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Free to be…

Betty’s 90th Birthday Celebration
Phoenicia, NY – July 2019

A space that is completely free of judgment is hard to find and even harder to describe in words. In late July, I spent four and a half glorious days celebrating Betty Dodson’s 90th birthday with her and a group of 44 Bodysex sisters from all over the world. The experience was rejuvenating in ways that I am still discovering. Imagine being in a space where nobody cares what you wear or what you look like or where you come from or whether you are in a relationship or queer or kinky or poly. Anything goes. And I mean anything!

Over the course of the weekend, we talked openly about our work and our families, we shared stories of trauma and celebration, and together we discovered new fears and dreams. And we supported each other through it all. There were lots of tears, but there was even more laughter – a constant stream of unabashed giggles. I could feel the joy surrounding me all weekend, radiating brilliantly from each of the women. When you get that many sex-positive women together with the shared intention to celebrate and own our pleasure, the result is intense! Through the workshops and activities of the weekend, we each shed more layers of shame. Even as Bodysex facilitators, sex educators, therapists, and other sex professionals, we can always go deeper – I regularly have new insights and self-realizations the more I do this work.

I had an enlightening moment one morning over the weekend as I was sitting next to Betty. I thought, “I can’t believe this is my life!” Shortly after, an even better thought came to me. This is my life because of the choices I have made – the risks I’ve taken – the fears I’ve overcome – my willingness to be vulnerable and the courage to follow my passions. I have consciously chosen to prioritize pleasure and share this work with other women. This is the life I have created for myself.

It is amazing what comes to you when you open yourself up to receive. To surrender. When you feel safe enough to be vulnerable. Every time I attend a Bodysex workshop or retreat, I uncover another layer of shame. I’ve been in therapy off and on for over 15 years and I remember recently asking my therapist “how can I still have stuff that I need to work through?!” I uncovered part of that answer this weekend. I’ve been struggling with patterns throughout my life and until I was ready to acknowledge and examine those patterns, I was destined to repeat them. I wasn’t ready to explore them years ago. I wasn’t even ready 6 months ago. But a lot has shifted in my life recently and I’ve been able to go deeper within myself and my past than I ever have. I’ve reconnected with my inner-child and been able to hear her truth without judgment or shame. Just openness and compassion.

When I hear other women share their stories—especially around sex and relationships—it’s incredible how much I can relate. We are all unique, but we all struggle with the same insecurities, the same desire to be wanted and to fit in. We all want to feel validated and have our stories believed. Storytelling and openly sharing without fear of judgment are core aspects of Bodysex and create an incredible sense of sisterhood and community. Everyone has a voice. Everyone is respected. Everyone is honored and loved for exactly who they are.

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I Am Her

Kristy in Samoa – Spring 2004

Do you remember a time in your life when you felt totally free? Maybe it was when you were a child and time was limitless, especially on a long summer day. Maybe you’ve felt that way on a vacation or sabbatical. Maybe it was when you finally left an unfulfilling marriage and realized how much possibility the world holds for you and your life. For me, the first time I felt that way was in college when I was studying abroad in Samoa. I was finally free from my home – in the conservative south. Free from my “business school” image at university – my classes and cohort and all of the expectations that came with that role. Free from my incredibly loving, yet overly nosy, curious, and involved parents – from that far away, it didn’t feel like I could disappoint them, which was always my greatest fear. But mostly I felt free from the boyfriend I’d been with for nearly 7 years. I broke up with him before we left and told him I wanted to explore my sexuality. And that I did – a LOT! But it was also a time when I tested other limits and learned more about myself than I ever imagined.

Recently, I was with a dear, long-time friend who shared that experience with me and we decided to watch the video footage I took while we were studying abroad. I was just expecting to have a few good laughs while reminiscing about our time there. What I did NOT expect was to have this massive revelation about who I was then and who I am now and how far off-track I have ventured over the last 15 years. I could not get over how genuinely happy and free I looked in all of the Samoa footage. I mean, I know I was struggling A LOT with coming out back then, but I can tell from the video how carefree and full of life and adventure and curiosity and excitement I was. I didn’t have a care in the world. I was so present and really being true to myself, probably for the first time in my life. It was refreshing to watch – eye-opening in a way that pictures alone have not been. I mean, I knew I had an incredible time there, but watching myself on tape – the way I moved my body, the way I laughed, the way I smiled – I was so playful and fun and beautiful. And I don’t think I realized that I felt that way there. Or maybe I did. Either way, I haven’t felt that way in a REALLY long time and that made me angry and sad.

I feel like my Bodysex journey has brought me back to that state of being. When I am in the circle, I feel empowered, curious, adventurous, real, genuinely happy, fully present, and joyful in the sacred, healing space. Through Bodysex, I have discovered that sense of freedom again. The curiosity. The sense of adventure that I’d buried deep down inside of me but have known for years was still there. Three years ago when I did my first workshop at Betty’s, my entire world shifted. I’d found my people, my passion, my dream. There was a lot of fear and self-doubt and financial stress and “omigod how can I do this as a mom of young kids.” But through it all, my passion for Bodysex kept me going. Finding Betty’s book in college sparked my curiosity from that young age. Meeting Betty in person was empowering beyond words. Masturbating with her in her rent-controlled, Manhattan apartment where she’s had numerous sex parties and hundreds of women before me who have done Bodysex there was indescribable. Getting naked that first day and joining the circle was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I am so glad I did. My life has changed so much in these last few years in such positive ways.

When I thought I’d already come so far (and I have), I can’t believe this new layer that has just unfolded. This sense that following my dream of becoming a Bodysex facilitator has reconnected me with that version of myself from 15 years ago. And oh, if I could only give my 22-year-old self advice now I would tell her that it will all work out. It is okay. I didn’t need to fuck men to try to make myself straight. I didn’t need to “prove” anything to anyone. I was beautiful and strong and radiant back then – why couldn’t I see it then when it is so clear to me now. I would tell her that being openly queer would become one of my favorite parts of my identity – and that I would draw from that identity in so many aspects of my life – from parenting and wanting to raise open-minded children to working towards LGBTQ+ equality in my workplace to going back for my MSW and finally to embracing my love for sex and masturbation through Bodysex.

I keep coming back to the parallels between my Bodysex journey and my coming of age journey. The fear and shame and secrecy I felt for so long about these beautiful aspects of my life bring me so much joy and pleasure. I CRAVE the sensation I feel when someone makes themselves vulnerable with me and I to them. It is addicting. I love that I have people in my life who understand, appreciate, and support these parts of me.

I want to be the person I was in Samoa – that playful, curious, fully present, adventurous young woman – with so much potential and a future that expands beyond my wildest dreams. I want to be her. I want to show that person to my kids. I want people to see me as her. I want to be her. I am her.

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Bodies and Brunch

Bodysex Brunch – March 2019

During my last Bodysex workshop, one of the participants had a brilliant idea. We were all talking about how lovely it would be to have more time in the presence of others – comfortable in our nudity, celebrating our bodies, cheering on each other’s orgasms – and the idea of a Bodysex Brunch emerged! I loved the idea and decided to make it a reality.

This morning I held the first Bodysex NC Brunch. The event lasted three hours and was open to anyone who has previously taken a Workshop. Just like the Bodysex Workshop, I answer the door nude and everyone undresses as soon as they arrive. This event was a bit more casual though – we started out chatting and eating delicious food – did I mention that it was a potluck brunch? While the Bodysex Workshop itself is free from alcohol and participants are encouraged to avoid altering their experience with any substances, this event was felt more like a party – a celebration of each other – I mean, hey, we all knew we were here to masturbate and what goes better with masturbation than mimosas! We kicked off the afternoon with a toast and the day unfolded from there.

As usual, whenever I’m in a circle of women, especially in Bodysex, I get overwhelmed by how supported I feel. It is amazing to hear what comes out of my mouth because I feel so safe and free to be vulnerable. I also cannot get over how incredible it is to feel so comfortable masturbating with other women. As someone who identifies as queer, this was a challenge for me at first. Did people think I went to my first workshop at Betty’s just to get off? I mean, what is sexier than a group of gorgeous women all masturbating together? As Betty says, it started out has her fantasy to have a group of women masturbate, and it certainly was a fantasy of mine for a while. But when I went to that first workshop, my experience was so deeply profound and had nothing to do with my sexual orientation. The best way I can describe it is being in my own space but surrounded by other people.

When I decided to become a Bodysex Facilitator, I worried whether people would think I’m just holding circles to watch them masturbate for my own pleasure. The truth is, I get so overwhelmed with happiness just seeing women owning their pleasure that I often forget about myself. When I am masturbating in the circle, I’ve got my own scene playing out in my mind – whatever fantasy I have going as of late. Usually women close their eyes, although it is quite exhilarating to watch other women in such a state of pleasure. I find it hard not to cheer on my fellow participants – especially as they are getting close to orgasm!

It is hard to say that Bodysex is not sexual, because it’s very sexual, but more than that it is educational and empowering. Sometimes I get questions from people who are trying to wrap their heads around the whole idea. No, women don’t touch each other. No, the circle does not break out into a group orgy. The circle is focused on each woman finding her own pleasure – in her own way, on her own timeline, without judgment or pressure from a partner or lover. It is about connecting with our bodies in a way that we don’t usually allow time for, in a way that we can’t when we are so focused on someone else’s pleasure. It’s about listening to what our bodies need and want; trying new positions and toys. Not only do we demonstrate several techniques in the Workshop, we are able to watch other women and ask each other questions about what works for them – what a gold mine! When do we ever have the space to talk openly about masturbation?

As Bodysex Brunch continued this morning, we all came in record time. I had been sure to let people know that orgasm is not a requirement and that we have plenty of time. But before I knew it women were breathing heavy and moaning and eventually riding several waves of orgasmic pleasure. After each of us had a few, we just relaxed in the space – taking the time to fully experience the sensations and the warmth of each other’s presence. At some point, someone got up for another mimosa, another woman relished in another bite of quiche, and we all talked about how wonderful it would be to have this happen on a more regular basis. Needless to say, I’m already planning the next Bodysex Brunch.

For those of you who have not done the Workshop, or if you just want to come back again, the next one is scheduled for April 13-14, 2019. To learn more about Bodysex, click here.

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I thought I was already there…

People ask me why I would want to get naked with a group of strangers. Why I would share my deepest secrets openly with women I’ve never met. How I could possibly explore self pleasure in a room full of women. The answer feels complex; yet when I reflect, it’s really quite simple. In order to experience deep connection and healing, I allow myself to be vulnerable. By sharing my own experiences, my fears, my truth, I become free – free from layers of guilt, healed from years of body shame, and strengthened by hearing others who carry around the same experiences, fears, and secrets as me. We are so much more alike than we ever admit – wanting to feel accepted, concerned about being “too much” of this or “too little” of that. Social media and pop culture alter our perceptions of women – who we “should” be, what we “should” look like, what is acceptable to feel and share and say. The Bodysex workshop is about getting away from that world of judgment. Joining together in a safe space where we can be whoever we truly are without fear. Where we let go of “shoulds” and are free to feel and share and say whatever comes to us.

Don’t get me wrong, getting myself to my first Bodysex workshop was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It requires so much mental energy and courage. It is not something most women are willing to do. Yet for those brave enough to come into the circle, to shed their layers (both literally and figuratively), the results can be life changing. In my most recent Bodysex workshop, I went in without many expectations. I wasn’t quite sure what would come up for me since it was my third workshop experience and I’ve already worked through a LOT of stuff. When everyone first arrives, nervous energy pervades the room and surrounds us. But once we get in the circle and start getting to know each other, the anxiety melts away. As the weekend unfolded, I allowed myself to shed tears (which is really hard for me – I do not like crying in front of anyone!). I cried because I realized how much healing I’ve experienced since my first workshop less than a year ago. I cried because I was surrounded by beautiful women who were all brave enough to join the circle. I cried because I felt so accepted and comfortable being authentic. I cried because I felt strong and powerful and free. I cried because I could – tears of joy, tears of release, tears of unity.

After spending 24 hours naked, I was feeling pretty good about my body – comfortable, even though I am still learning to love all of my imperfections. It was at this point that I had the opportunity to participate in a nude photoshoot (an activity unique to Bodysex in Saskatoon). Not only was this something I’d never done, it took place outside in Canada with the temperature well below freezing! I had decided months in advance that I wanted to have this experience, even though I knew it would be cold and way outside of my comfort zone. Surprisingly, when the time came, my body somehow adjusted to the cold (that, or my adrenaline was pumping so much it didn’t matter). And instead of feeling inhibited, I felt empowered and strong and beautiful! There were two other women getting nude photos taken and throughout the nearly two-hour-session, we cheered each other on with words of encouragement and support. During and after the shoot, I felt incredible!! I had proudly chosen to face my fears around nudity head-on and the result was an overwhelming sense of power and freedom.

Fast forward a few days…I was back at home in North Carolina, eagerly anticipating seeing the photos. They arrived via email while I was at work, so I anxiously waited several hours to see them. I finally arrived home, spent several hours doing my other full-time job (parenting), and then managed to squeeze in a little alone time. I opened the first one and thought “hmmm…not so sure I like that angle.” Then clicked to the next, and the next, and the next – quickly – in hopes that I would come across at least one that I loved. And it didn’t happen. Instead, I found something wrong with every single one. I went back through the set again thinking I must have missed some. But no…I had seen them all…44 images that painstakingly captured my physical imperfections. Parts of my body that I choose to ignore and regularly cover up were staring me back in the face, taunting me. Undeniable proof of what I truly look like. I was devastated.

I tried to make sense of my feelings. I kept looking at the photos day after day, irrationally hoping that they would change or I would look different…or maybe, somehow, miraculously I would start to accept them and maybe even like them. I tried a few things to see if I could improve how they looked. I asked the photographer to make several of them black and white – this eliminated my red hair, freckles, and light skin tone. Then I cropped out parts of my body that are not flattering, which left me with unidentifiable body parts. As long as I pretended that I was looking at someone other than myself, it became easier to find beauty in them, or at least acceptance. When I see photos of other women nude, it is easy for me to find beauty. It confuses and frustrates me that I cannot easily find this in myself.

Deep down, I knew that my lifelong aversion to my red hair and freckles was somehow contributing to how I was feeling about the photos. That became evident when I realized the black and white images were easier to see. A few vague, painful memories bubbled up to the surface of my consciousness as I tried to sort through my feelings. One memory in particular still shakes me to the core – a comment made by a boy in middle school that I never had the nerve to tell a soul. Instead, I buried the incredibly hurtful statement of hate deep inside. The accompanying body shame only intensified over time in conscious and subconscious ways. As I write this, I feel a combination of numbness, anger, and deep sadness. I feel sorry for the little girl – my younger self – who endured this bullying. Who didn’t feel safe enough to share it with anyone. Who buried the hurt and shame so deep that it took years to surface into consciousness. After sharing this revelation briefly during a recent therapy session, I was able to hold back tears at least until I made it to my car. I cried the whole way home – loud, heart-wrenching sobs that bellowed out from my aching throat. I couldn’t stop the tears or the horrendous pain in my throat. As soon as I got home, I couldn’t let myself feel anymore. I didn’t have it in me to sit with the feelings, to delve further into what it all means and what I can do about it. Instead, I chugged three beers in an hour instead of eating dinner. I played cars and trucks with my son, and then helped my daughter build a house out of Lincoln Logs. I fell asleep while cuddling with my daughter after vowing to do everything in my power to avoid letting her ever feel this way.

At first I didn’t want to write this post because it feels like a depressing journal entry. I felt frustrated because I’ve spent so much time working on healing body shame, and then to realize that my story is not over. I thought I was already there, already proud of my body, comfortable in my skin, owning the imperfections. But I’m not. It is a long, bumpy path where one step forward can send me tumbling back. I am fortunate to have women in my life who support me fully and encourage me to share my truth. I am reminded that even though I am not already there, I am growing. Despite my best efforts to move beyond body shame and celebrate who I am, the wounds run deep. Every time I peel back a layer of shame, I discover yet another layer waiting to be unearthed. Every experience teaches me something new, and even a few years ago I could never have been nude with a group of people. The more opportunities I have to see my body in its true form, to share my imperfections with others, to be vulnerable, the more I will continue to grow.

Photo credit: Justine Stiina Lustig

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Positive Body Image = Better Sex!

One of the biggest barriers to great sex stems from anxiety and shame surrounding our bodies. Think about it, if your mind is consumed with thoughts like “my thighs are too big” or “what does my ass look like in this position” or “my vulva is smelly, hairy, deformed” there is no room for you to let go and allow your mind to help you achieve orgasm. And it’s not just about orgasm – poor body image may prevent you from having sex in the first place. Or if you do get that far, maybe you make your partner keep the lights off so you feel less exposed. Or maybe you avoid different positions because of how a body part may appear from a certain angle.

The most powerful, and quite frankly unexpected, benefit from my first Bodysex experience was the normalization of these body image concerns that most women share. And then the ease with which we were able to open up about them and realize how unnecessary these fears and anxieties are. How much they limit our ability to experience pleasure. And how much beauty and uniqueness we all bring to the world. Seeing how beautiful and different all of the women were, yet the similarities in what we worry about was incredibly healing. I found myself in a sacred space that normalized real women and real bodies – not the air-brushed images that are constantly invading our reality.

An incredible sense of pride emerged for me as I drew attention to the parts of my body that I like the least and then (while witnessed by these other women) learned about, owned, and explored why and how they are a part of who I am: where I’ve been, the struggles I’ve overcome, the strength and power of my body. The circle helped me to re-frame my negative thoughts and turn them into statements of pride. For example, instead of viewing stretch marks from pregnancy and breastfeeding as ugly scars, I now see them as beautiful representations of the sacrifices I made to bring life into this world and provide daily nourishment to my thriving children. My hips allowed me to carry and deliver a baby, which I may not have been able to do with smaller hips.  My thighs, which supported me during both of my pregnancies, enable me to dance and walk and run.

These re-framed positive thoughts emerged during the workshop, but that was just the beginning of my journey towards self-acceptance and self-love. It is not easy, but I frequently reflect upon that experience of being witnessed and celebrated by other women, without any masks to hide behind. When I find myself slipping back to negative perceptions of my body, I remember the courage that I summoned during my Bodysex experience, the unconditional acceptance I felt in that circle of women, and I’m able to re-frame my thinking.

Imagine how your sex life would be different if you re-channeled the energy you spent on negative self talk into being more present in the moment with your partner. If you could fully surrender to the experience and let go of anxiety and fear and shame. If you were kinder to yourself and appreciative of all of the “flaws” that make you beautiful just the way you are.

Photo credit: Meghan Mickelson