Sexuality

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Recovering Desire After Sexual Assault in Eight (Not So) Simple Steps
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What I remember most is what happened after.

I’m sitting in my car, staring out the windshield. It’s raining, and it’s late, maybe 3 or 4 in the morning. The wipers are on but the car is not. I watch them spread the rain across the windshield (badly on the right side, that wiper has been broken for years). I listen to the rhythmic squee for a while, staring, not quite able to turn the car on and drive myself home. My thoughts don’t seem to want to take an order. I’m not physically hurt, I’m fine. I’m fine. I think I’m fine. But I left my best friend’s house at 3 or 4 in the morning in the rain because I needed to get the hell out of there. And now I’m sitting here across from his apartment, listening to a broken windshield wiper, not getting the hell out.

I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally figured out I could turn the car on and go home. Sometimes I try to remember, really get the details in order, sort out what happened, go back to the beginning and think it through til the end, but it’s difficult, like trying to get ants to walk in a straight line. It gets mixed up with other memories—the other times he’d tried to touch me when I didn’t want him to. Or when pushed me into a dark room and locked the door behind him. Or trying to leave earlier that same night, sitting on the stairs, my coat half on, him pleading with me to stay, me making him promise nothing would happen. I remember enough, anyway.

When a bad thing happens, you have to survive twice. First you have to survive the thing itself. You have to be physically alive after the thing has happened. That’s certainly key to the whole process. But then you have to survive again, to get through the consequences of the thing that didn’t kill you. You have to figure out how to be a person in a world where your trust in people or your faith in what you think the world is has been shattered. Survival is a gift, but not always the kind you want. Sometimes it’s like the worst of Grandma’s Christmas sweaters, because still existing after a terrible thing happened is confusing and painful and sometimes itchy and definitely comes back every Christmas.

So survive we must. However long it takes, we need to create a container of safety before we can start dealing with the devastation of sexual assault. We need to see that whatever we had to do to survive at the time was what we had to do, and we survived, goddammit. It doesn’t matter if we smoked ten thousand cigarettes or dated all the wrong people or pushed away everyone we cared about or drank ourselves to the bottom of the ocean. Your desire, your will to power, your creativity, your ability to love and connect and fuck and feel don’t completely die unless you completely die. Whatever happened, if you’re still alive, you can heal.

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Better Sex through Mindfulness

Better Sex through Mindfulness

How Women Can Cultivate Desire
edition:Paperback
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A Frenchwoman's Guide to Sex after Sixty

A Frenchwoman's Guide to Sex after Sixty

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Closer

Closer

Notes from the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : sexuality
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Food, Sex, and You

Food, Sex, and You

Untangling Body Obsession in a Weight-Obsessed World
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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As a product of Western culture, I was hardly alone in my anxieties. Instilling insecurity in women over their physical appearance is the basic strategy used by cosmetics manufacturers, fashion designers, and weight-loss clinics to sell their products, with the mainstream media wildly complicit. Not only do popular magazines bombard us with images of celebrities and models chosen for their beauty, but these images are digitally altered so that celebrity legs are as impossibly long and slender, waists are as wispy, and breasts are as uplifted and enlarged as those of the Barbie dolls we played with as children. Wrinkles are non-existent and skin is glowing.
The “cover” for this once-secret process was blown when Esquire magazine featured Michelle Pfeiffer, hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful women, on the cover of a 1990 issue with the caption, “What Michelle Pfeiffer Needs … Is Absolutely Nothing.” Subsequently, Adbusters obtained and printed a copy of an Esquire editorial memo detailing the $1,525 in touch-ups editors deemed necessary before Pfeiffer was fit to be seen by their readers. “Clean up complexion, soften eye lines, soften smile line, add color to lips, trim chin, remove neck lines, soften line under ear lobe … remove stray hair … adjust color and add hair on top of head … add dress on side to create better line …”
Some editors blame the stars and their publicists for insisting that these alterations be made in order to enhance the stars’ image. This could not be said of Kate Winslet, who famously complained that in photographs in a 2003 British edition of GQ, editors had excessively slimmed her body to reflect their view of what they thought she should look like. As she indignantly exclaimed, “They reduced the size of my legs by about a third!”
In another move that delighted feminists, 43-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis posed in a 2002 issue of More magazine with no makeup, in harsh light, wearing only a sports bra and panties. This was paired with a contrasting glamour photo of Curtis that had required thirteen people three hours to prepare. As she explained, “I don’t have great thighs. I have very big breasts and a soft, fatty little tummy. And I’ve got back fat.” Curtis admitted that she gained the courage to mock her movie-star image through her drug-addiction recovery program. She had become hooked on painkillers as a result of cosmetic eye surgery when she was thirty-five. “I’ve had a little plastic surgery. I’ve had a little lipo. I’ve had a little Botox. And you know what? None of it works. None of it.”
More recently, Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence said about the image of her used in a Miss Dior campaign, “That doesn’t look like me at all. People don’t look like that!” Her fans vigorously protested when “before” and “after” photos of her for a Flare magazine cover revealed that touch-up artists had changed her hairline, hollowed her cheeks, stretched her neck, and thinned her arms and her already slender body. “You look how you look,” commented Lawrence. “What are you going to do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”
In 2009, the French version of Elle magazine pioneered what came to be called the “raw-celebrity movement” by featuring cover models without makeup or digital touch-ups. Since then, supermarket tabloids have inverted this concept through “gotcha” photography that catches celebrities off guard: “Who’s Got the Worst Cellulite in Hollywood?” and “Beach Bodies — Too Fat! Too Thin!” and “Caught Without Their Make-up!” Some editors have even been accused of adding fat and wrinkles to celebrity photos instead of wiping them out.
Even the world’s most powerful women can’t escape the relentless scrutiny of them as aesthetic objects. When Hillary Clinton was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, the media seemed to pay as much critical attention to her clothes and hairstyle as to her policies, even predicting that she could become America’s first “Pantsuit President.” Political buttons, describing Clinton as “2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts,” indicated what could be in store for her now that she is running for the 2016 nomination.
During Germany’s last federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proven political savvy didn’t keep media louts from peering critically down her cleavage, or bloggers from referring to her “attractiveness gap.”
Along with the ideal-beauty standards set by our culture, today’s youth have grown up with the technology and the know-how to turn the spotlight on themselves, their friends, and their enemies. From cellphone cameras to Facebook, from Twitter to Tumblr, they post images of themselves, despite deep underlying insecurities. How eagerly they count up their Facebook “likes” in search of validation, and how painfully they suffer from mean, anonymous comments that shatter their self-confidence. Their own actions create a vicious cycle, because the more eyes that are upon them, the more difficult it is for them to balance their anxieties against their need for recognition. Small wonder that women seek liposuction, tummy tucks, breast implants, and fillers like Juvederm at a younger and younger age. Whereas fifties housewives invited the neighbours to Tupperware parties, today’s career women and socialites stage more fashionable Botox parties, with group-priced injections served up with the canapés and champagne.

Although beauty is something for which we women have been taught to strive, those born with spectacular looks often discover that their good fortune can have a downside. While men pursue them as sex objects and trophies, other women isolate them because they feel jealous or intimidated. No one truly knows them, and anyone who lives in a vacuum cannot know herself.
Like wealthy or powerful men, beautiful woman often find it challenging to sort out the sycophants and the opportunists from those who genuinely admire, like, and love them. However, a critical difference is that women are most sought after when they are young and vulnerable, which is also when they are least able to deal with the admiration and jealousy projected upon them, or to benefit from the opportunities that come their way. Too often they learn to depend on their beauty while their more authentic selves shrivel inside.
My client Jennifer was one of those blessed and cursed with beauty. Though a gorgeous, drop-dead blonde, she was, in her view, never perfect enough — a mindset that was becoming increasingly problematic with age.
Jennifer was only thirty-five when she came to see me, but already she had had her nose and her breasts reconstructed, her tummy tucked, and her thighs liposuctioned. Her forehead was regularly frozen with Botox and her expression lines were plumped up with commercial fillers.
Along with an addiction to plastic surgery, Jennifer had a serious eating disorder, an alcohol addiction, a heavy shopping addiction, and a sex and love addiction. A divorcee with three children, she was also deep in denial about her problems, with no idea of who she was or how to climb out of the desperate emotional pit into which she had fallen.
Jennifer remembered obsessing over her weight as early as ten, smoking at twelve, abusing laxatives at thirteen, and taking diet pills at fifteen. She had grown up in a family in which her father was abusive to her mother, while her mother was abusive to Jennifer. After her father left for another woman, Jennifer’s mother conscripted Jennifer, dressed up like a little doll, in her search for a wealthy new husband. Jennifer’s early modelling career also exposed her to excessive anxiety about her face and figure.
Though I discovered Jennifer to be an intelligent and witty woman, her looks were all that she believed in. Without that familiar weapon and shield, she felt herself to be powerless. For the past year, we have been working through Jennifer’s hurts and resentments, bringing to light the unhappy childhood patterns that she unconsciously recreated as an adult, and discovering the beauty and strength that she carries inside of her. It’s a slow but empowering process, and it’s helping her to feel safe, accepted, and loved — not only by herself, but also by the others to whom she is now reaching out.

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