Not having a healthy relationship with your body can impact your ability to enjoy sex. Body shame, low sexual self-esteem and myths about how your body functions can all lead to distress and dissatisfaction in your sex life.
t What if I told you that there is a place you can go and improve your body image and orgasms? Yes this place really exists! It’s called a Bodysex workshop and is facilitated by the legendary Betty Dodson. Bodysex started during the feminist movement as a way for women to take control of their bodies and orgasms. Betty Dodson would teach women about masturbation, debunk the myths about sex and encourage “self-loving” to improve body image. I first heard about Betty’s Bodysex workshop during my training as a sex therapist. Bodysex offered an intimate setting for women to talk about sex, share experiences and overcome sexual barriers. Last year I found out that Betty was offering the workshops again in New York City. I signed up, flew to Manhattan and even convinced my colleague to come along with me. The experience changed my life professionally and personally as I faced the two biggest barriers to a satisfying sex life: body image and talking about sex. My colleague and I still talk about our weekend with the “Mother of Masturbation,” Betty Dodson.
t Most women will admit that they have never looked at their vulvas. As a sex therapist, I often talk to women about body acceptance and recommend that women pull out a mirror and really take a look. I’ve looked at my body many times but this experience was like no other. Imagine walking into a room of complete strangers, without any clothes on, and talking about your sex life. The workshop included two days of sitting in a circle completely nude and talking about body image issues and orgasm experiences. Each participant does a genital show-and-tell (yes, exactly as it sounds), guided masturbation and erotic recess. The group talked about their sex lives and bonded over many similarities and experiences that we share as women. I don’t know if every woman would feel comfortable in a Bodysex workshop but what came up for me is that when women can learn to be vulnerable with one another, overcome genital shame and sexual barriers, it creates a major shift in how we experience sex. It confirmed for me that sexual health is being able to open up about our sexuality (literally), learn self-love and acknowledge the collective sexual experiences of other women. When a woman can truly go through that experience, her sexuality changes.
Talking about sex
t This brings me to the next barrier: talking about sex. In Betty’s workshop, we were given the opportunity to really say and share how we feel about our sexual experiences. For some women, this was the first time ever publicly talking about sex. For others, including myself, it was finding the words to articulate the meaning of our sexuality. As a sex therapist, I talk about sex all day long. It isn’t talking about sex that is difficult, but it’s putting that focus on myself that became a challenge. Talking about sex is the best medicine that heals the body/heart/mind/soul. I came across a quote once that said, “Talk about sex and change the world.” This has been my mantra in my professional work. If we can talk about sex, something changes within us. If you can talk about sex you can talk about anything. Women that learn to embrace sexual communication and enhance sexual vocabulary will be better equipped as mothers and partners dealing with sexual issues. I remember the first time I heard the word, “clitoris.” I was surprised that it was late in my teens that this remarkable organ had ever been mentioned. My work is based around helping women overcome the barriers that interfere with having a satisfying, passionate and fulfilling sex life. Sexual satisfaction is our birthright. We are born sexual beings and everything in our life is motivated in some form or another by sex. Overcoming sexual barriers is not something that women need to deal with alone. Body image and talking about sex are part of being human. It is something everyone faces at some point in her life. Whether it’s a Bodysex workshop with Betty Dodson, or a support group that deals with sexual concerns, women can get the healing and guidance to move past the barriers and make sexual satisfaction a reality.
t Body image directly interplays with our sexuality as women. It is entwined with social ideals, standards of beauty and is multi-faceted, impacting many areas of our lives. Most women don’t realize body image is something that is learned. We are not born hating our bodies. Our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, partners and friends all contribute to how we view and perceive our body. Body image is also socially constructed with messages that change and evolve over time. There are a lot of misconceptions about the relationship between body image and sexuality. Having a positive body image doesn’t always lead to better sex. There are different effects for each gender. Sexuality also impacts body image. Learning to be more comfortable with your body leads to more positive sexual experiences. Women who develop a relationship with their body through exploration and self-pleasure are more able to teach a partner how to sexually satisfy them. Body image is crucial to our sexuality and how we feel about our bodies. The better you feel about your body, the better your sexual health.