The desire police are out in force.
I have two women's groups right now and in both of them I am struck by how much difficulty surrounds the topic of desire. I hear women talk about how hard it is to give to themselves, and how hard it can be to receive.
What is it that creates these blockages around desire and receiving? If you look at the natural world, it's clear that we're not born with them. A baby has no compunction about crying when it needs something, or surrendering to the bliss of closeness and sensation in a pair of loving arms.
Dogs bark in unapologetic joy when they're out chasing balls with their favorite humans; a cat never feels bad or guilty for soliciting cuddles and strokes (and they'll definitely tell you if you're doing it wrong). So what makes it hard for us adult people to ask for what we want?
After teaching a women's sexuality weekend in Napa earlier this month, my team and I took the day off, made a decadent brunch and luxuriated in sitting on the deck, enjoying the food and the beautiful morning.
One of my team members commented on the fact that I had served orange juice in fancy wineglasses. She said she loved that little touch and that growing up, her family had made fun of her for always liking the "fancy" thing, and they would tease her about it until she learned to stop asking.
If you can remember similar moments in your own family, or if you've ever had someone ask you accusingly, "Why do you want that?" or "That's nice you can give that to yourself. I wish I could do that"—then you know what I'm talking about: the microaggressions about desire.
They happen all the time: in passive-aggressive comments about other people, in socially sanctioned phrases like "You just want to have your cake and eat it too," and in judgments about how others spend their time, money or energy doing things that bring THEM joy but that are perceived as selfish or indulgent.
And they are especially charged when it comes to sex. Just as "That's not normal" is the battle cry of the sexual oppressor, "That's too much" and "You shouldn't want that" are the rant of the sexually unhappy and undeserving. The desire police are out in force.
These little comments that aren't invited or necessary create an environment that encourages us not to take up space, not to acknowledge our own desires and not to want what we damn well want.
And if you're holding back from the little things—like serving yourself orange juice in a wineglass just because it makes you happy—then ask yourself how that same thing holds you back from going for the things you REALLY want, especially in the vulnerable territory of sex and relationships.
Why do we put each other down about desire? When did desire become the thing that proves a person's low worth?
Because we want to want it and are mad we aren't giving it to ourselves, so it makes us mad when we see other people giving what they want to themselves, or simply accepting it when it shows up because they are actually open to it.
Because we can't want more than one thing. We can't want more than one fabulous quality in a lover. We can't want more than one lover. We can't have a multiplicity of desire. The message that sex isn't or shouldn't be that important and if you make it that important that makes you selfish, indulgent, and low-minded is too common. How dare you!
Yet sexual energy wants to express itself. It will find a way to express itself. There is a passive-aggressive current that keeps us withholding from ourselves and the people we love. It keeps us feeling bad about our sexual desire and denying the natural flow of pleasure in our lives.
We are still very connected to the idea that we have to suffer in order to be "worthy", that you can't just accept something good—you have to work really hard for it first, and that it's more noble to have and want less. This idea is endemic in so many religions, social interactions, and patterns in our families of origin.
Yet we yearn. We long for deeper connections and orgasmic pleasure. We want to transform and be a bigger version of ourselves. Those are perfectly human desires. Sexuality is about expansion through connection and opening up emotionally, physically and energetically.
So of course sexuality would be a big part of our desires and deep yearnings. Yet so often, as a sexual empowerment coach, I have people come to me feeling bad that they have found a good partner with all these wonderful qualities, and yet, they just shouldn't be complaining that their sex life isn't good.
"I shouldn't care that much about sex. He's a great guy," they will say.
Why shouldn't you care that much about sex? Because we live in a culture that devalues sex. We tell ourselves sex is base, less-than, something we shouldn't want or need. Sexual desire is a lower desire.
Yet it's related to everything else in our life and how much we are able to actually receive all that comes to us. If you can't receive sexually, how will you receive financially, emotionally, friendships, or other pleasures?
When we suppress our desire and our sexual energy, it starts to come out sideways in biting comments and snarky and unhealthy ideas about our sexuality. Sometimes it leads to affairs. And in more extreme cases it leads to sexual abuse.
We sublimate our sexual energy into other things and it can come out in unhealthy communication or really harmful sexual expression. Sexual energy will find a way to express itself.
When we take on the negativity of the protestors of sexual desire, we start to withhold from ourselves. It can show up as unwillingness to ask for what you want sexually because you are so used to not asking for what you want and you don't think you deserve it, or will get it.
Or you sort-of ask, but hold back because you don't want to go too far or take up too much space. Yet the people who are willing to take up space and put their desires on the table are the ones who get them met.
And they are not walking around feeling bad about it. "Oh damn, I got something I want today. I should give it back."
It's rare to be in environments where we are okay with giving to ourselves and where we accept and embrace our desires, especially if you come from a family or culture that values frugality. You can start to create an environment that is positive about desire by not contributing to the negativity and cutting out the microaggressions.
Call others on it when they try to use them to control you: You can say, "What's wrong with that?" or "Sounds like you have a judgment about that." or "I enjoy giving myself things I want."
Counteract it with humor, or sidestep it entirely. Become aware of the little ways that people in your life engage with that energy of withholding, and surround yourself with people who DO know how to give to themselves and to others without apology. They are out there!
Too many people have trouble allowing themselves to want what they really want. How would your life change if you stopped living it based on what everyone else tells you to want and started focusing on what you really do want? It could totally transform.