Three Metaphors of Female Sexuality: The World, The Ensemble and The Magical Being

In my work with women, there are some persistent themes, but the most persistent – and the saddest – is the belief of so many women that there’s something wrong with them.

That “wrongness” seems to originate with an awareness that our society’s idea of what heterosexual sex should be doesn’t wholly work for them.

they’re not that satisfied by intercourse some or all of the time

or with some or all of the other familiar sexual practices 

These women will often manifest strange phenomena during lovemaking. Their vaginal muscles might tighten up. They may get annoyed or agitated when their clitoris is touched. They may notice persistent feelings of irritation, frustration and resentment.

And they think that they just need to be touched differently. Or more ‘expertly’. Or slower. Or softer. For some women, that is what’s needed, but for others, that’s not it at all.

I now think that the problem lies with what we think sexuality is: that it’s physical, it’s an appetite, it’s natural. And that’s an idea that doesn’t work for many women, because it’s incomplete.

It’s sex as seen through the eyes of an intellectually challenged adolescent boy. Which sadly is getting more prevalent than ever, thanks to the ubiquity of internet porn.

In my embodiment work with women pre-lockdown, I thought that to connect with their sexuality, the most important thing was to create an atmosphere of safety, relaxation, connection and open, non goal orientated inquiry. If that could be achieved, then pleasurable sexuality would emerge naturally. And most of the time it did.

However, with a minority of clients, something else happened. Either the arousal would arise, but only up to a certain point, as if hitting a glass ceiling. Or alongside feelings of arousal would arise dissonant feelings like irritation or dissociation, which sabotaged it. Or, there seemed little response at all.

All this was doubly frustrating and disheartening for the women, because it seemed to replicate negative experiences they had had in their romantic relationships, which fed back into negative judgments of themselves.

When lockdown came along, I had to find alternative ways of working, and one of those was to run telephone or audio only Zoom sessions where my client was relaxed, usually blindfolded, and we worked with a concentrated focus on the breath and body, deepening the sense of the body, getting beyond appearances, how she thought she looked, and much more on what she felt. Having access to this internal world, it became obvious that the women I worked with in this way had very different ways of configuring and imagining it.

I realised that was the missing part that I had not understood before. I had not managed to satisfactorily engage with some of my clients in bodywork with them, because their sexuality was broader and more holistic than I had thought.

I list three of them here. Not because there are only three, obviously, but because I want to show that thinking of sexuality in these broader ways potentially frees the person from feelings of shame, inadequacy and failure. It gives them a sexual identity which belongs to them, and so gives the chance to articulate that. Critically to be able to say to herself, “I’m not broken, I’m unique“. And then to articulate that to others, making the creation of future sexual experiences which would deeply satisfying and meaningful a realistic possibility. “If I can explain me to me, then I can explain me to you”.

The World

In this perspective, rather than getting somewhere, the focus is on seeing, deepening and enlivening what is already here. If we pay careful attention, a world comes into view. If we just rest our hand on another person, for example, at first, all we will feel is surface. But after a little while, we start to experience the person in a different way. Specifically, the touch acquires depth. And with that depth comes enlivenment. Everything becomes more vivid. Not as something we need to acquire, to go towards, but as something which is always there, if we give attention to it. And with that enlivenment, the world of the body can also acquire texture and shape: mountains, rivers, flowers, birds, everything interacting, but with a sense of timelessness, or as if time has slowed down so much that it is as if the air has become thick and sweet. And out of that sense, without being willed, sexual arousal arises naturally, like a distant earthquake, gradually approaching. What is characteristic of this world is description.

The Ensemble

Here, there is a sense that the interior world, the world of the body and the imagination, contains a number of different characters, who interact together. Some of these characters may be parts of the body who can have a voice, and some may represent qualities, such as playfulness or courage. Some may represent people. These characters have the capacity to reflect upon themselves and this interior world, and change and develop. What is characteristic of this world is dialogue and changing perspectives.

The Magical Being

In this mode, the person often has a sense of switching genders in some way, of acquiring sexual traits which belong to the other gender, of making love to themselves or to someone very like them, and similar phenomena. This can often give rise to anxiety, because it seems so contrary to our usual way of seeing. Which is odd, because most of us would accept as a truism that we all have both feminine and masculine aspects. What is characteristic of this world is dynamic interplay.


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