I met Michael* in early May and we quickly became not just lovers but dear friends. We cuddled on his couch and talked for hours about our families and childhoods. We texted almost every day just to check in on each other. We planned a slumber party at his apartment one weekend, where I packed up my pajamas and popcorn and watched Sex and the City with him all evening. He began calling me Suzy, something reserved for family and chosen family. We spent meals and car rides together barely saying a word sometimes. We didn’t need to. We were at ease together.
In late August, we went on a date that lasted over 24 hours. We just couldn’t seem to part ways. He told me I was restoring his faith in women, that I treated him so well, and that he wished we’d met sooner. And as he wrapped his arms around my waist and nuzzled my face while I perused the menu at a hot pot restaurant, I began to think for the first time in years that I was ready to give someone my heart.
Three days later, he called me and told me he’d reconnected with an ex — and that he’d never had romantic feelings for me. He’d only seen me as a short-term fling, he said, while he saw her as a potential girlfriend. I confessed through tears that I’d been falling in love with him. The tears continued flooding out the next day, then again on and off for the whole week.
I wondered and wondered what I could have done to stop this from happening. Could I have been more open about my feelings? More confident? More assertive? More positive? More feminine? More something?
Two weeks after Michael’s gut-wrentching phone call, I took part in a women’s sexuality workshop, known as Bodysex, where women talk about sex in the nude, show one another their genitals, and masturbate together.
At that point, I was still waking up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding from the shock of Michael’s sudden about-face. I was a mess. Jealousy was already something I struggled with, and this could not have been a worse time to enter into a situation where other women’s bodies and sexual expression would be right in front of me.
To provide some background, Bodysex was invented by the late sex educator Betty Dodson, who began holding these circles in the 70s with the goal of teaching women how to masturbate and advocate for their pleasure. She trained future generations to hold Bodysex workshops as well, and this one was led by Jennifer Rahner in Atlanta, Georgia.
On a Tuesday afternoon, women trickled into a room in the basement of a hotel until a group of about half a dozen encircled the floor. We began by going around and saying how we felt about our bodies and our orgasms. I admitted that I was highly critical of my body; I did not feel thin enough, tall enough, or strong enough. Especially now.
Then, after a discussion of vulva anatomy, it was time for a “genital show and tell” session, where each participant took turns getting up in front of the group and spreading her legs so that we could see how different vulvas looked. As I saw each participant’s most intimate parts, the jealousy and insecurities I’d pushed down started rising to the surface.
One woman had pubic hair that could somehow be shaved without leaving any stubble or bumps. One said she was able to orgasm through intercourse. One appeared thinner than me, another more muscular. One carried herself with the confidence that I wished I had. My mind went wild as I wondered which of these qualities Michael’s ex possessed. I could not even stand to look.
As we went around the circle once again to share what our experiences were like, I started crying and recounted everything that had happened. “I can’t stop wondering what she had that I didn’t.”
“Is it possible,” one woman suggested, “that this was not about her or you, but about him and where he was on his own journey?”
I knew that already. Of course I did. But as each member spoke similar words of encouragement, I more viscerally began to realize that they were not my competition.
“When I first saw you, I thought you looked like a Greek goddess,” one told me. Another said my pussy was perfect. I blushed. The same thoughts I was having about other women, they were having about me.
When it came time for “erotic recess,” where we simultaneously masturbated using Hitachi Magic Wands with condoms wrapped around them, something in me snapped and I dropped into a different mental space than I had been in. It was as if I were receiving direct orders from some ethereal goddess on how to move and how to pleasure myself.
First, I placed the vibrator between my legs while I was standing, then I got on the floor and humped it from above, then I lay on my back and moaned along with another woman across the room. After four orgasms, I did not know if I could go on any longer, but the goddess voice told me there was one more in me, and there indeed was.
I sat up with an unexpectedly profound revelation running through my head: I knew exactly what I was doing. In sex and in life. Nothing could throw me off course.
If I knew exactly how to pleasure myself without even thinking about it, maybe that meant I also knew who I was, what I wanted, and how to get it. Because that same goddess voice that made herself heard in that brief masturbation session was actually present in me, guiding me all the time.
And once I realized I knew exactly who I was and what I was doing, it became clear that there was nothing wrong with me and I had done nothing wrong.
This drama I’d been carrying around was other people’s, not mine. I was far too majestic to let that get me down. This revelation did not heal my heartbreak; nothing but time could. But it helped me to regain my confidence and let go of my regrets.
Life, I realized, was just a big group masturbation session. What the other people in the circle are doing is their own masturbation routine, and yours is not meant to be like theirs. You’ll get the most out of sticking to your own, because the ultimate goal is to please yourself.
And if you think you have no more orgasms left in you, you can probably squeak out another.
You are meant not to wallow in sorrow, but to bask in pleasure and joy. And if you listen to your inner goddess voice — no distractions — she’ll remind you how.