I had been talking with a close friend about sex and sacred service and she forwarded me a couple of articles that she wanted me to think about in the context of our conversation. She asked about my input. I've been somewhat afraid talking to her about that sort of sacred service. Her opinion matters to me, and she's been worried about the risks involved in that sort of work, especially work with someone I don't know well like that discussed in the last paragraph of the blog post. Certainly I see the risks too and some of them concern me greatly. So, while I see the joy and wonder in that work, it's also easy enough for me to connect with the fear and apprehension. I was also nervous because I didn't know what she was hoping for from our interaction.
That easily could have been the state in which I read the articles. Certainly when I read the articles, I did still connect with that part of myself. The first talks about consent and the importance of talking during sex, making sure that your lover is OK with what's going on. I find myself frustrated reading this article because the article quotes a poem talking about abandoning yourself to the primal moment of the experience as a lover, going to a place beyond words. McEwan speaks against this quote arguing for the importance of words during sex. I've been to that place without words sometimes, and it can be wonderful and joyous; who is McEwan to tell me what I can and cannot enjoy during sex. Sure, I've also been places with lots of words, and while different, I find joy and wonder there. Also, why is my friend sharing this? Why is she afraid I will not respect the consent of my lovers, caring for their needs as we approach each other?
The second article gives the reader permission to want to have and talk about sex, exploring the shame and discomfort we sometimes face approaching sexuality and discussions of our role as lovers. McEwan admits she's treading a fine line as she's hoping the reader will empower themselves, acknowledges the reader needs no permission, but wants to offer permission to those who find it helpful. I'm generally comfortable enough with my sexuality that I don't need permission and I don't have context with McEwan. The article focuses on sex as something that happens between two lovers. I disconnect from the article. It excludes masturbation, polyamory and group sex from the discussion. McEwan acknowledges she's taking a narrow focus, for example noting that there are things to be said about masturbation but in the interest of having a focused article, she's not exploring them. However, because the article approaches things from the standpoint of granting permission and specifically excludes many aspects of sexuality I care about from areas where permission is granted, I feel judged. I'm puzzled why I even grant the author the power to make me feel judged. On reflection, I came to the article afraid of what message my friend was trying to send and frustrated by the first article. I am not surprised to feel vulnerable.
I'm also nervous about what my friend is hoping for from a reaction. No, this sort of judging people and telling them what they can do is not what I'm hoping sacred service is about. Even more so than with other work, my point is to help empower people to explore their own needs.
How it Really Went Down
While I could connect with these feelings while reading the articles, because of an accident I had a much more positive experience. I was busy and didn't get around to reading the articles before my friend and I had a long conversation. She was excited about the articles and eagerly shared some of her thoughts. She talked about how valuable this sort of advice would have been when she was first starting to explore herself as lover. It seems basic now, but she felt emphasizing the importance of discussion before, during and after sex in establishing comfort and consent was very valuable. She found the second article interesting because it emphasized that it was OK to talk about sex and to have different needs.
So, I approached the articles with a much more open mind. I do still hear judgment against lovers agreeing to go to a place without words. However, I realize that I may be drawing a different emphasis, and I'm reminded that it's fine to disagree from time to time. I agree though that encouraging people to be open and to discuss enough to make sure that their needs are met is really important. I hope that as lovers, we choose to honor our boundaries and spend the necessary time to learn about boundaries and comfort of those we are with. And I agree with the second article that feeling comfortable talking about sex and being comfortable with our sexual desires are things I value highly.
And yes, my love work is very much about helping people feel comfortable with communication and with demanding that their boundaries be respected.
I agree with what the second article is trying to say, although I'd like to find a way to send that message that is more directly empowering. But hey, I can go try to do that. Perhaps some people will connect more with my version, perhaps others will connect more with the existing article. Let's be open in communicating about sexuality is an important enough message that we can find lots of different ways to say it.
However, I'm dancing around with joy when I think about this experience. I got to see how understanding my friend's intent and the feelings and desires behind that intent shaped my experience. Instead of connecting with my fear, disconnecting with the article, and focusing on minor disagreement, I was able to connect with my friend and see a small part of the world in a new way. I was able to see messages parallel to those I'm trying to send and to better connect with what those at the beginning of their journey as lovers might need to hear.
However, I also saw the harm that could be done in the form of fears reenforced and judgments assumed. I think many of the fears and possibly even much of the hate that I'd like to fight stem from this sort of lack of connection.
I'm also starting to see the tools I'll need for turning that kind of fear into empathy. I can choose to ask someone what their intent is. I can choose to try and connect with their feelings and make it about connecting with them not just connecting with myself.
At a more personal level, my friend and I have gained a new comfort in sharing things that are important. She said that she feels more comfortable sharing things that are important to her if she can help me see why that is. Disagreement is a possibility. Often, though, it hurts more to share something important and not have someone understand why you care than it does to find there is disagreement.