Stephanie shares how childhood shame about feeling good in her body led to an eating disorder. She talks about how the eating disorder affected her ability to relate with sexual partners, including her now-husband. Healing the eating disorder has allowed her to begin relating in a new way with her body and her husband.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I am sex and intimacy coach Leah Carey and this is a place to share conversations with all sorts of women about their experience of sexuality. These are unfiltered conversations between adult women talking about sex. If anything about the previous sentence offends you, turn back now! And if you’re looking for a trigger warning, you’re not going to get it from me. I believe that you are stronger than the trauma you have experienced. I have faith in your ability to deal with things that upset you. Sound good? Let’s start the show!
LEAH: Hey friends. I’m so excited about today’s interview because Stephanie is a new friend I’ve gotten to know online over the past year, and I deeply admire and respect her. Perhaps it’s in part because we both define ourselves as deep thinkers who process verbally. She’s also able to look back at her 25-year history with an eating disorder and speak about it with an amazing amount of wisdom and self-compassion. Our conversation is so good, I don’t want to delay any further. Let’s jump right into it.
Stephanie is a 41-year-old, cisgender woman, who describes herself as white, straight, monogamous, and married. She has three daughters under the age of 10, and she describes her body as mid-size curvy. I am so pleased to introduce Stephanie!
Friends, I am so happy to be welcoming my friend Stephanie to the show today. You are somebody who I know outside of the world of sex education, who I have a great respect and admiration for, so I’m really excite to talk with you today.
STEPHANIE: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. This is new and exciting for me, so I am excited to dig in. Yes.
LEAH: All right. Well, the first question that I ask everyone is, what is your first memory of sexual pleasure?
STEPHANIE: Okay. That’s an easy one. I guess I was about four, five or six, somewhere in that time frame. Well, when we were kids, I had this old Fisher Price record player and these records were, I don’t know, maybe not even a centimeter thick. And I noticed that when I held them against my genital area and rubbed them around, I was getting this level of excitement that I had never felt before.
Yeah. I was young and I don’t even remember exactly how, what made me do it. I guess it sort of just happened. I just remember it happening. I remember engaging in this behavior in the open world, on the couch, in school as a kindergartener, and I remember being very shamed for it. I didn’t understand it as something. It was completely neutral to me in terms of I didn’t understand that it was a private thing, or anything like that. And I just remember my mother and my teacher just really getting offended by it and telling me to “Stop that right now. Stop that right now.” So, it became something I did in secret.
LEAH: Yeah. I’ve heard versions of this story in so many times. Usually, it’s a teddy bear, a blanket, a stuffed animal. I’ve never heard it with a record before.
STEPHANIE: I was innovative.
LEAH: I love that so much.
STEPHANIE: And I taught my sister as well.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. She was a couple years younger than me. So, it became our thing that we did together. Shamefully, but we couldn’t help ourselves as we got older.
LEAH: So how long did this continue and was it always with a record? Or did you move on to other objects?
STEPHANIE: It was the record at first. And then, as I got older, and I think once I internalized that this was a shameful thing, I no longer used the record and I started to use just my hand. But the shame grew over time. It never stopped through my middle school and high school, but it was something that I started to carry with me.
Masturbation was never discussed in my house. It was a word that I heard used by other kids in school even as I got older, but only as this very taboo subject. And I remember there was a girl I went to school with who openly admitted to masturbating and was fine with it. And I remember people talking about it. And I remember I would always be feeling like the red would rush to my face, and I would just feel this sense of, “Oh my god. I do that.”
But I couldn’t own it the way she could. and I would even deny it. And it got to be in middle school and high school a really big source of shame for me to the point where I would tell people I had a terrible, terrible secret and would never talk about it with anyone, but I really did believe it was a terrible secret.
LEAH: Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry you went through that. Did you as a child come to something that you would now recognize as an orgasm?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I did. I remember that from Fisher Price records. Straight on through, I don’t think I understood or had heard the word orgasm until later. Obviously, when I was a kid, I didn’t know that word, but I would feel that way and I understood that. And when I learned what an orgasm was, I suddenly was, “Oh, that’s a name for it. That’s what that is.”
LEAH: Yeah. When you moved from the record, which is a big flat object to your hand, did you continue to use your hand as a big flat object, or did you begin to experiment with fingers and different ways of doing it?
STEPHANIE: I continued to use it the same way. It was just a form of friction. I used my hand flat against myself. I never considered using a finger. It wasn’t something that entered my mind ever. And if it had, I don’t think I would have followed on that. The idea of finger insertion was not something I wanted even from guys later on as I started dating. And even as far as putting a tampon in, I wanted nothing to do with anything inside of me. I was very afraid of that.
LEAH: Do you think that had something to do with the shame that was inflicted over the masturbation or is that a completely separate thing?
STEPHANIE: What I remember of that feeling was something more like I felt broken. I felt like there was no access inside. I don’t know where I came up with that. I just remember thinking, “I have a broken vagina. There’s something wrong with it.”
I don’t know if that was an internalized form of that shame, feeling like I was wrong, but I had a sense that something was wrong there. And so, I think I would just clench up when I did get my period and it was time to try a tampon. I just couldn’t insert it and I wasn’t willing to explore that area. I think it was related to the shame around that area and the lack of acknowledgement of that area in general in my family. And I had no guidance around that and I’m the oldest of three, so I didn’t have an older sister to ask. So, I sort of just ignored it.
LEAH: You know that’s really interesting because it mirrors some of my own story. I masturbated a lot as a kid, as a teen. But it was always external. I had no interest. I had a lot of fear about internal insertion.
Tampons were always really painful for me, so I couldn’t use them. When I did start kind of making out with guys and beginning to explore, I did not want finger insertion. And then, later when I had an IUD inserted. At that point, I was in my earlier mid-30s, and I actively felt like my body was trying to expel it the whole time. And I’m sure that that was entirely in my brain, but that’s how it actually felt. I was so afraid that I was going to go to the bathroom and discover that the IUD had fallen out because I just didn’t want it inside me.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I relate to that. Yeah, this curiosity about external, but internal was a different world and I think it manifested my feeling pain in that area, and it was going to reject anything that was inside of there for a long time.
LEAH: Yeah. You mentioned that this was something that you taught to your younger sister. So, was masturbation something that the two of you shared over time or was that just a very little kid thing?
STEPHANIE: It was a little kid thing. We stopped talking about it as we got older. I don’t know why. I think I started to understand as shameful more as I got older and I stopped admitting to it. And so, it became something we didn’t do for fun anymore because it had a different element to it and a different charge at some point for me. So, we stopped talking about it.
LEAH: Have you ever talked about it as adults?
STEPHANIE: We brought it up to each other more recently. We had a term for it. And I don’t remember if it was her or me that said, “Remember when? Remember the records? Remember the Fisher Price records?” And we’re like, “Yeah.”
STEPHANIE: I think both of us have come a long way in terms of that, so it no longer carries shame for me, so I’m able to discuss it. It doesn’t feel funny or weird. I’ve never actually asked her what her level of shame around that was. And I’ve never opened up that I’ve ever felt that way. Sex wasn’t something I even really spoke about with my own sister very much until recently.
LEAH: What kinds of messages were you hearing in your childhood home about sex, and sexuality, and female sexuality?
STEPHANIE: Not a lot from my mother. My mother did not speak of it at all. She wears her emotions close to her chest. She’s not open that way about anything. So, I didn’t really get anything from her.
But from my father, I grew up in a house where the male is the one in power, and women have a place, and women are more or less should be seen and not heard, and they have to be ladylike. And masturbation would have certainly been frowned upon. That was the general messaging I got. My father would also tell me things like, “I’ll lock you in a room until you’re 30” kind of thing.
LEAH: Hey, me too.
STEPHANIE: I know. I’ve heard you say that. Yeah, that. But in the same token that you had to be attractive, and being attractive was of utmost importance. As a woman, that’s your primary value. So as far as actual sex, it was something I more or less was like, “I had to be good.” That wasn’t something that felt safe to explore. I felt very modest about it. I internalized the fear of it, so I didn’t want to explore it.
I was upset actually in high school. You reach that point where friends start dating, and they start doing things, and I felt this sense of, “No, no, let’s just stay in childhood. I’m not ready for this.” And everyone was sort of advancing beyond me, and that in and of itself became another source of shame for me. Because I felt like, “Why am I not ready for this?” And everyone else felt ready for this. I felt very left behind.
I don’t think I even processed this as thoughts. I think it was just something that happened. I don’t remember contemplating this or recognizing, “Hey, why don’t I feel comfortable with sex?” I just think it was happening and I just sort of didn’t know what to do with those feelings and thoughts. And so, I just sort of buried them.
LEAH: At what point did you begin to have curiosity about interacting with another person?
STEPHANIE: I feel like I always had the physical desire. I think I had a pretty healthy sex drive as a teenager and into my college years. I didn’t have sex though. The first time I had sex, I was 21, which was late for the group of friends that I had. I was certainly the last of my friends.
And so, it became something that I really craved and really wanted, but I felt like I was at that point, especially after feeling left behind by others, I felt like it was an area that I wasn’t worthy of. And it was something I felt the physical need for, but I just really had a sense that something was wrong with me. This was also compounded by the fact that I had developed an eating disorder during this time and grew to hate my body so vehemently that I didn’t want anyone near it. So, it was like this juxtaposition of craving physical touch and intimacy both emotionally and physically, but feeling like I was unworthy of that, and it wasn’t accessible to me.
LEAH: Do you have a sense of how and why the eating disorder manifested?
STEPHANIE: That’s the question. I think that it was due to a lot of different factors. I don’t think sexuality is unrelated. I think part of it has to do with that amount of shame in general that I started to inherit and the feeling like I was broken. The feeling of I wasn’t in touch with my body at all.
I didn’t see my body as something that was connected to me. It felt like the needs of my body, whether it was sexual desire or food were things that were in some way beyond my control like I wasn’t supposed to be having them was kind of the feeling that I had. And it was compounded by like I said, when my friends started becoming women in some ways, and dating, and advancing to that next stage of life, I felt like a child still.
And I felt like I used food as my way of shutting myself up. Shutting myself away from others. And so, what I did was I became anorexic at first. And I just wouldn’t go anywhere. My social life shut down because I refused to go anywhere that food was an issue or that would involve me being with a guy. I wouldn’t be near him with my body. It didn’t feel safe. So, eating or not eating at that time was a way for me to hibernate, and hide, and just be with myself, and sort of freeze time, as I watched everyone else go in sort of a different way. It just froze me where I was at 14 and 15 years old.
At the same time, I lost my period. The whole idea of when I look back, and seeing how that coincides with your sexual awakening, and just getting your period, and developing breasts, and all of that was just something that stopped in its tracks through food. And then ultimately, developed binge eating disorder, and that became a real way to shut people out. I wouldn’t let anyone near me. I didn’t let anyone including friends. I wouldn’t hug people. I wouldn’t let anyone touch me in any way. And so, I was sensually deprived in that sense for many years.
LEAH: Yeah. There are so many questions I have, so I’m going to try and keep my brain focused on one at a time. And the first one I recognize is kind of sensitive, so please feel free to answer or not answer as you’re comfortable.
You said the word a few times that you felt broken, that your body felt broken. And that could very much be the result of having a lot of shame as a child. It could also be the result of having non-consensual experiences of abuse. So, I just want to open that question to you if you want to answer it.
STEPHANIE: I didn’t. I know for people with eating disorders that’s a common thread and I used to search for that. I remember thinking like, “Did something happen to me?” And I would just keep racking my brain, but it wasn’t a place where I feel like I was ever. There’s nothing. I have no memory of that whatsoever.
I think it was just more of a collective growing since childhood feeling of being wrong. I’m a deep thinker. I’m a very emotional person and had nowhere to put this stuff. My family just wasn’t that way. So, in that sense too, I was like the broken one in my family. I was different than them. So, I just feel like I really had a lot of emotions to explore around all of this, and never could, and it just accumulated.
LEAH: Yeah. This is also something that I relate with you on. I spent a lot of years trying to find a very overt experience of sexual assault in my background because I felt so broken. I felt so messed up. I had so many of the aftereffects of childhood abuse, and it took me a really long time to get to the place of understanding that the things that I remembered were enough, that the shame that I remembered that the emotional verbal abuse that I experienced from my father was enough to create all of those aftereffects.
STEPHANIE: I feel that so strongly because I do feel that there was a level of emotional, it’s really hard for me to say the word abuse, I don’t know, I can’t say it. I don’t know it was, but it was trauma of some kind.
STEPHANIE: And it comes from my father who loved me very much, and would move the world for me, but at the same time, had inherited his own beliefs about women, and men, and felt enough of a threat in his own sense of self that he needed that to become my story too. And I look back now and I never would have recognized that at the time.
But now, as a parent especially, and just remembering a lot of the ways in which I was spoken to and the beliefs that I was given without further explanation or opportunity to inquire further was enough for me to feel like it was a trauma of its own, and continues to be in some ways. And it’s a constant undoing of things that I have inherited, and believed about myself, and about how women can be treated that do have to do with sexuality
LEAH: This week at Patreon, we have an extra 30 minutes of conversation with Stephanie. She talks about whether food stood in as a replacement for sexual touch earlier in her life and how having kids has changed her relationship with her body and her sexuality. And also, how having kids pushed her to address her eating disorder in a new way. And of course, there’s the extended Lowdown Q & A. You can find all of that at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex and you can find that link in the app that you’re listening on now.
As a reminder, since July 2020, all audio extras are now free at Patreon. I decided to move from the You Pay Me To Hear The Audio Extras model to a You Can Listen To Everything Free On Patreon And Support Me If You Want To model because I know that this material can be lifechanging and even lifesaving for some people. And the people who need it most may not have access to funds and for those who do have money, it may not be safe to have a paper trail connecting them to a cause for female liberation. So, audio extras are free. I’m still hosting the audio at Patreon because it’s so convenient. And you’ll need to create a free Patreon sign in to access my page because the material is 18 and over. But once you’re there, everything is free and extended Q & A’s are openly accessible.
If my work is meaningful to you and you have a few dollars to support it each month, I will gratefully accept your patronage at Patreon and if you have more than a few dollars, consider donating extra in honor of women who need this material but aren’t in a financial position to contribute. I appreciate every one of you, whether you’re a coaching client, a contributor, a social media follower or a silent listener. I trust you to know what’s right for you. Thank you for being here. You can find out more and become a community member at patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex. Now, let’s get back to Stephanie!
LEAH: You had sex for the first time when you were 21, but it sounds like you were also deep in the throes of disordered eating, and not wanting people to see you, and not wanting people to touch you. So, how did you sort of bring those two things together and allow yourself to become intimate with someone?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. That was the end of my senior year in college. There was something that sort of awakened in me where I felt like I had hit a rock bottom and I was kind of more motivated to explore my life outside of the eating disorder. And so, there was a bit of a reprieve during that time where I sort of got things together enough that I felt like I was more willing to try. I hated my body. I was completely uncomfortable with my body. I couldn’t understand why he was doing this, but it was something that I felt like it was time for. So, I needed to get that done.
STEPHANIE: Yeah, so I did get it.
LEAH: At 25, I thought I was the world’s oldest virgin and I just needed to get that shit done.
STEPHANIE: Yup. Rip off the band-aid.
LEAH: Yeah. Was it enjoyable at all?
STEPHANIE: No, not physically. But emotionally, I felt something. I felt independent. It gave me some sense of feeling like I had grown up, which I had been craving, I think. Looking back, I would have done it differently, but it was what happened. And it wasn’t an unpleasant experience, but I felt like it was more for me just to feel like, “Okay, I can start living now. I don’t have to be afraid of this anymore. I can have sex. It’s something I can do. I’m a grownup now.”
LEAH: Did you continue having sex with him?
STEPHANIE: Yes. We did and then, we broke up not long after. And throughout my 20s, I did have sex with other people who I wasn’t in a relationship with. In fact, I think I sort of started to go the other way, where I would just have sex with anyone who would have sex with me, which isn’t to say anyone, but there was some level of interest on my end as well.
I wasn’t having a lot of sex. I was having sex with men looking back, I maybe wish I hadn’t had sex with, and wouldn’t make that choice today. But at the time, I think I was still carrying a sense of sex scarcity or I’m still really behind and I need to catch up. But ultimately, it didn’t work that way because I never had a safe partner that I could really explore with. It was casual encounters or people I was dating for a little bit for a few months, so it never felt very personal. And as a result, I didn’t really enjoy sex that much. I just thought it was completely overrated.
LEAH: And where were you with your body and your eating at this point?
STEPHANIE: Still struggling privately with binge eating disorder and bulimia. Still extremely insecure about my body, which is kind of what I think about. I wasn’t having sex when I was so, so insecure. And I think what I did was I just shut it off. I think it just further contributed to the dissociation between me and my body. And so, it was something my mind wanted to do and physically, I did feel a desire. But during the actual act of having sex, it was just I separated the two entirely, where I wasn’t thinking about my body. It was completely unrelated to what was happening in my mind and it was probably why the sex wasn’t great.
STEPHANIE: Because I was never comfortable ever.
LEAH: Yeah. That doesn’t really foster a sense of connection with your partner either if you’re so dissociated and disconnected from your own body. It makes it very hard to connect with a partner.
STEPHANIE: That’s why nothing clicked, but I didn’t understand that at the time. I just really felt like, “This is just me and I’m just really not a sexual being, I guess. And I have desires, but they’re not really fulfilled. And this is what life looks like, I guess.”
LEAH: At what point did you become involved with somebody in a more serious ongoing way?
STEPHANIE: My husband was the first serious ongoing safe relationship that I had I think ever.
LEAH: And how old were you when you met him?
LEAH: And what was your sexual interaction with him like at the beginning?
STEPHANIE: Completely different. So up until that point, I don’t think I ever orgasmed from sex with a guy prior to my husband. I didn’t ever. What I did find pleasurable with other guys was kissing. Kissing was my way of connection. I couldn’t access my body, but for some reason when I kissed somebody, I would forget all of the body hate. I guess maybe it’s just your mouth. So, I was able to connect very much that way with men.
LEAH: Just before you go on, because I want to hear the rest of this, but would that change if they started putting their hands on your body while you were kissing?
LEAH: Yeah. So, it was just literally the kissing?
STEPHANIE: Kissing was a safe place for me to explore my sexuality. And in fact, I did. I remember when I would kiss people, and certain guys in particular, where it was a nice chemistry of kissing. I felt something in me. I felt sexy. I felt so sexy. I felt like I was really good at kissing and I was really good at communicating through kissing. The guys would respond to me then. That was where I felt the most amount of power in a way but also, just being in touch with a side of myself I had no idea.
It was beyond the body. It was something else. That was as close as I got to my sexuality before my husband. When I met my husband, he’s a man who is the opposite of my father. He doesn’t hold any sort of ideas, just not at all. And he is very open to a woman, just being a powerful, strong woman. That’s great with him. And so, for him, he was as invested in my pleasure as he was on his own, more so probably invested in mine. And I never experienced that before. And so, sex with him was actually pretty amazing from the beginning, and that was the first experience of good sex I ever had. At that point, I was like, “Oh my gosh. This is what they’re talking about.”
STEPHANIE: And also, I can’t believe there’s someone out there who wants me to be into this, who is invested in my experience of this. So, I did let down my guard with him as far as my body because I think he just made me feel safe and accepted in general. Not to say that I was comfortable with my body, but that I was willing to think a little deeper into my body during sex with him.
LEAH: What does that mean to you, think deeper into your body? I love that phrase.
STEPHANIE: I was present. I feel like I just was willing to be in the present moment. And when he would go down on me or when we would just get passionate having intercourse, I felt like I was willing to suspend the negative self-critical talk that normally is just narrating all the time. It was just temporarily like, “Okay. I’m willing to turn down that volume for a little while, and feel what this feels like, and to be here and to just suspend that self, that outer sense of criticism that was happening.” Which as you have mentioned to me before, being present is extremely necessary for good sex.
STEPHANIE: Which is now thinking about it, yeah, that’s what happened. I was allowed to be present.
LEAH: Because I know you, I’m going to make I think is a fair assumption that that didn’t necessarily magically heal your body and your food issues.
STEPHANIE: No. Not in the least. My husband was a part of the reason why I felt safe enough to heal my relationship with food and body. It was the first man who had ever accepted me. I don’t know if I could even say that because I don’t know if those other guys ever accepted me or not.
STEPHANIE: But I wasn’t letting them.
LEAH: And that’s a really important point. It actually doesn’t matter how those other guys were willing to show up for you if you weren’t willing to allow them to show up for you that way.
STEPHANIE: No, I wasn’t.
STEPHANIE: I wasn’t. I don’t know. Well, it’s also because what happened outside of the bedroom, so those guys were not safe spaces for me outside of the bedroom. They weren’t willing to commit to me in an emotional way.
Whereas, my husband was, and I trusted that his presence in the bedroom was real because he proved that to me outside of it. I think there was a part of healing that happened through sex with him because I felt like I was seen and I felt like I was appreciated for what I was. But not enough certainly to heal my relationship with food. That had to come from inside and my body also. That had to start inside of me and I was just too deep into that to begin. I couldn’t access it just from that.
LEAH: How did your relationship with food and your body affect your relationship with him, and did it affect how he related with you?
STEPHANIE: Yeah. I still had the tendency to just use food as a way to close off, so I always would retreat from him emotionally and physically when I would binge. I would not allow any touch and he didn’t understand that. He never got mad at me. It never was a problem that he communicated to me, but I know that I pulled away from him in our relationship every time I felt bad about myself and felt shame about myself. He patiently waited and he never pushed. He just would sort of wait until I was ready to talk, which inevitable I was because that’s how I process, so I would come around.
STEPHANIE: But I think that sexually my relationship with food and body stunted our growth as a couple sexually because I just still carried that sense of shame, even though it would suspend for a little while. But I still carried the shame, and also carried the sense that I wasn’t sexy enough. So, when we would have sex in the beginning and even into our marriage, he had to initiate it every time. I never initiated it and I never wanted it outright. I just would be like, “Okay.” Now, I feel like there’s a side of me that’s very sexual and wants sex.
STEPHANIE: That side of me never got out. It never got a chance to breathe. So yeah, I think that affects your relationship as a couple at least sexually for sure.
LEAH: When he would say things to you like, “Oh, you’re so beautiful” or “Oh, you’re so sexy” or “I love your body.” I’m assuming he would say those things to you.
LEAH: When he did, how did you respond?
STEPHANIE: “No, you’re lying. You’re lying. Yeah, right.” And in fact, I got angry. I would say, “Stop saying things to make me feel good.”
STEPHANIE: Because I perceived, as not in a deceptive way, and it wasn’t like he was trying to get his own agenda met. It was more that I just really felt like, “Why are you pretending for me? I’d rather you be honest.”
It took me a really long time to entertain the idea that he meant it. I couldn’t comprehend a guy who would accept my body. It was clearly a lie, obviously. And I would also start to attack his person. He’s an optimist, so I would say like, “You’re just too willing to see the good. You can’t face the bad. You can’t admit that the bad is there. This is just a product of you being ignorant.” And so, I would get nasty with it and he would then get defensive. And he would just be like, “I’m not a liar. Why don’t you believe me?” I don’t lie. He’s not. He’s like honest Abe, but still, to me it was like, “Then, you’re just putting the wool over your own eyes.”
LEAH: Yeah. God, I understand that. In fact, so as you know, I’ve been working in the last several years to do a lot of work on healing my body, and my relationship with my body rather. And just in the last couple weeks, I had a conversation with my partner because he has had a bunch of relationships with people who would say things like that to him.
“You’re lying to me. Why can’t you see what I see?” So, he got to the point where he learned to just never say anything. To not say, “You’re beautiful”, or sexy, or anything. So, for the close to three years that we’ve been together, he will only say those things if I say to him, “Do you think that I’m pretty?”
LEAH: Which always feels ridiculous to me.
LEAH: I don’t want to have to ask those questions. And so, finally I just said to him, in the last week, “I know that this is your background.” Because he has told me that. “I know that this is hard for you because you don’t want to feel like you’re pouring your energy into a black hole. And in the past, I would have responded to you like that. I would have told you that you were lying to me and that why don’t you just see what’s really in front of you? But I’m not in that place anymore. And it would actually be really helpful to me to hear you tell me that you think that I’m beautiful or that you think that I’m sexy. I want to hear that now.” And so now, he was very willing to hear that. And a couple of hours later, we were fooling around and he was like, “Oh, you’re so sexy. I love your ass.”
LEAH: So, he heard me, but I’m going to have to remind him several more times because it’s going to be such a switch for him to trust that he’s going to get a good response from that.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. We’ve never spoken about it, but I feel like for my husband, it sort of did. I think in the beginning of our marriage and in the beginning of our relationship, he had a lot more to say about how sexy I was and how attractive he found me. And it sort of did dwindle likely because I rejected it every time and he would be at risk of a personal attack, which I’m sure wasn’t pleasant like, “Forget it, I don’t need you to attack my character.”
But I think it would be helpful now to hear because I am willing to hear it now and only recently. It’s recent in comparison to how long it went on, but I realized that you can be sexy. There’s just so much of a wider definition of what sexy is to me now, what beautiful is to me now, and how embodiment is part of it, and your own confidence, and your own comfort in your own body is part of it. So, as I got more comfortable in my body, I felt like I could access my sexiness much more often.
And then, I want to hear it. When I feel it, then I would like you to tell me all about it. And yeah, maybe it’s a conversation worth having as well because I’m willing to accept it now. I’m willing to hear you and I can see it now through his eyes. I understand what he meant. Do I feel like I can walk on the beach in a bikini? No.
STEPHANIE: I’m not. That’s not where I’m at, but do I feel like I totally understand why my husband finds me sexy? Yes. I know what he’s talking about now. Yeah, and then, I want to own it. I have three kids that are young. So, for us to have those moments of feeling like we’re both sexy, not teenagers.
STEPHANIE: That we have that sort of element of fun feels like a new world to me. It feels like this is accessible. This is not something I thought I had access to. And you can sort of create that for yourself. You were part of teaching me that recently. And just in terms of you have that choice to do that for yourself.
And then, just the way I healed my food and my body image, it was just a matter of changing thoughts and just modifying the way you think. And when you do that, a whole another door opens up, and you can sort of participate in a whole different way, and you realize how boxed in you’ve been this whole time. To me, it’s a really cool, fun, just circling back to where we started from that shameful place of, I have to do this in secrecy and shame with the record player.
STEPHANIE: And now, this is something we get to do now. All times of the day, I’m thinking about it sometimes.
STEPHANIE: This is a new part of my life that I have never really experienced like this before. I’ve never looked at sex something that I had this much access to.
LEAH: Back when the pandemic was still new and we thought transferring our lives to Zoom was a temporary condition, I read an article about one of the reasons that Zoom can be so fatiguing. It had to do with how our animal brain expects that if we can see something, it means we can also touch it. The disconnect of being able to see people we care about without being able to reach out and hug them causes an added layer of fatigue onto our new reality of video communication.
Now, I can’t promise that participating in a video PJ party for grownups will ease that disconnect. Honestly, it won’t. But you’ll be amazed at how being part of this gathering will leave you feeling seen, heard, and connected in a way that helps break through the Zoom fatigue.
My PJ parties for grownups is a place for you to have the kind of conversations we have on this show to dish about the stuff that is great in your sex life, commiserate about the things that you wish were better, and ask questions you would never dream to ask in the light of day. I facilitate a two-hour gathering that’s designed to help you feel safe, comfortable, and connected. Each PJ party is limited to seven people each, so there’s plenty of time for everyone to participate. And because consent is primary, you will never be pressured into talking about anything you’re not ready for. You can participate as much or as little as you’re comfortable with. You may begin as a group of strangers, but you may just meet your new best friend.
A recent participant said that while she talks with her male partner about sex a lot, she realized during our PJ party how much she misses having these conversations with other women. She said, this group is making me aware of 10,000 more things I want to share and process.”
Registrations are currently open for a party on Thursday, February 25th at 7 PM Eastern, 4 PM Pacific. Register by yourself or register with a friend and get 20 dollars off. Information and registration is at www.leahcarey.com/pjparty. That link is in the Show Notes in the app you’re listening on now. And it’s leahcarey.com/pjparty. Spaces are limited, so register today!
LEAH: What’s a question or concern you have about sex or your sex life?
STEPHANIE: I had mentioned this in our recent PJ party call where kissing. Again, there’s things that circle back where the kissing element with my husband in particular. The sex was great. The sex is great, but the kissing wasn’t as good as it was when I was single and having those meaningless sort of relationships, which I just found very interesting. And it’s one of the points of sex that bothers me a bit because it had been the way that I did access my sexuality. The only way I was able to access it back then. And then, all of a sudden, interestingly, was gone in my marriage, and I didn’t use it for that anymore. So, that’s the one piece that remains in terms of something more to explore.
LEAH: Yeah. It’s interesting because we have talked about this before. But hearing you talk about it this time, it reminds me of my own experience where my first real experience of sexual touch.
I was a senior in college. We were not having intercourse, but we would sit for an hour or more in his car at night, and make out, and he would play with my breasts, and I could come very close to orgasm, just from him touching my breasts. And now, my breasts have very little sensation. And that has been something for a long time really bothered me.
I’ve begun to learn over the last few years that part of it is simply that my sensation receptors are in different places than I expected they were supposed to be. I thought they were supposed to be centered in the nipple, but they are, in fact, around the outside and the beneath of the breasts. And I think that for whatever reason this guy must have just somehow happened upon that.
LEAH: Because all I knew was that I was having pleasure. I was not paying attention to where or how he was touching me.
LEAH: But I think it’s interesting that those things that when we were so disconnected from our bodies gave us so much pleasure. Now that we’re more connected to our bodies, that’s a really interesting that I haven’t thought about much and so, I’m very curious to explore this more hearing that same story from you.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. That is really interesting, and I feel that. Yeah, it’s just this missing piece that I’m not quite sure how to fit it in. But the more that I think about it and I haven’t admittedly thought about it a lot until recently. Maybe it is about just redefining. Redefining what it means. I don’t know. That word is popping out in my head. I don’t know how it even makes sense, but to me there’s something about I feel that I need, or I’d like to redefine, what kissing is and the experience that can be with someone who is also connecting to my whole body, and how it can work together versus having it be this isolated experience that maybe before, felt the way it felt because it was the only gateway I had into it.
So, it had more charge to it. Whereas now, it’s part of a whole experience and I get to redefine I think how it plays into the whole versus it being the only means of access. I don’t know. I’m not sure yet. I’ll get back.
LEAH: Yeah. So yeah, I’m also not sure. I’m playing with this idea as we’re talking. It’s easier for me to think about it on you then it is on myself, so I’m going to use you.
STEPHANIE: All right. Go for it.
LEAH: If your experience of kissing was that there was pleasure, but also that a lot of your attention was being used to block out the rest of your body that potentially now, if you’re kissing, it creates that sort of Pavlov’s response that says, “I’m supposed to tune out the rest of my body now.” But now, I’m going to do that and it sets up a conflict inside of your brain, so that you’re not able to really invest in the kissing.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. That’s fascinating and totally sounds like it could be. Yeah, because kissing meant to me something that meant also disconnection from my body. Whereas, to bring it up again is like, “Wait. This is dissonant.”
Which interestingly after I had spoken to you about this last time when I brought this up, which was the first time I’d said it aloud to anyone. I tried it. I tried to initiate kissing and it was great actually. It was really fun.
LEAH: Because what you had told me was that you had never initiated kissing.
STEPHANIE: Yeah. You’re right. When he would initiate it, I would be like, “Get out. No.”
STEPHANIE: I just was like, “No. I’m not.” Again, I closed off that part of me. It was like a flip where my body was now open by my mouth was not.
STEPHANIE: And then, maybe it was like a binary. I saw it as one or the other. And then, again, it was like a redefinition of what kissing would mean and that both my body and my mouth could be alive at the same time.
I find this to be true in so many things, but just when there’s a little mental shift where you’re open to something a little differently, or you’re willing to see it in a different way, or with new eyes, it’s like, “Oh, okay. This can actually happen.” And again, it opens a door of like, “Oh, we can do it this way. All right. It didn’t have to be. What was I doing all that time thinking it was just this one way?” So yeah, it’s been an ongoing exploration in that piece in the past just couple of weeks, but I do sense a shift in it when I actively and intentionally try to attend to it.
LEAH: And now, it’s time for the Lowdown, the things were dying to know but would usually be too polite to ask any good girl.
LEAH: Have you ever felt a sexual urge that confused you?
STEPHANIE: I think when I was young. When I was more in middle school. I don’t know if it would be a sexual urge, but I remember looking at women’s bodies and thinking how sexy they were and feeling like, “Does that make me a lesbian?” Which I was not comfortable with at all at that time, which I ultimately don’t identify as that, but I have an appreciation for women’s bodies. That one time really confused me.
LEAH: I think that we are all sexualized to the female form from a very young age. Women’s bodies are used to sell everything to us.
STEPHANIE: You’re right.
LEAH: So, I think that there is a big gray area for a lot of women about, “Is what I’m feeling a sexual attraction or is it an appreciation born of all of the messaging that I’ve received?”
STEPHANIE: Yeah. That’s a great distinction, and very true, and sounds right.
LEAH: Stephanie, we have done it.
STEPHANIE: Okay. Whoo!
LEAH: Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. It’s been a real pleasure.
STEPHANIE: Thank you for having me. I have more to think about now.
LEAH: That’s it for today. Good Girls Talk About Sex is produced by me, Leah Carey, and edited by Gretchen Kilby. I have additional administrative support from Lara O’Connor and Maria Franco. Transcripts are produced by Jan Acielo.
And I’m incredibly grateful for the financial support from Good Girls Talk About Sex community members at Patreon. If you’d like to support me in telling these stories and answering your questions, head over to www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex. You can find Show Notes and Show Transcripts at www.goodgirlstalk.com. To ask a question about your sex life, your desires, or anything to do with female sexuality, call and leave a message at 720-GOOD-SEX.
And before we go, I want to remind you that the things you’ve probably heard about your sexuality are not true. You are worthy. You are desirable. You are not broken. I work with women just like you to reflect their true sexual nature back to them without the judgment, shame or fear that can get in the way of us seeing it for ourselves. As a coach and PJ party hostess, I will guide you in embracing the sexuality that is innately yours no matter what it looks like. I’m here to help you sink so deeply into your true sexuality that the version of yourself that was scared to speak up for her own needs feels like a marriage from another lifetime.
Until next time, here’s to your better sex life!
- 2:37 – Stephanie shares her first memory of sexual play at age 5 or 6, accidentally discovering that rubbing her genitals felt good. The adults around her shamed her, leading her to believe masturbation was a terrible secret.
- 8:20 – Shame compounds to feeling that her vagina is broken.
- 11:45 – Stephanie describes a “good girl” upbringing, and being behind her peers in sexual experimentation.
- 14:55 – An eating disorder manifests in her life.
- 19:57 – What trauma, even/especially when we don’t label it as such, can look like.
- 24:31 – Stephanie hits a rock bottom with her eating disorder in college, and rebounds into a new willingness to try sex finally.
- 28:53 – She meets her husband, who makes her feel safe enough to begin to be present in her body during sex. She experiences her first real pleasure.
- 35:55 – Stephanie elaborates the myriad ways her eating disorder impacts their sexual relationship.
- 44:19 – PJ Parties for Grownups!
- 47:06 – While the sex is great in her marriage, Stephanie questions the kissing, and she and Leah go on a deep-dive about embodiment.
THE LOWDOWN (54:08):
Have you ever felt a sexual urge that confused you?
Don’t forget – ALL audio extras are FREE at Patreon!
This week at Patreon we have an extra THIRTY MINUTES of conversation with Stephanie!
She talks about how food stood in as a replacement for physical touch earlier in her life, and how having kids has changed her relationship with her body and her sexuality. And also how having kids pushed her to address her eating disorder in a new way. And, of course, there’s the extended Lowdown Q&A.
As of July 2020, all Good Girls Talk About Sex audio extras are now FREE! They can be accessed at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
I’ve done this because there are people who need this material but don’t have the financial means to access it behind a paywall.
But there are many costs associated with producing this show, so if you’d like to support the work I do, I am grateful for your contributions at www.patreon.com/goodgirlstalkaboutsex.
BE PART OF THE SHOW:
Rate the pod – Leave a rating and review at www.ratethispodcast.com/goodgirls
Have a question or comment – Leave a voicemail for Leah at 720-GOOD-SEX (720-466-3739) – this is a voicemail-only line, so I promise you won’t have to talk to someone in person!
Be a guest on the show – I’d love to talk with you! Fill out the form at www.leahcarey.com/guest
WORK WITH LEAH:
Host / Producer – Leah Carey (email)
Audio Editor – Gretchen Kilby
Administrative Support – Lara O’Connor, Maria Franco
Music – Nazar Rybak