Sex & Relationships

Losing old labels

In high school I was labelled a slut and reacted by sleeping around and proving everyone right. Now I'm in my 30s and recently married. I feel cut off from sex – it just reminds me of my painful past. How can I connect with my husband (and myself) sexually?

Most women are vulnerable to the slut label. I write about sex, manage a sex shop and teach sex seminars, so you would think I’d be immune. Not so. Recently, a male friend teasingly called me a slut and my stomach turned over with embarrassment. The experience reminded me that while I believe completely in every woman’s right to masturbate and want sex, we all have some buried fear of being “too” sexual. Feeling good about desire takes confidence and self-respect – more so if your sexuality has been used against you. Now that you’re a grown woman, you have the emotional resources to take your sexuality back and reconnect with your husband.

Forgive yourself

As with many women in your situation, you might believe that somehow you deserved the ill treatment you received. As a result, your sexual feelings are tainted by guilt and shame. But your husband can play a part in helping you to move on. Ask him to listen non-judgmentally while you tell him the story of your teenage troubles, how you coped and how your feelings about sex were affected. Let him confirm that the way you were treated was unfair and that no matter what happened, you deserve respect.

Find your sexual compass

Everyone has an opinion on sexual expression –what’s too much, too little, too strange. Until now, you’ve been hostage to a high-school standard of appropriate sexual behaviour. Discovering your own values will help to restore your sexual self-respect. Do you have any friends you can talk to about your sexual beliefs and attitudes? Another way to figure out where you stand: check out a how-to sex book, erotic writing (such as the Herotica series) or sexy films such as those directed by Candida Royalle. Opening your eyes to the wide range of sexual expression out there will help you clarify what you believe in.

Practise your pleasure

Reconnect with your sexual side. For example, plan a romantic “date night” with yourself. Draw a bubble bath, light some candles, put on some music. If you feel ready, begin to masturbate. Practise getting turned on while staying attentive to the physical feelings you’re experiencing. You might feel embarrassed at first, but this is a normal reaction that will pass in time.

Reconnect, slowly

All of these measures should increase your desire and lead you to become more interested in sex with your husband. But start slowly. When you feel ready to make love to your husband, maintain eye contact and be honest about your feelings. Because your sexual desires have been mixed up with humiliation, you might feel uncomfortable emotions coming to the surface when you feel turned on. But, before long, the negative feelings will pass and something new and wonderful will replace them – pleasure.

Sex educator Chanelle Gallant is a psychotherapist and an instructor at Good for Her, a women-oriented sex shop and workshop centre in Toronto.