After decades of sitting across from clients and listening to their stories of pain, struggle, and not belonging, I have come to believe that part of our soul’s work is loving and accepting all our parts—the good, the bad, and the very ugly. The greatest space where most need to love themselves is the space of sexuality.
When we are young, in our innocence, we believe everything we are told as if our lives depended on it because, in a way, they do. To be told that we were good and that what we did was accepted and praised meant we were loved and accepted. So naturally, we did more of what pleased others.
On the flip side, when we received disapproval, we learned to avoid ever again doing or saying what brought on that disapproval. Feeling ashamed for what we did, we began to avoid the part of ourselves that had any connection to disapproval. We attempted to bury that part of ourselves, and this began the conflict and discord within us, preventing us from being whole again.
Most clients come in wanting to change and fix themselves. They share stories of depression, anxiety, or unhappy relationships. The truth is that whatever “symptom” the ego has concocted to get them into therapy is simply an invitation for what the soul is seeking—to heal our relationship with ourselves and learn to love the whole of our being, including our sexual selves.
When couples come seeking support for a sexless marriage, blame and victimization of the other are at the center of their narrative. I have even had men come in with lists of times they have attempted to initiate sex with their wives. One man had a significant list, blaming his wife for his feelings of being unloved and insignificant.
After peeling back some layers, he was able to connect with the inner child who had felt so loved yet invisible to an alcoholic mother and a father who had left the family without ever connecting with him again. The ego felt frustrated and like a victim of his wife’s decisions. The soul sought to heal the wounds of the little one. He learned that it was okay to be himself even when he was told no. The wife also felt like an equal in the relationship, not a mother tending to the tantrums of a little boy. Eventually, the erotic energy returned.
Tilly* and Alex* came in because they had not attempted to have sex after their wedding night. Both had grown up in conservative and religious families and had promised their church community and families to save themselves for marriage. The wedding night was a painful memory with painful sex, and they were unclear about how things worked.
One of the reasons I love sex therapy is that it is not just about function and frequency, but about helping others truly align with their sexual selves. Our job as sex therapists is to help people accept their desires, attractions, preferences, gender identities, and more. We do not fix sexual issues. We help our clients accept their full and whole selves.
No one needs fixing.
What we most need is to heal the stories others told us about our unique sexual selves—letting go of wrongness, guilt, and shame while embracing our brilliance and changing our world to nurture our truth.
Tilly grew up listening to parents, grandparents, and the church community praising her for being a good Christian. As a good Christian, she deeply believed that having sex before marriage was evil and that pleasure was the devil’s creation. In high school and college, she looked down on other girls who engaged freely in premarital sex. Tilly felt she was better than them because she kept her word to save herself for marriage.
When other boys talked about their girlfriends and what had occurred on their dates, Alex would make sure he was nowhere near. Although he was curious about sex and making out with girls, he remembered his body clenching with anxiety and shame, leaving all conversations about sex. Similar to Tilly, he would tell himself that he was better than the other boys because he was saving himself for marriage, as all men of God do.
Tilly felt ashamed because of the pelvic pain she suffered on her wedding night. Alex felt guilty that he was the cause of the pain because he had no idea what to do. After letting go and forgiving the narratives about evil sex, they slowly began to talk about their sexual curiosities and fantasies, creating a sex life that nurtured their authentic selves.
Sexual issues, desire, libido, pain, and erection issues, among others, are soul invitations supporting your spiritual growth and alignment with your authentic sexual self.
“Sexual healing involves a great deal of unlearning. Along the way, we learn a new way to think, feel, and behave sexually. We need to create goals that respect the time it might take us to integrate smaller changes.” — Wendy Maltz
Healing Your Authentic Sexual Self:
- Self-exploration and awareness are vital in healing. When sexual issues arise (and they do for everyone at some point), from a spiritual perspective, it prompts you to delve deeper into your own desires, boundaries, and beliefs about sexuality. This exploration fosters self-awareness and allows you to gain a deeper understanding of your authentic sexual self.
- Healing clears the muck so we can integrate all our parts, especially the ones that cause us shame and fear. Addressing sexual issues can lead to healing past wounds or traumas, creating space for personal growth, integration, and reconnection. This process enables you to release limiting beliefs, shame, or guilt related to sexuality and move towards a healthier and more authentic expression of your sexual self. Remember, healing is not linear.
- Sexual issues can prompt you to cultivate mindfulness and presence during intimate experiences, even when practicing solo sex. By being fully present in the moment, you can deepen your connection with yourself and your partner, enhancing the spiritual and transformative aspects of your sexual encounters.
- Sex is more about connection and intimacy, not frequency or function. Exploring and addressing sexual issues can strengthen your ability to establish deeper emotional connections and intimate relationships. By understanding your own needs and desires, you can communicate them more effectively and create more fulfilling connections with others. You can also be more curious about the needs and desires of your partner.
- In a national survey conducted by Dr. Gina Ogden on sex, participants described sex as transcendence and as a spiritual connection between partners and with the Divine. Sexual experiences have the potential to go beyond physical pleasure and become vehicles for spiritual transcendence, and this is what I teach my clients. When approached with intention, love, and openness, sensual and sexual events can open a doorway to a profound sense of connection, oneness, and spiritual awakening.
- Healing your authentic sexual self can help you integrate Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit. Recognizing that your sexuality is an integral part of your holistic being allows you to align all aspects of yourself, leading to a sense of wholeness and spiritual harmony. Embracing your authentic sexual self promotes the feeling of being whole, present, and accepting yourself—feeling the nuances in your body, freeing your mind from endless negative loops, expressing emotions, and connecting to your life source and your lover.
Remember that everyone’s spiritual and healing journey is unique, and the ways in which sexual issues support spiritual growth may vary. No matter how they show up for you and your relationship, it is essential to approach these matters with self-compassion, seek support from trusted sources, and remain curious and open to your personal values and beliefs as you navigate the journey toward your authentic sexual self.
*Names and dynamics changed for confidentiality purposes*