I have a great deal of sympathy, most of the time, for the anxiety and fear that people often carry around in the same psychological pocket with their sexuality.
There are occasions when I wonder if people aren’t simply LOOKING for something to be worried about. They’re globally worried and they need to put their worry somewhere, they’re searching for somewhere it will fit, and sexuality makes a nice, easy target because the culture facilitates questions about “Am I normal?” and “Am I healthy?” and “Am I enough?”
Nearly always, the answers to these questions is, “Yup.”
And almost never is that answer enough to put down a person’s anxiety. Which, because I’m a sex educator, I find frustrating. There’s only so many times I can say, “Nope, that’s normal. Yes you’re actually fine. I know you still feel worried, but there’s nothing to worry about, so you can put the worry down now anytime you choose,” before I roll my eyes and give up, trying not to give in to contempt for someone so determined not to be happy in their body.
I have tried the tactic of saying, “I’ve told that this thing you’re worried about isn’t actually anything to worry about, that you’re healthy and normal, and I can see that you’re still worried anyway. So what is there that I could say or do to help you not worry anymore?”
Answer: “I guess I just need to: stop comparing myself to others/accept the way I am/try what you’ve suggested and see if it works/talk to my partner about it.”
All of these things the person “just needs to do” are things they could easily have done before they came to me – apart from whatever I suggested of course, though that’s usually something along the lines of “have sex and don’t worry or judge or question, just enjoy,” which is something all of us can do without being told, if only we think to do it.
No, when the problem isn’t the sex but the worry, no amount of sexual health education will really get to the heart of the matters.
Which is how I, a sex educator, began working to find ways to teach people to understand and cope with their anxiety.
It’s inadequate because really CHANGING your relationship with worry and anxiety takes a great deal of practice and discipline. But I can at least send them in the right direction. Here is a brief overview, for those of you looking for the right direction.
When people worry, they often have all this noise in their head – usually verbal noise – all these thoughts and questions and ideas about what is going wrong or is about to go wrong or might go wrong or went wrong in the past. What I want you you to know is that all these thoughts, all that noise, it’s an illusion cooked up by your cortex to make meaning out of the stress, fear, and panic generated by your reptilian brain.
And because it’s just a story cooked up by your cortex, you don’t have to pay attention to it. It’s just noise. And your job is gently and lovingly to quieten the noise, hush it like a crying infant. Not squash or clamp down or otherwise FORCE it to be quiet, any more than you would FORCE an infant to stop crying. You soothe and hush and love and cuddle, understand and coo and adore, until eventually those noise is quiet?
Why does this work? Well that’s another post, but it has to do with attachment. Just trust me and try it.
The main thing is: the verbal, ideas-based worry, all the things you can SAY, are unimportant. What’s important is the speed and the panic and the embodied experience. And that can not be soothed with information or reason, it can only be soothed with love.
So if you want to stop worry about your sexuality… love yourself.
Clearly this is more easily said than done.