I love unpacking ideas and believe cultivating a deeper understanding of these topics are essential to creating change for humanity and in our own lives.
Recently I was on a date and we were having the sex talk. I have a sexual boundary when I am still getting to know someone that I use a condom during oral sex. The person I was with really wanted to have oral sex without a condom. They were knowledgeable in the field of health and expounded about how safe unprotected oral sex is. Some may see this as a person doing their best to manipulate a situation. To convince me to override my own personal boundary.
However, I sat listening presently and compassionately to their explanation and imagined how much they simply desired to feel my lips around their penis without a condom between us. It meant a lot to them. I listened while they spoke and when they were done, I thanked them for sharing and told them that I appreciated how much they were wanting to explore pleasure together. From a very centered place, I continued to share my bottom line, my personal boundary, why this was a boundary and that I really appreciated him honoring that boundary.
Some people may see this as pushing, manipulation, harmful convincing. You may ask why they wouldn’t just receive my no and be satisfied with the sex I was willing to engage in. That’s a valid question. Yet, if we look at humanity as a whole we can see that we are always fighting for what we want. What child doesn’t beg to get the best treat or toy? How many people do you see grasping for what they can’t quite reach in all areas of their lives?
I did not see our sex talk as an attempt by my date to push anything on me because I showed up knowing who I was, clear in my boundaries, clear that I have a voice and that I can say no. I understood that my date’s upbringing, their emotional past and present certainly had much to do with their needs and desires. I saw our talk as a way of getting to know more about each other so we could set reasonable expectations.
Now the situation I describe was a very gentle one, and yet it took me many years to cultivate in my own self, the ability to show up in a self-responsible way, sure of my own desires and boundaries and confident enough to stick with them, curious about the desires and boundaries of my date. Many people don’t have this reality.
The #MeToo Moment
I’m feeling such compassion for the world right now in the light that is being shed on society’s relationship to and conduct around sexuality. It is certainly not one-sided. And it is time to gently and fiercely move forward in a way that all beings begin to show up responsibly.
To me, it is clear that the way we handle sexuality and its abuse as a society is not a gendered issue. It’s also clear that solving this problem doesn’t happen by pigeonholing people in limiting roles we assign, such as predator or victim. There is much more to look at. We have to ask, where do these behaviors stem from in all humans? And we have to have the courage to understand the whole truth about it.
Now, in advocating for cultivating the skill and presence to understand another human being to the best of our ability, does not mean – in any way – that I am condoning sexual misconduct or harm. Nor am I lessening the impact or trauma someone may have experienced due to this. However, what I am inviting each of us to do is look a bit deeper into addressing the root of these issues.
How Deep Do The Roots Go?
1. Our society and culture must be addressed in the discussion of sexuality, shame, and sexual abuse. If one is raised without an environment that encourages conversations about one’s sexuality, (this includes desires, preferences, turn-ons, gender etc.) if one is raised where that conversation is suppressed, confusion, disassociation, and even projection or sexual harm result. The sexual harm begins with oneself at an early, formative age when confusion and shame replace discovery and conversation.
2. If a person is never asked how they like to be touched or what they dislike in these regards, they don’t even know that setting personal boundaries is possible. How could someone set a personal boundary if they have no experience or ideas that show them setting a personal boundary is an option? Again, this must be taught via experience and, I believe, at a young age. I have sat across from so many clients and when I ask them to share with me about their sexual desire or what ways they like to be touched or don’t, they morph into a deer in headlights – frozen not by their lack of answer, but by their lack of realizing that question even could be asked. Many of these people are men. Now ask yourself how someone could understand a personal boundary in another if they can’t even understand it in themselves?
3. When a grown human has an idea that they can’t say no or they can’t have a very strong bottom line — which can lead to an abusive experience — there is something far deeper to look at. Why would be people unable to say no? Why aren’t adults using their words and fierce nature to stand in their no’s? Why does manipulation happen sexually and non-sexually? Where has trauma been lodge in? It is a much bigger topic that underlies the question why aren’t all genders aware and empowered to use their voice when someone is sexually advancing and they are a NO? It goes beyond our inability as a society to talk about sexuality in a constructive and nuanced way, and it goes beyond simply lacking awareness that we can stand in our no’s. We must ask deeper questions:
When do we start asking why people believe they don’t have a voice?
Why are people living in so much shame and confusion around sex that it has become a way to spread fear and harm?
Why don’t people feel they can speak their boundaries?
Why are so many people unaware of what their own boundaries are?
Why aren’t people aware that saying No and being fierce about it is possible, even beneficial?
When it comes to sex, why don’t people make a request and wait for the Yes or No, and move in a consensual way?
There are many answers and many facets to those answers. However, in the realm of what is coming to the surface of our awareness, to so many potentially confused humans raising the topic of sexual misconduct and abuse, we must ask these questions and begin to create environments to address them.
Dealing With Abuse
If we stay on the surface, judging, condemning, living in a victim state, nothing with change for humanity. But if we begin to ask ourselves these questions, if we do what we can in our own lives, and in our communities to build forums, to educate parents, to educate our youth in these areas, we will be the change. This is far greater than the simplistic response the world is showing through the label of perpetrator and victim. This is complex, and it can’t be understood by breaking it into a pure binary: yes or no, victim or perpetrator. I invite us to get out of the small box and broaden our perspectives.
If the Emmy Awards had turned their awards night into one of the biggest community forums by bringing in experts and creating a safe space for everyone to cultivate a new way of relating, addressing the sexual shadow and educating on boundaries and consent, this would have benefited all humanity. Instead they chose to condemn and take away awards, keeping us in the superficial victim/perpetrator world with no change but continued suffering.
Ending someone’s career, attacking each other over social media, taking away awards may create change at the seed level, but it won’t be the kind of change that heals us.
This is not to say that someone is right for causing pain. This is to invite us to look deeper into this difficult topic of sexual abuse.
What Might Work
I believe when someone projects their own issues onto another or harms another, that underneath their behavior is a lake of confusion, disconnection, loneliness, pain, and fear. I prefer looking deeper into the humanity of every person, with as much compassion as I can muster. I also believe if a grown human does not think to get fierce, even forceful in maintaining their no, or doesn’t even realize that no is an option, there is some kind of disconnection, confusion, or fear.
In times of great challenge or even chaos – times such as the present when we are exposing all the unhealthy, disempowered relationships we have with sexuality – I believe that asking questions to go deeper is an absolute must!
Please recognize that the waters we dive into are dark and murky, and we can so easily get lost, pulled about by our pain, hurt and confusion. But we must go deeper and get into the uncomfortable places to begin to address the emotional void so many may be feeling, the confusion and suppressed sexual wounds.
We must learn to communicate, uncover and know about boundaries; live responsibly so that we create no harm to ourselves or others.
We must create safe environments so that we are able to talk about sexual desires, sexual preferences and have the unconditional space held to get to know these parts of ourselves. We must have these safe explorations so that no one is suppressed only to then explode in violent, non-consensual ways.
It is a fact of life that we often find it easier to project our confusion or pain onto another person than looking into those deep and murky waters. This is not in any way condoning acts of harm, this is inviting us to see there is more to shift, and to remember this for humanity’s sake.
What is that Like in Practice?
My personal commitment is to devote myself to my daily work, to address my own emotional processes and to continue to cultivate my own emotional intelligence and communication skills. My personal commitment to humanity is to always remember there is an unseen picture, to ask questions, to see the humanity in others, to empower others through my work in the world of relationships and sexuality, and to be available to hold space, as a facilitator, speaker and mentor when called upon.
I choose each day to do my own inner work, to show up in right relationship with my brothers and sisters, to ask to be shown my own blind spots and to compassionately and fiercely share my love in the world so others feel safe to stop hiding and address these potentially edgy subjects.
Remember, we all get to take responsibility for ourselves and humanity. We now live in celebration of our togetherness in it all. We get to remember it takes a TRIBE!