I signed my purity contract at thirteen. No one at home talked about sex unless it was to say, “don’t do it, your immortal soul is at risk.” I took the “no sex before marriage” oath very seriously. Judy Blume was the only adult to tell me anything about puberty, and she skipped the part on how to reconcile my faith and my body, at odds in their desires.
Instead, I grew up as the pastor’s kid who watched a whole lot of Star Trek. I idolized Mr. Spock because he didn’t see to have any big feelings to bother his day-to-day life. I wanted that. I wanted the freedom from desire. The only way I knew to handle my emotions were to will them away, and I became a master at ignoring my body, my desires, and my feelings. No feelings = No problems.
I started spending a lot of time alone with by books. Dating was difficult for me. My mother told me someday I would meet, “the one” and I will just know. At twenty-seven I married my second boyfriend and best friend.
In a short time, I had created a lovely holiday card. On the outside I was a school teacher turned devoted stay-at-home mother. I had a pretty family in the suburbs with cute kid, the dog and the cat by the Christmas tree.
On the inside, depression ruled my life, but I couldn’t understand why.
I had no ability to feel all but the largest of emotions, and I spent most of my time feeling numb and robotic. My weight was a constant issue and I seemed to only gain no matter how many diets I tried. My self-esteem was nearly non-existent. I had no libido and couldn’t remember the last time I was “in the mood.” I had difficulty sleeping, and social situations made me anxious even if I attended with a big smile and hostess flair. I knew how to make the outside look pretty when the inside was falling apart.
But I wanted more. I didn’t know what I should want, but I wanted something…and the guilt was crushing. Here I had all these things, and I still wasn’t happy. I told myself that, if I waited, things were going to get better: after I lost weight, after my daughter was older, after…after… after…
A decade passed before I was willing to admit that the constant in this situation was me, and it was time to address the source of my unhappiness.
But I still didn’t know what it was.
Sitting on the couch in a therapist’s office, I described my heart: trapped in a pirates treasure chest, it was wrapped in heavy chains and held by multiple large padlocks. Even with all that, light was streaming from the lid that was barely held closed.
I had spent years stuffing my desires, my needs, and my dreams into a box and throwing away the key. I had two choices: open the box and face whatever big scary thing I had hidden away and get a chance at being happy, or stay as I was and wait for my life to implode.
Not long after I was lying in bed with the lights out, thinking, and I decided. I made the decision to open the box.
I saw the chains fall and the lid spring open. At that moment I knew there was no going back. I was terrified of what I had done. Sobbing into my pillow so that no one would hear me, I began begging God to tell me what to do.
In a perfectly timed moment, straight from the pages of Eat, Pray, Love, I had an audible answer to my prayer. The still small voice from within gave me a very simple reply.
You need to get a vibrator.
Nothing will stop this girl from crying her eyes out like being told to get a sex toy in the middle of an existential crisis. It was the most insane thing I could imagine needing.
A vibrator? Surely I had misheard?!?
I hadn’t had sex in months, I hadn’t wanted sex in years. What was I going to do with a vibrator? I might as well have been told to grow wings and fly to the moon. With extreme cynicism I listened to my new, persistent, inner voice and got on the internet.
I found a woman named Betty Dodson. Betty said the foundation of healthy sexuality is masturbation. This pissed me off. I was begrudging and irritable at having to masturbate. I didn’t want to. I had never touched my vulva with my hands. I was sure it wouldn’t work and I hadn’t had sexual desire in so long I couldn’t remember what it felt like.
I was also desperate and miserable and eventually decided it couldn’t hurt. Betty said set a timer so I did. I got my coconut oil out and huffed as I laid down on the bed.
As my head hit the pillow, my irritation at being required to be sexual at someone else’s request gave rise to a barrage of thoughts. I was mad, and all of my good Christian upbringing was balking at the audacity of the challenge that had been laid before me.
Masturbate!! Who does this old woman think she is?!? I stomped and raged and threw my fit and finally decided to get it over with…but she couldn’t make me like it. I raged at God, “Betty has ten minutes, then she can go fuck herself.”
I had an orgasm in eight.
Lisa 0: Betty 1.
I relented. A little. “Fine, you have my attention. I’ll give you have a week to make me a believer. “
Like a surly old cat needing medication, I forced myself to masturbate every day for a week. I hated to admit that I felt better after seven days. At this point my new vibrator had arrived and decided I might as well give it another week and try out my new toy. You know… for science.
By the end of week two, my libido was so big I was starting to worry that something was wrong with me. After a nearly twenty year hibernation my body seemed to be in a continuous state of arousal and I hadn’t thought about sex this much since I was a teenager.
A few months later I arrived in New York City to take Betty Dodson’s workshop. It was about bodies and intimacy and sex, and I was petrified. I stood in the hallway knowing that I was going to be the largest woman in the room.
I took deep breaths when I opened the door. I reminded myself that I wanted to believe I could have more, that I deserved more. I wanted more than this desperation for intimacy. I wanted to feel worthy, period, not worthy only of scraps because of my body. I wanted to have the same ease with pleasure as other bodies and I wanted the same acceptance. Walking through that door was the scariest thing I had done in a long time.
In two days I got myself back. I had gotten naked and faced not only myself but the big, scary, serious business called sex. I walked out of that weekend with permission to be sexy on my own terms, and permission to find out what I wanted and to experience it for myself. I was no longer afraid. I was worthy of pleasure and for the first time, I was free.
Two years later I became the first woman in the United States to be certified as a Betty Dodson Bodysex instructor and Orgasm Coach.
I had not intended to grow up and talk about and hold workshops on body image, pleasure, sex, intimacy, and power. My own journey showed me how important it is for stories to be told openly and for spaces to exist to explore self-image and sexual self-esteem.
It also showed me something else.
In the process of learning how to be a sexuality educator I attended a professional conference. For the first time I met someone, a woman, who turned me into a silly, blabbering schoolgirl. I didn’t know what to do with the feelings, and the obvious attraction I felt.
On the way home, I happened to share a ride with a woman who told me her story in the three-hour drive to the airport. She had been married, with children, when she discovered she was a lesbian. Our lives had so many parallels I sat in silence most of the way. At some point in the conversation I made a comment about something I didn’t understand. Her reply, “That’s because you don’t identify as a lesbian.”
A little voice in my heart replied before she had finished the sentence.
“Yes I do.”
Getting to the core of who you are changes everything. The simple act of thinking the phrase, “I am a lesbian,” turned on a piece of myself that I had silenced before I had words to describe it. I suddenly had a full range of emotions filled with delicate nuance. I felt like someone who had no idea color existed in the world until that moment.
I didn’t know I was beginning a journey of sexual awakening when I was lying the dark sobbing and begging God for help. I am happy to say I made it through to the other side. I have learned a whole lot along the way.
I am no longer numb and disconnected. I laugh, and smile, and celebrate, and dance, and I go to the beach, for real. I don’t need to do things to give the impression that I am happy. I AM happy.
I know who I am and what I want. I have found a career that is a calling. I have the best sexual relationship of my life that is both intimate, and connected, hot as hell, and exactly what I never knew I always wanted. I have a family that loves and supports me, and a beautiful child who is thriving.
You can do this. There is more than settling for just enough and getting by on the bare minimum.
The work that I do will let you discover who you are as a sexual woman and how to set her free. You will not make the exact same conclusions that I made. That was my truth and it is unique to me. Yours is inside you, and if you are brave enough I would love to help you find it.