Before we get in to this properly let’s lay a few things on the table here. You’re expecting a gratuitous post about my sex life and the sex lives I’ve heard about, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Hey, I’m inquisitive too and yeah, this title would still draw me in today.
Apologies, but I’m not going to talk about our personal sex life, desires, fantasies or passions publicly. It’s not my style and even though I talk openly about most things on here, this subject requires me to respect the privacy of my partner and family. My privacy has been reduced by this website, but theirs certainly hasn’t. So sorry, no personal sex talk here.
But before you run for the hills and return to Google to search for alternative soft porn…
I am going to talk about ‘sex’ in a broader sense and it’s place in the lives of every day people. People like me (but not me 😉). Like most things I write about, I have a lot of opinions on this subject. What qualifies me? I know about mental health and I have an active sex life. That’s all that I have to back up all these opinions. Oh, actually, I’m old as well, so that might help 😉.
Specifically I’ll be pondering whether sex helps us. Does it provide us with any relief or headspace? Can it make us feel confident? Is there really a relationship between sex and happiness? Or even, dare I say it, a correlation between sex and our mental health?
Where. To. Start…
First sex experiences
In an episode of Friends, series 3 I believe, Rachel and Ross are in the midst of their record-breaking, compulsively addictive and seriously enviable relationship. At the time of it’s release I was about 16/17 and highly impressionable having so far been sheltered from all aspects of sex. I was pretty much raised to think it was dirty, never discussed and 100% private. So I was finding my feet, trying to work out what was expected of me, how it all works (yep, truly sheltered and naive) and looking for answers in the only safe and private space I had – my bedroom television.
When Rachel declared she was “going commando too” as they left for an event, my eyes widened and I was genuinely shocked. Is THAT what’s expected of me? To be knicker-less? 🩲 I admired her honesty and ability to be so controlling and sexy after saying just a handful of words. And of course Ross was immediately putty in her hands. But hey, we’re talking about Jennifer Aniston here. I knew even then that as an amateur, single, girl-next-door teenager I couldn’t compete on that level. Nevertheless I wanted to know what that sort of sexual happiness and honesty felt like. What the freedom of being your true self in front of a partner could create. How it felt to be sexy. What I would need to do to achieve the same confidence.
Frankly I was scared and I spent another 15 years feeling that way. I didn’t know if I could find that confidence and it made me incredibly inadequate, sad and anxious. I’m awkward anyway. I look in the mirror and hate the sagging face and all-over lumps and bumps. I feel like I’m not worthy of that type of attention because I don’t look as good, slim or beautiful.
So my introduction to sex was honestly really stressful. It damaged my mental health because it made me so afraid and anxious. I was genuinely thinking I had to be like JA in Friends. Certain I had to be just as perfect, desirable and sexy. But I knew deep down that I would never achieve it. I imagine that resonates with some of you too.
What’s the point here? If I’m not going to be gratuitous then where am I heading? Well honestly, I’m 40 and my life was mostly so sheltered, so empty that, until 9 years ago, I didn’t realise that sex serves a purpose besides pleasing someone else when you aren’t really in to it and producing children.
Does it? Yes, it really does.
Those of you out there having amazing, fulfilling sex lives will probably already realise a lot of this. I’m now in my mid-life so maybe it’s a crisis. I don’t know. But if you relate to the sheltered version of me. If you wonder whether a lack of sex is having an impact on things besides your heavy libido. If you’re struggling with mental health and forcing sex away as a result. You, no WE, are the people that might be relieved to know that sex, in many forms, might help us. And it doesn’t forever feel like the anxious, untaught and uncharted territory you experienced as a virgin.
There are lots of reasons why I believe this and (without the promiscuity you’re hoping for 😉) I’ll try to explain them.
How do you feel?
Let’s start with the obvious. It feels good. And it’s ok to say that. I have a favourite American sitcom called ‘Superstore’. In one episode the main character Amy (America Ferrera at her finest) is tired of colleagues talking about her sex life behind her back. She calls a meeting and says to everyone “I have sex. And I like having sex!”. I loved this moment. A woman declaring that her enjoyment in her quest for pleasure is acceptable. Publicly. Holy guacamole!
Amy is a character performed by an actress and therefore, obviously fictitional. But I found myself wondering if America Ferrera thought privately that Amys honesty was helpful for her. Maybe her characters fatigue over the secret chats about her private life gave the actress a eureka moment too? Maybe being able to say those things with the guise of a part-to-play made her feel indirectly empowered? Or confident? To be fair she’s a successful actress, I know that she almost certainly doesn’t need confidence because she’s beautiful and popular. But these are attributes I don’t have, so could I use her acting confidence to tap in to my own hidden happiness?
I realised that the actor inside me is constantly begging to come out. Constantly. My inner actor is a people pleaser. Someone who covers up insecurities and instead displays a neatly packaged, agreeable human that is easily liked in most necessary social scenarios. Trouble is, if you’re like me you won’t let your hidden actor out during those naughty private moments. I have personally always been afraid of ‘letting go’. My actress was locked away in a mental prison, shackled in a cell that resides deep deep down inside my brains’ grey matter. But after I met my partner some of my fear gradually reduced and once in a while, when I’m safe and comfortable, I let those inhibitions go. The actress can take over and I can become seductive, confident, powerful, submissive, domineering, controlling…anything I want. Maybe even sexy? For me, the only place this ‘alternate me’ is collectively permitted is in the bedroom. Or the kitchen. Maybe the garden? I dunno…whatever you’re in to! 🤫
It’s rare that I’m not afraid, but when I let myself relax, when I can let go…it’s fucking cool.
A drink might help me…but I’m not condoning or recommending that. 🍺 🍹
Can you surrender?
Then there’s the reality adjustment. The ability to finally surrender to the moment and live (for 10 or maybe 15 minutes 😊) in a fantasy world. Being intimate with someone, whether it’s true love, desperate passion, just a quickie or all 3 (lucky!) takes you away from the bills on your table, the report that’s been making you anxious, the looming school meeting, the worry you have for a friend or maybe the mental instability you’re dealing with. It’s all gone because you’re centred. You’re concentrating intensely on breathing, passion, movement, desires and, of course, pleasure. At least most of the time anyway.
I spent years assuming my physical and mental rigidity caused by fear at moments where sex was on the table, was normal. I’d freeze, lock up, stop reacting and overthink my actions to a distressing degree. That scenario is in NO WAY enjoyable, in fact it had a negative effect on my mental health for many years. It still does.
Letting go is almost essential. And gives your brain a break. 🧠
And what about the merit and satisfaction of being a giver? There’s no such thing as a selfless deed. I heard that once (in an episode of Friends again I think!) and immediately agreed with the statement. It certainly applies to the person assuming the role of ‘giver’. Although ultimately the person receiving is getting the lions share of fun here, the giver is making someone they are attracted to, care for and / or love feel intense levels of joy without experiencing or expecting it themselves.
And giving isn’t just good because you were providing pleasure. It feels good to see with your own eyes what you can do to someone without being distracted by your own sexual needs. It’s rewarding to donate to charity 😉. So even though you are ‘giving’, you have permission to feel great because you did a selfless (selfish) thing and you were fully present for the results.
Sexy, but not sex!
Finally, possibly most importantly, what about the area of sex that doesn’t involve sex? The parts that are still sensual minus the dreaded nakedness, vulnerability and fear. I’m talking about the happiness and confidence that comes from non-contact foreplay. Yeah I said it. But most people hear that word and think about hours of heavy petting, kissing and stubble rashes.
I want you to go back in time. Before the sexual foreplay, before the touching, kissing and clumsily removed underwear. Start at the beginning of the evening when you catch each other out of the corner of your eye getting dressed and get a tiny glimpse of some sexy underwear. Maybe you get a wink to acknowledge what’s been seen and their approval. When you’re at the party and see each other across the room, exchanging knowing glances and suggestive smiles. When you sat to eat and shared the incredible food that made your taste buds explode with new and exciting flavours. When you stood at the bar talking quietly and received a kiss on the neck, so light and slow it made you melt, shiver and twitch.
I mean I feel good just writing this shit. The mere suggestion makes me feel more confident. I remember how it feels realising that someone across the room is thinking of me while they network with friends and colleagues who have no idea. What a compliment. What a boost. What excitement.
I get to think “Maybe I do look good tonight?!” and my real life courage is silently, privately raised.
It’s clandestine. It’s a secret. It’s naughty. I love it. The build-up, the anticipation. It probably forms the biggest chunk of the confidence boost that can be achieved (for me at least).
I’ve been more honest and open than I intended in this post, but I think that’s the only way to explain how fearlessness can be generated or re-ignited with the help of the right partner. The happiness and fulfilment of your life might not only lie in your finances, possessions, career, family or friend group – it might also be in your bedroom.
During the drought I experienced over nearly a decade, I’d gradually pulled away from all sexual situations (excuse the pun 😉). Even talking about it became impossible again. My fear and lack of trust was never really understood and as a result I missed out on something that usually forms a big part of someones twenties. Maybe if I’d been braver and more inquisitive back then I wouldn’t have ended up struggling so much with intimacy later in life. But that’s my story, that’s how I ended up realising sexuality and sex in general has the power to create many forms of happiness and many forms of anxiety.
This was difficult and awkward for me to write, and I’m fully aware I’m now making myself out to be a wannabe Carrie Bradshaw, bashing out opinions on a keyboard about sex, pleasure and relationships. I’m not trying to do that. Honestly. But if my blog is expected to talk about mental health honestly, then I needed to say these things.
Despite being less physically able than most and living with the daily struggle to try and stay in a bright, safe space in my head, the subject matter is still part of my life. If and when it happens, I always feel alive. Electric. More confident. Desirable. Sometimes even sexy. Although I don’t always feel those things directly (in fact it’s very rare I do) having them projected by someone I love still makes it fantastic and one of the few truly positive experiences that I am still able to get involved in from time to time.
It’s never a complete solution. My foray into so many areas of our brains proves that there are multiple moving parts in mental health. Something that works for one person probably won’t work for the next. Even so, I firmly believe that good sex forms at least a chunk of the huge, disordered and random puzzle in my head that helps achieve my desperately craved contentment, confidence, balance and self-stability.
Of course, it’s incredibly important I acknowledge that sex can be used by abusers as a weapon, power play, to cause deliberate harm and in many other terrible, negative ways. If your relationship or sexual situation feels dangerous, wrong, unwanted or in any way harmful then don’t ignore it and talk to someone you trust. There’s absolutely no shame in walking away, saying no, ending a relationship or reporting something wrong or illegal to the right people.
Please don’t mistake someone else’s pleasure for your own validity and happiness. Sex should always be safe and consented to by everyone involved.
My closing thought…
I always try to end on a jovial or positive note, and with that in mind I wanted to mention something I heard recently during a podcast.
An agony aunt type section saw the two pod presenters discussing a woman whose relationship was being scrutinised by her friends to a distressing degree. She wanted to know if ultimately she should dump the man or the mates? It’s such a difficult, savage question that I couldn’t help but take notice. Both the presenters sounded overwhelmed with such a cut and dry inquiry and I wondered if they would feel comfortable giving any advice at all. In the end one of the hosts wrapped up their rambling sentences with just two words. Do You. Just ‘Do You’.
Why does that matter?
Screw the opinions and nosiness of other people, forget the partner who messes you around, spend time with the person you’re attracted to, don’t listen to the negativity that drags you down, stop letting people take advantage of your good nature, don’t date the people who treat you badly. Do what makes you happy. Do what brings you joy. Achieve what you always wanted. Do all of these things whilst thinking carefully about any consequences. But more than anything…
Do. You. 🌟 🌟