Preparing for last weekend’s Bodysex retreat, Betty Dodson was at the forefront of my mind. Currently in the final stage of her life — Betty is heading towards what she describes as the “greatest orgasm of all” —death. I felt tender thinking about her and vulnerable at the thought of carrying on her work after she’s gone.
Because of covid -19, it had been over a year since my last Bodysex workshop and, aside from sadness about Betty, I could hardly contain my excitement at being back in a circle of women. Bodysex is always the best “reset” for me and I longed to see and be seen by the other women in the circle.
When I attended my first bodysex workshop 6 years ago, the most vulnerable part of it was letting my body be seen. I was so focused on my physical shame that I don’t remember much thought of being vulnerable in any other way. As time went on and I felt more connected to myself and comfortable in my body, I realized that when I exposed my physical shame it almost always uncovered a deeper underlying emotional shame. Shame about my cesarean scar signified shame that my body failed at giving birth. Shame about my stretch marks represented a fear that I’m undesirable to men unless I look a certain way. Shame about my voluptuous vulva lips reminded me of my shame that I’m too much for others. Exposing myself physically was like peeling an onion and, the more layers I peeled, the more layers I found. When it became less vulnerable to be naked in front of others, I learned to find the words for my shame that was less obvious. With each circle I became more and more naked, and alternatively more and more me.
Sitting in the circle naked at this retreat, I felt no vulnerability in letting my body be seen. I was menstruating heavily and felt comfortable free bleeding on a towel with my legs open. It’s hard to express how wonderful it is to feel that comfortable. I felt vulnerable to be seen in other ways though, and struggled at times to name my insecurities and longings in certain areas of my life. It felt vulnerable for me to recognize how much I wanted to be seen in my entirety and vulnerable to acknowledge that I’m afraid that if anyone fully sees me, they will be disappointed.
As we took our turns sharing through words and through self pleasure, it struck me how much our fear of being vulnerable holds us back from the intimacy many of us long for — within ourselves and with others. If we feel unable to let our body be seen (by our self or by others), let our vulva be explored, stimulate our clitoris during penetrative sex, say that sex is over when we have both orgasmed, say no when we don’t want something, say yes when we do, learn what we actually like and don’t — how will we ever have the intimacy we desire? Intimacy IS Vulnerability. Without vulnerability it becomes sex. Sex is great too if that’s what we are choosing and seeking. If we want something else though — why are we accepting something different?
Sharing my stories and listening to the other women’s stories, I was reminded how much we potentially lose out on in life if we don’t step into that vulnerability — something that each women in the circle was doing simply by attending. Becoming more in touch with what I actually desire these past couple of years — and feeling confident in it — I’ve come to realize how many times in the past, I violated myself with other peoples dicks. By allowing penetration that my body wasn’t relaxed and ready for, saying yes to sex I didn’t want and by not feeling confident in admitting what it is that I really do want — that involves much more than penetration. Sitting with the women, I felt affirmed in the life I want for myself and in showing up with my words and my body for those uncomfortable conversations that are necessary for me to continue living and seeking that life.
Years ago Betty told me, while I sobbed on her lap, that to do this work I would need to get thicker skin. As the pioneer of Bodysex it’s difficult to imagine the struggles she went through blazing the trail for us women today to learn to accept our bodies and own our pleasure. I don’t know how she could have done it without having thick skin. In many ways I’ve learned to care less about what others think and, even when I do, to continue on the path that is true for me. And yet,I still feel like my skin is as thin as the peels of an onion and that being vulnerable will likely never be easy for me. When it seems to get easier in one area, I feel more exposed to my vulnerabilities in another.
I know it’s worth it though — in the moments of intimacy where I see my true self under the next layer, or each of the women in the circle under their peeled back layers. Those moments connect us as human beings in all our beauty and all our imperfections. Those are the moments I long for and I hope that Betty will feel proud of me as I carry on her humbling and powerful work, with my soft, vulnerable skin.
Thank you to: Sing, Honour, Vi, Ishtar, Jewel, Betty, Joy, Turtle and Bilquis for allowing me to see you in your vulnerability and seeing me in mine. <3