I really loved this article on Feminist Current “Feminist Therapy: When our sexualities are shaped by trauma & misogyny, how can we reclaim our bodies & minds?”
There are two segments to this post—the first one is the discussion of reclaiming our sexuality and the second is a question about a family not accepting a lesbian teen and being actively misogynist. Both of these discussions were important to me.
The first segment begins with a woman asking how to reclaim her sexuality after experiencing female socialization and sexual trauma. She has been discovering radical feminism and it’s making her more committed to stopping her submissive fantasies.
The therapist talks about the brain—its response to trauma, and its ability to become “hardwired” a certain way when something is repeated over and over. I think this approach is a good one.
“Based on what we know about changing our brains, there are a few key things that apply: redirection, focus, reinforcement, and time. Take a break from the behaviors and thoughts you don’t like. If you notice yourself thinking something you don’t want to think (perhaps a submissive fantasy pops into mind), distract yourself and think of something else — if possible even think about what you would like to be able to fantasize about instead. Over time that could create positive associations between what’s happening physiologically for you and what’s happening in your thoughts. When you’re engaging in sexual behavior, try to stay in the moment, feeling what’s happening in your body and paying attention to what feels good and what doesn’t feel good, not thinking about what else is going on, what’s expected of you, what you think is expected of you, or what you used to do. Don’t be surprised if “being in your body” is hard to do. For a lot of women, sex is more about performing pleasure — for themselves and/or for others — than experiencing it.”
There are two important things to take away from this paragraph. One is the point about repetition. By the time a woman has reached adulthood, she’s been told hundreds of times that a woman’s job is to be pretty and pleasing to men and that her role in sex is to just look good and be a nice body for a man to use. If she has watched porn, this is made much worse because she has learned to orgasm to images of women being reduced to a collection of orifices for penetration and she has learned to sexualize this role for herself. The brain remembers the images, the ideas, and the physical response that goes with them, and this means that women can indeed enjoy submission. Female socialization and porn culture work together to prepare women for a submissive role in relation to men; men create this culture deliberately in order to ensure they retain their dominant role. One of our jobs as feminists who are trying to liberate women from oppression is to learn how to undo this conditioning and help each other to sexualize equal relationships. The brain learns by repetition, and indeed the brain will default to certain feelings when those feelings are brought back to it over and over. So learning to sexualize equal relationship involves repeatedly changing one’s fantasies from submissive ones to equal ones, and practicing this over a long period of time until the brain learns a new response. It also means choosing to only have relationships that are equal.
The second thing to take away from this paragraph is the bit about “being in your body” and “staying in the moment.” A good sign of a healthy sex life is when you are able to focus on the here and now and the sensations of your body, rather than feeling like you are performing a role or being an actress. Women may need to learn to be in their bodies after having been traumatized, they may need to break up with boyfriends who believe sex is something she has to perform for him, and they may need to practice a body awareness meditation in order to learn to focus on their immediate physical sensations.
I have used these techniques myself to undo what I learned about sex from porn and from the older men who used me when I was a teenager. I don’t believe that women’s enjoyment of submission is something that is a part of our intrinsic sexuality, and I don’t think it’s empowering or sex-positive to indulge in it. However, I also don’t think anybody is a bad person because they enjoy it. I think pretty much all of us can sexualize dominance and submission (that includes me) because we’ve been taught to, and this doesn’t make us bad or wrong as people, it just means we are a product of our society. I think we should eliminate dominance and submission or at least reduce it from our sex lives and fantasies as a part of an overall plan to undo patriarchal training. If we continue to indulge in sexualizing our subordination, why would we ever want to put a stop to it in the wider world? People who think oppression is sexy aren’t in a position to get angry and end oppression.
There are some women who will never be able to reclaim their sexuality or may not want to try, and this is okay too.
The second segment of this article is a question from a woman whose sister came out as a lesbian and was rejected by her parents. To make matters worse, she found out that her brother was a porn user and a john, and that her father was also a porn user and was watching “lesbian” porn. Obviously, she was horrified.
I was full of anger after reading this. It’s terrible, but unfortunately not surprising, that a father would reject his lesbian daughter while at the same time indulging in “lesbian” porn in his spare time. There is a big difference between “lesbian” porn, which I will never write without the quotation marks, and actual lesbians. “Lesbian” porn consists of straight women performing acts that men have coerced them into performing for the pleasure and profit of men. The reason men like it is because they enjoy watching straight women indulge in (their idea of) “lesbian” sex with each other while maintaining that what they really prefer is men. Actual lesbians, on the other hand, do not have sex for the benefit of men, and exclude men from our sex lives entirely. This is something that misogynist men will never accept. They can’t accept that women can have sex without a penis being involved and that we can define our own desire and sexuality without them. This threatens their dominance over women.
The writer of this piece must be in terrible pain. It’s terrible to know your own family members are misogynist, and that they hate not only you but all women. I deal with this in my own life by barely ever speaking to any of my family members. The therapist gives her some sensible advice, and my advice is get out of there as soon as you can and never look back.
I really like this segment on Feminist Current on feminist therapy—it’s something we all need.