I walked into my doctor’s office, ready for a frank conversation about the side effects of the Tamoxifen she had prescribed to prevent a future recurrence of breast cancer. My husband walked in behind me. I hadn’t planned on his attending, rather it was a last-minute show of support: one I was both grateful for, but also anticipating could bring a level of awkwardness considering the things I needed to ask. We talked about leg cramps, insomnia, anxiety and depression, and then the biggie – vaginal dryness…as in my body had been transformed into the Sahara desert.
She nodded knowingly, explained at length how the medication would likely push my already perimenopausal body into menopause. And with that decrease in estrogen comes a whole host of trouble, including decreased lubrication, inhibited arousal, and vaginal atrophy. It was all sounding rather grim, until she looked right at me and said, “If you don’t already own a vibrator, now is the time to get one.” Gaaa! Did she just say that? And what is Chris doing with that?! Not being the most subtle in my response, she read the disruption on my face and calmly suggested the best way to procure said device, ending with the admonition that it was a matter of “use it or lose it.”
Those words touched something in my spirit that was aware of how much I had already lost sexually at the hands of my abuser; I didn’t want to lose more of what I was just discovering as a really good thing!
The culture of my family growing up was one of secrecy and shame, and sex was the most shameful of all. I had all kinds of experiences that taught me not only that it was bad, but that any part of my body that was created for that was dirty and bad as well. Only in the past decade have I heard about the woman being unique in her creation with a clitoris, which serves no other function save pleasure. Pleasure! Another highly suspect word that would have been quickly condemned in my world.
My time spent in individual and marriage intensives over the past few years with Dan Allender challenged the unhealthy and false naïvete´ I grew up with and carried into my marriage. The truth is, as a highly sensitive woman, I have a highly sensitive body. What if I blessed my sensuality, rather than denying or hiding it?
Let me tell you, this blessing has not been easy. Not only do I have to continually face my own brokenness, but our culture too often only offers extreme alternatives. Just try doing a Google search for “vibrators” and you’ll see one side of that extreme that makes the current Fifty Shades propaganda look tame! It took some work to find websites that were not an assault on my eyes…thankfully this was one time my persistent research skills paid off. On the other side, the model for Christian women seems to be some version of Duggar-style extreme modesty, where couples don’t even hold hands until they’re engaged. Or worse yet, the sickeningly sweet messages like the one I heard years ago at a women’s ministry brunch. Our perfectly coiffed speaker was talking about the importance of how we present ourselves to our husbands, and actually encouraged us to greet them at the door dressed only in a giant bow. I kid you not! Nothing says I’m just a pretty package here for your enjoyment quite like that.
I knew there had to be other options, there was a whole lot of space available in between. I wanted to move into a life-giving space, not one of repression or indulgence. Tackling such books as Intimacy and Desire by Dr. David Schnarch and God Loves Sex by Dr. Dan Allender and Tremper Longman in community with other close friends who also have a desire for more in their marriage has been hugely important for Chris and I. Taking the risk to initiate conversations with a couple close girlfriends has also been important. I will never forget the moments of shared laughter with one friend long-distance over the phone, and another sitting out on a sunny day by our pool. The gift of shared experience, and wondering and longing for and encouraging was profound.
Last night I sat in the hot tub with a couple of female friends, enjoying the intimacy of both humorous and serious experiences related to sexual intimacy with our spouses. Those are not conversations I have every day or with very many people, but when they happen, they are sacred.
And finally, I have realized that maturity is taking responsibility to know and yes, bless my own body. I have a new sense of awe for what the author of the Song of Songs records as God-inspired truth as he proclaims “How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!” (Song of Songs 7:6)
May you, my sisters, bless your own bodies and embrace the sensual beauty our Creator has woven into every part of our being. And may we be women that call that out in each other and in our daughters, sisters and friends.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.
I love that you have moved out of your family culture of shame and secrecy and are willing to share struggle and blessing! I also love that you are choosing a “life giving” place! Very powerful and kind are your words to bless our bodies and embrace the sensual beauty God has woven into every part of our being…….then to call it out! Love it and love your words and love you! Thank You!!
Thank you Cindy, your words are always encouraging to me!
Thank you for this reflection. Learning to accept and honor our God-given beauty and sensuality can be difficult, especially in our culture. I appreciate how you show both side of too much–either too much secrecy and shame or too much sexuality. Finding the middle-ground is key. So is having friends to support the journey.
Friends are a good thing to be sure!
Thank you, my friend for your courage and masterful writing on sex. I love your vulnerability that lead to a delightful invitation for us. Bless you!
Thanks Mary Jane. So grateful for the ways you have “gone before” in this area and showed me how much more was possible as a woman breaking free of shame!
Brave and beautiful!
Thank you Robyn.
Janet, I love how you’re engaging coming changes with hope, laughter and steady sexiness. I think that is dazzling.
Well alright, steady sexiness…I like that!
Bravo… I applaud your courage and vulnerability.
Thank you my friend.
Thank you, Janet, for your courage and your vulnerability. Your sharing feels timely and is truly an inspiration to me in more ways than you know. Again, thank you!
So glad it resonated with you. I love the ways our experiences connect us.
I can’t quit crying. Fear. Sadness. Hope? This path(autocorrect just wrote “party”!!) we are on… So unknown. So unexpected sometimes. Redemption ongoing. Would that I knew you and could ask you a couple questions…
Sounds like you are making some connections that have touched on something deep and painful…and I hear the unknown. It can feel so alone there.
Though we don’t know each other as you said, you are welcome to email me, I would be happy to try and answer your questions if I can. Starkcj2@gmail.com
May your tears produce something new in this space for your heart.
Beautiful and brave. Thanks for sharing. Any chance you might save us the discomfort of the search on google and just direct us to the right site?
You’re welcome. And sadly, there is no one right site! For me it was a matter of persistence in finding the specific area I was looking for, discerning the most respectful of the options. I will say this based on experience, don’t rely on Amazon as it is difficult to tell what is real and what is a potentially unsafe, cheap copy.
Thank you Janet, this is liberating to read as I’ve struggled so much myself with intimacy and blessing the sensuality that God has given me.
So glad you could relate Anna. May you continue in the struggle to bless your sensuality, it is so worth it!
You are absolutely delightful and reading this was such a beautiful testament to the integrity and honesty that you live out. To experience the sacred spaces with other women is a rare and necessary gift, one that I value deeply. Thank you for all of your words.
Thanks Bethany. I am grateful for the new places of connection and conversation we’ve shared.
I am so thankful for your willingness to risk and lead into honest conversations. I love you friend! You are strong and courageous and I am thankful for that husband of yours who walks this journey with you!
Thank you my friend! I am grateful for him as well, and so very thankful for my faithful community of friends who reminded me of his goodness when I was struggling to see it. Your encouragement means a lot.
Dear Janet, I loved what Bethany wrote, “You are absolutely delightful and reading this was such a beautiful testament to the integrity and honesty that you live out.” Thank you for your care for yourself and how this allowed care for so many. I long for women of faith to be able to speak with honesty like you did. Thank you.
I agree, we need to be having more conversations about this! Thanks for your encouragement.
I have just read this and feel like someone wrote my struggle, I have felt a lot of shame from my church/family over sex and having to use a vibrator in my cancer/early menopause. Thank you for writing it like it is, and how it will be not only for cancer survivors but for others as they approach that magical age of menopause