My journey with sex, shame, intimacy and celibacy

I haven’t slept with anyone since I became single last December. I keep thinking (and saying) that it was ‘about six months ago’ but it has actually just gone nine.

Nine months. A sacred time. The time it takes to gestate a baby, only this time has been about birthing me.

I’m telling you because I assume you want to know (everyone else seems to and I don’t mind a bit) and this topic of sex and intimacy is really important to me because it’s an area I have struggled with my whole life.

I had my first orgasm at about nine (yes, it’s going to be that kind of post). It was an accidental occurrence between myself and an over-sized teddy bear at my grandparent’s place that started the ball rolling and it was… wonderful.

Who knew it was possible to create a feeling like that? I felt like I’d stumbled upon a hidden secret, which of course, I kinda had.

I remember my grandfather coming into the room shortly after I made my discovery and I felt like he knew exactly what I’d been doing, even though he probably did not. My cheeks blushed and I was filled with shame at the possibility of him knowing.

I continued on with my hidden practice for the next eight years (minus the bear), but despite my self-mastery, I was not ready for my first time with another person. I was seventeen and more concerned with fitting in than just about everything else.

It was not special or loving or cutely awkward.

It was not even the slightest bit enjoyable and was far less fun than the time with the teddy bear. I’m quite sure alcohol was involved.

My boyfriend then cheated on me and dumped me because I didn’t want to do it much after that.

I fell in love at 19, in my second year of university. He was a caliber of person who was worthy of my love, only I didn’t believe I was worthy of his.

I made up for my lack of self-worth by creating pleasurable experiences with him in the bedroom and it was beautiful. It was such a relief that I could enjoy sex with another person (sober!), rather than just by myself.

Then, one day, he shattered the confidence I’d built by telling me that my sexual appetite was ‘a bit much’ for him.

The familiar searing of shame burned through me.

First I wasn’t enough, then, I was too much. Which one was it?

I had a beautiful boyfriend for about two years in my early twenties.

I considered what we had to be a healthy sexual relationship but one day he gently observed: “You love orgasms, but you don’t really seem to love sex.”

That one stumped me. What was the difference?

But he was kinda right: by this stage I was in my final year of university reading feminist literature and becoming obsessed with the female orgasm.

I was so enraged that there was so little information about it and that it seemed to be overlooked by society at large.

I became a self-appointed, female orgasm advocate and a firm supporter of equal pleasure-rights.

I had no qualms about taking matters into my own hands (literally) to have my needs met if it looked like they might not be, which is why my sweet boyfriend at the time had a point – I was making it all about me and actually not about ‘us.’

Fast forward to my living room in Mexico several months ago…

I’m 35 and single after the end of a nine and a half year relationship with Tyrhone.

I’m posing a question to a friend in the hopes that I may shed some light on a concept that had seems to have alluded me in all my relationships, both short and long-term.

Intimacy.

By then I knew that it wasn’t merely physical pleasure that I was seeking through sex, because I had experienced that in spades, and yet, I knew I’d been missing something.

“I mean, what IS true intimacy?” I asked.

After bandying around a few thoughts, the definition we settled upon was this:

Intimacy is the experience of seeing and being seen. 

It turned out that for me, true intimacy was less about sex than it was about being seen, appreciated and known and reciprocating that to another.

In that moment, I decided that sex for me could only ever be an expression of that.

Anything less would be dishonoring myself and another.

Hence, I now find myself exploring the longest period of celibacy that I can remember.

But before I go on, I feel called to share a bit more of my journey with sex, shame and intimacy.

When I met Tyrhone, I felt like I’d finally found it. The first time we made love I remember thinking, ‘So, this is what they are talking about in the movies!” It was passionate, romantic and tender. It felt like we fit. 

Things moved fast and before long, we’d moved countries together and were shacked up in Australia paying bills and playing house.

By this point, my drinking had progressed beyond the ‘good time party girl’ status I was desperately trying to cling to, and into the red zone of addiction. Honestly, I had always hovered in the red zone with my genetic pre-disposition, combined with unhealed childhood trauma and warped self image, but I denied that for a long time.

I now know that we didn’t stand a chance against my addiction. If intimacy is what I now believe it to be, then sadly, we would never have it because I was unable to see myself, let alone him.

In my denial, my desperation and my dis-ease, I pressed the ‘destruct’ button when I slept with someone else after an extended drinking binge.

Guilt and self-loathing would have eaten me alive had I not told Tyrhone, who I had been with for 3 years at that point, so I vomited my truth over him and watched him break before my eyes.

It was the most harrowing thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I did this, I did this, was all I could say to myself as I watched him writhe in pain.

I did the thing that I said I would never do and I no longer knew myself. My self hatred was fueled by this ‘proof’ that I was not a good person, because good people don’t hurt the people they love (I obviously knew nothing about the nature of addiction then).

He did not yell at me or call me names. I would have preferred that at the time, for it would have given me something to be self-righteous about.

Rather, he offered to forgive me, which made it even worse, for I no longer trusted myself with his love.

His was the Grace that saved my life, because I could no longer kid myself that I was okay and I knew I had to get help. 

Tyrhone came with me to my first AA meeting. I found an intimacy there that night that I’d been looking for my whole life in sex and men and parties and booze.

I saw them and They. Saw. Me.

They knew me. And they gave me a shred of hope that there was a chance I could know myself.

Two years into my recovery and our healing, we left to go traveling. The psychologist I had been seeing before we left told me that statistically, we probably wouldn’t make it as a couple but the defiant and idealistic part of me desperately wanted to prove her wrong.

I was sober. We loved each other. Surely that would enough.

But oh, how little idea I had about the journey of self-recovery within a relationship. How difficult it would be to show up for another when I was just learning to show up for myself.

And yet, we both did a damn good job of trying.

It may seem strange to talk about a relationship being a success after it ends, but I still declare ours one. And I am so grateful for the growth and love we gave each other.

While I risk being judged on my past mistakes by writing this, I am grateful to be finally coming to a place where I no longer judge myself.

I am certainly not proud of who I became, but I love who I am becoming as a result.

So, back to celibacy.

I didn’t decide to be celibate, I just decided to honor myself in a way I never have before. The way that 17 year old girl deserved to be honored but didn’t know it.

Celibacy, it seems, is part of that journey for now.

I’ve actually never felt more connected to my sexuality, because I am finally honoring my body, my soul and my heart.

My trauma in this area came from a lack of awareness, disconnection and chronic self-dishonoring. My healing is a direct result of awakening to my divinity, which is guiding me into self-love, one day at a time.

I want true intimacy with another, there is no doubt about that, but I am not willing to bypass any part of myself to get to someone else.  

I’m realizing that it’s going to take a very special individual to be able to see me, because there is a lot of me to see, but I trust that when that time comes, I’ll be ready to see them too.

Chamberlain22

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Comments

My journey with sex, shame, intimacy and celibacy — 34 Comments

  1. That is so awesome and brave, it will help so many women, and i love your sexual equality ideal you had during university days, i can relate to that. you have talked about yourself in such an honest and insightful way, it makes me realise how far i need to go on this journey. Thank you.

  2. For every teen girl just discovering her sexuality, this. For every young woman wandering through empty sex and disconected connections, this. For every woman in her 40’s… For the Stellas who have lost their groove… For the women who are finally waking up and realizing their own journey is so much more than they thought it could ever be, THIS!
    Love your writing. Love how you unzip the exterior and expose the most sacred parts of yourself. You once described yourself as fearful, and that may be true in some moments, but mostly sister, YOU ARE BRAVE. You give me permission to be brave too.
    Holly recently posted..please stay – social media blitz 9/10/16My Profile

    • Thank you my dear Sister! I am fearful most of the time, but I now know that it isn’t enough to stop me from being me. The truth hurts at times, but it is always, always, liberating. Thank you for being a truth teller and an inspiration. And thank you for your love xxxx

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this Sarah – it is very brave of you. I absolutely agree that just because a relationship breaks down, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. I broke up with my fiance who I had been with for almost nine years around the time that you and Tyrhone broke up due to wanting different paths in life. Even though it ended and I am now with a man that celebrates who I really am without wanting to change me, I don’t regret any of the time I had with my ex. We were right for each other for a long time and his love and support helped me grow into the strong woman I am today while I pushed him out of his comfort zone, something he has since thanked me for. Not all worthwhile relationships last forever. Keep pushing forward Sarah, I love following your journey :)
    Katie recently posted..Moody Skies Over Malapascua IslandMy Profile

    • Sarah! Standing in your truth…how brave, how healing! I would like to recommend a book that I think you would like very much. It’s titled “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton. Copy for a review: “A testament to the power of vulnerability. Glennon shows us the clearest meaning of ‘To thine own self be true.’ It’s as if she reached into her heart, captured the raw emotions there, and translated them into words that anyone who’s ever known pain or shame—in other words, every human on the planet—can relate to. She’s bravely put everything on the table for the whole world to see.”
      Sarah, that’s what you do in all of your posts. Thanks for sharing your journey.

      • Dear Susan, I just finished Love Warrior before I published this! I had begun writing it, but reading that incredible book gave me the courage I needed to put my truth into the world. Glennon’s writing has been absolutely instrumental to my journey. No other writer affects, reveals and connects me like she does. I’m going to hear her speak next May in New York! Much love to you and thank you so much for witnessing my journey. So much love to you xxxx

    • Dear Katie, this is so true – your relationship obviously grew you into who you needed to become and I feel the same about ours. We gave each other strength to go after what we wanted in life, even when it happened to be different things. I honor your journey – thank you for following mine xxxx

  4. Wow Sarah- so many unraveled truths I can relate to.

    As a soon to be divorced mom of a 7 year old boy and a five year old girl- I’m uncovering my pockets of shame so I can do my best to not pass them on.

    Truth telling is like baptism by fire. It cleanses everything away but it’s a little painful sometimes. In a good way.

    It’s only been a month I’ve been on this path of separation- but I already feel more connected to myself, to the source, to my children, to the truth.

    Yay for celibacy! That’s to be my road for a while too- and as woody Allen once said- “don’t knock masturbation, it’s sex with someone I love.”

    Here’s intimacy- with ourselves, our truth and the world around us and within us.

    Thanks for being a sacred truth teller!!

    Xo

  5. Well I must admit I wasn’t sure where this was headed during the “9 years old and teddy bear ” story, but I’m glad I read through to the end. I think it’s lovely that you can continue to honor the love you and Tyrhone shared, even though the relationship, as I experienced it, is over. And I love that you now love yourself enough to know what you need going forward. I am incredibly blessed to have found my true love at age 20 and now, 28 years later, we’re still going strong. But I also know how rare that can be. Good luck to you, my dear friend, in continuing to honor yourself, and women everywhere, by being strong enough to share it all.. the good and the bad. XXXX

    • Thank you dear Rhonda, I know that my journey, including my deepest wounds, is directly related to my purpose in life and I’m very grateful for it all. Sending you and Jim lots of continued love and happiness! xxx

  6. Oh friend, I love your courageous heart! To see and be seen… what is better than that? And yet it does take a certain capacity and willingness. It’s so worth cultivating. Thank you, as always, for sharing your life with us. xo

  7. I love you so much for writing this. You are a wonderful, honest and brave person. I realise that sometimes hurting another person is part of the process and the hardest part of all. God bless SatbNam ☀️🦄😇

    • Dear Jennifer, thank you so much, dear sister. Thank you for acknowledging this! It was, by far, the most difficult part of my journey and my guilt has been the most challenging thing to heal from. But I am well on my way… Sat nam, beautiful ♡

  8. From the male perspective I found this an enlightening read. For us men the female mind is complex and delightfully treacherous territory. Your words really helped me to understand some things about women. One thing I’ve always told my wife when she felt bad about herself…”I wish you could see yourself through MY eyes.”

    Here’s to hoping you find a new perspective on how you view yourself.

    Happy landings!

    • Thank you so very much for bring brave enough to enter the conversation! It absolutely needs to happen between men and woman. Your comment about your wife moved me and reinforced how important it is for us to see ourselves before we can ‘be seen.’ Sending you and your wife so much love!! ♡

      • Thank you so much! I just want to clarify one thing. When I tell my wife I wish she could see herself through my eyes, what I really mean is that I wish she could experience herself the way I experience her. She understands this because we “get” each other.

        Everyone is deserving of love, we just have to learn to love ourselves and others first. Then we are overwhelmed by the love that comes back. You are well on your way. Grace and peace to you dear one.

        • That is so beautiful! What a blessing it is to ‘get’ each other. I have had some fleeting experiences of this and it is such a gift. Thank you again for sharing.

  9. Great Truths Sarah! I myself have had much longer periods of celibacy as I decided to honor myself in my sobriety years ago…but now in my mid 40’s find myself in this weird unknown territory I don’t know quite how to cope with or explain. Other than I feel like a nymphomaniac with these morals and guidelines that perhaps I need to re-evaluate! I went on a tirade this summer (of only four truth be told) to be judged by the last man I slept with with the same pre-judgments I’ve had about myself over the last decade. It was kinda harsh actually. He was a male version of me, and I really really liked him. But because we slept together on the first date (I felt there was no way I could hold back this new found sexual energy and hormonal *need* that I had been feeling), he felt we were no longer a fit for each other, and he wasn’t interested because he was angry at himself for being promiscuous!! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!! He was a male version of me!! What the heck! I really liked him too. Oh well, I guess that’s it then if it makes sense to him. However, it has scored me back into this well of wanting…and not having. Of being afraid of STD’s and of only wanting one person and not having any! Arggghhh! Frustrations of sex I tell ya! Frustrations of hormonal changes that I had never experienced before. Anyway, just another flipside of the coin. As I had honored my body and my desire for intimacy for many years to get nothing of the sort really (no one who would live up to my code), to now wanting sex and not caring if there’s much of real connection (and finding someone who indeed wanted a connection, but personally mistaking the situation as a one night excursion myself)…to going back to well…there was a connection and now there’s not! WTF! lol I just don’t understand personally. It all is very much encumbering to me. I was finally able to go with the flow, to being stilted back into not knowing what the heck it all means anyway. A little different from your version of sexuality. But thought I would share my recent experience, as it is new and interesting to me.

    • Dear Kristine, thank you SO much for sharing! I’ve definitely opened a can of worms for myself and others to look at, and I’m so happy about that, because we DO need to look. And it’s the looking and asking (including all the WTFs!) that is the sacred work. There are no ‘answers,’ per se, only the inquiry into our experience. I honor your journey and awareness as you bravely explore this new territory!!! I am for conscious exploration and self-honoring all the way!!! I spent a lot of my twenties exploring ‘unconscious promiscuity’. I thought it was liberation, but it turned out not to be that way for me. It was certainly valuable learning though. And I know there is so much more learning for me, both within myself and with others. Celibacy is not the ‘end of the road’ for me, but a place to pause, breathe and assemble myself. I’m so grateful for your input and send you Love xxx

      • It’s so confusing Sarah, I have been in the place where you are now, for many years; to this new found urge. I have always wanted only one matrimonial partner so to speak. I was also promiscuous mostly in my teens and perhaps a very minute slice in my early twenties. And I went through a period of exploration in my mid 30’s, to find out I prefer honoring who I am in a way that I wanted an exclusive partner or just myself (in the meantime). However, when I went back to Mexico, recently, it was like something woke up; that had been sleeping or if ever really awake (triggered by some male attention).

        And yes, I didn’t really word what I was trying to convey very well, as it is super confusing to me as to what happened. It was an insatiable desire I’ve never felt before. Anyway, it’s pretty much passed.

        It makes me sad, that I found someone similar to me, yet was unable to accept where I was at with my new found sexual freedom at the time. Why can’t a woman feel sexually alive and free, but then finds herself judged and criticized for something she doesn’t usually even usually consider herself capable of experiencing. Be it lack of sexual desire, or just a desire period to connect more emotionally and intimately with one person that with the sporadic occasion of many; I suppose one could say.

        • Dear Kristine, I appreciate your frankness and openness – qualities I admire so much. All I can say is GO GIRL! ALL experiences have so much to teach us and if we can keep an open mind and heart and stay connected to our self, then the awareness is HUGE. I love your journey of sexual awakening, and encourage you to be true to YOU. This is YOUR journey and you can create whatever you desire. Life is a moment-by-moment live feed of the Divine and we all have the power to tap into this inspiration and connect with our destiny. I have a mantra, ‘always perfect,’ because I truly believe that it IS. Our darkest times, our rejections, our heartbreaks, ‘mistakes,’ etc are always guiding us to experience our true selves on a deeper level.
          Also, humanity has thousands (millions?)of years of sexual repression and exploitation to contend with – no wonder we haven’t got it figured out yet! And we needn’t! Just keep showing up for the journey and always go with what makes you happiest. That is what I’m doing. So much Love to you xxxx

  10. I am so so in awe of your strength, Sarah. This piece is one that I could write with my own spin on it, but I don’t even know where I would find the courage to start typing, let alone publish it. I don’t know if I would need to, but if ever I do one day feel the need (and my own journey with sex and intimacy has often been dark too), then I hope that I can find the courage somewhere.

    Sex and intimacy can be so confusing, and celibacy can be confronting, despite how ‘clean’ and ‘pure’ and ‘simple’ it’s supposed to be (in mainstream discourse). Your realisations are in fact so deep and personal, and so honest that they have inspired me to think as well. You are a better person for it, and I am so proud to follow you on this journey.

    I don’t want to make this comment about me – I realise all I’ve done so far in this comment is reflect on how I feel about it. Perhaps I’m simply scrambling for words, when I feel like I’m reading something that reflects a bit of my own experience, in a way I’ve never felt it before. But reading this has affected me. I don’t know what more to say… I’m simply floored by your honesty.

    You are beautifully honest. And honestly beautiful.
    Tim UrbanDuniya recently posted..Zurich, rainy afternoons and the Sprungli CafeMy Profile

  11. I think what I like most about your blog is that I get to learn a little bit about you (okay, in this post a LOT about you, LOL), vs others who just write about all of the 50,000 meals that they’ve had in Thailand or something like that. It just makes it more personal!

    And if it’s been 9 months, then when it’s right and it happens, you’ll enjoy it that much more! You’re interesting, attractive, etc, so you’re definitely worth the wait for whomever it’s with!

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