His hands wander over my body as I stare at the ceiling. I make noises of pleasure – moans, even encouraging words about how good it feels – in the hopes that it will ramp him up and the whole damn thing will be over quickly.

You know the stereotype of the woman who lays on her back, watching the ceiling fan and waiting for it to be over?

That was me. For two decades, I tolerated sex I didn’t want so I could get the cuddling I desperately craved.

The times I tried to get the warm, sweet connection I desired, my partners interpreted it as sexual and acted accordingly.

I was with partners who experienced sex AS connection. I needed connection BEFORE sex. But I was so far out of touch with my basic needs and desires that I had no idea how to verbalize that. I just assumed that I was wrong for wanting what I wanted.

I am not blaming my partners for this particular pattern. I did not have the language or the self-assurance to ask for what I wanted, so I can’t fault them for not giving it to me.

But this is what I had come to believe: if I wanted something, I needed to tolerate anything the other person wanted in order to get a small portion of what I wanted.

Does that sound fun? Does that sound even remotely sexy?

Fast forward to 2017:

The revolution began when I sat in that class that teaches people how to communicate ABOUT sex before HAVING sex. I was asked to describe what turns me on. I had no idea. It had never occurred to me to think about it.

Probably assuming that considering my fantasies could move me in the right direction, someone asked me, “When you’re having sex, what are you thinking about?”

Here is what I was thinking about during sex:

  • How gross my body looked.
  • What the other person was thinking about my skills (or lack of them).
  • How long it would take them to orgasm, and if I could last that long.
  • Whether the sex was going to hurt, and if it did, how I could handle it without hurting the other person’s feelings.
  • That I was boring in bed.
  • That I was broken.
  • That I would never, ever have good sex.

You know what I WASN’T thinking about? What I enjoyed. What would feel good. What TURNED ME ON.

I wanted to have great, mind-blowing sex. But in order to have that, I needed to feel safe. And I was too busy worrying to ever feel safe.

So when I was asked to verbalize my turn-ons, the only thing I could come up with was this:

My most fundamental turn-on is communication and connection. Without that, I don’t feel safe enough to do (let alone ENJOY) anything else.

Over time, I began to recognize “turn ons” in the more traditional sense – feather light touch on my skin, a little dirty talk whispered in my ear.

But those couldn’t emerge until I had my base requirement fulfilled: safety.

It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – if pleasure is to be attained at the top of the pyramid, safety must be in place at the base of the pyramid.

Carey's hierarchy of sexual needs

And, for me, safety comes from connection. From cuddling that doesn’t automatically lead to sex. From knowing that I am seen. From knowing that the other person WANTS me to have pleasure. From knowing that my partner DOES NOT want me to be tolerating things solely for their pleasure.

I’ve been astonished to discover that there are plenty of these caring and generous partners in the world (both male and female).

But I’ve had to be courageous enough to turn away people who don’t fulfill my need for safety and connection. I can no longer just tolerate the first person that shows up because I’m afraid that no one better will ever come along.

I’ve had to STOP tolerating things that don’t work for me (there is a place for doing things that might not float our boat so that our partner can have enjoyment, but that is different than tolerating things we hate. That is a subject for an upcoming post.)

I’ve had to allow my pleasure to be my top priority (yes, this is a RADICAL thought for many women including me).

How do we tune out those voices telling us all the awful things about ourselves and tune in to the voices telling us where our pleasures lie?

I’ve developed a game for exactly that purpose. I call it “Sexual Scientist” and I’ll share it with you next week.

Until then, I encourage you to start noticing the times when you’re tolerating things you don’t like in order to get something you need. You don’t have to do anything about it yet; recognizing the pattern is the first step. Knowledge is power!

If tolerating things you don’t enjoy strikes a chord for you and you’d like to talk about how it shows up in your relationship and sex life, send me an email at Leah@GoodGirlsTalkAboutSex.com.