Warning: Jaclyn Friedman expects a lot from you. I’ll tell you now before you even open the pages of her new book What You Really, Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety. When she says “guide,” what she really means is “workbook.” Why? Because as she points out numerous times, the only person who can discover what you really really want, is, well, you.
While I consider myself a “smart girl” to be sure, Jaclyn probably didn’t know how much this book was meant for me (and really, I think, for everyone) when I asked her if she’d like to be the special guest for Fem2.0′s next Tweet chat (tomorrow at 9pm EST at #shamefreesex). And so having booked her Sunday night, I nonchalantly picked up her new book to see what I could make of it.
You’d think that growing up in a very liberal town with two sisters before heading off to a progressive women’s college would have taught me a lot about my own sexuality. It didn’t. I learned about sex growing up (by which I mean, beyond the “having babies” part) in the same way I imagine much of America does – from the media and from boys. And since none of my (very few) relationships lasted very long growing up anyway, you can imagine how much an intensely religious, abstinent young girl knew about her own sexuality to begin with.
Jaclyn’s journey requires self-reflection, and an awful lot of self-affirmation. This is because no matter how amazing you think you are, how beautiful you think your body is, or how confident you are about your sexual awareness, it’s pretty difficult to maintain a belief in your right to a safe and healthy sex life while our media and our culture is constantly throwing you under the bus, and trying to wrap you in the perfect package (straight, thin, white, etc.) to do so.
Each chapter begins with a question of where you are and how you’re feeling about a particular theme. This can be everything from how you identify your sexual attraction (male, female, both, sometimes one and sometimes the other, masculine, feminine, etc), to identifying (and being able to actually write down) very specific things that make your body feel good.
What’s relieving about these exercises is that they aren’t just about sex, or about how someone else can make you feel. For example:
Get out your notebook and write down ten things that you could do to make your body feel good. Do you like the feeling of stretching? Using moisturizer on your skin? Taking a walk? Write them down . . .”
I’ll be honest here – it took me until halfway through the book to think of 10 things. And even more honesty – two of them were “the taste of chocolate” and “sleep.” But it was hard to come to 10 (try it now – I dare you). Frankly, I had simply never thought about it before.
Even so – that was the easy part. The hard part is coming to realize, understand, and accept – with Jaclyn’s help – the myths that permeate our world to make women feel three overarching emotions when it comes to celebrating our sexuality. She calls them the Terrible Trio – Shame, Blame, and Fear.
One passage that made me laugh questioned:
What hasn’t been blamed on women’s sexuality? When women act on behalf of our own sexual desires, we get blamed for being raped, for the demise of modern masculinity, for men’s cheating, for getting cervical cancer, for homophobia, for street harassment, even for earthquakes.”
Oy, indeed. No wonder so many of us are so confused!
In a post-Marilyn Monroe world where women’s sexuality is flaunted in the 10 hours and 45 minutes of media we consume every day, it can be difficult to understand why many women feel shame, blame, and fear when it comes to their sexuality. And that’s because what we’re seeing around us isn’t real.
The “women’s sexuality” we’re witnessing day in and day out is not our own sexuality – it’s how a heterosexual, patriarchal society and culture views it. In my life I’ve never seen a movie or tv show in which the sex scene is completed once a woman orgasms – whether the man does or not. Instead, the man achieves sexual climax, slumps over (because the woman is almost always submissively on her back at this point), and whether the woman has been making some convincing groans or not, the scene ends. (Gary Wilson and Marna Robinson have delved into this in more depth over at the Good Men Project – one of their arguments is that boys learn about their sexuality as early teens via pornography, which teaches them too often that sex is an act that is about their pleasure alone while the women serve as objects to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, it’s hard to unlearn such lessons easily.) So the trick is to realize what we’ve been taught is not what our sex lives need to be, and how to realize it yourself so you can learn how to attain it, instead of fake it.
Helping you through your past, present, and future sex life, Jaclyn explores family influences, cultural identity, sexual assault, women’s intuition, love, safety, communication and more through 330 pages of self-reflection and awareness-building. All so that you can have as healthy and safe a sex life as you want. No matter where you are or where you’ve been, this book will help you make sure that where you’re going is exactly where you really, really want to be going.
Join Jaclyn Friedman (@jaclynf) and the Fem2.0 team (@fem2pt0) to talk about the themes in her new book at our tweet chat tomorrow night (Sun November 13) at 9PM EST. We’ll be at #shamefreesex, exploring the underlying causes of shame, blame, and fear, and how to reject them so that you can discover what you really, really want.
Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, performer, and activist, and the editor of the hit book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (one of Publishers’ Weekly’s Top 100 Books of 2009). Her commentary has appeared in outlets including CNN, The Washington Post, The Nation, Jezebel, Feministing.com, The American Prospect, Bitch, AlterNet, and The Huffington Post. She was named one of 2009’s Top 40 Progressive Leaders Under 40 by the New Leaders Council. Friedman is a founder and the Executive Director of Women, Action & the Media, a national organization working for gender justice in media. For resources and to order your copy of her newest book, check out What You Really, Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.