic idea that I need to say "sure" way less and "not yet" way more to when I don't actually want something and I might benefit from more time, etc). That has felt really good and useful, and he's been receptive and happy to give it all a try, which is awesome.

The more I think about this the more I unravel layers and layers of pressure that I don't notice because they're just part of my normal. Working through these, layer by layer, will probably take a long time, but it already feels really fruitful, so I'm excited to see where this might take me.
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Marisha »

Wow sandpiper, this is all a ton of excellent self-work. There were several points throughout this latest post that I found myself humming affirmatively.

(Btw, we do operate on weekends, we just have different people on different shifts.)

where I felt most comfortable, least pressured, most loved- and realizing there was always a transitional activity, like showering together or cuddling and talking about our relationship
The first thing was this part about transitional activities. I totally get this, like, how life can feel so mechanical that the act of seeking physical pleasure following a heavy workload can feel like fitting together the wrong ends of a puzzle piece, you know? Our brains can struggle with these kinds of transitions, from high-stress/concentration to vulnerability/intimacy. I appreciate that the thing you identified here was your need to get back to things that make you feel more human.

I think I put a lot of this inner work off for months because I put the bar so low for myself. Why try if it's not going to feel enjoyable anyways? When I'm trying to believe that this can, in fact, be good, I'm better at taking steps to try and achieve that. Being more open to that, remembering the good things and believing they, and more, are possible, shifts my priorities from "let's get through this" to "how can I improve this?".
I also totally appreciate your approach to changing this mindset. I think when we get so deep into this feeling of low self-worth, we take what comes to us without stopping to think, only trying to endure. Sex, pleasure, and intimacy become work. Everyone else talks about these things in this positive way that makes you feel like you're incapable of reaching the same sense of 'normalcy' as everyone else. The thing is, there's a difference between 'normalcy' and ease. In a world that's better equipped to discuss sex and pleasure in a totally uncomplicated way, people with experiences like yours end up left behind without many points of reference to base their experiences on. You become strange, un-'fixable.' But, as others in this thread have pointed out, rather than meeting the world as it is, it is possible to address your needs rather than pretending they aren't there.

no amount of lubrication does anything when paired with pressure and self hatred.
Yep! As Heather puts it in this article, sex and pleasure begin between the ears rather than between the legs. Arousal, comfort, safety, joy - we have to be in a sort of emotional 'green zone,' a good headspace, to be able to feel good in that way.

I find myself thinking about how so many animal species co-evolve sexual organs and strategies that are in competition; males with ones designed to force sex to happen, and females with ones best equipped for getting away from it. It's not the same thing, but I guess human intercourse is also more difficult when someone isn't really into it. So it's only been a recent realization for me that my enjoyment is kind of mechanically necessary, which brings me to my current point of grappling with "maybe my enjoyment is possible and valuable for more than just the mechanics of making something happen for someone else?"
Pleasure is not mechanically necessary to procreate. That is to say: pleasure can exist for the sake of itself, without sex. Maybe I sound redundant, but I had this response to this part of your post because the way you describe sex here again kind of reflects the mentality that sex is supposed to happen because it 'happens in nature,' that sort of thing. I think in this self-exploration where you're focusing on what feels good and right, it's okay to leave sex behind until it's something you feel comfortable doing.

That has felt really good and useful, and he's been receptive and happy to give it all a try, which is awesome.
Good!! I'm glad that you're with someone who's open to exploring this with you!

I'm excited to hear all these things! It's amazing when people are able to reach these moments of self-actualization. It's hard work, but it's work worth doing, right?
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

Hi Marisha!

Thanks for your comments and encouragement! Sorting through all this is a lot of work, but it's totally worth it.

You've hit on it exactly with your point about 'normalcy'- I just don't see much discussion of experiences like mine, even in books, articles, and spaces focused on sex and sexuality, and that can make it feel more like the way I am is wrong and I need to strive for the things other people are striving for and achieving.

Ah! You've caught another layer of pressure I put on myself without even realizing! Jokes aside, that's a really good point- there's a lot of layers to the "sex is something you SHOULD be doing" mentality for me, from pleasing a partner to social norms, and I'm really starting to notice how much it seeps through all my thoughts on the topic.

I find it really hard to imagine a hypothetical future where I simply never try sex again (there's a lot of 'should' pressure from different directions here, but most of all I think just feeling like a failure, like I'm giving up on improving myself short of some metric of what I "should" be like) so I'm still operating from a framework with a lot of expectations that it will happen eventually, it's about when and how. Thanks for catching me on that and reminding me that it's okay to step away from sex if/when I want to.
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by sandpiper »

One more quick question in addition to all the stuff above: I have my first gyno exam in a couple weeks. Is there anything in particular here that you think might be useful to discuss with a medial professional, or is none of this stuff they could really help with? Also, if I can only get one (centimeter wide?) finger in semi-comfortably but nothing more (I can put tampons in, but I only successfully did that a week ago- for a long time, I couldn't), how does that bode for speculum insertion (I've read they need an opening of at least two centimeters)?
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Re: No Sexual Desire or Pleasure, Ever

Unread post by Carly »

Hey sandpiper! It looks like you've been talking with a few Scarleteen folks throughout the thread and I'm sure they'll chime in too, but! I think you should bring these concerns up with your gynecologist, if for no other reason than it sounds like you may experience pain or discomfort during your examination. Speculums come in different sizes, and your doctor can choose one that may be a better fit if they have more information from you.

It's a little on the older side, but Heather once did a write-up of an average first gynecologist visit. We're of course here to answer any questions you might have, but wanted to drop that here just in case you needed it.
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