I want to be very open and straightforward in this post about some things that are considered very private. I think sexuality is a very important part of being human, and of human happiness, and I think it needs to be talked about in healthy ways more often.
Today I posted on Facebook a link to one of the best podcasts I have ever listened to: http://mormonstories.org/280-how-to-have-better-sex-in-your-mormon-marriage/. It is well worth your time if you get a chance to listen to it. Now that I posted that publicly I almost certainly have the entirety of my friends thinking that Ricardo and my sex life sucks, which actually couldn’t be further from the truth 🙂 So, I will set the record straight for the few of you who actually read this 🙂 Let me tell you why I posted that podcast on Facebook.
When Ricardo left the church my belief in the church was shaken completely, as you all know. That left me with lots of questions and curiosities surrounding my own sexuality. Without the church’s guidance I was left wondering what really was okay and not okay when it comes to sex. What about masturbation, pornography, sex toys, sex before marriage…what about sex outside of marriage for married people. I was genuinely surprised about how curious I was about all these things suddenly and how unclear right and wrong became for me. I’m not going to lie, I explored the things I was curious about, and Ricardo really didn’t mind. Much of my curiosity was satisfied merely by exploring the things that had seemed taboo to me for so long.
The line between good and bad has continued being fuzzy for me though. And one curiosity was both troubling to me and hard for me to shake: I really started wanting to explore sexually outside of my marriage. This is the one thing Ricardo absolutely said he wouldn’t be okay with. And I completely understood that, especially since just a few months before I would have been furious with him for having the same desire. But it continued to be a huge temptation for me. After my one near slip-up (which I blogged about before), I realized that I had to stop exploring this curiosity before I destroyed my marriage, so I stopped.
But the thoughts and fantasies continued. I was frustrated with myself because I have always considered myself an extremely loyal person, and here I was desiring to have a sexual relationship with other people.
For a long time I put this on the back burner. As soon as I made the decision to stay in the LDS church, I felt this huge burden lifted. Since that time I have started “working through the kinks” I guess you could say, which has been really enjoyable and much less stressful than the time during which I was trying to decide whether to stay in or leave the Mormon church :).
I finally found a Facebook group of people who are similar to me and it felt like a safe place to see if anyone had similar questions and struggles. This decision led to some really wonderful, open conversations that were incredibly helpful and some recommendations on podcasts to listen to about Mormon sexuality. I listened to lots of them and many were very helpful, but the podcast I linked above connected all the dots and was life changing for me. So, without further ado, let me tell you about those dots I connected.
When I was about 10 I came to terms with the fact that I was not a physically attractive person and so I would just have to hope that I could someday find someone who would love me for other reasons. I was 10. And I was fat. And despite the fact that people almost never made fun of me, I took to heart the messages that fat people could not be attractive or desirable. Through the years I have seen thousands of examples of people, especially the women around me, hating their bodies, and I hated mine lots of the time too. These women have been skinny and fat, and largely people I thought were actually quite beautiful. But deep down inside I got the message, the only beautiful body for a woman is one that looks like Angelina Jolie (oh wait, now she doesn’t have perfect breasts, so…). Diet, starve yourself, do what you have to, but you are not attractive if you are too skinny, too fat, have too small of boobs, have freckles, or whatever else. That’s the message my culture–from the media to the people around me–embraced, and I outwardly shot it down, but inside, I believed that my body just wasn’t good enough, since I was overweight.
Now, I actually think my dad did a great job of communicating that sexuality was a beautiful part of life. So, in a lot of ways I was proud that I was a healthy, sexual individual and I always looked forward to the day I would be married and could fully experience that. But in some ways I had a lot of shame about sexuality as well. I had shame about experiencing sexual arousal, in any way, before marriage. The shame I felt about many of these normal things was not healthy.
I do not think that shame was healthy for me or my relationships. With my boyfriends I always sent a mixed message. The very natural progression of desire in the relationships brought me tons of shame since, in my idealistic way, I was planing on saving everything that was arousing at all for marriage, and then I hated myself when I would cave to my sexual desire and make out with my boyfriend. Shame and subsequent guilt also drove me from what, I think now was occasional, healthy exploration of my body and sexuality, to a more compulsive cycle of masturbation driven by shame, which amounted to years of self-loathing for a compulsive behavior. I felt so shameful for this behavior, even though I think the fact that I understood my body well, actually helped our sexual relationship significantly, and has contributed to the healthy sexual relationship we have always had.
The one thing that always did help me feel like I was a beautiful, desirable person was when men would say I was. I nearly cried the two times during high school that male friends of mine made comments of this sort. One told me I looked truly beautiful that night, when we were at homecoming, and one told me I looked “stunning” when I was at my Aunt’s house getting ready for a winter formal dance. At those moments I felt beautiful and stunning, attractive and desirable. But lots of the time I felt like my body just wasn’t as beautiful as it should have been or as beautiful as other girls’.
When I finally dated someone exclusively for the first time, it was incredible. Having him tell me all the things I had longed to hear for so many years: that I was beautiful and desirable. And interacting with someone who genuinely wanted me for the first time was a truly incredible experience for me (minus the huge dose of shame I already mentioned). Being with him, I believed I was a sexy, gorgeous person. It was validating.
With Ricardo it was even more wonderful. Falling in love with him was incredible. For the first time someone thought I was incredible and beautiful enough that he wanted to be with me forever. Wow! And he told me so many sweet things about just how sexy and gorgeous I was. It felt amazing.
Sometimes though, even when I was in a relationship, I would think that he probably didn’t think I was as beautiful as he was saying, but at least I was beautiful enough that he wanted to be with me.
But, overall, in the early years of our marriage, Ricardo was enough validation for me that I felt decent about myself.
But then, after Ricardo left the church, something changed. Our marriage changed. We left this three-year honeymoon phase and entered something different. It wasn’t bad, our marriage actually felt quite secure despite the challenges we were facing, but it felt different and I felt differently towards Ricardo. I also assumed he felt differently towards me. And that is when I met the guy I almost had an affair with. And it felt amazing having someone, practically a stranger, sending me the message again that I was sexy and something he wanted. Magically I felt beautiful again.
Since that time I have continued wanting that type of relationship again to some extent, though I have always seen that it probably wasn’t wise, but the idea seemed attractive to me.
For a long time I haven’t been able to figure out why this was so appealing to me. Is it normal to want relationships outside of your marriage? Is that something everyone experiences at some point? Or was this wrong and unhealthy and coming from problem inside of myself? How do I know where to draw the line on sexual things? How do I understand what is good and bad? Is it all relative? Does “good” and “bad” just vary from couple to couple? What should I do about desires that don’t fit within the bounds of my marriage? These are the kinds of questions I have been asking myself.
This is what I can tell you. Being honest with myself and with Ricardo about this desire was a huge first step. Then I began to seek more understanding in an effort to try to figure out if the desires I was experiencing were normal or not, and how people manage these things. When I listened to that last podcast it all finally came together. I finally understand much better.
Sexual attraction is normal and everyone experiences it. What matters is what you do (and don’t do) when you feel attracted to someone else. I don’t need to feel guilty when I find another man attractive, that is normal. I just need to make sure I set boundaries.
More importantly though, I think I found what is at the root of my desire for other relationships. What I really am seeking is validation, and for various reasons, lots of which are talked about in the podcast, my husband’s validation just isn’t filling my bucket any more; so now I want validation from other men. But what I really need is to become more self-assured. I have never felt very beautiful for extended periods of time (even though I look back at pictures and I see now that I was beautiful then). Eventually I have always gone back to feeling guilty and negative about one thing or another about myself. I need to stop that and love myself! What I need, is to no longer be so dependent on other people’s validation and just accept on a deep level that I have worth!
I need to learn to love myself and to be comfortable in my own skin.
So here’s my action plan. First, I think I’m going to spend some time at nude beaches. I know that sounds crazy that I would take my Mormon self to a nude beach. But I believe this will be helpful to me because I need bodies to start seeming normal to me, and I need to start realizing that I am normal.
You know what else I am going to do. I’m going to embrace a new way of looking at my body. My body is amazing. It can do amazing things. I can grow another human being inside of myself–that is really something. I can walk and run. Sing and play instruments. A body is an incredible gift and I am going to embrace and love mine, rather that hate it.
It’s a start, but as I learn to love myself, I believe I will love other people more genuinely.