Words by Laura Wheatman Hill. Photos by Lucas Ottone / Unsplash.
In this season of love, there’s a lot of talk about couples, but what if your one true love is yourself? Or, what if before you can open yourself up to love from someone else, you need to love yourself first? “Know thyself,” says Socrates and Shakespeare says, “To thine own self be true.” Time to follow their good advice…but maybe not the way they meant it.
This month, it’s more important than ever to love yourself a little more. Specifically, in bed.
In an article on communication in the bedroom four authors of sex books gave advice on what to do if you don’t know what to say to your partner in bed. Several of the experts mentioned that the first step in communicating effectively with a sexual partner is learning what it is exactly that you like for yourself. Psychoanalyst and sex therapist, Catherine Polan Orzech, who works with individuals and groups at Oregon Health and Sciences University’s Center for Women’s Health says knowing yourself “makes us more confident and engaged with a partner. We have more of a sense of agency” and are not “putting all of the onus on our partner.” But what is the first step in the path to self-discovery?
Emily Nagowski, PhD and author of Come as You Are, the New York Times bestseller, uses science to explain some common sex problems and misconceptions. In the book, she repeats over and over that patients come to her thinking they are broken when experiencing issues in the bedroom. She emphasizes and assures the reader that that’s not the case, that you are an individual and that each individual is unique.
After learning the physical parts that make up your downstairs, Nagowski’s first step to success in bed is to look at your bathing suit area with a hand mirror or the self-portrait function of your phone. If you don’t know what your anatomy looks like, you can’t know how it best works. She says it’s particularly important for people who have one to locate their clitoris. “Knowing where the clitoris is is important, but knowing where your clitoris is is power,” she says. Self-knowledge is power.
The next important piece of the self-love puzzle is perhaps the hardest: you actually do need to love yourself because, as Orzech says, the relationship you have with yourself is “the relationship we’re going to be in the longest. It’s the one that will remain.” Orzech helps her clients be mindful, not just in bed, but always. Her reasoning is, “If we’re talking about ourselves as a whole person that does include our genital regions. The whole includes the specific. When we have sex with a partner, ideally we’re having sex with our whole being and not just our genitals.” She asks her clients to “show up, notice how your whole body responds to delight of all kinds,” like petting a dog or putting lotion because “pleasure is a whole body experience.”
Nagowksi says to take a look at your own naked body as a whole. “Of course the first thing that will happen is your brain will be filled with all the self-criticism and disgust you’ve been holding on to for all these years. Remind yourself that the day you were born, your body was a cause for celebration, for love without condition, and that’s just as true today as it was then. Let those self-critical thoughts go, let the judgements go, and notice only the things you like,” she says. Forcing yourself to treat your body with kindness is hard in a world hell-bent on selling us products that are meant to improve our bodies, but trust that you are good enough and wonderful just as you are.
THE FUN PART
From a place of self-confidence, now it’s time to show yourself some love in a very specific way. It’s time to learn what it is you actually like when it comes to personal pleasure. Sex therapists say it’s important to know how to masturbate so you know what feels good to you. Do you use toys, vibrators, or props? Do you like a certain ambiance? What don’t you like? What takes you right out of the moment? Nagowski says everyone has their own accelerators and brakes when it comes to getting turned on and everyone’s systems are different in terms of sensitivity.
Still lost? The internet is a scary place, especially if you’re Googling things like, “how to orgasm,” but many sex therapists including Orzech recommend OMGYes, a website dedicated to female pleasure. She also recommends the app Kama. Or, if you’re able, it’s always good to see a sex therapist or somatic sex educator in your area. You can also start with a self-compassion workshop that isn’t specifically about sex.
No matter which path you take, you will never regret spending more time on yourself. Orzech tells us that being mindful and knowing what you like, “keeps us more vulnerable to sexual satisfaction.” With that comes a responsibility to really get to know ourselves or, as the psychoanalyst says, “prioritize the relationship with oneself.”
You can treat it like exercise, which we know is good for us, and tell yourself that “actually being with myself and being with my body in this way is good for me because it releases all sorts of chemicals and hormones but it also helps me know myself,” she explains. Whether your self-love journey translates to time spent with a sexual partner or not, the payoff is worth it.