In part 4 of my conversation with Jessi Kneeland, we talk about how I ended up doing a six month solo road trip around the country in my car, and talk about the sexual healing I never expected to find while on the road.
In “Am I normal?” we talk about female lubrication – is there such a thing as too much? Thanks to Jessi for interviewing ME! She is an amazing body image coach and I highly recommend following her on Instagram and signing up for her weekly #TransparentTuesday emails.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
LEAH: Welcome to Good Girls Talk About Sex. I’m sex educator and sexual communication 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: Hi friends. Before we get started today, I want to remind you about two things that we’ve started recently to give you more insight into sex and intimacy and a place to talk about it in a private, safe space.
First, I’m running a video series on YouTube talking about what they’re experiencing during this international health crisis, whether their touch needs or being met in lockdown, how their sex drive is responding to stress, and how their relationship with food and their body has changed during lockdown. You can find the COVID Confidential Behind Closed Doors Series at youtube.com/goodgirlstalk and there will be fourteen episodes total. Also, the private Good Girls Facebook group is growing and the conversations have been amazing. I go live twice a week to answer your questions about sex and female sexuality and it’s an open place to discuss the podcast and other topics about relationships, intimacy, and sex. The group is at facebook.com/groups/goodgirlstalk. And both the YouTube and Facebook links are in the Show Information in the app you’re listening on right now. Okay, now, let’s dive in.
Today, I’m bringing you the final piece of my conversation with Jessi Kneeland, where she turned the tables and interviewed me. At the end of the last episode, we were talking about my shift from “Girls like me aren’t allowed to be sexual” to “I am allowed to be a sexual woman.”
We pick up with me explaining how I ended up doing a six month solo road trip around the country in my car and talk about the sexual healing I never expected to find while on the road. After my mom’s passing, I was her only child so I was able to sell her house and take that money and go on an around the country solo road trip exploring the United States looking for the next place I wanted to live. That was my entire intent for this trip.
LEAH: I had no other ulterior motive. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: However. And I joke about how if I’d known about however, I would still be sitting on my bed in New Hampshire because I would have believed that I was not capable or allowed to do what I did. Right before I left New Hampshire on this trip, I had a final session with my therapist at the time and as all good clients do, I waited until the final 15 minutes of our final session to drop the big bomb.
LEAH: She said, “Okay, so there’s a few minutes left. Is there any other little thing you want to talk about?” And I said, “Well, I don’t have sexual sensation.”
LEAH: And she was brilliant. She said, “That’s not really my expertise and 15 minutes is not enough time to deal with this.”
LEAH: “But you’re about to go on this journey and I bet while you’re on the road, you’ll find someone or you’ll have an experience that will allow you to begin to explore this.” She said, “Maybe you could go to a sex therapist while you’re on the road.”
And that was really exciting to me because I had been thinking about going to a sex therapist or even a sex worker for years but I thought, “Girls like me don’t get to do that because I’m not pretty enough. I’m not sexy enough. Nobody’s going to want me anyway, so why would anybody do that?” So that permission, that validation, opened the door for me to start looking.
And I was not interested, I decided, in seeing a sex therapist because I had been in and out of therapy for 20 years. I figured if I could talk my way out of stuff, I would have done it by now.
LEAH: Instead, I wanted to do some body based work. And so, I had a group of online writers, a writer’s group, all women and I was pretty close with them and so I went to them. We have a huge variety of people here all ages, all sizes, all races, etc.
“Does anybody have any suggestion?” I’ve heard about this thing called tantric massage that I’ve heard is maybe supposed to help you regain some sensation or something that I don’t know how to find that.
“Does anybody have any suggestions?” And the responses flooded in. I had been really scared to post that because I was like, “What if they laugh at me? What if they tell me I’m not allowed to do this?” And I told them that if I ever followed through with it, I would write about it for them because that wouldn’t be awkward.
LEAH: And so one of them came back with a list of suggestions for things to search on Google. One of which was Yoni message, which is the Eastern tantric word for vagina.
So I did that search and I was going to be in New York City and I found a woman in New York who did that work. I feel like it’s always really important to be very clear that this is considered sex work. This is healing work that because it involves the genitals is considered sex work and I am huge advocate for sex workers’ rights because I’ve gotten so much healing. I mean not just because of that, sex workers deserve to be respected no matter what, but that was my entre into that world and I feel very passionately about that now because I have gotten so much personal healing out of the work of sex workers.
So I went to New York City, I met this woman. We had a three hour session and she actually did a full sexual history with me. She wanted to know exactly what it was I wanted to work on. It was an intense process. And I told her, “I’m here because I don’t have sexual sensation. I’m afraid there’s something wrong with me like I’m broken.”
And we finished the session and she sat me down and she looked me in the eyes and she said, “You’re not broken. Your body functions, like your sexual function is perfectly in line.” She said, “Not all of the pleasure signals are transmitting to your brain so that you are experiencing them, so there’s probably some emotional mental work to be done to clear out some of those blockages but you are not broken. You have every ability to do this and that was huge.”
JESSI: And she was speaking from having touched you and tracked the physiological effects of arousal and everything?
LEAH: Exactly. Arousal into orgasm, I did not expect to have an orgasm but I did, which was a fascinating experience to do that in a room with someone who is a professional.
LEAH: Because we weren’t having sex. I was lying on a table and she was touching me, massaging, moving energy. It was fascinating. So I left that session with her thinking, “Okay, I have some work to do and I don’t really know how to do it but I think probably the best thing to do is to start putting myself in some sexual situations.” So I went to Craigslist Personals.
LEAH: And I turned on my dating apps while I was travelling. I started looking for opportunities to have experiences. This was also when I got in touch with you and you started coaching with me. Thank God because I don’t think I would have come through this with all of my bits and parts still attached if I hadn’t had your support.
LEAH: But I remember when I got to Washington DC, I had the dating apps on and I ended up going out for a date with this guy. He was nice enough it was not a loving connection but I was only there for a week.
LEAH: And I came from that first date with him and I talked to you and I said, “It was fun and he’s cute and there’s kind of a vibe between us. Would it be awful if I had a second date with him and I had sex with him?”
LEAH: And I’ll never forget your response. You said, “I’m really interested that you’re framing this as would it be awful? Instead of, would it be fun?”
LEAH: And I was like, “Oh my God, you’re right.” And we had a conversation at that point where I said, “I think that I’m still really attached to the fact that as a 42 year old woman who’s never been married, my number, the number of people I’ve had sex with is still pretty low and if I start going out and just having sex willy-nilly. Suddenly, what’s that going to do to my number?” And you said to me, “I think sometimes one of the best things you can do to get over concern about your number is to not know what your number is anymore.”
LEAH: And I understood that you weren’t telling me to go out and just like have sex with every person I passed on the street, but you were saying loosen up and this is not the most important thing and to that end, I don’t know what my number is anymore.
JESSI: Just a quick intervention. Since that conversation, I have redefined what I even think I count as sex or that number anyway.
LEAH: Right, me too.
JESSI: Because once you get into, “Oh, I’m queer.” And so if the number isn’t how many penises have been inside my vagina, which is what that’s supposed to mean, what the hell does it mean? How do you count it?
LEAH: Right. Because if I’m with another woman, does it only count if she puts her fingers inside me? Does it count if we fool around but there’s no insertion but we have orgasms? If I’m with a man and there’s no insertion? Exactly.
JESSI: It totally turns that number inside out when you start looking at it like that.
LEAH: Yeah. So then I started thinking differently about the experiences I was having. They were no longer attached to some Puritanical idea of what my number was. Then I started looking for the kind of experiences I’ve always wanted to have.
And for me, one of the things at the top of that list was a threesome. I had had sex with men. I had had sex with women. But I really, really wanted to experience what it was like to be touched by multiple hands at the same time. And so, while I was in Boulder, Colorado, for a couple of weeks, I did the Craigslist thing. And for everyone who is super concerned, I did have a really strong vetting process.
LEAH: But I found this couple who were interested in having a woman joining them and it was both a really lovely and a really challenging experience. Lovely in that they were very kind and there was a lot of conversation, a lot of consent kind of conversation that I hadn’t experienced before. Difficult because it was their first time having a woman join them and it brought up some stuff for the female half of the couple.
At one point, I was laying naked on the bed and the two of them went into the bathroom and closed the door and I could hear them talking and laughing together while I laid alone and that felt really, really crappy. So it was sort of like I was having experiences with this sort of push pull, some good, some not so good.
I ended up in Portland and I only meant to stay in Portland for 6 weeks. I had been on the road at that point for about 5 months and I thought I just want to be still for about 6 weeks.
LEAH: This still cracks me up. I went onto Meetup. I was listening to a lot of Dan Savage’s podcast The Savage Lovecast and I heard him talking a lot about play parties. And I was like, “I don’t really know what that means but I want to go. I want to try this.”
LEAH: But they’re often groups of people who already know each other so I didn’t know how to get invited to a play party when I’m sort of this wandering person around the country. So I went on to Meetup and I said, “Well I’ll just try” and I put in the word sex.
LEAH: And I came up with Sex Positive Portland, which is just a phenomenal group here in Portland. That has really just catapulted all of my learning and my understanding of what sex is to places I never could have even imagined. It was also around that time that I went to Jamaica and had the experience at the sex resort and yeah, really just started. As I was saying at the time, I was having all of the fun with all of the people.
LEAH: And that lasted for about 6 months after I settled in Portland and then I met my partner and that then opened up another realm of exploration because I went from having all of the fun with all of the people and dating non monogamously and having sex non monogamously all of it was above board, totally consensual, totally honest.
But all of that non monogamous stuff was with a lesser degree of investment in any particular relationship. And then I got into a monogamous relationship where I then needed to navigate developing a sexual relationship while also developing intimacy and all of the stuff that goes with relationship stuff, which has been a whole other journey.
JESSI: It is which sort of brings us back to the idea that there’s no end destination. There are so many facets to sexuality, as many as there are as being human. So you just got to keep going if you want to keep learning and growing, there’s so much.
LEAH: I don’t want this journey to end. I want to stay engaged with my body and my sexuality and there is so much that I still have to learn. I still have challenges with sensation. It’s very hard for me orgasm. So when people ask me what I do, I say, “I’m not here to teach you how to have a better blowjob because that’s not my realm. My realm is communication because I’ve gotten really good at that, but the sex stuff still can be challenging.”
JESSI: I’m curious in your whole journey, what about you was required for you to go from these really scary dangerous disempowered feelings about sex that you learned as a kid to a pretty damn
empowered, full of agency place, full of pleasure and joy, feeling worthy place now. What about you allowed that to happen? And the sort of flipside to that, what would someone need most? What’s the most important element to that journey?
LEAH: My journey of sexual healing didn’t start and I think because of the person I am, couldn’t start until both of my parents were gone.
It certainly couldn’t have started while my father was still alive because I didn’t really know how to speak or be present in the world as long as my father was alive. I was too scared of him. He passed away when I was 26, so he’s been gone for a long time.
My mom and I were incredibly close and she passed away just about 4 years ago. I think that there were a lot of old family stories that I was sort of paying allegiance to as long as she was alive that I couldn’t break away from as long as she was still here. I didn’t want to disappoint my mom. I don’t think she would have been at all disappointed over the work I’ve done over the last few years, but I do think it would have made her uncomfortable.
Just from a personal place, after my father’s death but prior to her death, when I would write about my childhood, she would get really uncomfortable because she felt like it reflected poorly on her. Even though I was saying, “Here’s what happened with my father and my mother was the good guy in the story.” She still saw it as “I didn’t do enough to protect you. I didn’t take care of you. I didn’t get you out of that situation” or at least she thought that’s how it would be read by other people.
I know understand her staying was actually her best hope at keeping me as safe as possible because my father had threatened her when I was still a baby that if she ever left him, he would take me. And she would never see me again. So her staying was sort of the ultimate act of self sacrifice to keep me safe to at least put a barrier between me and my dad. But she still felt like any time I wrote or talked about my childhood experience with my dad, what other people would be left with was this idea that she didn’t take good enough care of me.
So I think that I couldn’t really fully engage with my own sexual healing because so much of it was rooted in the relationship with my dad. I couldn’t begin that journey until she was gone, which is really painful to say because my mom was my best friend and I miss her like crazy. But I think it’s also true and those are two hard things that I have to kind of live with.
As for what did I need internally in order to go through this process, something that my mom always said about me is that I’m somebody who will sit on the sidelines and watch and watch and watch and watch. And then suddenly, I’ll be like, “I’m ready.” And I’ll dive right in the middle.
LEAH: And that’s kind of what I’ve done with sex is I sat on the outside and I watched and I watched and I watched. And then as soon as I said, “I’m ready”, I dove straight in the center and I started doing all of the things.
JESSI: I think it’s easy to hear stories like this. Like you went from the simplest version being bad sex to good sex, but obviously it’s something more complex than that.
But I think it’s easy to hear that while you’re still a person, especially a woman having bad sex, having sex that feels disempowered and to hear that and, “Oh, something special about Leah made that possible that I don’t have.”
So I’m curious, when you work with women, when you talk to women, what do you see being the most important quality or experience? What do they need more than anything else to go through their own journey?
LEAH: So an idea that I have really come to love and I actually think the spark of the idea came from you is this idea of being 5% braver today than I was last week. So I went and I did some kind of crazy things. And I would be like, “I’m jumping into the center. I’m going to be all of the brave.” And then I would freak myself the hell out and then I would go crawl up in a ball and hide in my cave for weeks.
LEAH: And then at some point, I’d be like, “Okay, maybe I’m ready to stick a paw out again.” [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: And so over time, I came to really love this idea of “I don’t have to be all of the brave today. I don’t even need to be all of the brave this month. I just need to be 5% braver this week than I was last week and that will keep me moving forward.”
And that is a concept that I use a lot when I’m working with people because I think it’s something that’s easy for people to wrap their brain around. “I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to suddenly be a sex goddess. I just have to be a tiny bit braver.”
So the question of what does it take to start this journey is the willingness to be a little bit brave. It does not have to be all of the brave, but just a tiny bit brave.
JESSI: That is also absolutely what I would have taken away from everything you have said is courage. It’s not some inherent thing in you that’s more healable than anybody else.
LEAH: Oh God, no.
JESSI: Continuous, conscious, ever chosen, progressive courage.
LEAH: In my case, I had an amazing companion in you through this journey, somebody hopefully to be there with you saying, “It’s okay if you’re scared. You don’t have to do all of the things right now, take a little rest.”
JESSI: And to everybody who is listening to this, I would like to say that you had some of the most dramatic and tangible blowback like a vulnerability hangover. So if there’s anyone out there who’s ever experienced that and been like, “This is too much. This is too big. I guess it’s not for me.” But I think it’s really important to acknowledge that learning to either or maybe a combo of both, either get really comfortable with the fact that it’s uncomfortable and keep moving forward anyway or do what you did and just go, “I don’t have to be all the brave all at once.”
This is not a “zero to ten” thing. It’s time. It’s progress over time that you get more comfortable, you build that resilience. I think there’s a message out there that people hear, “Oh, it’s really scary” and then they go get scared and they’re like, “I guess I can’t do it.”
And I feel like the reason why you’re able to be where you are is it was really scary and you got really scared and you kept going anyway.
LEAH: There’s something else that I think for a long time, I bought into this idea because I had gone to some Al-Anon meetings earlier in my life and I had taken away this idea of rock bottom. And the way that I internalized that was I just have to keep going down and down and down until I finally hit rock bottom and then everything will be clear and I will have this miraculous rising because I think that’s how a lot of those stories have been told. Like you hit rock bottom and then suddenly the heavens open, and that’s not at all the reality.
You don’t need to go all the way down and even if you do, that’s the beginning of the work. That’s not the end of the journey. And that was a really hard thing that I’ve had to deal with is reframing that belief.
JESSI: Yeah, there’s definitely a belief that if it’s not bad enough, we don’t deserve to do the work to make it better.
LEAH: Oh my God, right? Ugh. Yes.
JESSI: They’re like, “My sex life is fine comparatively. I know people whose is worse. The things that
could have happened to me could have been worse.” Yeah, that’s absolutely huge. On that note, Leah, thank you for being here on your podcast.
JESSI: It was lovely to have you as a guest on your podcast. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: Thank you, Jessi for interviewing me on my podcast. [LAUGHTER]
JESSI: It was an absolute pleasure. [MUSIC]
LEAH: Okay, that might sound like the end of the story but it is far from it. In two weeks, we’ll start the next part of the journey, my Lowdown Q and A. But I’ve got a trick up my sleeve and you’re not going to want to miss it, so that will start in two weeks.
And now, let’s get into “Am I normal?” This week, I have a really brave question from a listener who was too shy to put her voice on tape so I’m going to read her question for you and then answer it.
She asks, “As a result of listening to the podcast, I’ve been having lots of sex lately. But I’m worried because if I get too aroused during intercourse, I get so wet that I can hardly feel my husband’s penis slipping in and out of my vagina. Sometimes, I lose the drive and find it difficult to orgasm. I’ve heard about Kegel exercises but I don’t know how to do it effectively. Is there a gadget that will help me to do Kegels correctly or is there a YouTube video I could watch? Is there something wrong with how much I lubricate or am I normal?”
What a great question. Your lubrication is completely normal. Some people produce a lot of natural lubrication. Some people produce a little. Just like some people grow lots of hair on their body and some people grow much less. Neither is bad or problematic from a physical point of view, though both have challenges. I’ll answer your question first then at the end, I’ll talk about women who produce less natural lubrication than they need for comfortable sex.
Okay, so let’s talk Kegels. According to people who work with pelvic floor issues, Kegels are not always the cure all we’ve been led to believe. They say that some people suffer from an overdevelopment of the Kegel muscles so exercising them will actually make issues worse. That’s not to say it’s bad for everyone. For lots of people, it’s important but I don’t want to make a blanket recommendation for Kegels without addressing the fact that for some people, it could do more harm than good.
With that said, it might be worth trying Kegels as a way to more closely attune yourself with those muscles. When you’re more aware of where they are and what sensation they produce, that may translate to you being more aware of them during sex and thus getting more pleasure. And yes, there
are gadgets that can help you do Kegels properly. A couple of years ago, I purchased the Intimina KegelSmart and was impressed by how it had helped me feel exactly the right way to do the exercises. But I didn’t use it for very long so I can’t speak to the long term benefits of it.
Let’s put aside Kegels for a moment and much lower tech options that may also help the situation. First, consider keeping a towel or rag at hand that you can use to soak up some of the moisture on both your genitals and his penis periodically. Wipe yourself down before he enters you. Then occasionally, during intercourse take a quick break for a wipe down. I know that may sound like it would break the mood but imagine how better the mood will be if you’re feeling more sensation.
And you can find ways to make it sexy and playful. For instance, you could occasionally have him pull out and use your hand on him for a minute to keep him stimulated and in the process you’re removing moisture from his penis. Then, one or the other of you gives you a quick swipe and you go back to intercourse. Another thing, different positions offer different levels of friction. I don’t have an issue with excess wetness but I do have an issue with not being able to feel my partner. That’s especially true in missionary position. I love that position for connecting with him but it doesn’t do much for me in terms of feeling. But, in doggy style, I feel much more. Also, if I’m on my back with my legs on his shoulders, I feel a lot more. But on my back with legs in other positions, I still don’t feel much so try experimenting with different positions to see where you have the most sensation.
Third, if your husband is open to it, you can also incorporate toys into your intercourse. Unfortunately, some male partners feel intimidated by this, which I wish they wouldn’t. It’s just another opportunity for them to help us feel pleasure. You can bring a vibrator into your lovemaking so that while he’s inside you, you can stimulate your clit with more intense sensation. It sounds like when you get really wet, the friction probably isn’t available on your clit which can make it hard for many women to orgasm, so a vibrating penis ring or a toy like the Womanizer could help. And finally, and this suggestion would take a very confident man. You could try a penis sleeve extender. This is not a pump that claims to make him bigger. It’s a sleeve that goes over his penis during intercourse to make him feel bigger to you. I’ve never tried one but I’ve heard good things about them. So try those things. I would love to know if they work for you.
Now, let’s look at the other end of the scale because the question of whether the woman is broken for producing too little lubrication is one that I get a lot more frequently. So let’s quickly break that down. If you don’t get wet enough during sex, there is nothing wrong with you. It’s just the way that your body and hormonal system are producing lubrication. And for some reason, many women have been given the message that needing a bottle of lube by the bed means there’s something wrong with them. It’s also used as an indicator of a woman’s lessening of sexual desirability as she gets older because many women tend to produce less lubrication as they age. But you are not broken or undesirable. Get the lube. Use the lube. Have the sex. Don’t let anybody shame you into believing that your body is broken because you have an issue with dryness. This is literally what lube is made for.
As a person with a bit of a dryness issue myself and extremely sensitive skin, I’ve had to experiment with a lot of different lubes. And I’ve got a YouTube video where I share my favorite natural ones with you. If you have even the most minor issue with skin irritation, please for the love of all that’s holy don’t use K- Y or other drug store brands. Not only can they feel gunky and gross, they can sometimes make the issues much worse. The price differential to go for a natural product is negligible and it is so worth it. I’ll link my recommendation video in the Show Notes.
All right, do you have an “Am I Normal” question? Call 720-GOOD-SEX and leave me a message. It can be up to two minutes long and I might answer it in a future episode.
On next week’s show, you’ll hear my interview with Maya, a young woman who was born in the Sudan and came into the United States at age 6. She shares the frustrations she’s had around religion and how it has affected her sexuality, the way she used sex in her early life to fill an emotional void, and the pleasure she has finally found with her husband. In the meantime, if you’re getting a lot out of this podcast, I guarantee that you have friends who need it too. So here’s a way to practice a little bravery. Let them know you’re listening to this show and you think they’d love it too.
Until next week, here’s to your better sex life! [MUSIC]
Here are some time markers for this episode:
- 3:09 – Conversation with Jessi
- 28:47 – AM I NORMAL? question – Is it normal that I get so “wet” that I don’t feel much during sex? What can I do about it?
- 29:43 – Leah’s answer – Myth busting about female lubrication, and suggestions for dealing with both excessive lubrication and vaginal dryness
- COVID Confidential video series – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLZPyfFHzvbHbuFG5oAIO5N3-ymiZHqgYy
- The Savage Lovecast – https://www.savagelovecast.com/
- Leah’s favorite lube – https://youtu.be/i_Ok69EI-ks
- Intimina KegelSmart – https://www.intimina.com/kegel-smart
- The Womanizer – https://www.womanizer.com/
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Music – Nazar Rybak