In part 3 of my conversation with Jessi Kneeland, we talk about how I learned the difference between sensual and sexual touch, learning how to determine and voice my boundaries, and my ongoing battle with body image issues.
Thanks to Jessi for interviewing ME! I highly recommend following her on Instagram and signing up for her weekly #TransparentTuesday emails.
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: Today, I’m bringing you part 3 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 the pain of carrying two conflicting beliefs in one brain. First that it was dangerous to be sexy or feminine but also second that I needed to be sexy or feminine in order to have worth and visibility in the world. Today we’re picking up the conversation there and venturing into how I learned the difference between sensual and sexual touch, learning how to determine and voice my own boundaries and my ongoing battle with body image issues. I desperately wanted companionship. I wanted physical touch. I wanted all of the physical things that come along with a relationship. And I absolutely didn’t believe I could have them, didn’t believe I was worthy of them, and so, I got in relationships with people who mirrored my dad’s messaging.
I didn’t have my first serious relationship until I was 25 and that as also the first time I had sex. And that relationship was with a man who was pretty much emotionally abusive. The story that I tell is that we were walking down the street, we were living in Manhattan for a portion of our relationship, and we would walk down the street. And if a pretty girl came walking by, he would grab me and whisper on my ear, “I just want to cum on her stomach.”
LEAH: And no matter how many times I told him how hurtful that was, his response was, “Well, you should be grateful because I would want to do that, but I’m with you.”
JESSIE: Wow. Wow.
LEAH: As if that was somehow this great empowering message. Yeah, and he really, really liked sex from behind and it was extremely painful for me for a number of reasons. All sex with him was painful and at the time, I thought it was because I was broken. I thought there was something wrong with me. And now I understand it was because I was never turned on and therefore, I didn’t lubricate. But also I felt like a subhuman most of the time anyway, when he was behind me, that just reinforced all of that because I felt like he doesn’t even have to look at me, I’m just a whole that he’s filling. So he was basically masturbating inside me. And that was incredibly emotional painful. I felt like I wasn’t even there and so I cried. We were together for two years and I cried every time we had sex. And he didn’t notice. I think sometimes he noticed but he didn’t say anything because there was only one time that he said to me, “I wish you didn’t cry. It makes it less good for me.”
JESSIE: Oh my God.
LEAH: Yeah. Yeah. He was a charmer. I mean that was the worst of the relationships in terms of emotional abuse but I had a series of relationships with those sorts of interactions were kind of the norm. I was wrong. I was stupid. I was just who they were with until they could be with somebody better.
JESSIE: And how much when you look at it do you attribute to the beliefs that you had about sex and your body for walking into situations like that?
LEAH: I didn’t know that sex was allowed to be pleasurable. I mean I heard other women talk about that, but that’s them. Yeah.
LEAH: I thought I was broken. If I had any understanding that I was allowed to have pleasurable sex, that I was allowed to ask for things that I wanted, that I was allowed to say no to things I didn’t want, don’t think I would have stayed in t hose relationships. And I do think that to some extent sex that got me into them because I so desperately wanted to be touched. And I didn’t have that sort of intimate touch anywhere else. So I got into bad relationships.
JESSIE: Did you find having gone through such a sexually empowering journey that you got the touch you needed met in other ways now?
LEAH: Yeah. Definitely. Because I now no longer assume that touch, the intimate touch, can only happen in sex. Intimate touch can happen between friends. Cuddling with friends doesn’t have to be sexual. It is not sexual unless you choose to turn it sexual.
LEAH: But that gets to be a conversation and a choice. There are lots of ways that we can get touch that are intimate but non-sexual.
JESSIE: And even just being able to name that and show up in situations asking for it or letting yourself have it is a result of saying, “I get a role in this. I get to have what I want and I get to ask for what I want. I can so no to what I don’t want.” So much goes back to agency.
LEAH: Yeah. Absolutely! So I found this group here in Portland called Sex Positive Portland where we have events that are built around touch and there’s this whole leveling system that actually tells you what level of touch is appropriate at this event.
So a Level 1 event, you can hug someone but it can only be a platonic hug. At a Level 2 event, you can touch someone in a more intimate way but you’re still not moving sexual energy. You can move sensual energy but not sexual energy and that is a distinction that I never even knew existed.
JESSIE: Can we hear an example of a sensual touch that does not leave sexual energy?
LEAH: So there was this exercise we did at one event where you pulled up the arm of your shirt so that your forearm was available. And the other person just touched your forearm in any way that they wanted. And you know there’s an end point, because at the end of three minutes, they’re going to stop touching your arm.
LEAH: This was also when I started to decouple the idea that when I touch someone, it was always for their pleasure. I also learned that I could touch someone for my pleasure. I also learned that I could be touched for my pleasure and that I didn’t always have to be performing pleasure for my partner. Because I had always seen my role in sex as giving to my partner for their pleasure and receiving touch from my partner for their pleasure.
LEAH: I was never a factor in that conversation or attraction.
JESSIE: I think this is why it’s so hard for women to let people go down on them is the receiving thing is like, “Oh, I can put on a show if you want to go down on me and I pretend that I like it. That’s fine, sure.” But I think that’s really common what you’re describing and such an important distinction.
LEAH: And I think it’s why we end up faking so many orgasms. Because if we don’t believe that we’re there for our pleasure, we believe that we’re there to fulfill our partner’s desire, then we’re going to put to an orgasm for our partner so that we can be done because we’re not really getting anything out of it.
JESSIE: Absolutely. So many lessons in that one experience but one thing that I’m hearing is the boundaries too, just the freedom with knowing that there’s a time limit and a very strictly, enforced rule system. You know nobody’s going to be like, “Ooh, I’m into this forearm touch. Now I’m going to reach for your genitals.” Because that’s off the table.
LEAH: Right. Totally. When I was in high school and college, I again desperately wanted to be in a relationship but was scared to let anyone kiss me because in my mind, kissing meant sex because in television and movies, let’s say a soap opera, there’s like months and months of buildup and being pulled apart and being put back together and all the tension and blah. And then, you get to the actual kiss, and then there’s a cut, and they’re in bed and they’re naked post coital.
So I as a younger person had no concept that there was anything between that first kiss and sex. I didn’t know that and I don’t want to suggest that foreplay is this thing that comes in between the kiss and the sex because I think that’s a really outdated idea that the touching part is an integral part of sex and not just what you do to make the woman happy before you fuck her. But I had no idea any of that touching or that lovely time connecting was a part of it. I thought it was just sex intercourse. And I wasn’t ready for intercourse because that scared me, so I didn’t let anybody kiss me.
JESSIE: Yeah. Totally. So I mean that’s the thing about boundaries I guess there’s so many different ways to what that boundary is but the association of any intimate touch being immediately connected to defensiveness because you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to have to slow this down.” As soon as they touch my forearm, it’s my job to go in and keep them out. A very different experience then, three minutes over and no one’s touching my genitals.
LEAH: Yeah. Exactly. So this whole idea that I learned in the Sex Positive Community about not just consent but being able to think about in advance what are my boundaries and then express them to a potential partner and then that partner gets to say I am in or it doesn’t really work for me, let’s not do this. And then to expect that when we engage, those boundaries are going to be respected. That was a whole new ballgame for me. I remember there was this one night, I was at an event. This was well into my sexual healing journey. I had met a gentleman at an event and he and I kind of vibed and we saw each other at a couple of other events. And finally there was the night where I was like, “Okay. I need to make some forward progress on this.”
LEAH: And so we flirted and we ended up making out. And we sat down and we had our save for sex-14:23 talk which is a thing in our sex positive community. It was a whole mapped out thing and I said to him, “I don’t have intercourse the first time I play with someone. I want to make sure that we have a really good connection before we move into intercourse.”
Because in my head, if I’m not enjoying the playing, the connection, then I’m not going to enjoy the intercourse and also I want to know if someone can hold the boundary. I want to know that they can hear and hold a boundary before I let them go any further. And so I said, “I don’t want to have intercourse the first night together.” And he was totally fine with that. And so we went. We were fooling around and both of us were like, “Oh my God! I want to have sex. I want to have sex so bad!” And he was like, “Nope. We made an agreement we are not having sex tonight. I said we can have it in the morning.
LEAH: We’re not having sex tonight and that’s what we did. And that memory was so potent for me to make a boundary, expect it to be respected, and experience it being respected even when I’m like, “I want to go beyond my boundary!”
JESSIE: I have a male friend who said that he also has these talks in advance with anybody he engages with and he said one of the sexiest things he’s ever encountered is being able to hold a boundary and let her have that experience.
He’s like it’s one of my favorite things where she’s like, “I remember what I said but I don’t care. Let’s just throw it out the window.” And he just gets to go, “No. That’s what we agreed on.” And he said it’s the sexiest energy to share with someone because she’s clearly having an experience like you’re describing there is a “Wow. Thank you.”
And she gets to step into this place of trying to playfully convince him otherwise that you never get to play as a woman with men. So it really changes everything to this fun and sometimes very powerful space.
LEAH: I love that. And it builds the expectation so then the next morning when we did have intercourse because we made it through the first night, I was an absolute complete 100% yes. There was no question in my system about whether I was a yes or not.
JESSIE: Which is also powerful especially as you’re healing all the 10% yes experiences that you’ve had throughout life to have a 100% yes is so rare and so moving.
LEAH: Yeah. Absolutely.
JESSIE: So how do your feelings about your body now affect sex now? Where are you at now at that part of your journey?
LEAH: That’s a really good question. The single most healing thing that I did during my sexual healing journey was discovering being nude in nude space with other people. So as you know, I took a trip to a sex resort in Jamaica for five days.
LEAH: It was a really, really scary comfort zone bashing experience. And I didn’t end up having sex or playing with anybody during that time. I just sat in a hammock for five days and allowed myself to be naked with all these naked people around me. And what I learned during that time was that I was not laughed at for being overweight, I was told not to go inside and put your clothes back on, you don’t belong here. I got to see women of all sizes and all shapes being looked at as objects of desire, being seen as sexual beings and all of that deeply, deeply healing for me.
When I joined Sex Positive Portland that is one of the things that happens in those spaces. There’s a lot of communal nudity as part of the events and that has been deeply nourishing to me. I then got into a relationship with a partner who is not entirely comfortable being in those spaces and is not comfortable with me being in those spaces without him.
And so I have been in this sort of back and forth place with my body image of having done so much healing and logically rationally knowing the truth and also to some extent having kicking myself out of those spaces that were so deeply healing. And so there are times when I am really experiencing the blowback of that. We are still together. We’ve been together for about two years and we’re starting to make some forward progress with him entering those spaces with me. So I have hope that that’s going to be a more regular part of my life and my experience again.
I don’t want anyone to hear this and be like, “Oh, she did the work. Now she’s healed.”
LEAH: Because that’s not the case.
JESSIE: Yeah, It sounds like anything else I guess. Healing body and sexuality stuff is not a destination.
LEAH: So true.
JESSIE: It’s a continuous evolution and so you found something that you found that allowed you to feel really liberated and free. And honestly, all of the stories you’re telling me sounds like the big shift you made was from people like me, whatever that means, don’t get to be sexual beings to I get to be a sexual being. And then I imagine that there’s a deep long old messages that if you don’t keep up the practices that allowed you to get to that place, then you can sometimes be, “Wait for it.” But more people are more disapproving or it somehow gets all messy again.
JESSIE: What do you do when you experience those old messages about your body coming in your way or inhibiting you in terms of sex now?
LEAH: Not always well.
LEAH: I think probably the best thing that I know how to do is to go into radical honesty with my partner and say here’s the story that I’m telling myself right now which is something that I picked up from [Graeme Brown – 21:26]. The story that I’m telling myself right now is that I am too heavy and you’re going to be disappointed in me. Or at one point, he started talking about going to the gym more seriously and I had some nerves around that because he has gained some weight since we got back together rand that has actually been comforting to me because I’m like, “Oh. He’s not super skinny either so it’s okay if I’m not super skinny.”
And so he started talking about going to the gym and I had to go into my radical honesty place and say to him the story that I’m telling myself is that if you go to the gym and you get into a really good shape, then you’re going to be judging me for not being in that shape and that really scares me. When I can go to that level of radical honesty, he can respond in a really loving affirmative way because he really does love my body the way that it exactly is. The problem is when I don’t go to that place and instead I do the manipulative give me comments type of thing like, “Don’t you love me?”
LEAH: And then I never get what I need from it.
JESSIE: Never. Never.
JESSIE: So familiar thought. That is so powerful that refrain from I’m going to sort of passively trick him into making me feel loved and comfortable again to here’s what I’m feeling, uncomfortable and just being more direct and honest.
LEAH: Let’s leave it here for now. In two weeks, we’ll pick back up with me explaining how in the world I ended up doing a 6 month solo road trip around the United States and I’ll talk about the sexual healing I never expected to find while on the road.
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QUESTION: Hi Leah. I’m wondering if I’m normal because I want sex five times a week or six or seven but my husband barely wants it once a week. I just have a higher sex drive than women. Is there something wrong with me or him? Am I normal?
LEAH: Thank you dear caller for being brave enough to send in this question. Yes, you are completely normal and so is your husband. There’s a cultural story, I would say a cultural mythology, that men wants sex all the time and women rarely want it, so men are constantly trying to wear women down and women are constantly trying to beat men off. Not only is this not true, it’s dangerous because it leaves people with exactly the questions you have here. What’s wrong with me that I don’t fall in line with gender norms?
Libido is as individual as the amount of hair you grow or how tall you are. There are men with very low sex drives. There are women with every high sex drives. And everything in between. And they’re all normal. They’re also all common. But because we have this cultural myth that says it should be men high, women low, the people who fall outside those perceived gender norms think they’re weird or perverted or broken or abnormal. And therefore, rarely talk about what they’re experiencing.
And worse, if they go to the doctor to ask about it, they’re unlikely to get useful information because the vast majority of doctors are not trained in sexual health. They might look at a man’s low sex drive and assume that it’s a problem and that they need to fix it medically perhaps using testosterone supplements to boost the sex drive. But a more helpful first question might be are you actually interested in having more sex or do you think you’re supposed to be interested in having more sex?
Because we don’t need to artificially boost the sex drive of a person who is doing it just because they think they’re supposed to. Libido and sexual desire exist on a spectrum. At one end of the scale are people who have very high sexual desire. People who like you want sex daily or even more. A few notches down the scale are people like me who are content with sex once or twice or maybe even once or twice a month.
And then we take a few steps along the scale and we find demisexuallity. Now, let me say, everything that I’m going to talk about from here on out are umbrella terms and I’m giving the most general sort of explaining around them. The most commonly talked about version of demisexuality is a person who only experiences sexual desire when they feel actively connected and emotionally engaged with a potential partner. So this person probably won’t want to have sex until they’re fully emotionally engaged. And during the relationships, sexual desire may only show up in moments where they feel especially connected with their partner. I was just recently checking in with a former client who identified herself as demisexual during our work together and I told her I was working on this explanation of the sexual spectrum and she offered this take. “I think I fall in the demisexual category. The concept of a one night stand has never appealed to me. Even within my relationships, my sexual desire is 100% connected to the emotional state of the relationship. And when I feel emotionally disconnected from my husband, it’s very difficult to engage in anything sexual.”
So next in the scale, we find grey asexuality. Again, there are lots of ways this can manifest. But to keep it simple, you can think of grey ace as it’s often called, as someone who experiences sexual desire rarely or under certain conditions. And then finally, at the far end of the scale, are asexuals or people who experience little or no sexual desire at all. And sex has minimal or no importance in their lives. The cultural narrative would say that there was something wrong with them that need to be fixed so that they can participate in all the joys of normal partnered life!
This is complete and utter bullshit. Asexual people can have full and complete and fulfilling lives that doesn’t include sex. They may desire romantic relationships but prefer that there be no sex and those relationships can be successful as long as both parties enter with full knowledge and understanding. And/or they may be kinky meaning that they desire the sensation that comes with kinky play but they’re not interested in genital play and penetration for the sake of sexual pleasure and orgasm.
There are also people who are sexual but aromantic meaning they don’t desire a romantic connection but they do still desire sex. There are so many ways that sexuality and demisexualilty and grey ace and asexuality can present and please hear me. They are all normal.
Okay, so back to your original question, are you normal for having a higher sex drive than your husband? Yes. Is there something wrong with him because he hash a lower sex drive than you? No. But I’m not going to sugarcoat this. A significant mismatch of libidos in a long term relationship can be really challenging.
The first step in dealing with it is having a frank and shame free conversation about each of your sexual needs and desires. And then you can go about deciding how everyone gets their needs and desires fulfilled. There are couples in this situation who have decided that the high libido partner can utilize sex workers or have a friends with benefits on the side and again, hear me. This is a workable solution if all the parties involved are open and honest about the parameters and boundaries that they are comfortable with. You may need a third person to help you negotiate what that’s going to look like for the two of you. And I’d be happy to have that conversation with you.
Other couples may find that masturbation or mutual masturbation or masturbation while being held can fill al significant void with occasional sexual interplay that’s really connected going the rest of the way. There are options but as always, the first step is to open the lines of communication so you both know exactly what you’re dealing with.
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 may answer it in a future podcast. Next week you’ll hear my interview with Lois, a 70 year old post menopausal woman who brought shame into her adulthood as a result of childhood sexual abuse. In her second marriage, she discovered healing and had wonderful sex with her current husband. She talks about participating in free love during the 60s and how her sex life with her husband has dwindled as they’ve gotten older. I’m excited to have some older voices represented in these interviews and I look forward to sharing this conversation with you next Thursday.
In the meantime, do you have a friend who needs to hear honest talk about sex? Please share the show with them and until next week, here’s to your better sex life!
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