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Posts Categorized: psychology
By Nadine, Already Pretty Contributor
Going back to school, I knew my time would be taken up with lots of book learnin’, essay writing, and late-night studying. But it turns out our professors want to do more than simply fill our heads with big, brainy academic stuff. We’re continually reminded that for many of us, sex is an intensely personal issue that leaves us majorly vulnerable. As sexuality professionals, it’s vital that we’re knowledgeable, but it’s equally important for us to have empathy and compassion. Not only are we taught techniques for teaching clients, we’re encouraged to participate, so that we can better understand the things that the people we work with might be feeling.
You may be thinking that sexuality studies + techniques = Hubba Hubba! Sorry to disappoint but to it’s pretty PG. For example, we did a very basic body image exercise. We were asked to write a letter that began “Dear Owner,” from our own bodies. I was confident I had this thing on lock. I’m not perfect but I’m at a place in my life where I feel pretty comfortable with what I see when I look in the mirror. I had no reluctance about the assignment at all, as I was fairly certain it would be largely positive.
And so I began:
I think we’re both happy that you’re learning to accept and enjoy the outside stuff. I’m super jazzed that we’re doing the natural hair thing. I feel so good every time we put our hands up there and between you and me, I think it suits you really well.
As for the rest of the bod, I know you’re into it more than you ever were before. And I know it’s because we’re coming up on forty. Sure there are some creaks and stiff parts. But overall I think I’m holding up pretty well nearly four decades in. So thanks for all of that and also self-high fives, because we can’t high ten ourselves now, can we?
So there’s that. Now here’s the not so good. I’m doing well on the outside but you know I have some challenges on the inside. The anxiety. The depression. I know that my chemistry is problematic. I know I have flawed hormones and neurotransmitters. I know you hate the unfocused fear that overwhelms your mind. I hate the heart palpitations, the shortness of breath and those awful muscular contractions. Also it makes me wring my hands, which seriously? Do I look like a fretful English school marm? I also hate the crying. Actually I secretly love the crying because it gets all the icky stuff out. What I hate is the way you make me hold it in and hold it in, because you don’t want to deal with people’s reaction to your tears. That makes my head hurt and neither of us enjoy that.
But more than that I hate that you blame me for this. I mean, I don’t hate you. I love you. And I want you to love me. And I want you to accept that this isn’t my fault. I’m not doing this to you on purpose. This is just how I am. Maybe I was like this when we were born. Or maybe it’s because of stuff that’s happened. I don’t know. But you have to believe me when I tell you I can’t help that I’m like this. And that you make everything worse when you blame me. And it’s not fair. You know other people who are like us. When their bodies react the way ours does, you’re nice to them. You say, “It’s OK, it’s not your fault,” and you accept them and love them anyway because they’re still good people worth loving. So why can’t you do that for me? Why can’t you stop being angry at me? I think if you could just accept me the way I am, we’d both be much happier.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that. Thanks again for the outside stuff. See you in the mirror!
My fellow authors will understand what I mean when I say that sometimes writing is something you do and sometimes writing is something that happens to you. This letter happened to me. These weren’t the words I was expecting when I sat down to write this letter. I didn’t expect to wind up with tears in my eyes, confronting my own self torment. But I’m glad that it did. It made me realize I had some major cognitive dissonance going on. I would never dream of blaming someone for having a mental illness. Illness isn’t something we chose, it’s something that happens to our bodies. If you told me, “Nadine, so-and-so is angry at me because my body doesn’t work perfectly,” I’d tell you that person was being completely unreasonable. Yet I somehow decided it wasn’t really being mean and I wasn’t really doing any harm if I treated myself that way, which, um, NO! And also, WRONG!
So, yeah. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’ve learned to be nice to the outside of my body, but that only goes so far. Now I need to practice being just as nice to the inside of my body. If compassion is something I need in order to work with others, I should probably have some for myself as well. Going back to school is teaching me some very unexpected lessons.
What parts of yourself do love? Are there things about your body – inside or out – that you struggle to accept? What ways have you found of being nice to your body?
Image via Wikimedia Commons
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Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is a new resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, having recently moved from Ottawa, Ontario to pursue a Doctor of Education in Human Sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.
Oh, lingerie. You are so very beautiful. You evoke in my mind images of classic pinup beauties, impossibly elegant women who lounge in boudoirs, and expert flirts who flash their garters with flair. Flipping through the Victoria’s Secret catalogue is high on my list of simple pleasures. And I delight in watching my burlesque sisters rock the stage in a gorgeous custom made corset.
I love most every everything about lingerie…except wearing it.
Over the years I’ve tried teddies and nighties and uber-lacy bras with frilly peek-a-boo adornment. Yet every time I slip into a slinky, silky something it’s like being in someone else’s skin and I can’t quite find the sexy confidence I’m seeking.
Growing up, I thought lingerie was the sexiest category of clothing. If you wanted to be guaranteed-or-your-money-back desirable, you could put your body into something with lace and see-through bits and bam! Instant hotness. I also assumed that if one looked “hot” one felt hot. When I began exploring partnered sex and my own seductive abilities, I turned to lingerie believing it was my best bet at transforming myself into a temptress.
And it did work…to a certain degree. Back in university, I remember spending a healthy portion of my meager student income on some nighties, fancy bra sets, and a pair of thigh-high stockings. Despite feeling awkward about elastic in unfamiliar places and the strange smooth feeling of satin, enticing my partners had never been easier. But somehow the sex itself was rarely as mind-blowing as I’d hoped it would be. My intention was to spice things up, but I found the fun of sex was somewhat diminished by the odd sensation of industrial strength underwire.
I never felt so much pressure around lingerie as I did as my wedding night approached. By the time we got married, my partner and I had been together for four years. We lived together and we’d had lots and lots of sex. Still, I got it in my head that our wedding night was supposed to be this big deal production with flower petals and me dressed in a white, marabou-trimmed something. In retrospect, it’s telling that I chose my wedding day dress in an afternoon but hunted for my wedding night clothes for weeks! Eventually I chose something out of sheer exhaustion, but it had the same problem as all of its predecessors. It was beautiful…but I didn’t feel desirable. I felt weird and self-conscious, like I was pretending to be someone else.
For many, role-playing and/or adopting a sexual persona can be great fun and very healthy. For some, playing at being someone else can be an arousing, perhaps kinky enhancement. Sex can also leave us feeling very vulnerable and playing with character may provide some psychological shielding as we explore and maybe veer out of our sexual comfort zones. Dressing up can be part of that process. I worked as an actor for years and costume was always an important part of inhabiting my character.
Given all of that, you would think that dressing in special clothes and playing a part would have been a successful strategy for me sexually. Instead it was the opposite. On stage I felt safe, secure, and rarely got nervous. Unless my parents were watching. An audience of strangers didn’t phase me. Strangers didn’t know me, so they could easily accept that I was an ethereal fairy or street-wise prisoner or nurturing, wartime nurse. But my parents knew exactly who I was. Performing for them made me so nervous because I had to make them forget their daughter and accept me as someone else, which made me feel terribly self-conscious, which made staying in character harder, which made me even more nervous, which oh my god! Infinite causal loop of mobius anxiety!
I feel similarly awkward putting on personas for my sexual partners. So far, they’ve all been people with whom I’ve shared an intimate connection. I feel uncomfortable doing that with someone who knows me so well. I tried lingerie because I assumed that was what a sexy woman was supposed to wear. Now, I understand that I can be seductive in way that feels natural for me. Lingerie can be a beautiful, powerful declaration of sexuality. That’s just not what it does for me. In retrospect, something comfy and made of cotton would have made me much happier on my wedding night. It’s what I wore the night before I got married. And it’s what I’ve worn every night since.
In my mind lingerie is beautiful, elegant and graceful. I still love to look it at. I admire the women who can wear it . And while I still love thumbing through the intimates section of my favourite catalogue, I’ve finally accepted that for me and my sexy style, lingerie just isn’t the right fit.
Are you a lingerie-lover? What type of clothing makes you feel super-sexy? Does wearing something racy and lacy make you feel like a power player or do you turn to other types of clothing when you’re in a seductive mood.
photo via Pond5
Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is a new resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, having recently moved from Ottawa, Ontario to pursue a PhD in Human Sexuality. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.