It’s that time of year again — everything is chocolate and hearts and made for two. Only, this time it’s accompanied by a heavy dose of stranger danger. Let’s face it, unless you were in a relationship before the pandemic hit that was solid enough to withstand the last year, you’re probably not feeling particularly enthusiastic about Valentine’s Day.
So, let’s take this time to get back in touch with ourselves. Get back into touchingourselves.
Like a lot of women, I’ve got all sorts of internalized body shame. I also struggle with self-love, in the Cyndi Lauper She Bop sense.
To be clear, I have no problem with orgasms and in fact, give me a vibrator and I can get myself off quite efficiently. What I’ve never felt comfortable with is actually touching myself with my own hands.
I’d see women in porn getting themselves off with their own fingers and I’d feel comparably defective. How could they move their hands so quickly? How could they sustain the right rhythm while also getting more and more aroused?
It was a complete mystery to me.
The Body Is Not An Apology
My sister recently bought me the book, The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor. She pre-ordered the physical book, but it would take a few weeks to arrive so she bought me the audiobook, too. Sonya Renee Taylor is a spoken word artist and she is reading her own book, so it’s definitely a worthwhile purchase.
The title is owed to a deeply emotional moment with a fellow poet. This other poet had compromised her own safety because of her own body shame. She offered her body as an apology for how “difficult” she felt it must be to engage with her body at all. It brought to memory all the times I allowed myself to become dehumanized simply because I didn’t believe myself to be worthy of good treatment.
This book explores the idea of radical self-love. Radical meaning to the root. The Body Is Not An Apology asks its readers to unearth the very root of their own body shame and face it head-on. It asks us to challenge the messages we’ve been bombarded with our whole lives and demands that we see our bodies as our allies.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it?
A couple of months ago, my domestic partner and I broke up. More or less. We still live together and we still very much care for each other. We cuddle, we hug, we give the occasional peck, but we’re not sleeping together.
Let’s not get into why in this article.
But the point being, my usual method of getting off is no longer available to me. Sure, I could play with the various toys at my disposal, but vibrators are almost too efficient. They’re very practical tools that I just don’t feel very sensual with. I don’t lose myself in fantasy when I hear a loud VVVVRRRRRMMMMMMMMMHHHHRRRRRMMMMMMMMVVVV.
So I thought, maybe this is the time to finally learn to touch myself.
What do I have to lose?
Too Much Too Fast
When I first gave myself this goal, I thought the best way to do it would be to light some candles, put on some good music, and just dive in. I gave myself a night to explore. That seemed like a good idea, right?
What I hadn’t anticipated was how quickly I became frustrated with myself. After a good half hour of trying, I felt like I was getting farther from my goal, not closer and I just went back to my tried and true method.
It turns out that I needed to take this even slower than I thought. One night was not going to undo 20+ years of shutting myself down. I needed to learn how to be as patient with myself as I have been with my partners. I would have to break this down into very small steps over many days, maybe weeks or even years.
Step By Step
So, I pretty much only get off in one position. I can do that with a variety of tools, but ultimately, I only know the one way to get there. It’s the fastest and most efficient route for me. Lying face down and grinding on whatever toy (inanimate or human) I fancied that day.
If I want to be able to sit up (or even lie down) and climax by my own hand, I’d have to get used to cumming in different positions. But before I could get to different positions, I would have to get used to my hand just being there when I cum. It felt so weird to be reaching down at all!
I started by grinding on a non-vibrating toy. Then, doing that but with my hand nearby. After that, I tried using my hand like I would use a toy – passively. Honestly, it felt like a huge accomplishment to cum while touching myself at all, even though I wasn’t rubbing or using my hand the way I saw pornstars doing it. I was still using my hips more than anything else, but it felt like progress.
After that, I tried moving onto my side. Success! Little by little, I was getting closer to my goal. My sexual self-exploration isn’t just about getting used to different positions. It’s also about dismantling my body shame, dealing with my sexual trauma, and learning to truly love myself. Not easy.
In the audiobook by Sonya Renee Taylor, there are MANY pearls of wisdom to help break down your own internalized body shame. Near the end of the audiobook, she talks about developing the 3 E’s of touch with a workshop participant who, because of her history of sexual trauma, felt a lot of anxiety around touching herself. Exploration, examination, and ecstasy. Developing these different classifications helped her mentally prepare for the kind of touch she was up for.
Each of these types of touch helped me get more intimate with my body.
Touch #1: Exploration
The first type of touch is exploration. This is all about getting to know your body. What does it look like? How does it feel? Getting to know your body, top to bottom and inside-out. This does not need to have a sexual tone to it, but I took it there.
I touched my whole body; my neck, my thighs — everywhere. I tried touching with different amounts of pressure, different movements. I touched myself in ways I knew I enjoyed when others did them, and I tried to find sensations that I hadn’t felt before or that rarely were given attention. As much as I could, I tried to have fun with the process.
Touch #2: Examination
Examination is like exploration, but with more detail. To examine my body, I decided to strip down totally naked and get to know every inch. With the help of some well-placed mirrors, I saw it all and tried to view my body without judgment.
I didn’t dress myself up for this. I dressed down. I wanted to love and accept my body in its natural state. I didn’t wear any makeup. I didn’t shave any of my body hair (and hadn’t for a very long time). Rather than trying to “accept” that I hadn’t shaved, I viewed my body hair as a natural shading that added mystery and dimension to my body.
I looked like a magical nymph. A spirit of the forest. I ran my hands over my legs and felt the softness of unbroken skin. Shaving tends to bring on cuts and ingrown hairs. Waxing often leaves my skin irritated and bumpy. Allowing my body to just do its own thing was beautiful. The hair on my legs even made my arm hair barely noticeable.
I took it all in and loved it all.
Touch #3: Ecstasy
“When we touch ourselves sexually…we are becoming masterful tour guides for our lovers.” —Sonya Renee Taylor
To help with the third E, there is an activity in the audiobook that challenges listeners to make a list of 4 sensations your body loves (that don’t require another person) and doing 2 of them for yourself. Now, I was already doing this as part of my exploration, but I wouldn’t say I was reaching ecstasy.
I love when someone forcefully grabs my hips, slowly rubs my inner thighs, and very gently, almost imperceptibly, strokes my outer lips. Eventually, a firm swirl does wonders. These, I have learned, are important keys to my ecstasy. Doing two of these felt both very weird and very normal. I think I should probably do them a few more times, just to be sure. 😉
All of these steps toward my goal were taken over the course of several weeks. I tried not to pressure myself to do them all perfectly. I always made sure I had plenty of time at my disposal. I tried to stay curious about my body and give myself permission to explore without expectation.
I still haven’t reached the point where I would feel comfortable masturbating in front of someone to climax. I haven’t yet cum in the position of my choice, but I’m working towards it. Every day, I am chipping away at the walls I’ve built between myself and my own pleasure. Most importantly, I’ve learned that I can get there someday. It’s not impossible. It’s not beyond my reach.