Q&A: Why Women Censor Their Voices in Relationships

relationships, woman's voice, speaking our truth, Today’s Q&A looks at why women censor their voices in relationships–with men. I do think that underneath Candy’s question is the deeper one of gender, and the ways we “show up” for the people in our lives.

Dear Walker,

I was texting with a lover last night–he was sharing sweet memories (I’m trying to break up with him) and I made a few jokingly critical comments about how he always tries to use sweet talk to coax me back. He got upset and felt I was treating him unfairly. I apologized, but he didn’t reply. A few hours later I sent him an apology email. I basically told him what a great guy he was and apologized for my being too harsh. When I woke up the next morning I realized that I meant what I had said in my text and that there was no reason to really apologize so I sent another email withdrawing my apology. He retorted by saying I was obviously bitter and unhappy! Why do I have such a hard time speaking what I feel when I’m with men, or maybe it’s just this one? I’m in my early 50’s and have been seeing this guy for a while.

Candy

 

Candy,

Oh my. So you decided to drop the “nice girl” act and speak what was true for you? Is that it? And he couldn’t handle it, right?

Isn’t it strange that the first thing we, women, do is rush to make peace. Women have been raised to be the peace keepers, to be the nice ones. We smooth out arguments if we have kids and they’re squabbling. We rush to take care of others. And we often put our own needs last. I think what you’re discovering here is some need you have to make him happy. Or to make him want you? It feels unsettling when someone is upset with us. If he’s unhappy or angry that’s his stuff. That is how he’s chosen to react rather than try to understand what led you to express those kind of feelings.

As I shared in my last article, I used to worry about my being lovable enough. I was made to understand that being too direct with boys wasn’t a good thing–so I learned to squash those thoughts and words down. I learned to silence myself. It sounds like you did something similar when you decided to apology for sharing your thoughts and making him feel uncomfortable. And, by the way, you didn’t make him feel uncomfortable–he did that to himself.

And here’s the thing. 

The people who truly love us have to be able to deal with our ups and downs. Our quiet moments, our ecstasy, or sadness, our discomfort with things. Our frustration.  It’s not going to be easy all the time. But we have to embrace our light and our dark sides. Real relationships are not all sparkles and rainbows. It is unrealistic to try in live in that bubble of “happily ever after”.  Because shit happens and we have to deal with it.

You get to have the full range of feelings–without apology. You get to feel a little neglected, overworked, not interested in sex, feisty–whatever. Don’t apologize for feeling what you feel.

Denying your feelings and censoring your voice is not the answer to problems within a relationship. Communication is where to start. Examine the situation and try to figure out what bugged you and why? Remember the focus is on communicating, not arguing. This is about owning your feelings and giving your partner the space to do the same.

The most dangerous thing you can do in a relationship is self-censor–particularly if the goal is to keep someone else happy. Because you can’t make them happy. You aren’t responsible for their feelings. And you get to own yours.

What story have you made up about your sexuality?

sexuality, our story, midlife I’m almost finished with my book, Inviting Desire, a unique approach to bringing desire back into your life–at midlife, or at any stage of life. One chapter looks at the stories we make up about our sexuality–and how these stories keep us from showing up the way we want to be. We all have those old stories that keep us from embracing our sexual self. The first step to rewriting those stories is to uncover them.

I’m thinking about stories, mine and others, and examining how they impact our sexuality (and other parts of our lives) as I get closer to publication time. This article, What’s Your Sexual Story? How Can You Change It?, first appeared at Midlife Boulevard.

 

The art of storytelling is a valuable tool, until it gets in our way. There are the public stories and there are the stories we’ve made up about ourselves. Those personal stories may be good, affirming, and goal-directed. But most of the time, the stories serve to keep us from living our best lives.

What story have you made up about your sex life? About your sexual desire? Your sexuality?

We live in a society with few positive messages about aging or sexuality. Many women find themselves stuck in these distorted and unhealthy perceptions about female sexuality:

  • Menopause leaves you dried up and uninterested in sex.
  • Sex is for the ‘young’.
  • My marriage failed so I must be bad at relationships.
  • Women aren’t supposed to want sex.
  • Men initiate sex.
  • My body is too fat/saggy/ugly, too old—no one would want me.

What is your story? What have you made up? Is it an old story that haunts you or a new one, crafted to make you less uncomfortable with aging?

It can be difficult to look at your sexuality in a neutral, or non-biased way. We don’t talk enough about healthy sexuality–at any age—to provide older women with inspiration, support, or resources for how to embrace their sexuality. This is the reason I began to focus my writing and public speaking on midlife and older women. I saw women who didn’t have the language to talk about what they wanted. Women who were shutting down out of fear. Women who didn’t know how to tap into their sexual desire. Women living their old stories of shame and fear about sex, self-image, relationships, self-esteem.

Take the horror stories about menopause. The public message that menopause is this awful thing to be medicated and endured, with hand-wringing and dread, causes many women to adopt a fearful attitude before they’ve even entered menopause. There are women who suffer from this natural change of life—but not the majority of women. Nor does menopause mean that sexual intimacy comes to a screeching halt. But if you’ve made up this story about how things will be as you go through menopause and aging…

How can you change your story?

Here’s what I did. I journal every morning and it was there that I began to uncover the threads of my story and create a little distance from the stuff of my childhood that was in my mother’s voice. That was the first step. I discovered the origin of my story and realized I had absorbed those messages over time. The childhood message that I was unlovable and not attractive enough to find or keep a man had taken on new meaning post-divorce, finding myself peri-menopausal, and single.

When we figure out our story we can acknowledge it, label it, and find compassion for ourselves. We can unravel the story—look at how we embellish and feed those negative messages. And then we create new stories for ourselves.

The work of rewriting our stories happens every day. It’s not simple, but the first step is awareness. The next step is to choose—to let go, to embrace the temporary void, and begin to create a new story for the next phase of our lives.

Sex Advice: Fact or Fiction? Useful or Slick Marketing?

Who do you trust for up-to-date, reliable news about sex? I see lots of articles telling women what to do to make their bodies more appealing to the opposite sex. Foods to eat to increase libido, how to smell better, how to have multiple orgasms, and so on. Gwyneth Paltrow has been in the news before with her ‘vagina steaming’ advice and now she’s pushing moon dust to enhance women’s sex drive…Or so it would seem–because I can’t attest to the truth of this headline. And the Kardashian women are apparently sex experts as well.

sex experts, misinformation, sexuality education

Those of us who spend a lot of time on the internet are exposed to hundreds of stories a day designed to get us to click the headlines–to get our eyes on the page in order to make money. Some of the people pushing their products are just plain attention-seekers, some are scam artists, and most have no credentials for writing about the topic in question. And in between, quietly, are the real experts–the ones we should be trusting.

I worry about the readers with insecurities and concerns–these kinds of stories prey on their concerns. The result is rarely to make things better–the more anxious we are, the more likely we are to spend money “fixing” the issue. That’s how marketing and advertising works.

Let’s talk about all these sex ads. Will magic mood dust, as if it existed, make us want more sex? Will eating watermelon make his erections stronger? Oysters? Is your vagina too loose for sex? All of these topics regularly appear in the “news”.

Vaginal tightening or “rejuvenation” seems to be the newest fad. It ranges from getting a shot in the vaginal wall to laser treatments which apparently stimulate cell growth of vaginal tissues. Vaginas do change throughout our life, just like the skin on our arms, neck and face, or the color and texture of our hair–it’s part of the natural aging process. Hormonal changes of menopause affect our skin and tissues–making them less resilient and thinner. One answer, which many doctors would agree on, is increased sexual activity. When we go to the gym and lift weights our muscles get a workout. When we stimulate our vaginas blood flow increases (just as it does during exercise) and that helps nourish vaginal tissue. It’s basic stuff. And the basic answer is to get aroused more often and to have vaginal stimulation and penetration–toys, fingers, body parts.

The selling point of many of these ads is geared to pleasing the man in your life. He will appreciate a more supple, tighter vagina. He will want you to feel more desire. He will want you to smell better, have smaller labia, bigger boobs….you get my point. I’m not sure most men could even tell if a woman’s vagina was more or less supple at some age?  Certainly if you’re experiencing discomfort, excessive dryness, or mild bleeding you might want to talk to a doctor but you don’t need to rush to get a laser treatment. There are other less invasive, costly alternatives that a medical professional should be advising you on.

If you are seeking advice or reading an article where someone is telling you what to do, how do you evaluate the safeness or relevance of what they are saying? What should you look for when reading these kinds of articles?  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Is the article based on research? If so, is there a link to the research?
  • Is the writer speaking from personal opinion or sharing ideas that can be substantiated? For example, I often share ideas which start with “I think”…. and that means I’m sharing my own thoughts, and you should take that into consideration. A different sex educator might have a differing opinion.
  • If the website is full of ads and popups you should question its validity. Serious writing is not typically accompanied by ads to reduce belly fat!
  • Is the article sponsored by a company? For example, if you’re reading an article on the benefits of hormone replacement therapies that is sponsored by a pharmaceutical company or website selling those drugs there is a conflict of interest. It might be a good product but there is little incentive to share the downsides or mention cheaper, equally effective alternatives.
  • is the article slanted to an anti-aging message or trying to make you feel ashamed or embarrassed? “You’ll feel and look better if…”

 

What you really want is an informed, impartial representation of the pros or cons of a product or specific advice. Opinion pieces are OK as long as you understand it’s just one person’s opinion. It’s so easy to be swayed particularly when we have some concerns about our looks, or our ability to perform. There’s an awful lot of hype out there–use your judgment, ask questions, and dig for the truth.

 

OMGYES: Touch and Female Sexual Desire

OMGYES: touch and female sexual desire

Back in January,  I discovered OMGYES–an innovative new website designed to help women talk about their bodies. About the same time, my editor at Senior Planet found the site too and suggested we do an article as the website features older women and the concept seems perfect for women of all ages. The article was published yesterday and I would love for you to read it. I want all of you men who are intimate with women to read it as well–and check out OMGYES too.

I did an interview with one of the founders for the article and as part of my research, I was given complete access to the site. What a treat. First of all, imagine how affirms it feels to watch a variety of women talking openly and comfortably about their clitoris, their sexual response, and their orgasms. Older women, women of color, individuals with a range of sexual experiences and preferences all talking and showing us how to find our own preferred intimate touch. In addition to the videos, there are other great resources on the website. I’m not getting paid by OMGYES to talk about this, I’m just enthusiastic about the site because of its potential as a resource for older women and their partners.

I’ve been privileged to have women share their stories with me about their loss of desire or their inability to have orgasms. Underlying some of this is a lack of awareness about their bodies and comfort talking about it.That’s one of the reasons the founders of OMGYES developed the concept and the website. The article, New Technology Helps Solo Women Find Pleasure, is on the Senior Planet site. Here’s a teaser:

Can you describe in detail the strokes or finger motions that you use to give yourself an orgasm? It may be harder to put into words than you think; it was for me. And this, in part, is the premise behind OMGYES — an empowering website designed for women of all ages who want to learn more about orgasms and expand their sexual pleasure, and also for men who want to understand the needs and preferences of the women in their lives.

OMGYES helps normalizes female sexual desire by providing women the specific skills and language to express their needs. And if you’ve never explored your own anatomy, you can use the videos on the website to help find your pleasure centers. And that’s important. When it leads to arousal, pleasure helps to keep our pelvic floor muscles and vaginal tissue engaged, promoting sexual health as we age.

Figuring out what we need sexually and learning how to speak our needs is important. When we have the tools to talk about our desire we’re half-way there to having more satisfying sexual relationships.

What do you think?