- Mattie Jo Cowsert
Show Up, Go Dancing
Well, I just reread over my last blog and I gotta be honest, I feel like that one needed more than 1500 words but I am REALLY trying at this brevity thing, y’all. If you want to read it and didn’t get a chance to, click here! I know some people thought my connection with “I’m Third” to not speaking up with men was a little far fetched. To which I say, religious culture permeates our beliefs and behavior in ways most of us are not attuned to. I just got attuned and maybe you are not attuned (say attuned one more time, Mattie Jo. ATTUNED!). Also, it’s my therapy session, not yours.
Anatomy Lessons and Other Therapy Convos Because my life in New York is literally never the same, I often arrive to therapy in a tizzy. I tell a story about what happened right before I got to therapy that has me a bit flustered. In the moment I’m thinking “Is this the most efficient use of his time?” And then I kick myself for feeling bad about wasting my therapist’s time. On this particular day, I was coming from an audition: “How are you doing?” “Oh I’m okay. I just had an audition.” “How did it go?” “It was fine I guess” “Just fine?” *Deep breath* “Yeah well musical theatre auditions are kind of terrifyingly difficult for me. See, I was trying a new song and turns out, I really need to transpose it so it sits better in my mix.”
“Mix?” “Yeah the ‘mix’ is somewhere between a full voice belt, like Christina Aguilera, and your head voice, like Charlotte Church..."
blah blah blah a full 5 minute anatomical run down of how I achieve the perfect sound including terms like soft palate, rib expansion, E5 and D5, why did anyone let me graduate with a BFA in this shit… “Anyway, shouldn’t we be talking about sex or whatever?” “Haha, sure. We can talk about sex or whatever.” And then we get back to the topic of why I don’t feel like I can speak up about my needs in a lot of areas of my life. But this session we focused specifically about my lack of communication during sex. What I like, enjoy, want, require.
“It just freaks me out.” “Why does it freak you out?” “I don’t know...it just feels so...embarrassing.” “It feels embarrassing to tell your sexual partner what you want them to do for you?” “Yeah.” “Do you know what to tell them to get you off?” “Yes.” “But you don’t because it’s embarrassing?” “YES DANIEL! It's like...what if I take too long? And then he's annoyed? Or maybe what I need is new to him and he thinks I'm weird and I look insane? It's just...embarrassing, okay?!" “Hmm. Okay. I hear what you're saying! But when you walked through the door today, you word vomited the entire physical mechanics of your vocal chords, breath, and focus in order to create a certain sound from your mouth. What makes your vagina/clitoris/sexual organs any different than your singing voice? It’s all your body. Why can you explain one with full confidence and clarity and the other makes you cower in embarrassment? Aren't both physiological explanations to achieve a certain goal? ” Holy fuck. Daniel was right! Why the hell am I so embarrassed to talk about my vagina, or God forbid my CLITORIS? It’s just a vagina! It’s just a clitoris! I hope this guy gets paid VERY well. Donate to your non-profits people they do great work. Sex is Bad MMMkay The “no sex til marriage” Christian guilt was gone at this point in my life. So if I no longer felt ashamed of actually having sex, why did I feel shame around enjoying sex? I found myself almost always more concerned with how I was perceived by my partner, rather than how I actually felt.
My brain during most sex was repeating something like this “Just make sure he’s enjoying himself. Because if he’s enjoying himself, that means he’s enjoying me. And if he is enjoying me, that means I’m doing this right. I pleased him. Subconscious Patriarchal Submission gold star for you Mattie Jo!” Umm. What? I am a sex and body-positive, super confident, outspoken, informed, left institutionalized religion because I wasn’t “quiet enough” (and other reasons) feminist! What kind of Handmaids Tale shit was having a party in my psyche???
What if sex was measured in super positive experiences, not just “I guess this is what I'm supposed to do now. Hope I don’t get knocked up" ?
I wondered if other women were like me. An open, powerful force in most aspects of my life. Except for the sex-having aspect where I apparently shrink to a human peg board, only concerned with the man enjoying himself. Turns out, I am not the only woman who feels this way. There are actually tons of studies around why women don’t feel entitled to enjoy sex and it mostly involves socialized shame around our genitalia (You can learn allllllll about it here). Think about it, when girls learn about our underwear zone, it’s mostly spoken of in terms of bad stuff and danger ie don’t get pregnant, contract STIs, get raped, or have sex at all because people will think you’re a slut. Meanwhile, the boys are in the other Health classroom learning about how to jerk off or whatever.
We’re inundated with the risk and consequence in having sex, but rarely informed that it can and should be a wonderful experience every time (My mom did briefly touch on this while we were growing up. She always said “Just don’t have sex in high school. It will be really bad, last for like 3 seconds, and you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.” Lol, thanks Val). What if sex was measured in super positive experiences, not just “I guess this is what I'm supposed to do now. Hope I don’t get knocked up”? Fully Present and Ready to Party When I was visiting Vienna, Austria I went to a real life ball at the Hofburg Palace. All week the Viennese girls talked up the best night of the year, complete with dancing til we could no more. “This is going to be great!” I thought. “I get to cut a rug AND feel like an IRL princess?!” I was so amped. Until I showed up and realized everyone raised in Viennese culture learns how to ballroom partner dance like as soon as they can walk. Full on elegant-Cinderella-style but also Jack-and-Rose-in-the-poor-immigrant-quarters-of-the-Titanic-sweaty partner dancing. Dammit! How was I supposed to dance the night away with a partner when no one had ever taught me how to partner dance? What if I step all over his feet? What if my breath stinks? What if I fall down AT A BALL?!
But because I’m me, I gave a new scary thing a try. And I was bad, so so bad. Turns out, partner dancing requires an immense amount of vulnerability, intimacy, and focus. I needed to be fully aware of my whole body, while intuitively listening to where my partner was leading. I needed to be okay with our faces being so close, look him in the eyes, and not at my feet. And most importantly, I needed to ignore all my insecurities and trust he was excited to hold me close, look me in the eyes, and swing me around to see my gown do that cinematic swooshy thing.
After my valliant dance effort, I decided to sit the night out because it was too scary. I wanted to be out there on the ballroom floor dancing and feeling like royalty, but I didn’t know how and the risk of embarrassment was too much.
So I just sat at a swanky table with a priest (lol), drank a wine spritzer, and contemplated the stark dichotomy between American and Viennese dance culture. In my experience, American dancing involves LOTS of alcohol. And only after everyone is sufficiently drunk do we move into the very precise and perfected art of grinding. Which requires absolutely zero skill or focus. Except for maybe the dude focusing on not getting a boner in the girl's butt.
I wanted to be at the ball fully engaged with my partner, getting twirled into oblivion! Instead I was mostly drunk, looking away, and/or totally unaware of what my limbs were doing
After my orgasm equality epiphany with Daniel, I realized how this Viennese ball memory was a giant metaphor for my sex life. Yes! I wanted to be at the ball fully engaged with my partner, getting twirled into oblivion! Instead I was mostly drunk, looking away, and/or totally unaware of what my limbs were doing. I was mentally sitting sex out because I was cripplingly afraid of the intimacy and mutual involvement a great sexual experience requires. Sitting out seemed way easier than showing up.
I knew if I wanted things to change in my sex life, I had to believe that I had every right to an amazing evening as my partner. That I was just as part of the tango as he was, so let's make it a magical evening together! But if I was going to speak up and "own the dance floor" -- no longer settling for drunk grind sessions in the middle of a Murray Hill pub, but instead eye-to-eye partner dancing at a ball -- I had to be fully present. I had to really be there with my partner, unafraid or ashamed of the intimacy involved in the beautiful dance that is incredible sex. No more tuning out with alcohol or "guess I'll just lay here" in fear, shame, and/or embarrassment.
Now that I had that settled, I just had to find a great dance partner. In America...