After a bout of winter depression two years ago, I decided that what I really wanted to improve, as far as my living skills, was resilience. Like an old, weakened oak, the winds had buffeted my overly-inflexible limbs until they almost broke. My goal was to become more like a willow tree, whose branches floated through the air with the wind, but whose roots held the tree upright and whose branches could settle back down as the wind died.
And what I’ve found is that resilience is not a thing – it’s a practice. It’s not a state of being – it’s a set of actions that must be continually focused on. Resilience is a path, not a destination. It’s an outlook on life.
Talking with friends about how we pick up and move forward after loss or heartbreak, it keeps coming back to the same thing: we must break out of the way that we look at the event as failure or as an ending, and see what lies beyond it. There is a part of the process that requires us to look at where we have been, in order to grow from it, but it is the turning our faces towards the sun – even if we cannot see it – that leads us towards better stability and growth.
I can make a choice to look at pain as a touchstone of growth. If I feel pain, then I can surely feel joy in the same proportions. If I ache over a loss, it means that I was invested in the thing that has ended, and that it was important enough for me to grieve it – to feel nothing would mean that it wasn’t actually something that I took seriously.
I can look at fear as a presence in my life that is there to remind me to be mindful and to judiciously choose my path and set my boundaries, instead of a danger sign that should send me scurrying away from the action that is provoking the fear. I can see it for what it is – an emotion that may very well have no basis in logic, but is still part of my internal reality – and choose to move through it.
I can use the moments of sheer pleasure and joy in my life as the ingredient that helps keep me supple and resilient. I can remember the feeling of love in my heart when I look at a partner, or the quiet moments of being safe and secure in my home, or even the warm heaviness of my muscles post-exercise, and remind myself that those feelings have happened before, and will happen again – and gain strength from that idea.
I can extend myself rather than staying in one spot. A willow tree’s limbs drape in beautiful cascades downward from the top of the tree, but they also extend in the breeze, covering a space that the tree would not otherwise be able to fill. When I feel uncertain or locked in, I can stretch. I can reach out to someone new, try a new idea out, test the waters in a different way, take a step in a direction I haven’t tried yet.
It’s all about being able to not just bounce back, but to grow. To let the world improve me, rather than leave me feeling struck down. To boldly own my self and to claim my direction and my path. And that must be a daily practice, just as compassion and gratitude are. Because life is too short already; simply surviving is not enough. We must thrive.
*note: this is the rambling of one cis-female, white, middle-class, straight-passing sex educator, and should be taken as just that – one person’s thoughts. Not the most important or right opinion – simply mine, and still an opinion in the process of being developed. My language may not be the perfect language, and if there is something that I’ve stated incorrectly, please let me know, and please know that my intentions are good and I want to learn to make my actions better.
With the recent focus on how racial and class equality are Pretty Fucked Up in our culture, we’ve had a chance, as a culture, to engage in discussions of how People of Color (or POC, for those of you that aren’t familiar with that abbreviation) are marginalized in hundreds of ways – from police profiling, to our legal and prison systems, to access to adequate representation and equality in sentencing, and on and on. And we know that it doesn’t stop at just the legal systems; we can all acknowledge, I think, that POC in the US are not given the same basic rights and privileges that white folks are given. I’m grateful that some of this conversation has extended into the greater discussions within the sex education & sex industries.
Recently, the brilliant Aida Manduley wrote an in-depth article discussing the whitewashing of sex education, as exemplified by the release of a book of collected writings of sex educators that did not appear to include a diverse range of people (and I say appear, because many mixed-race people, as well as people from some races and ethnic backgrounds, may “look” white when in reality they identify otherwise). I’m really, really glad that she wrote this piece, and that it’s been picked up and commented on by so many other folks in the sex education movement. If you have not read it, please, please go do so?
I’m grateful to have been educated by my friends who have histories and experiences that are different from me, and one of the first lessons that I learned was that, despite what my experiences are, I cannot possibly fully understand what other folks are experiencing and the effect that those experiences have on their understanding of their own sexuality, and sex positivity in general. Aida’s writing, and that of other folks who can speak to that, have been affirming for me in my own beliefs, and in the direction that my work takes. And for me, at least, I’ve come up with some factors that I need to ensure that I include in my own education and community building efforts.
First, my job as an educator and as someone who occasionally mentors other educators is to back the hell off the “center stage” and ensure that people who don’t look, act, sound, move, or think like I do are replacing me. The fact of the matter is that we don’t make it easy for folks who are non-white (and non-cisgender women, and non-middle-to-upper-class, and people who are dealing with physical and emotional difficulties, and on and on) to become sex educators on the national-attention level. While I may know all of the facts as I see them, I can’t share those facts with people in the same ways that someone from a relatable heritage, economic background,physical presence, educational level, and gender history can do so. In order for sex positivity to be a powerful force for personal change, it needs to reach all people – and that means that we need to see all kinds of people providing those classes, articles, blog posts, tumblr feeds, interviews, and media appearances.
Second, it’s important for me to avoid the assumption that there is a certain language level or education level required in order to teach. A four-year degree or post-grad work is not required to be a sex educator. Frankly, I don’t think a high school diploma is, either. You are a sex educator if you are passionate about encouraging other people to learn about their own bodies, claim their own boundaries, communicate their needs and desires to their partner (if they choose to have one), and feel good about who they are in their sexual expression. There should be no barriers to entry to the use of that identity. Someone who talks to their friends and helps their friends figure out how to have the orgasm that they’ve been trying to, someone who reminds their buddy that he has a right to not be “in the mood” every time his partner asks for sex, someone who teaches the younger folk in their families that having a period or a wet dream is a healthy thing…those are all people who are doing the real work of sex education, not just the “in front of the room” stuff that we culturally tend to think of. It’s time that I quit treating sex education as an exclusive club, instead of the wide open culture that it can (and perhaps should be).
Third, I can put my energy into ensuring that the bandwidth for the amazing educators that we have that have that are outside of the “traditional” mold is raised, and those folks are heard as often (if not more so) than the traditional educators we have. I can do that by not restating other people’s thoughts, and instead linking to them directly in social media. I can do that by sharing who I have learned from, and referring folks to their work as foundational. I can do that by purchasing books and visiting websites that include a diversity of voices (as an example, The Ultimate Guide to Kink includes a wide range of voices, including POC, non-gender conforming, queer, straight, and diverse ages and backgrounds). I can do that by donating money to POC-run organizations that seek to build peer educational opportunities. I can look for new ways to do that, and check myself by asking my peers that identify as POC (and other less-privileged groups) if I am doing things that get in the way of progress.
I think this is important for me. I believe that it’s important for our culture, because until every person has access to solid, health-and-pleasure based information about their sexual well being and intimate relationships, we can’t really say that we’re doing the most effective work as sex educators. It’s a tall order. But it starts by each person critically thinking about how they are either adding to that access of education, or what they can do to stop detracting from it.
As some of you know, I recently was asked to deliver the Friday night opening keynote for Beyond the Love, an amazing poly-centered event in Columbus, OH. This is an event that delights me, both heart and soul, and I was really honored to be asked to participate. If you’d like to watch it, just click the video below!
Again, my deepest gratitude to Dan, Dawn, and Karen, whose energy is devoted to creating the special, sacred place called Beyond The Love. If you’re poly, or poly-curious, the next BTL will be in late 2015; come out & join us!
Everything you need to know about how sex will go with your amour de jour, you can tell from your first kissing session.
Not the first kiss. The first session.
Kissing is intimacy in miniature. The first brush of lips together, how fast the tongues come into play, how to move your bodies and faces to further accomodate and change up the kiss, what you do with your teeth, your nose, your jaw, your glasses, how you use your hands – they all give clues.
I’ve found that folks that dive into a kiss like a drunken Shriner into a wintery Lake Michigan are often focused exclusively on getting to a goal. The kiss is the expected first step to get to the hookup, and should thereby be rushed and moved past as quickly as possible in the pursuit of the almighty orgasm. They often shove a tongue between their potential partner’s lips and teeth, often chasing the other’s tongue into a fast retreat to avoid being trampled or tied in knots. Their teeth bruise lips, their lips apply too much suction, and they proceed willy-nilly, believing that what they’re doing is what All The Folks Like, AmIRight? ™
Then we have the kissing equivalent of the dead fish handshake – a mouth that opens, hinge-like, and simply allows itself to be plundered (or often, briefly explored but then ignored). The lips have no muscle tone, and whether because they’re inexperienced, nervous, or uncaring (usually it’s one of the first two), they don’t actually “kiss back”. Like an ostrich sticking it’s head into the sand, their tongue (and psyche) scurry away to hide until the potential lover moves on to something else that they’re more comfortable with.
Of course, rarely do we find a lover like one of the two above (but yes, they do exist, and I’m not naming names). Most people are somewhere in between. And nobody knows what the perfect kissing style is for the object of their (at least temporary) affection. The thing is – nobody knows how, exactly, the other person wants to have sex, either. And the skill of the lover – and of the kisser – is in their ability to read cues, follow direction, and co-create an experience.
This requires that we be fully in the moment with the person of our osculatory attention. The world needs to go away for a while. Ditto our expectations. Start out gently – even if you are both into savagery – and let it escalate as the other person fully engages in the kiss. Take your time with it. You don’t need to go from lips touching to tonsil flicking in two seconds flat; in fact, start out by kissing their neck, or just brushing their lips with your own. When you like what they’re doing – move into that same style. Gasps and moans can also let them know that we love how their tongue is teasing the inside of our bottom lip, or that we want them to go a little harder (and if YOU hear those gasps and moans, follow the roadmap that they just laid out for you!). Stepping closer in with our bodies is a sign that we’re really into it; stepping back a little creates some distance and can be a way of slowing it down (or, perhaps, making it stop altogether because it’s just not working). Hands can stroke cheeks, neck, and earlobes to tease the kiss a little further along.
And if the kiss is amazing – and I fervently hope that it will be! – you can take a breath and smile at each other while you negotiate what’s next!