‘So, what would you like to work on?’ he asked kindly as part of a pre-session screening.
‘Oh, there’s nothing in particular—I was just curious,’ I smiled back, confident in my sexuality and self-expressiveness. I just wanted to experience the bodywork he had to offer—sexological bodywork—but had no neurosis or wounding to work on, as far as I knew. I had already done a considerable amount of healing in the area of sexuality and felt at home in my skin. But later that night, as I looked at the rarely-consecrated double bed, and felt a familiar sadness rise inside, it hit me.
My sexuality had become a burden, a source of sorrow.
That was my ‘issue’ if I had one. Unrequited sexuality.
I don’t need to be told that sexuality is a gift. I know that it is, intimately. I’ve experienced the highs of what it can bring. I understand how it can touch the soul and body in ways that are truly unique. And I have no difficulty in pleasuring myself fully, deeply and honestly. I’ve even written volumes on the subject! No, comfort with my own sexuality wasn’t an issue, but the sadness that I’d come to associate with it definitely was. Too many months of getting into bed with someone who had little interest in sexual sharing had started to lay down a pattern of association between sexual desire and sadness at a lack of reciprocation. It was an association I could certainly live without.
Ultimately, no matter how comfortable and alive we feel in our individual sexuality, sharing it with another brings a richness which can’t be experienced alone. We can reach depths of fulfillment and pleasure with a partner which are difficult to achieve alone. Sexuality, by its very nature, is intended to be shared, and when two people have a shared understanding and approach to their sexual intimacy, it enhances their lives individually and together in ways that are hard to describe to those that have yet to experience the territory. It was territory I had been familiar with, but to which I had been a stranger for several years.
My long-term partner had, for various reasons, lost interest in sex, relegating it to the ‘once in a while, when I’m in the mood’ part of his life (reasons for which this article is too short to cover). But my predicament, if I can call it that, would have been the same had I been single.
The opportunities for finding another who matched my understanding and energy were slim.
The gift of my sexuality, which I had once treasured, was now feeling more like a burden that I wanted rid of, something which nagged at me continually, reminding me of its presence and of its continual, unfulfilled, desire for shared expression.
I sat with the sorry realization for a while that evening, letting the full sadness of it wash over me. How many others feel like this, I wondered. Is this how men feel when their partners give them the cold shoulder, night after night, or just go through the motions to shut them up? No wonder they get to feeling there’s something wrong with their sexuality, and then end up acting accordingly. And what about other women?
Surely I wasn’t the only hot-blooded, spiritually-minded, woman on the planet who was short a good match?
How did they manage, given that an unwilling male partner has a much harder time (pun not intended) just going through the motions?
As I sat there, though, I began to see that it wasn’t just about a lack of sexual action. It never is, is it? If that’s all it was, then I could easily have started hanging around the local night-clubs or paying a gigolo (budget permitting!). No, it was more than that. What I was missing was a partner who could open his heart wide enough, and with sufficient passion, to love me fully through his body, and who would be comfortable receiving my open, loving sexuality in return. Around me it seemed as if there were many who might be willing to have sex with me, and others who might give open-hearted loving a try, but there were few who combined both. And so, I had been carrying around this wonderful gift that I was longing to give, but with no-one to receive it.
My bodyworker did his best to help me release the sadness that had built up inside, working his magic on where it lay buried in the cells of my body, and reconnecting me to the natural joy that sexuality inherently carries when we come to it from a place of innocence. What he couldn’t do, though, was guarantee me someone who could and would reciprocate my gift of loving, intimate, sexuality, or promise that I wouldn’t feel the sadness return another day.
In the time since then, I’ve regularly received comments and messages in response to articles I’ve written, from readers who refer to the difficulty of finding a partner who matches their desire to share deep intimacy and sexuality. Most of the comments have been from men and, although I’m obviously a woman, I have to assume that perhaps it is more of a male issue. Or perhaps the women are just not speaking out as much? I prefer to see it as a genderless issue, though—as something that relates more to a certain type of person rather than to a particular gender. It certainly, although not exclusively, seems to be more common among those who have done a degree of personal growth work and have reached a level of maturity in themselves.
What the solution to this is, particularly when living within an area that has a small population, I’m not sure. Living in an urban area with a denser population, the opportunities to find a like-minded/hearted/bodied partner is presumably greater than it is in a rural or small community. But my experience of both bliss and frustration with this topic has led me to two main conclusions, both of which seem obvious but deserve elaborating on.
The first is that those of us who are comfortable in our sexuality have a role to play in helping to bring others to a similar place.
Even if we have no interest in doing so professionally, we can do this in our intimate relationships by being sensitive to our lovers’ needs and concerns, by patiently and compassionately supporting their own sexual explorations. Also, by taking the time to articulate how it is for us—how we feel about our sexuality, our pleasure, our bodies and our love of sharing those—we have a chance to ‘mentor’ our lovers into being better able to meet us deeply in a sexual encounter, to our mutual benefit.
This role as voluntary teacher and guide can also be done in broader circles, with friends and acquaintances. We can gently challenge commonly-accepted views we many not agree with as they appear in conversations around us—the ones that suggest that wanting sex is wrong, that wanting more sex than a partner does is wrong, that seeking satisfaction outside a relationship is wrong, that self-pleasuring is something to be embarrassed about, and so many more. Allowing these to be perpetuated, by staying silent out of a fear of rejection, isn’t of benefit to anyone. By contributing to a greater understanding and awareness around sexuality, we are helping to create a world in which sexuality is expressed more naturally and in which our gift of deep sexuality can be more readily received.
The second conclusion I’ve come to is that we need to speak up more clearly about what we need—to be willing to show ourselves openly for who we are and what we want, while accepting that others may not be in a position to reciprocate or even accept.
For me, what I need in my life is a deep sexual sharing which allows me to flow my energy fully with another. And I know there are others for whom this is also true, although they may not be as comfortable or as articulate in asking for it.
It’s not just about frequency of sex, it’s about quality, connection, depth and love.
Sometimes saying that this is what I’m looking for makes me feel like a starving beggar complaining that the bread she has been given is white rather than the fresh, seeded, whole-grain loaf that she needs to stay healthy. After all, shouldn’t I be happy with what I’m getting? And it’s not that I can’t derive pleasure from more casual, less-connected, sex. I can, and do, and it’s fun—the same way having white bread is nice once in a while but doesn’t form the basis for a healthy diet. It doesn’t really hit the mark. And it certainly doesn’t leave me with that sense of having shared a fulfilling, life-enhancing, meaningful connection with another—which is what deep, loving sexuality can bring at its best.
None of this is offered from a place of judgment, no matter how the story and my limited attempts at articulating a sensitive subject may seem. I’m neither wrong nor right for wanting what I do, nor would I consider those with different needs to be either right or wrong. We all are who we are, and we all have individual needs, desires and sexual histories that need to be taken into account—differing levels of sensitivity and of sexual desire, different forms of sexual expression, different rates of arousal, and different experiences of early sexuality. Being able to address, integrate and play around with all of these is part of making a relationship work, and being open to our individual uniqueness can prevent sex becoming a bland neutral where each person dumbs down what they really want.
So, those two conclusions aside, how do I continue to live right here, right now, without easy access to that deep nourishment which I feel I need? Like others do, I guess.
I take the opportunities for intimacy as they present themselves, whether within my long-term relationship or outside of it, and I make the most of them.
I focus on loving what I’ve got in my life—and I certainly have plenty. And I continue to offer the gifts I have to offer, knowing that they don’t always find a home but that it feels better to offer anyway than to hold back. I also make the most of those talented souls who offer touch and love as their professional services to the world. I may choose to be fussy about the quality of the intimacy I need, but I’ve had to become open to the way in which it may offer itself to me or live without.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
Photo: Jenn Slade