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.