Note: I’m going to at least allude to aspects of sex and my own sexuality in this post, so if you’re the kind of person who might judge me for that, please do us both a favor and skip this post.
Creating Change offers a huge variety of workshops, academies, and day-long institutes to choose from, which is one of the many reasons it continues to be a rich experience every year. This year, I decided to take a risk by committing to a day-long institute that would be a personal learning opportunity as opposed to just a professional skill-building one.
Geographies of Sex: Mapping our Desire: An Institute for Sexual Liberation
Any time a title has two colons in it, you know it will be intense, and it was, but in really poignant ways.
The goal of the institute was “discovering and reclaiming pivotal experiences that have forged our sexual paths” so that we can map our desire and “move toward a more vibrant, empowered daily expression of our sexualities.” So yes, that meant lots of people talking about their sex lives, and then each of us taking time to reflect on our own sex lives and examine them for themes and understandings of how we think about sex today and make decisions about how to move forward. But no, I’m not going to blog my entire desire map.
Let me start by saying this: sex needs to be demystified. I thought before I attended this institute I had a pretty forward-thinking view on sex (and I certainly haven’t shied away from talking openly about it in positive ways). I was wrong.
Sex is so taboo, and it’s bizarre! We are all sexual beings. We all have sex lives (even abstinent ones). We all have fantasies. We all have desires and our bodies are all capable of experiencing pleasure. And yet conversations about sex have really diminished in our movement.
What’s the one thing that sets apart queer people from the heterosexual/cisgender homogeneity? Our bodies and what we do with them. And as we’ve pushed forward for acceptance, we’ve often done so at the expense of covering up the very things that make us unique.
The problem is that all thoughts related to sex reside in the primal part of our brain. It’s the place where anger and fear are first-responses and it’s quite far removed from our much more evolved intuition and critical thinking skills. So when people are faced with conversations about sex, people go to that very protective place, which makes it difficult to move forward. We’ve moved toward equality by sacrificing our understanding of our own sexuality.
But honestly… if there is consent and mutual benefit, everything should be fair game.
So let me take my own little step towards a liberated queer community. My name is Zack. I have kinks and fetishes. I am also a romantic and love connecting with sexual partners on deeper levels. And after spending a day examining my sexual history, I realized that I’ve been tentative and insecure with sex in the past. I’ve been afraid of sex, I’ve been afraid of not being desired, and I’ve been afraid to let myself feel pleasure. Moving forward, I am going to try to overcome these insecurities and take a greater ownership of my desires. I’m not ashamed to be a sexual being and I’m not going to let anyone suggest I should be. In fact, I’m going to do my best to encourage others in embracing their own desires as well.
What’s hot for someone is hot for someone.
If shame is in charge, we avoid opportunities for pleasure for ourselves.
If you don’t play out sexual desires, they could take over in other ways.
Those are three quotes from the day. I can’t wait to see how someone tries to use this personal disclosure against me at some point in my life.
Honestly, what I just shared is nothing compared to the kinds of conversations we had at the institute. Here are a few examples of some of the discussions that came up…
It’s not uncommon to have rape fantasies, but what if you’re a rape victim? What kind of sexual paradox is it to still find pleasure in a fantasy that has such a traumatic imprint in your life? I can’t even begin to imagine that conflict, but how liberating it was to have several people in the room who could speak to it. Once you’ve healed, you can play with it. Without undermining the severity of rape, these powerful survivors spoke to reclaiming their sexuality and their desire. How profound to focus on being the survivor instead of always being the victim!
What about consensual incest? I’m talking about two people who have a familial connection but are both capable and willing of giving consent to the other for sexual pleasure. It’s a thought that really racks the brain and makes us think it’s such a horrible thing. What about even just the fantasy of it? What about having a crush on a sibling or a cousin? Given that we’re all sexual beings, don’t we owe it to ourselves to at least consider the question before dismissing it outright for the ick factor it evokes?
Are fantasies in our head meant to stay there or be realized? Sometimes our desires have consequences. Sometimes we spend our whole lives “performing” instead of just “being,” letting go. How do sex workers rediscover what their own sexual desires actually are? How do racial dynamics impact power exchange play? How do we distinguish between our personal sexual feelings and the feelings we have for our partners? How do we ensure that we aren’t just catering to our partner’s desires at the sacrifice of our own?
What is it about monogamy that motivates us to hold it up as an ideal? Is it because we’re just so insecure about expressing our own sexual desires that once we’ve found a single person who pleases us that we aren’t able to trust in an emotional commitment without strict sexual monogamy? I’m asking these questions as someone who identifies quite strongly with monogamy!
One of the panelists discussed a time when he and his partner of then-5 years were having a fight. It had come to light that both of them had had sexual encounters outside of their relationship. But the fight wasn’t working. It was a conditioned response; they weren’t fighting because they actually wanted to fight, but merely because they felt they were supposed to. They soon realized that they were actually both okay with the other’s “indiscretion.” In fact, it kind of made them hot to hear about what each did with the outside person. Eventually their relationship evolved to the point where they could be open and cruise together, and occasionally even welcome a third home with them. They sit on the subway and play the “who would you bang?” game. They are still a committed couple (now 11+ years as I recall), and they are confidently committed enough that they recognize they don’t (and never will) complement each other’s desires perfectly.
I still don’t know if I could ever do that… but how great is that? When we choose to value individuals’ sexuality and desires, it’s not difficult to arrive at a place where his experience with his partner actually sounds quite healthy and vibrant. Still, we have these constructs about what is “right” and “wrong” with sex that are hard to shake. Ultimately, what do we gain from these schemas except limitations to our own sexuality and relationships?
I want to share one more moment of personal learning for me. At one point, I made a comment to the group about how young people (like myself) have absorbed a lot of messages about safe sex that are motivated by fear of HIV and STIs. Later in the day, several different folks in the room disclosed they were HIV+ and that my comment reminded them of the stigma they often face and the way it can really stifle their sexuality. It caused them to shut down a little bit. I had really forgotten about the privilege I have as someone HIV-, and I had indirectly reinforced the stigma against people with HIV. I approached these individuals later to express my regret for the microaggression, and it’s an awareness about creating inclusive spaces that I will carry with me.
So, I hope I’ve given you all something to think about. Much thanks to all the presenters and panelists who helped give me something to think about! Sexual liberation is something I think we all deserve. I know I am nowhere close to being liberated, but engaging in these kinds of ideas has had a profound impact on my thinking. As we move forward in achieving LGBT equality, we have to continue creating space for our sexuality and acknowledge that sex can be a very positive thing. I welcome your thoughts about these important ideas as we all challenge the taboo around sexuality and desire together.
At the end of the intense and emotionally draining day, we were invited to share a next step we were going to take upon leaving the workshop. One young man shared simply, “I intend to fuck soon.” He received a boisterous round of applause.