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  • Writer's pictureJenn Gillihan

Shaming Sexuality

My husband had tagged me in this photo, proudly posting it on his timeline, proudly claiming the wife he finds beautiful, sensual, vibrant. I hesitated but a moment before accepting the tag on my might catch a couple of people off guard that my fun steampunk outfit was a little risque in the particular position I'm sitting...but surely anyone who bothered to read his words would find the intent behind my husband's post one of loving adoration vs blatant sexual innuendo. I assumed wrong.

It wasn't long before the message arrived in my inbox. "Just wondering what you think potential coaching clients might think of this "revealing" photo. Not sure that is the image you want to give to people who need a coach."

At first I thought "I knew I shouldn't have posted that" fundamental "Christian" upbringing pulling at my conscious telling me that it was shameful to post such a picture. Then within moments, my emotions shifted to anger. Although I'd initially hesitated, I'd been so proud that my extremely private husband, who rarely shares images of us on his timeline had chosen to share the images with words of admiration (he's more of an political activist/car enthusiast kind of social media person). I had been delighted to see him share his love for me in such a public forum. Doesn't every woman want her husband to be passionately in love with her...both her heart AND her body? (If you try to tell me that he should love you only for your heart and your're not in touch with 99.9% of the women on earth who ALSO want to be lusted after by their partners for their body).

I alternated back and forth between these perspectives of shame, anger and defiance for about 3 days before finding my answers on the side of a mountain.

Pushing myself through the steep inclines I felt the anger of being judged. Pausing to rest my racing heart and winded chest I'd find the shame of second-guessing my intentions and how others might perceive my decision. Upon reaching the summit and overlooking the 1200' climb I'd just made there was a peace that came over me. For it's there that I was reminded just how far I'd come...not in terms of that days hike...but in terms of overcoming the demons bestowed on me during my upbringing.

I was raised to feel ashamed of my feminine sexual energy. Any display of the slightest cleavage or a little more leg than someone else felt was appropriate and I was told that I was literally sinning. I needed to cover myself so that men would not be tempted to think of me in a sexual way. Maybe that boy mowing the grass next door needs to put his damn shirt on then, cause that wasn't helping curb my enthusiasm! Not to mention the fact that they obviously have never met my husband because he can be tempted by me wearing a brown paper sack or a pair of footie pajamas if he's in the mood. I was made to feel that sex was a bad thing by constant hounding about the dangers of premarital sex...while simultaneously skipping over any celebration of sexual desire or fulfillment within the confines of marriage.

My thwarted sexual curiosity in my teens and early 20's lead to more than it's share of problems, as it does for many who chose to explore exactly the things they've been told they can't have with abandon. The typical "Eve" type reaction...the fruit I can't have is EXACTLY the fruit I most desire. So I became their proof that premarital sex would "ruin my life" by getting pregnant (it didn't ruin my life and it gave me a daughter that has been my brightest joy), getting divorced (although I would never have been the wife I am today or have found the amazing husband I have had I not gone through that experience) and fighting for years to find MY healthy version of my own sexuality.

It wasn't until my 40th birthday that I began to settle into a healthy relationship...with myself. I chose to do a boudoir session to celebrate my upcoming 40th birthday. It was scary as hell, and I loved it. A professional through and through, my mentor that day was a 13-year veteran photographer from Playboy who lovingly guided me through a day of learning how to love myself and appreciate the feminine sexual energy I'd been holding back for so long. (thank you Jodi Vander Woude!) There was no full nudity, no toys, no touching, just me in different settings, gazing into the camera...into my own eyes...finding the self-acceptance that I'd been missing.

It helped me put behind me a past filled with men who didn't value me and the belief that it had been my fault. I didn't love them enough (or they would have stayed), I wasn't sexy enough (or they wouldn't have cheated), I wasn't smart enough (or I would have been able to make it last)...those were the voices in my head. The voices that told me that I wasn't "enough".

Then I met my husband. A viking of a man that through his sheer strength and stature exudes masculinity. I'll admit the minute I met him...literally, the minute I met him...he might as well have been the kid mowing the grass next door. Our meeting was hollywood worthy. A random "match" online turned into casual messaging, turned into three weeks and countless hours of late night calls extending into morning his job was keeping him on the road. The first moment we met the one word "hello" was followed by one strong arm around my waist, and a kiss that made those watching believe he was receiving a hero's welcome from his awaiting bride. He put Jerry Maguire to shame ladies...there was no chance I was turning back.

The next few years were filled with me wavering between my new found sexual strength and presence...and overcoming the fears of my past. My husband was unrelenting in his love, his affection and his patience...for helping me find peace and presence within my feminine. It took coaching the coach (yes, coaches sometimes have to keep coaching themselves), it took tears, and it took empowering hikes up the mountain to find where I was ready to settle in my own perception of what was "sexually appropriate".

There on the side of the mountain, I found not only my faith, but my femininity. The presence and peace that comes from not perceiving yourself, or your sexuality as something to be ashamed of, but something to celebrate. It's a gift I get to give my husband each and every day. It's a gift that God gave me. I didn't rediscover my faith by playing small, by wearing floor length skirts or by reminding others of what they need to do to "enter into the gates of heaven". I didn't find my faith by attending a revival or sitting in a church pew.

I found my faith by learning to love myself. I found my faith by learning how to love others and helping them learn how to love themselves. I found my faith on the side of a mountain where God's masterpiece was brightly lit with a setting sun. I found my faith in my husband's eyes, between sweat-soaked sheets...knowing that God gave me the gift of this love, this man, to heal me.

As for the intent is never to offend anyone, that's not in my nature. My intent was to share in a moment when my husband showed the love, adoration and maybe his passion for me. My intent was to celebrate the realization that I am...indeed..."enough" whether covered from head to toe, or shamelessly sharing my husband's adoration for my heart AND my body. And in response to the message "not sure that is the image you want to give to people who need a coach"...damn straight it is. Know that I am here anytime you need me, to help you discover that YOU TOO, are so much more...than "enough".

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