Dive Deeper with Leah Carey
I have been through the fire and come out the other side. Now I’m here to walk with you as you do the same.
I will help you take a stand for yourself, your desires, and YOUR PLEASURE.
Leah met Gretchen at Sex Geek Summer Camp. They realized they share remarkably similar journeys; both started having sex later in life, believed that they were broken, then sought out sexual experiences and healing. Significantly, both engaged the services of a tantric practitioner.
Gretchen is a cisgender 46-year-old cisgender woman. She describes herself as bisexual and polyamorous. She describes her body as average.
Gretchen tells the story of the second time she had sex. It was with a guy who picked her up in a bar for a one-night stand when she was 30. She talks about the strange sex position he put her in that gave her a particularly unflattering view of her own body.
Gretchen talks about the tantra practitioner who helped her consciously engage with her sexuality for the first time. We also talk about her emotional relationship with him – specifically, did she fall in love with him?
The extended Lowdown Q&A
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: Hey, friends. In the summer of 2019, I had the good fortune to attend Sex Geeks Summer Camp. It’s a five day business intensive for professionals in different areas of human sexuality. I’ll put information in the Show Notes for any budding sex geeks out there who might want to attend next summer and I recommend it.
In addition to basic business education, there were workshops on a number of other topics, including a particularly feisty session with Dixie De La Tour about incorporating storytelling into our work. Now if you’re not familiar with Dixie’s podcast Bawdy Storytelling, go download it now. I mean, seriously, go download Dixie’s latest episode right now! But wait to listen to it until after this episode is over.
As part of her presentation, Dixie introduced us to a woman named Gretchen. I’d seen Gretchen around camp the previous couple days but we hadn’t talked. But when she got up to tell her story, I swear it was like listening to my own. The parallels between our sexual histories are astonishing. Now, you might not know it from listening to me interviewing people on such a sensitive topic, but in real life, I’m really introverted. So it took me a day to work up the courage to approach Gretchen and tell her how much her story meant to me. It was, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Gretchen is not just my buddy. She’s become one of my closest confidantes. We recorded this conversation before the COVID lockdown and we didn’t know each other quite as well then as we do now. So I was hearing many of these stories for the first time along with you. I hope you’ll enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
One thing I should tell you before we get started is that there’s some traffic and airplane noise in this recording. You will still hear everything but it might be a little distracting for those of you who are listening on headphones.
And now, I’m so pleased to introduce Gretchen!
I’m really excited to welcome Gretchen not only because she is a lovely person but also because she and I are sort of like working partners.
LEAH: We spend a lot of time together every week working on our businesses and it’s just going to be really fun to get to talk to you about this stuff. So thank you for being here with me Gretchen.
GRETCHEN: Thanks. I’m excited.
LEAH: Awesome. So, as I start every interview, my first question is what is your first memory of
GRETCHEN: This is such a fascinating question. Of course, I listen to all of your podcast episodes after I agreed, or asked actually, to this. The one that immediately jumped to mind and has stuck with me as I listened to different episodes is I have this really distinct memory and I’m not sure about my age, I’m not great at orienting what age I am at different times but I want to say I’m somewhere in the eight or nine age range maybe. And there was this girl that I went to school with. We were good friends. We would go out together frequently and there were two times where we cuddled and the cuddling turned really arousing. We were kind of rubbing up against each other and we never kissed but we would nuzzle each other’s necks and that sort of thing, right?
And I remember being really turned on by it and it only happened twice. I never went any further and we never spoke about it in between the two times or afterwards. And that’s my earliest distinct memory.
LEAH: Do you remember what caused that to begin?
GRETCHEN: No. I mean, we were just playing, maybe we were doing a little bit of rough housing like with a lot of giggling. I’m not even sure. Like I said, I don’t know whether it was somewhere in between some rough housing into cuddling and hugging or something. But my memory is being in the midst of it more than the lead-up or what came after that day each time and it was twice that I recall.
LEAH: And that’s interesting that it happened more than once but then it just stopped and it didn’t happen again. Was there any sense that you thought this was wrong or bad? Is that why it stopped do you think?
GRETCHEN: I remember wanting it to happen again. I remember every time we hung out for a while after the first time, I wanted it to happen again but I didn’t know how to make it happen. I don’t remember a lot of self-criticism shaming but feeling like it had to be hidden. I must have thought that it was wrong enough that like we clearly weren’t going to talk about it. Iit wasn’t when any other friends were around. It was just the two of us and I couldn’t ask for it to happen. It just had to kind of happen.
LEAH: What were you hearing in your childhood home or from other influences in your childhood about sex, in particular your sexuality?
GRETCHEN: So I was born and raised Catholic and I went to Catholic schools my entire life except for grad school and one year of university of undergrad and sex was never talked about in my family. I have no memory of any conversation about sex with my parents either of them that I can recall. I feel like if there had been anything, it would have stood out.
GRETCHEN: Or maybe it was so awful, I repressed it. I don’t really know. But no memory of that. I was born and raised Catholic so all of the Catholic teachings around sex were just in the air. That was my cultural milieu. That’s what I was around. While I don’t have explicit memories of people saying to me directly sex is bad or your sexuality is bad. It was just something that was never talked about so therefore, I felt like it was always hidden. Whatever I might be thinking or feeling about it was only for me to know and/or if I was behind a closed door, if that makes sense.
LEAH: And were you getting any kind of Sex Ed in Catholic school? [LAUGHTER]
GRETCHEN: Nothing in grade school so first to eighth grade, nothing that I recall. And I went to an all-girls Catholic high school that was owned and run by nuns and a lot of the teachers were either nuns or former nuns. But surprisingly, I remember being surprised in my junior year, we got a Sex Ed class and of course it was focused on disease prevention and pregnancy prevention. But they did the condom demo with the banana and to the best of my recollection, it was mostly talked about, shame-free is too strong of a phrase, but it was assumed that it was happening in a loving, committed, long-term, monogamous, heterosexual relationship. There weren’t messages about homosexual sexuality being bad or sex outside of marriage being bad that I heard.
LEAH: Interesting. And I’m really interested that they did the condom on the banana because isn’t birth control considered a sin?
GRETCHEN: Yeah. This is why I thought it was quite progressive. Even though it’s a Catholic school owned and run by nuns or former nuns, granted the class itself was taught by a former nun and I kind of wonder looking back like the administrators must have known the content of that class. I’m presuming. That’s why it struck me as kind of progressive for the time and the place and all of that. But that was it.
In terms of any conversation around pleasure or communication related to sex, no none of that. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: Well, nobody got that not even in non-Catholic school.
GRETCHEN: Right. Yes.
LEAH: So what was your relationship with your body as a teenager?
GRETCHEN: I was really disconnected with my body from a young age up until my early forties. LEAH: Do you know what that stemmed from?
GRETCHEN: Yeah. I know exactly what it stemmed from. A couple of different things. One, so I’m the youngest of three. I have two older brothers and I was raised by both of my parents praising my intelligence, my capabilities, my sense of humor and I have no memory of ever being told I was pretty. And I remember I had a conversation with my father years, years later where he shared that he was deliberate about that because he wanted me to be raised as a strong, independent woman and so he overcorrected. He thought that if he praised my appearance, it would play into the stereotype and gender roles. So I never got any compliment for my appearance, only about my intelligence and all of that. When I was eleven or twelve, it’s an emotional memory, I attended a family wedding and with six or so months before the wedding, I went through puberty in a big way. I used to be super skinny like my nickname pre- puberty was bones. I was so thin like skin on bones. And I went through puberty and all of a sudden, I had hips and I had large breasts. I never wore a tiny bra. I went from nothing to a full C and I just kept getting bigger from there. And so I went from that to full C and some hips on an otherwise super skinny frame but I went to this family wedding and it was probably at least six months since mom’s side of the family and dad’s side of the family had seen me. I’m sitting around the table with a bunch of relatives, mostly female relatives like my mom, my grandmother, my aunt, some of my female cousins, some other extended female cousins. And my older male cousin, I was eleven or twelve, he was probably seventeen or eighteen, he walks up to the table to say hello to everyone and I’m standing up behind my mom’s chair, or my grandmother’s chair I can’t remember. Actually, it must have been my grandmother’s because I could see my mom’s face. He walks up to the table to say hello to everyone, sees me, kind of has like this surprised reaction on his face, looks me up and down. I have a strong memory of
him checking my body out and then says, which is a fairly innocuous thing, like, “Wow. Gretchen, you’ve really grown up since I last saw you.” In retrospect, it was a very natural reaction. But in that instant that he looked me up and down, he responded really positive to me, I can remember feeling my body flush with pleasure and a little bit of embarrassment because this is all happening in front of a table full of people. But otherwise, super positive like a warmth of pride that I got this compliment because I never get complimented on my looks. And instantly, my mom’s face fell to this harsh look and I can’t remember what she said, but she something basically to shut him down. And what I remember feeling is shame in that moment and what I internalized was the message that that was wrong. The way he was looking at me was wrong, him reacting to me that way was wrong. And therefore, my feeling pride in that and pleasure in that response to him was wrong. That my body had done something wrong. That’s ultimately the message that I internalized. And so pretty much in that point forward, I have no recollection outside of this one incident in my senior high school, I didn’t care, I played sports. I cared about what my body could do for me day to day like the activities that I wanted to do, but I had no sense of what it looked like. And I wore loose pants and baggy t-shirts.
LEAH: During your high school and college years, were you interested in dating?
GRETCHEN: I didn’t date at all. I was really academically oriented and focused. I think I remember in high school starting to think about dating, seeing people around me dating, but my closest group of girlfriends didn’t date either really or not much. The older I got, progressing through high school to college, I thought more about dating and wanting to date and started yearning more for it and feeling bad that it wasn’t happening. But not terribly bad yet because I remember thinking that’ll happen eventually like I’m focused on my academics. I’m going to build a career. I’m going to do the Peace Corps. I’m going to do grad school like the dating will come. I’m not worried. I want it. It’s not happening. I’m disappointed but it’ll happen. And anytime I was around guys that I was attracted to, I hid it. I couldn’t ever let anybody see that I was interested in someone.
LEAH: What did you think would happen if you let someone know that you were interested in them? What was the story you were telling yourself would happen?
GRETCHEN: The story was that well, for one, if they knew they would reject me because it would not be reciprocated and if others saw that happening, they would feel sorry for me. They would either feel sorry for me or they would think, “Who are you to like that person?”
LEAH: Oh my God. I had virtually the same experience. I could not let anybody know that I was interested because I was certain that they would shame me for thinking that I could be with them and that everyone else would shame me for thinking I could be with them.
GRETCHEN: Yeah. Or I would receive pity. Like that was as worse as the thought of being shamed. It was the pity.
LEAH: Meanwhile, once I started dating, I chose assholes because that’s what I thought I had to be with and all of my friends were like, “Why are you with these guys who are clearly not the best for you?”
GRETCHEN: I never really did. When I got back from Peace Corps, in my late twenties, I tried the online dating thing.
LEAH: So you had never dated. GRETCHEN: I had never dated. LEAH: Had you kissed anybody?
GRETCHEN: Interestingly, the first time I properly kissed someone, not like this is the boy that I went out with in grade school with a peck on the cheek, but a proper kiss. I was sixteen and I was going to a summer academic program in the Dominican Republic. It was a Dominican. The Dominican culture is a highly sexualized flirtatious culture and that’s also where I did Peace Corps. For the first time, I flirted outright with boys and that was that summer when I was sixteen in DR. And that was the first guy that I had my first proper kiss with. And then I came back. Nothing until I was back in the DR for Peace Corps.
LEAH: Interesting, so it was like you couldn’t do it when you were home in your native culture. When you were far away, far from anyone who knew you, away from all the expectations.
GRETCHEN: And in a culture that is a highly sexualized culture. It’s extremely flirtatious women like flaunt their bodies and anyone. The things that we typically cared about like height between a man and a women. Dominican men can give a rat’s ass if the woman he was dancing with and he would love the women he was dancing with to be several inches taller because it’s more gorgeousness. They take pride in that. A woman who here would be tall to hide their bodies because they carry X amount of weight or their hips are this size or their belly. No. No. No. They’re wearing skin tight clothes showing off their bodies.
LEAH: So what you’re saying is we should all go to the Dominican Republic and spend some time watching them.
GRETCHEN: There’s a flip side to it that’s not so great. I could talk about that for a while, but for me, that’s literally up until that point when I went to Peace Corps when I was 27, I was hiding my body. I wore jeans and loose t-shirts from baggy sweatshirts and sweaters. And then five months, four months, three months, not even that long into Peace Corps, I stood out because I dressed that way. Right?
GRETCHEN: I have a lot of stories of my being called by my Dominican counterparts or families, kind of getting made fun of. Not in a cruel way or anything, but there was just some joking around about it. And eventually, most volunteer women did this, we started buying local clothes. And so I started showing off my body for the first time ever. And I lost a lot of weight when I first moved there, too. Yeah, I think because that culture is so different, not just leaving my home culture, but going to one that was polar opposites in respects. That kind of stuff. And so that’s where I also had my first sexual experience.
LEAH: And so how did that come about?
GRETCHEN: There was a volunteer in my group that I flirted with whenever we would be in the same place. We didn’t act on it for the longest time because he had a Dominican girlfriend and so he just flirted with me and we flirted pretty outrageously.
LEAH: How did that feel having not done that before?
GRETCHEN: Well, first it took me a while to understand that that was what was happening, that
that’s what we were doing was flirting. I just thought I liked to argue, I’m a natural born arguer.
GRETCHEN: I have a lot of opinions and at that age, I had no hesitation in spouting all of my opinions like I never thought maybe they were ill-informed, maybe they’re half-assed, maybe they’re wrong, like none of that that I now have in my mid-forties.
GRETCHEN: But my late twenties, I was right about everything. [LAUGHTER]
GRETCHEN: And I think that really turned him on. And I would get in his face. He was kind of a jackass and he would spout off all these different things and I would just come at him straight on and tell him why he was wrong and make all these arguments. And so, to me, that’s what I was doing and then it slowly morphed into more typical flirting. And it took me a while to catch on that that’s what was happening.
LEAH: I want to invite you to imagine for a moment what your ideal sex life looks and feels like.
Who are you with?
What type of sex do you have together?
How do you feel while touching them?
How does your body feel when they touch you?
Or … would you like to have LESS sex than you’re currently having?
If you don’t know, or if that vision of your ideal doesn’t look at all like what’s currently going on in your bedroom, I can help.
With personalized sex and intimacy coaching, we’ll explore where you are, where you want to be, and the steps to help you get there. There are no right or wrong answers, just the answers that work FOR YOU.
I understand that exploring your sexuality and all that goes with it – your body image, your belief in your lovability, and more – can be terrifying. Believe me, I sat in the middle of that fire for decades. I know how painful it is. But I also stepped out the other side, stronger, more confident, and more certain of my own lovability and desirability. You can do the same.
I work with couples and one-on-one – whether you’ve never explored your sexual desires before, or you want to explore things you’ve never done before like BDSM or non-monogamy, or if you and your partner need some help figuring out how to communicate together about sex.
I am queer, kinky, and poly friendly.
I want you to have a deeply fulfilling intimate life, and together we can help you get there.
For more information and to schedule your free Discovery Call, visit www.leahcarey.com/coaching. A new client recently said that before her Discovery Call she was extremely nervous, but that I made the experience feel easy and comfortable.
Book your free Discovery Call today at www.leahcarey.com/coaching.
GRETCHEN: We had a conversation one night at a bar where we weren’t clearly going to hook up that night but he was still with his girlfriend but he asked me point blank. He asked me if I’d ever been in love and I said no, I’ve never been in love. I’d had crushes but I knew that was not. I wasn’t falling in love, it was just a crush. And he’s like, “Huh. So you’ve had sex right?” And I just looked at him and I remember pausing, my heart beating strongly, and I was like, “I’m not going to lie about it.” I’m embarrassed because at this point, I’m 27 and I’ve never had sex and I’m humiliated by this but I’m like, “I’m not going to lie.” And this all sort of flashed in my brain like, “No. Actually, I’ve never had sex.” He was like, “Oh. Huh.” And I’m like, “Let me clarify something. Because your first question leads me to think you have an assumption. I don’t equate sex and love like I’m not holding out for my one true love to have sex. I’m not saving my virginity. It just hasn’t happened. That’s not the story in my head. My story is it hasn’t happened. I want it to happen. I’m not looking for one true love. In fact, I’m not looking for that at all. I’m focused on my career. I’m focused with what I’m going to do when I go back home. I want to have sex and I want to have my life.” Right? It was clear in his reaction that for him, he bought into that common cultural myth around love and sex especially for women.
Things kind of cooled out like he was less flirtatious with me after that. It was clear he was thrown by the fact that I was a virgin. I was in the DR for1999 New Year’s, the millennial New Year, and we had sex that night. We were in the same party space and alcohol was involved and we had sex.
LEAH: How was the actual event?
GRETCHEN: The sex?
LEAH: Yeah. How was it?
GRETCHEN: It wasn’t great. I mean, we were drunk.
GRETCHEN: We were drunk and it was my first time so it was not good. In fact, what’s interesting is that I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this story in this detail. I’m trying to remember, maybe one of my closest girlfriends immediately after the fact but probably not all of it because I’m not sure. He definitely fucked me in the ass without my consent. It was so ridiculous. It’s embarrassing but I’ll tell the story anyway because what the hell. I remember it happening and thinking, “Wait a minute. Is that right? It doesn’t feel right.”
GRETCHEN: “Maybe that’s how it feels?” Like not being sure and afterwards realizing, I don’t know if he actually fucked me in my pussy.
GRETCHEN: Yeah. From never having experienced it, probably not being fully physiologically
aroused either, right? And being drunk. It wasn’t a long session. [LAUGHTER]
GRETCHEN: I have no sense of how short it was, but it was not a long time either. And I remember at the time being a little uncertain as to exactly where his penis was. And kind of suspecting in the moment that it wasn’t in my pussy but not one hundred percent certain and the next morning, I woke up and my ass hurt. I was like, “Yup.” And so I found him later that day and I was like, “Dude. What the hell. You fucked me in the ass. That’s not cool. It really hurts now.” And he gave, I don’t know if I believe him, the “Oh, it was an accident. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.”
GRETCHEN: The thing is we were both pretty drunk so it could also be, but it was really a lame excuse. Pretty shady to me. It’s a very shady excuse. And there was a lot of alcohol so it was a great opportunity for him. No idea. He seemed embarrassed when I confronted him. Yeah, he seemed embarrassed when I confronted him and it was like he’d never do that. What the fuck? I’m walking around and I could barely sit down.
LEAH: Seriously, I remember. I was also a later devirginizer. I didn’t have sex for the first time until I was 25. And I had spent all of those years imagining what it was going to feel like and fantasizing about it. And the first time it happened it fucking hurt and similar to you, I don’t think I was actually turned on. There were lots of problems with it. But I think about how when I wasn’t
fully prepared and lubricated, being penetrated in the pussy part, let alone not being turned on and properly lubricated and being penetrated in the ass. Dear God! I’m cool on so many levels.
GRETCHEN: What I remember is uncomfortable, slightly painful but uncomfortable at the moment. You remember I was expecting discomfort or even pain. First times that’s what you expect.
LEAH: And what an awful cultural myth to tell girls it’s going to hurt. If only we told them if you get turned on enough, it doesn’t have to hurt and that’s what you should be aiming for.
GRETCHEN: Well, we’re pretty fucked up. I was expecting some discomfort and even some pain so that wasn’t. It wasn’t like searing pain. I was also again drunk so my body was probably desensitized more than it would have been than if I wasn’t as drunk as I was. And then the next day, I was like, “Oh no. I know exactly where that dick was and it was not where I expected it and it’s really uncomfortable and painful.”
LEAH: SO did that leave you, now having had sex sort of.
GRETCHEN: Having had penetration.
LEAH: Penetration of some type. Did that leave you wanting more or did that leave you being I could take it or leave it?
GRETCHEN: No, I always wanted more because I wasn’t expecting the first time to great, maybe again part of our cultural conditioning, but I was also I had a utilitarian perspective at that point. When it finally happened, I was 27 and I wanted to have that first experience over and I knew I wanted to have more sex in my life. I wanted relationships in my life. I wanted men in my life. That one instance wasn’t going to affect me significantly one way or another.
LEAH: So it was a means of an end to just want the first time over?
GRETCHEN: Yeah. I want the first time over and I want more. Because it’s going to get better.
LEAH: Hey friends!
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GRETCHEN: It was pleasurable in that I wanted to be having that affection, that touch. I wanted that intimacy and at this point, the older I get, the more I’m yearning for this in my life, what I don’t have. The more I struggle. The periods of time when I’m depressed about it lengthened. They come more frequently. The episodes last longer. And so by the time I’m in Portland and I’m in my mid-thirties, I am starting to worry that it’s never going to happen. For the longest time through, my teenage years, in college, before getting into Peace Corps, I wanted it but I wasn’t worried, right? The longer it is, now I’m in Portland and I’m in my thirties and now, I’m feeling more desperate and the yearnings are more frequent and it’s super painful. But as I think about it, I’m convinced that I’m ugly and unattractive and undesirable. That’s why it doesn’t happen. A few times it has. A few times when people have expressed interest in me, those were anomalies. They were anomalous events. They were outliers. The vast majority of my experience were all evidence pointing to the fact that I wasn’t going to have this. Yeah. And so having any experience was pleasurable at that point. The sex itself was actually bad like it was not good sex. I didn’t know how to do anything and I felt self-conscious. I was generally non- reactive. I hardly did anything so I was bad at it. I don’t know if they were any good but I was certainly bad at it so I wasn’t helping in the dynamic.
GRETCHEN: And the older I got, the more shame I had around my lack of experience. The more embarrassed I was. I never orgasmed with anyone but I was also happy at being touched.
LEAH: Were you regularly orgasming with yourself? GRETCHEN: Yeah.
LEAH: So you knew what an orgasm felt like. GRETCHEN: Yeah.
LEAH: Okay. So since you and I have talked a lot. I mean we haven’t had any of these conversations before this is fascinating but I do know about you that at this point, you went into talk therapy and were like, “WTF, what’s wrong with me?”
GRETCHEN: It took me a long time to convince myself it was okay to go to therapy. And when I went, it took me years to actually admit what I really wanted to work on. I mean there was other stuff that would come up but I what I secretly wanted to work on was this. What I wanted for myself was an intimate relationship but I couldn’t admit that. I could barely admit it to myself much less to a therapist. Maybe in a couple of years or so, I was finally able to articulate out loud to my therapist what I absolutely really wanted. And then we spent several years trying to help me get there and I remember this one session with my current therapist where, and he’s a visual guy, he’s got a whiteboard. He doesn’t take notes but occasionally he’ll draw or write on the whiteboard and then take a photo and share it with you. That was his notes for your session was his whiteboard. And so we were talking and then he pops up and like, “Do you mind if I draw on the whiteboard?” I’m like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever. Knock yourself out.” And he’s like “All right.” And he draws a stick figure woman and he’s like, “Who are you today? Who is Gretchen today?” And I described myself and he writes the things that I say like I’m alone, I’m bad at dating, I feel unattractive, I don’t think anyone’s ever going to want me. And he’s like, “All right.’ Across the board, he draws another stick figure woman. “Who do you want to be?” And I described, I want to be seen as attractive, maybe even people to find me sexy, I mean I think I even said that. I want to date. I want to find someone to be emotionally and sexually intimate with altogether. He’s like, “What is it going to take to get you from here to there?” And I’m like, “It’s impossible.” He’s like, “Well, what do you mean?” And I’m like, “There’s a wall.” And I’m not a visual person. This type of thing normally doesn’t resonate with me at all but this one did. I saw it clear as day like there’s a wall. So he starts to draw a wall and I’m like, “Yeah. You got to get higher. It’s a really fucking high wall.” And then he goes high and he kind of stops right where the feet are and it goes deep, deep into the earth.
We’re not going to dig under the wall, it’s endlessly deep and it’s slick like marble. There’s nothing to get a foothold on and it’s thick. A really thick wall. Because it felt, in that moment, that it sticks with me. I felt so emotional. It felt insurmountable. It was devastating for me. It felt like I would never get to where I wanted.
LEAH: How did you move from that visualization from that session to something that actually helped you to take down the wall?
GRETCHEN: One of the things I did was take a three week trip in early 2016 to Tulum, Mexico and my therapist was talking about this trip. He’s like, “I want to give you a goal for the trip. A small goal. I would love it if you went on this trip and gave yourself the opportunity to flirt with someone. Flirt with someone and give yourself the opportunity for a fun encounter. It doesn’t matter if anything happens.What matters is that you are open to it and you’re looking around. Just try it.”
And so I did and the first couple of weeks of the trip, I occasionally got into a somewhat depressive state because I struggled with doing it. And then my second to third to last night, I had a really unexpected one night stand with my kayakee guy.
I wasn’t attracted to him at all but I didn’t care. Because at this point, it had been eight years at least since the Portland dude experience and nothing, not even a hope of anything in between. So I didn’t care that I wasn’t attracted to him. So I’m back in his place and he’s Mayan and he’s really proud of his culture and he did a Mayan sound healing on me because I was super sore from my kayaking trip, which was lovely and was such a gorgeous experience. And then afterwards, as I was coming out of it in a super relaxed state, he had turned down lights and lit candles and then prepared his bed. And he invited me back to give me a massage. I just remember like, “Okay. Sure. Why not? Whatever.”
GRETCHEN: Clearly it wasn’t going there because there was no sexual attraction. No chemistry. There’s no flirtation. We’re talking and chatting but there’s no flirtation.
I’m in this man’s bed and he proceeds to give me a really lovely massage that very slowly gets more and more erotic. Throughout it, I remember I was not attracted to him but I don’t care because he’s touching my body. The hardest thing about having no ability to date or get sex, I craved such. And so he did a super deep massage and then it went erotic and he kept on massaging in really fun areas and ways and then slowly, clothes were coming off in different degrees.
GRETCHEN: And then, I don’t know how long he massaged my body, but it was a long time and then more and more arousing touch. And then he spent a long time doing some really yummy fun things to my pussy and ass that I had fantasized about but I never experienced. And it was all pleasurable.
But I remember as the evening progressed, I was basically his play thing for the most part and I was unresponsive and laid there. I was laying there and my brain was cycling through different thoughts. One was just experiencing the pleasure and enjoying it then I was aware of the fact that it wasn’t getting close to an orgasm and I knew it wasn’t going to and kind of having
negative thoughts about myself around that, realizing that I’ve been completely silent and unmoving and that that was weird.
I would think about trying to move and respond but I would feel really self-conscious and I would pull myself back in. Much less, I couldn’t make a sound. Sounds were way too scary to me. And then feeling bad about that.
This progression of cycling of “I’m thinking too much. Get focused on what he’s doing. Focus on what he’s doing. Of course, I’m not going to orgasm, I’m thinking too much.” Cycling through all of that. And eventually, he fucked me and that happened several times. The second few times throughout the course of the night, there was no foreplay at all. He just sort of rolled over, put on a condom, and fucked me.
I remember craving any form of touch though like I didn’t care. I wanted more but I couldn’t ask for more because I couldn’t say a thing. And then there’s at one point a really bad humiliating blowjob in there, short-lived, and I felt awful and completely embarrassed and then stayed the night.
In the next morning, he took me back to my apartment and I walked into my apartment, closed the door, and immediately started crying because I felt at that point while I was laying there with him, I decided I was frigid because I never orgasmed and I didn’t know how to
LEAH: You never orgasmed with another person?
GRETCHEN: With another person. In my head, I had forgotten. I wasn’t thinking about self- pleasuring and I decided I was defective and broken while I laid there. And I pushed it aside to not have the breakdown with him. I shoved it down as far as I could and then when I got back to my apartment, it all came out. And I cried for I don’t know how long.
One of the things that I did successfully deal with in therapy was letting myself feel my emotions. I was raised to suppress them if it wasn’t a happy emotion. Anger occasionally would be okay to show but anything else had to be hidden and dealt with before you were seen again. So I did actually learn how to feel my feelings. I didn’t know how to do that and to let myself feel them.
That was coming to fruition while I was in this room in Tulum and I just cried and cried and cried and then I thought about the night and thoughts went through my head. The first realizing first of all that I’m frigid, what the fuck does that actually mean?
GRETCHEN: I always mentioned describing women and it means nothing and I give myself orgasms on a regular basis so my body functions. My body is functioning appropriately but I’m sexually dysfunctional like I want this and I can’t get it and I don’t know how to do it.
And so I had WiFi on my phone, so I on a whim, typed into the Google Search Engine “female failure orgasm”. It was a gorgeous day in Tulum. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. And that’s what I did for my second to last day in Tulum was stay in my hotel and researched because that search term led me down this whole path of articles that had crosslinks and mentioned other things and before I knew it I didn’t know how many windows I had open on my search engine on my phone researching all this stuff.
And I left my room a couple of days later. What that reading taught me was that there are other paths to sexual healing than just talk therapy and I had no idea before this that there were other options.
LEAH: Ultimately, what was the therapy modality that you chose?
GRETCHEN: In the end, I chose to work with a tantric practitioner.
LEAH: Can you talk a little bit about what the work was that you actually did with him?
GRETCHEN: Yeah. It was erotic body work basically. And one of the first things that he made sure I was clear on was when I did my free consultation with him was technically the work he did was illegal. It’s not an area of work that the law really cares about. They’re not trying to crack down it but technically it is.
And from the very first session, he touched my erogenous zones. He touched my breasts. He touched my pussy. The first thing I worked on with him was staying present in my body and not going down rabbit holes in my brain and self-recrimination and all that. And so a good portion of that first session was him giving me a massage that slowly became more erotic and he would track me and bring me back to my body and my breath.
LEAH: How would he do that?
GRETCHEN: One, he was incredibly limbically oriented so he could sense, even when I was face down. It was easier when I was face up because he could see how my expression changes. Even when I was face down, he could sense when my brain was going somewhere else because he could, I don’t know if he can see bodies slightly tensing or if it’s a limbic kind of intuitive feel that he has, and he’d be like, “Come back to your breath” or “Come back to the sensation” or “Come back to the pleasure.”
His other message at the same time which was incredibly important which is it’s okay that your brain wanders.That’s what brains are meant to do. The entire work with him was body-oriented so that literally new pathways were carved in my brain. As I learned how to be present, it wasn’t
just a theoretical exercise but someone who was helping me orient to that time and time again as I’m experiencing pleasure. And then when I wanted to learn how to vocalize and ask for what I wanted or to feel desire.
There’s a part in the work where he showed his desire of me instead of keeping it contained so that I could experience that and start to feel on the body level that yes, someone actually is desiring me, which was something that I believed wasn’t possible. And it was a bit of a mindfuck for a while because I also knew I was paying him.
GRETCHEN: There’d be countless conversations where I’d be like, “I’m paying you. How do I really trust?” And he’d talk me through it and I’d reflect later there was nothing about him that was false or inauthentic, including in those moments of desire.
LEAH: It’s just amazing to me. You and I connected over the fact that our stories are so similar. Like the details are different, sure, but that we both had this real complete disconnection from our sexuality. We believed we were undesirable. We believed that we were ugly. And our circumstances based on how we were interpreting them but our circumstances seem to be bearing that out.
And then we go into therapy and we have this experience of doing some really deep work in therapy but having the recognition at some point that if I could talk my way out of this, I would have by now. This is a thing that requires something other than talk but what the fuck do I do with that?
And then we ultimately ended up working with a sex worker. Mine was not an ongoing relationship. Mine was a one time thing where I had a long session with this woman while I was travelling that opened the door to me recognizing that it was okay to explore in other ways. But it’s just fascinating to me that our stories track each other so closely.
GRETCHEN: It’s pretty amazing.
LEAH: So let’s talk about where you are today. So you did work. Where are you with your sexuality today?
GRETCHEN: So that work consisted of almost five months of really intensive work. After a few sessions, I started working with him twice a week. Each session would range from two to three and a half hours each time.
So it was intense and really profound work. And where I ended up was a complete 180 from where I started. Near the end of my work with him, he started mentoring about dating like being a dating coach for me and helping me kind of get into that flow.
Now, I’m a completely different person in terms of my relationship with my body and my sexuality. I was embarrassed, I didn’t even think I had a right to my sexuality before. I thought that I was so unattractive and so not being desired by everybody else that I had no right to it. And everything that I’ve talked about being challenged by, for the most part, I mean I still have hiccups and things that will come up and be challenging, but I love to date.
I have a ton of sex. I’m very experimental. I know what I’m like. I’m really good at asking for it. I’m really comfortable responding now. Yeah, I move, I make vocalizations and I know what I like. I’m still exploring and learning and who knows, there would be more. Everything I’ve talked about is a 180 now.
LEAH: And now it’s time for the lowdown. The things we’re dying to know but usually we’d be too polite to ask any good girl.
LEAH: Do you enjoy giving blowjobs or oral sex?
LEAH: When you give a blowjob, do you swallow or not?
GRETCHEN: Usually, I’ll swallow. Not all the time.
LEAH: What’s the difference?
GRETCHEN: Well, one, I think if I want it or if I don’t. I had an experience recently where I was giving someone a blowjob. And I’m not great at them. I enjoy it but what’s going for me is enthusiasm and I certainly don’t have stamina.
It’s always like a treat. It’s never the main course. Rarely the main course. So I rarely get someone off with a blowjob. Occasionally, we’ll do a lot of stuff and then I”ll go down as soon as they want me. It’s a fun thing, right?
And this guy that I went down on is in tune with his head, so I need to get him down to his body. So I’ll go down on him for a little while. He came within three minutes and it was so unexpected. He didn’t warn me. As soon as I realized it was happening, I laid his dick down on my stomach. I didn’t actually sign up for this part.
GRETCHEN: There was something about it. And other times it’s like I liked being cummed on below my head, so sometimes that’s like what I want or that’s what my partner wants and that’s like really fun to do.
LEAH: What was a myth about sex that you had to unlearn?
GRETCHEN: I don’t deserve it and I”m never going to get it and I”m not desired in that way. LEAH: Gretchen, we’ve done it!
LEAH: So where can people find you?
GRETCHEN: I’m a sex and dating coach and my website is gretchenshanks.com
LEAH: Awesome. Thank you so much for doing this. It’s been a pleasure.
GRETCHEN: Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun.
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