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I started this year lamenting the unreal expectations directed at bodies in my column titled, Gird your loins; we’re feeling feisty. It only feels right to be closing 2020 in a similar vein. This feels ridiculously more important at the end of this year amidst the pandemic, when not only are millions of our fellow citizens struggling to feed their families but the skinny health industry is bludgeoning us over the heads with messaging, already, to be thinner. Motherfuckers, I eat my emotions and I don’t need you to pile on additional stress this year.
True, eating your emotions is not a great habit. Yes, exercise is beneficial. But the list of things I want to do right now are eat the last piece of apple pie, not get COVID, and not lose my mind from being restricted in physical contact for nearly 9 months. This means letting up on the messaging that bodies aren’t perfect unless x, y, z and let us just be who we are so we can enjoy the pleasures in life.
If you are lucky enough to be social distancing with your sexual partners then your access to pleasure may not be affected by the pandemic. If not, then hopefully you’ve been reading my column where I’ve been leaning hard into masturbation this year. In a year where we had to sacrifice physical closeness with our fellow humans, it makes sense to dub 2020 the Year of Masturbation!
What better way to launch a 2021 resolution related to self-love. This resolution isn’t all about masturbation, although that will be a component, it is about truly appreciating your body. Earlier this month I challenged my followers, both in my newsletter and on social media, to create an art piece of their genitals. Art is a powerful tool to reframe how we view something, in this case how we view our genitals. I only had a handful of submissions but one of them included a great insight:
“I never thought of my dick as art. It felt weird to look at it w/ that lens but the more I thought about it, the more it shifted my appreciation for my body. And thinking less of my dick as a tool to be used but something more.” - Anonymous
Yes! This so much!
Many of the clients I work with are trying to understand outside influences related to their struggling or unsatisfying sex lives. I often end up discussing body image and the connection to self-love before sending them back out with positions, lube, and the hottest new sex toy. We are conditioned to believe that there is only one way to look physically—the “right” way. Companies that are selling a product have a definition of the “right” way, medical professionals have their definition, and the mean people of the world have another. So many voices screaming at us to be someone who is thinner, sculpted, big breasts, big penises, perfect cisgender hair on cisgender bodies, wax this, tone that, and don’t forget to hate yourself no matter how much you do to achieve an ambiguous ideal. The underlying goal is to never be satisfied so we’ll continue to buy the next product. It is completely understandable how this would affect a person’s ability to get naked with others and have sex!
I’m an embattled activist on this front. I have for years and years been fighting body norms and working to love my body as it is. I don’t shave my armpits or my legs for most of the year but when I think about putting on a bathing suit, I hesitate. I hear all the voices telling me that my female body must not be hairy. Wax it! Melt it off! Shave it! Pluck it! If I do those things my skin reacts poorly and it fucking hurts. In another body battle, I just turned 40 (yippee!) and I still have acne—painful, big cyst-like acne that accompanies my menstrual cycle every month. I curse the sensitive skin goddesses and try every product on offer to do battle. I draw the line at hiding them with make-up and that sometimes feels like a win. And every year I struggle with how weak my muscles are and every year I sign up for yoga classes, I set workout goals, and I tell myself this is the year I will bulk up. The truth. I hate to exercise. I enjoy a nice hike or a walk. I will walk for hours on a beach! But when I think about lifting weights or following through with a yoga practice my typical answer is meh.
The success with my love of my body is to not deny that I have body issues but rather to embrace them, say them out loud, and love my body anyway. When I remove the stigma outside voices attach to my body, the weight is lifted and I can focus on my pleasure, my lover’s pleasure, and all the hundreds of other things I love to do. This is the same message I give to you, my clients and readers. Spend time this new year not setting goals to achieve a certain weight or look but rather set goals to love your body. Identify all the things you don’t like about your body and then burn, shred, destroy that list! Ask yourself who told you that your body was flawed? Why do you struggle with that part of your body? What can you do to embrace your body as it is? How do you reward your body for being amazing?
I know of a reward you can give your body.
MASTURBATION! When you are alone in your house, masturbate in every room. Watch yourself masturbate. Use your hand. Use a toy. Try different positions. Read erotica. Watch some porn. Masturbate slowly. Have a quickie. Set a goal to masturbate daily, weekly, five times a month, or whatever schedule feels like a challenge for you. Even if you have a sexual partner in your life, masturbation is the best way to stay connected to what your body needs and wants. Sex with lovers is different than sex with yourself and oh so important.
In your body positive and self-love work this new year, I encourage you to complete my challenge and create an art piece depicting your genitals. The first step is to get a good look at your genitals so start with a photo shoot—take pictures of your genitals from different angles. If taking pictures isn’t doable, get a good look in a mirror. Use these images to draw, paint, sculpt, or collage an art piece. For some folks they are able to use body safe paint, slather it on their genitals, and then press or sit on paper to transfer the image. Art is freeing in that you can create whatever you want in any way you’d like to capture your interpretation of your genitals. There is no “right” way when it comes to genitals or genital art!
When it is finished I’d love to share your genital art on social media, anonymously if you choose, to help support more body/genital positive discussions! You can email a picture of your art to [email protected]
Happy creating and happy new year!
Erin Brandt (she/her/hers) has been a sexologist for 15 years. When she’s not spreading sexual knowledge, Erin can be found learning from her child, hiking with her partner, cuddling with her pitbull, knitting with her cat, dancing with friends, and searching for the nearest hammock and ocean breeze. Want more? Visit www.positivesexed.com