More in my on-going correspondence with the wounded little girl that I was, once upon a time. The set of beliefs I’m writing to her about today hits a very tender spot: her body and her sexuality.

Hello again dear one,

I’m back with you again, thinking about the beliefs you formed based early in life, when your boundaries were so thoughtlessly violated, more than once, by more than one person. I know what believe, because just below this surface, this is what I, too, have believed for too long. You believe that this is what girls are supposed to do so men will love them. You believe that if a man approaches you, you cannot turn him away. You believe you can’t refuse a request for sex. You learned that you should be available for anyone who wants you. You should let men do whatever they want sexually; your opinion doesn’t matter. You learned that it’s your job to please men sexually. You believe you are passive, receptive, malleable.

It might seem like I, your grown-up self, am past all that. After all, I’ve been married nearly 15 years to a very dear man, the best husband I could wish for. I haven’t been with anyone else since I met him, and just being with him has been enormously healing for me. I know he would never hurt me. On the contrary, he takes joy in my happiness.

But underneath it all, I know I have been holding on to parts of those beliefs you hold. I know that they are connected to the way I experience desire, to the way I feel about sex, to the way I so often dissociate. I feel sad that I have pulled away from that part of my marriage in recent months. It’s not because I don’t love my husband, but because I don’t want it to happen in a dissociative fog any longer.

It’s time for both of us to let go of those old ways of thinking. It might take us a while, but I think we can do it. We can choose to be the mistress of our own body, attentive to our own needs, feelings and desires. We can see ourselves through our own eyes, not imagined through the eyes of another, checking all the time to see if we are behaving as some one else wants. We can be the subject, not the object.

I wish someone had told you this many years ago, but I will tell you now. It’s your own body, my dear girl. It is yours and you can share it with someone you care about or not share, as you feel moved to do. A man can approach you and come on to you and kiss you or reach for you, and you can think to yourself, “Is this what I want right now?” and it’s okay for the answer to be no.

I know that you have so often berated yourself for not fighting back, sometimes not saying a clear no when you wanted to or not really even asking yourself the question. But you didn’t know how, back then. How could you know, when things happened so early, before you even understood what they were? There’s no shame in not doing something you didn’t know how to do.

But let’s do it differently going forward. It’s your body–our body. It can walk and swim in the river with our silly dogs. It can bike through town or out on the trail. It can feel the sun and the breeze. We can take it to the coast to feel the chilly Pacific Ocean on our toes. We can stretch it out in yoga, noticing our breath. We can dance to all kinds of music. And when we’re ready, we can figure out what it means to be emotionally and physically present for sex. No rush.

I know this is one of the hardest things for you. I know we’ll need to talk about it more. I just wanted to start the conversation.

Love you,

Q.

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The image up top is from Amnesty International’s important My Body, My Rights campaign.