I’m unusual as women go. My experience isn’t the average one – but I’ve come to realise that nobody is normal, and everyone differs in some way from what the mainstream says they should be. I hope you can identify with the parts of me that are like you… and perhaps be interested in the parts that are different.
I’m in my mid-30s, Caucasian, Australian, raised middle class and from a religious fundamentalist background.
I’ve spent most of my life identifying as lesbian, and only saw a flesh and blood penis last year. I now identify as queer, which for me means my sexuality is fluid and I’m okay with it evolving over time.
I’ve spent most of my life in serial monogamous relationships, or single. In the last few years I’ve explored ethical polyamory, which has been exciting, rewarding, and challenging. (For me, polyamory is about multiple loving relationships where everyone involved knows, and wants this.)
I’ve spent most of my life uncomfortably calling myself a cisgender woman (meaning my female body matched my female gender). My actual reality was that I felt like I was ‘something else’ but had no clue what that could be. I felt confused and ashamed, and couldn’t see anyone like me in my communities or in the media.
I eventually discovered I’m gender fluid, which is one of the many ‘non-binary’ genders outside the binary of male and female.
In 2016 I decided I needed to become more ‘sex positive’. I wanted to get into my body and revel in its pleasure. I wanted to be okay with my sexual appetites (and even know what they were) – no small ask since my religious fundamentalist background taught me that sexuality was dirty in general, and non-straight sexuality was demonic.
I wanted to stop judging other people who were different to me with their sexualities, and feel at peace with human diversity.
My good friend (straight-ish, married) told me about a Melbourne-based play party, Curiosity, run by sexuality educators, Curious Creatures (whom – for transparency - I now work for, what a twist of fate!). She’d attended with her husband, and they’d spent a lot of time in the kissing booth. I was fascinated, titillated, kinda scared, and doing my best to hide any lingering judge-y feelings.
I was full of questions: What exactly went on there? What did she do and how did it feel? Did the party feel safe? Was it sleazy?
Listen to GROUP THERAPY: How long should you wait until you sleep with someone? (Post continues after audio.)
I felt powerfully compelled to check Curiosity out … and also rather scared. I imagine a lot of curious people feel this way, perhaps especially women (Side note: I’m using this word to cover all people with female-sexed bodies who were socialised female, while deploring that the English language doesn’t have the adequate words to cover human diversity. For instance, what about intersex people?).
In Aussie society many women have been raised to be more cautious than men around exploring our sexualities. We are imposed with unspoken strict guidelines around what we can do publicly without being labelled a slut or a whore. To some, exploring ourselves at a play party could be one of those things. And it really shouldn't be.
So I applaud all women who are willing to go out on a limb, and test for themselves whether their sexuality is what they were told it ought to be. Such tests are brave: strong acts of female empowerment.
I was pretty scared attending Curiosity’s mandatory workshop alone (everyone who attends the play space has to do the workshop first, and a debrief session afterward – which helps keep the community supportive and safe). I was glad to see that about half the participants were singles, while half were couples.
There was a good mix of queerness and straightness, and a broad range of ages. About half the people were male and half female, with a few gender diverse folk like myself. I could see that most people were as freaked as me, and that was reassuring.
By the end of the workshop I felt much more excited and only a little nervous. I’d learned about the importance of consent, and how to notice and call my internal boundaries: my ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ signals inside. I’d learned how to gracefully accept other people’s ‘No’ without feeling unduly rejected, and to say “thank you”.
It felt awesome receiving “thank you” when I dared say “No”. I felt strong: I was being true to myself, respectful of other people, and others were respecting and supporting my choices.
I noticed just how many times in my everyday life I’ve ignored someone’s ‘No’ and tried to wheedle or push past it. When a previous partner didn’t want to have sex and I was in the mood, I’d pouted, told her why she should, looked cute, or touched her seductively … and not understood why she got upset.
Similarly I noticed that people were ignoring my ‘Nos’ (verbal and body-language) all the time. When I stepped away from someone that was standing too close for comfort, they followed me in closer. When I told a salesperson I wasn’t interested in hearing more, they kept talking.
We seemed as a society, to be not so good at voicing and/or receiving Nos.
At the play party that night I mustered up all my courage and made several offers to other people. When they said Yes – how wonderful! But when they said No… I noticed that I felt rejected, that my mind started chattering about “What’s wrong with me?”, or “What did I do wrong?”.
This was a spotlight for me: I needed to work on comfortably receiving No. I needed to become more confident within myself, more accepting of me, and not take others' Nos personally.
I also learned a lot about what my body wants, by listening to its signals. Sometimes I don’t want to be hugged. Sometimes I do. It can change. There’s a right timing for me to try different types of play. There’s some play that’s not right for me to try now, some ever, and some I say a resounding “Yes please” to.
I can’t over-emphasize how much learning and practising my internal Yes and No has changed and is still transforming my life. I feel like I’ve plugged back into my personal power. I protect me. I choose what’s right for me. I honour what’s right for others.
I want this for all women, for all people. Boundaries … they’re what healthy relationships are made of, starting with our relationship with ourselves and our internal signals.
Who knew I’d learn this at a play party? Colour me surprised, and very very “Yes”.
Sair works for Curious Creatures (and plugged their workshops long before), plus writes and coaches on heartful relating: https://www.curiouscreatures.biz