Monthly Archives: January 2015

2 The Power of Words: A Missive for Sexperts, Sex Therapists, & Educators

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Disclaimer: I realize that not all sex therapists, sex educators, sex workers, or sex professionals want to be inclusive and accepting. If that is you, I honor your path and encourage you to stop reading. This article isn’t for you.

I’ll admit that I struggle to use inclusive language sometimes. Being deliberate in my word choices can feel like a chore because I’m such a passionate, off-the-cuff, energetic person. Thinking about my words requires self-awareness, examining my motivations, and shining a light on my privilege and assumptions. It also means being as plugged in as I can with communities that may not be my own.

Honestly, until a few months ago, I considered myself a really open and accepting sex professional.

In my heart of hearts, I didn’t have any restrictions or judgments about people who were different from me, and it seemed like too much work to labor to change my words all the damn time to be super inclusive.

My heart was in the right place, my love and acceptance was limitless, so it was just me being a little careless with my words from time to time. No big deal, right?

That all changed when I attended the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit in August 2014.

First came the panel on sex worker’s rights. Holy shit, I thought. I’ve been using so many phases that shame sex workers and sex work.

I took copious notes and circled all the words and phrases I wanted to let go of.

Then, came a panel of sexperts including Nina Hartley, Buck Angel, and S. Bear Bergman. Bear started talking about how so many sex educators stress the importance of being in your body for a really powerful sexual experience.

As a trans man, he said, often the last place he wants to be is in his body. Being in his head, focusing on the other person – that’s where release was for him, escape. He also pointed out that masturbation for a lot of trans people isn’t an enjoyable experience the way it can be for cis folks. I scribbled more in my notebook and made a mental note to chew on that a lot more.

But it was during Cory Silverberg’s keynote speech that it all came crashing down around me.

He read his book, “What Makes a Baby,” and then talked about how much thought and effort he put into a story that would include all genders, all family units, all lifestyles and races and bodies, so that children from all backgrounds would feel like the story was there’s.

Cory talked about the power of words to change lives, to create powerful shifts, and to stimulate change – not just out in the world, but within ourselves. His speech was beautiful and moving.

To quote Cory,

“Language matters. If I use language that gets in the way, it doesn’t work.”

As an educator and coach, that struck a chord. I couldn’t let it go.

Admittedly, I spent the first half of his speech feeling angry and ashamed of my own resistance to change. The anger came from a place of discomfort. I was hearing an undeniable truth, and my excuses just didn’t hold up in the face of his eloquence and logic.

My ego was screaming, “But I don’t want to change! Change is scary!”

And then, I heard myself. I heard what a privileged asshole I was being.

There I was, enjoying the luxury of sitting at this conference with some of the greatest minds in the sex industry, with access to incredible resources and knowledge, and while I do suffer injustice and discrimination as a fat, cisgendered woman and someone who is queer, I was using DISCOMFORT as my excuse for not changing?

That was my a-ha moment.

Cory kept talking and I kept my head down, scribbling notes about his speech, but I was actually hiding the tears running down my cheeks. The wall of fear, the resistance to change crumbled, and suddenly, I understood.

I understood how my words shape the world around me. Not just the ones I say to clients, but the ones I say to myself and to colleagues.

I understood that my heart might be open to people who are different from myself, but my actions weren’t demonstrating that same acceptance.

I understood that as a sex coach, sex podcaster, and a sex writer, I hold tremendous influence to stimulate change, and I wasn’t using that power very responsibly.

I understood that inclusion isn’t about losing something of mine but gaining something of theirs – trust. Instead of being an island to myself I could become a part of a much larger world, and all it would take was being a little more deliberate in my word choice.

My journey is far from over.

The words I use and the way I frame the world are changing, but I still catch myself using language that might exclude or shame others. The awareness, though, is a part of me, and I hold myself accountable as often as possible. Ignorance is no longer an option.

It isn’t easy, but then, being an expert isn’t supposed to be easy. It takes work and constant growth and continual learning.

I’m up for the task. (I hope.)

You might be wondering why I’m writing this. The truth is I have seen some troubling trends from fellow sexperts in recent months, including a challenging conversation I had a few nights ago with someone who was using misogynistic language but claiming to be a feminist. And even after I called him out in a loving way, he refused to listen.

So, I’m putting my foot down. I’m drawing my line in the sand.

—————————–   <– line in the sand

This is my plea that we, as an industry, push ourselves to up the ante on inclusion and intention. Many of us are already doing this, so let’s keep that going.

Personality and flair can be a huge part of our success in this field, so I’m certainly not asking anyone to temper their sass or mute their persona.

Rather, I’m challenging all of us to be more creative by keeping our volume and passion the same while making a few small tweaks to the way we use our words.

After all, how many people will hear what we have to say and internalize those words and lessons and use them to influence others (their friends or children, for example)? Talk about a butterfly effect!

If one word might shame someone and leave them carrying a wound while another word might empower someone and give them a sense of acceptance and freedom, as professionals, why wouldn’t we opt for the more inclusive and healing word?

At first, opening myself up to receive feedback and to listen to voices that were different from my own felt exhausting. When I saw stories about white privilege or cis privilege or ableism, it felt like a personal attack.

Was I so wrong all of the time?

But, learning new skills doesn’t happen over night. As professionals, we all know that the path to success and wholeness isn’t a linear, straight progression, but a bumpy, twisty, wild ride.

I started listening and absorbing. I set my ego aside as much as I could and tried to listen. The more I listened, the more people were willing to open up and share.

My list of words and phrases to avoid grew, but in their place I learned new phrases and new frameworks that were more inclusive of different types of bodies, different relationship models, and I became more sensitive to race and culture issues, ableism, classism, transmisogyny… The list goes on.

Instead of shrinking my world, though, this awareness allowed it to expand.

Despite being in lesbian/queer relationships for 11 years, I’m in relationships with cis men right now. I still default to heteronormative language when I talk about sex because that’s where I am – if I’m sharing a personal story, that’s not a problem. But if I use my personal experience and then broadcast that to the world as the way things are for everyone, that’s problematic.

Another example is that sometimes I forget that not all women have vulvas and not all men have penises. Or forgetting to ask someone’s preferred pronoun because mine has always been such a given.

I still have to remind myself (sometimes after making a gaff) that not everyone wants or is capable of a genital orgasm. Not everyone who looks feminine uses female pronouns. And like Bear said, that not everyone wants to be in their body for the ultimate ecstatic experience.

I want this industry to be at the forefront of social change and radical acceptance, and often we are. The people I met at Woodhull are a shining example of that. I hope to be so inclusive and inspiring someday.

As professionals, we certainly can’t serve or appeal to everyone (nor do we really want to), but we can still make an effort to examine our language to find ways to eliminate words and phrases that scream judgment, exclusion, and otherness.

We are setting an example for every client, every reader, every viewer who interacts with us.

Becoming aware of my blindspots and privilege hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary. It’s also been a road filled with mistakes and missed opportunities.

Let’s forgive ourselves for our missteps and be patient when we’re struggling, but let’s also push each other to do better, to think bigger, to create a sex-positive environment that embraces all of our beautiful diversity. If anyone is skilled in tough conversations, we are.

So let’s not be afraid to call each other out – lovingly and respectfully – to make sure we’re all doing the best we can.

As we’ve seen with the deaths in Paris this week, words wield tremendous power.

To follow Cory’s lead, I don’t want my language to get in the way, to shut someone down, to make them feel like they don’t belong.

I want my words to create space and to reach across the divide.

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What words or phrases do you struggle with? What have you heard that’s been cringe-worthy, so that we can educate each other on stuff that might be ouchie?

If you’re not a sex educator or sex professional, what words have you heard that made you feel excluded or uncertain or left out?

Keeping sex fun (hint: when’s the last time you smiled in bed?)

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When was the last time you laughed in the middle of sex? Genuinely, honestly laughed?

Last week, my partner and I were deep in a rope bondage scene – my ankles were bound in rope cuffs, I was nearly immobilized, and things were intense and serious. Growls and gasps and grunts abounded. And then…something completely unexpected happened – one of our props popped off, causing a small, painful gasp out of him. Seconds later, it happened again.

*snap*

*snap*

He jumped up in shock and I looked at him, wide-eyed for a moment, and then it happened.

The giggles.

I tried to stop them, but one look at his face and it was all over.

Both naked, one of us (me) in a very exposed and compromising position, and him trying to walk off the sharp shock of pain. In seconds, we were both laughing uncontrollably. Every time I thought I had it under control, it would start again. Giggles, then belly laughs, and finally the tears.

Eventually, we got back to business and the intensity built again.

Nothing was ruined by the surprise turn of events. In fact, that moment is one of my favorite memories from that weekend because we were able to stay in the moment and appreciate it for what it was – FUNNY!

Sex has a tendency to be so serious and loaded and rife with expectation or guilt or fear. Fear that we aren’t good enough or skilled enough or sexy enough. But what keeping sex fun just meant lightening up a bit and laughing? Because when it comes right down to it – sex is pretty silly.

What scripts run through your head when you and your sweetie(s) are getting intimate?

Are you worried about how you’ll look? Are you concerned you aren’t going to enjoy it? Are you doing it out of some sense of obligation because you “should have sex x number of times per week/month/year”?

Talk about a libido killer.

All those “should” statements, all that self-talk keeping you swinging from past to future and back again. If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that pleasure and desire hate being smothered by expectation, and they don’t live anywhere except the present moment.

For some people, sex is a very intense and serious act nearly all of the time. For others, it’s playful and light and silly. I like to take a middle-of-the-road approach – setting intentions but allowing space for the spontaneous.

Because when two (or more) naked bodies are brought together, you never know what might happen next.

Farts, queefs, burps, bodily fluids, slips, unexpected aches, phone calls, kids – things happen (I almost said shit happens, but that could be taken multiple ways and is best left for a discussion on anal play).

So, I challenge you to invite a little laughter into the bedroom.

Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously, release the expectations, kill the “should” statements, and surrender to what might unfold. Like a random Charlie Horse that needs to be rubbed out, or a sudden tickle in your nose that leads to a dozen sneezes, or the doorbell ringing at the worst possible moment. Laughter doesn’t have to mean the sex is over. It just means you’re acknowledging the moment, and then you decide where to go from there.

What’s a funny or unexpected moment that’s happened to you? What’s stopped you from laughing in the past?

[callout title=”Let’s chat” link=”https://www.dawnserra.com/lets-chat/” class=”hb-aligncenter”]Do you need help naming and facing your fear? Would you love to get unstuck, so that you can finally shed the burden you’ve been carrying? Whether it’s feelings of unworthiness or a struggling sex life (with yourself or with your partner), I can help you. [/callout]

2015: The year of surrender

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I’m the kind of person who has a tendency to get stuck in my head. It’s taken me a lot of work to learn how to savor the moment for exactly what it is.

Looking back, I started to realize just how much I’d missed out on by constantly thinking of all the things I have to do, all the places I want to go, chewing on what I could have done better and what I want to manifest in the future. These churning thoughts meant I was rarely enjoying the here and now.

And do you know where pleasure, bliss, and ecstasy live? In this moment. The one happening right now.

Not in the past. Not in the future. Pleasure exists in the present. Ecstasy pulses and blossoms as each breath unfolds.

But staying present, for all its simplicity, is far from easy, especially in our crazy go-go-go world. Even when I’m prioritizing pleasure for myself with a bubble bath or dancing or sex, it’s easy for my mind to wander.

Stress is addictive, anxiety is clingy, and expectation is pleasure’s worst enemy.

What totally transformed my experiences was learning the art of surrender.

Overwhelmed by stress? Take a deep breath and surrender to what cannot be changed.

Worried about how you look? Take a deep breath and surrender to who you are in this moment.

Trying to get out of your head during sex? Surrender to sensation, to touch, to your needs and desires.

When you surrender, there is no room for stress and anxiety. There is no space for doubt or shame or guilt. Surrendering requires you to open yourself up to the unknown and to trust that what comes next is exactly what is meant to happen. That means releasing expectations. When we’re free from expectation, we create space for pleasure to bubble up and take over.

Surrendering is not giving up. It is not passive. It is not weak. In fact, surrender takes tremendous courage and strength because we can only truly surrender when we feel safe enough to let go.

So, I’m declaring 2015 the year of surrender. I will be focusing on all of the ways you can surrender in order to reconnect with your erotic self, your sensual side, your confidence, your needs, your lover(s), and most importantly, with yourself.

This year we will surrender to the art of receiving, to the art of giving, and to the art of living with passion.

This will be the year that you surrender to what is so that you can finally create space to breathe life into what can be: bliss, happiness, radical authenticity, ecstasy, and anything else your soul desires. It all starts with surrender.

What have you been resisting? What has been holding you back? What are you afraid of or hiding from?

And what does it look like when you finally surrender and release those things?

All you have to do is let go.