Beauty of A Woman

The Vulnerability of Orgasm #BOAW2018

This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.

Vulnerability has become a positive aspect of my life, but it was not always so. In my teens, my vulnerability was couched in terms of whether people–especially boys–liked me, or whether I would do well enough on the SATs to get into a good college. A new level of vulnerability entered my life at 26, when I was raped on a first date. My physical, emotional, and sexual vulnerability overwhelmed me. I had lived alone for years, careful, but not paranoid about my surroundings. I never dreamed that letting a man into my apartment, ostensibly for a glass of water, would change my feelings of freedom and homecoming to fear, my pride of finally conquering anorexia to self-criticism and doubt. Although I found a rape support group that was helpful, I could not move past the violation. I swore I would never be vulnerable again. I built high, strong walls between myself and the world to keep myself safe and always in control.

But the rub is that I built walls between my mind and my body. Many of the positive emotions of life involve both the mind and the body; more importantly, they require letting go. It is impossible to play in the rain if one is worried about what people are thinking, or to fall in love if one is worried about being hurt. The hardest lesson for me was orgasm, which required a level of vulnerability that I had lost, or to be honest, rejected. To paraphrase an old song, you have to “relax if you wanna come.” I had to work for years to allow my body to overcome my mind, to embrace my vulnerability, and to become comfortable with it.

There is true beauty in orgasm. In my innocent, Catholic high school days, a teacher showed us a picture of the ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture by Bernini. At lunch that day, my more sexually aware classmates were laughing about the depiction of orgasm as religious ecstasy. I was struck at the time with the statue; now I see a masterful depiction of orgasm. The woman embraces the emotions and physical pleasures of the moment. She is no longer in control of her body. Time stops, awareness fades. That moment of utter vulnerability is beautiful.

Beauty of A Woman, Garden of Steel Magnolias

Love Letter to My Wrinkles #BOAW2015

August McLaughlin Beauty of a Woman

I offer my reflections as part of August McLaughlin’s Beauty of A Woman Blogfest.  Go here to read other posts in the blogfest and a chance to win exciting prizes.

A few weeks ago, I found my passport picture from college.  I will admit that my first reaction was dismay at the changes I saw in the mirror. My second reaction was how much I dislike people immediately judging others by their appearance.  I have endeavored not to do so in my life, but realized I was judging myself harshly. Today, I stood before the mirror and wrote my acceptance of one of my “flaws.”

Dear wrinkles,

Today I looked at you without allowing my eyes to glide past you, as I so often do when checking my makeup or brushing my hair. I looked at you with loving acceptance. First I noticed my eyes. I will not call you crows-feet, you wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, as you do not remind me of crows, but of the years of smiles given my parents, siblings, husband, children, grandchildren, friends, and strangers. You provide the context, the setting, through which my spirit shines.

Next I noticed you, wrinkles bracketing my mouth, serving as a reminder of the polarity of life, the tension between happiness and anxiety, both mirrored in your folds. You are a testament to the pleasure and closeness of shared laughter and smiles. However, when I crease my face with worry, you are a visible admonition to release what I cannot control.  I gradually feel the effort of contracting those muscles, and force myself to breathe, to relax, to let go.

A few years ago, I saw a college classmate whose face was bare of wrinkles, her flesh stretched over her cheekbones as if she were twenty-five, not twice that age.  I realized then that you, my dearest wrinkles, carry the character of a person. You are part of me as much as my brown eyes or short stature.  You are my history, carved visibly in my flesh, the official documents of my life more than any birth or marriage certificates set down on paper.  How could I not love you?

With all my heart,



Misfit Magic, World Sexual Health Day

Eyes and heart wide open at the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day

In the wee hours of Friday morning, September 5th, I arrived home from an inspiring and liberating trip to New York City for the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day celebration.  The day, in all its components, was bigger than one blog post, and the telling of it will take much reflection. I discovered a refreshing look at sexual health and well-being; an event full of laughter, support, and an emphasis on the health/well-being/psychological side of the picture which was surprising, liberating, and comforting beyond words.

Wrapped around the celebration were good food and good friends in an almost medieval celebration of travel in company. I enjoy the vibrancy and speed of New York City, reveling in the rush of humanity, the eddies at narrow points that remind me of rivers going under bridges, splashing at the pillars that block their path. I prize eavesdropping on the languages I know, trying to identify those I don’t, and catching up on the latest fashions which will never grace my form.  My love of the city is somewhat new, as a recent transplant to upstate, which gave showing my finds to my companions an extra elation. The venue for the celebration, The Cutting Room, was a comfortable red, bronze, and wood room with a matching ambience, a new discovery filed in my memory.

In total disclosure, I had no idea what the evening was going to be.  I’d signed up to go for utterly selfish reasons: to meet August McLaughlin of #GirlBoner fame, whom I’ve known online for a couple of years now, to see New York, and slightly less selfishly, to accompany Shan Jeniah as tour guide to the big city. What I found was altering in some deep ways I have not completely processed yet.

In her opening statement, Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh did not discount the disease or dysfunction side of things, but added the missing celebratory piece, pointing out a Google search for sexual health would provide more than enough information about dysfunction and disease.  Her statement turned my historical focus on that aspect of sexuality on its head. Dysfunction and disease, or fear thereof, has punctuated my adult life from the beginning. From August’s introductory meditation on the color of our sexuality–deepest, royal purple, thank you–to Dr. Sara’s final compassionate plea for understanding those in differing cultures and beliefs, I felt such lightness of heart.

All the artistic pieces, from the stunningly beautiful photography in the bar to the acroyoga to the lovely tangos played by a cello and bandoneon duet found crannies in my heart, and I plan to post about them as well.  Right now, however, I’d like to detail the theatre pieces punctuating the evening and striking a harmonic resonance in my inner misfit.  Jeffrey Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner played the roles in Houses on the Moon, three vignettes, touching, gentle statements about the difficulties faced by those not on the exact center of the sexual spectrum.   The first, an allegorical piece about anchovy pizza, displayed the insensitive and invasive questions posed to humans on the left or right of center in that spectrum.  The transgendered roommate snafu portrayed further the quest for understanding and acceptance. The final piece, the teenage best friends confronted with the differing sexes of their heartthrobs, crystallized that need for understanding from those closest as well as the passing stranger. The pieces touched me, making me evaluate whether I was as sensitive in real life as I had imagined.

I encourage all of you to enjoy the streaming video, and celebrate sexuality in some small way.  Sign up on the World Sexual Health Day Facebook page, and follow the hashtag #WSHD on Twitter, so you can join us next year, or, if the trip is not feasible, to stay apprised of next year’s event and join us virtually.




Renegade Reflections

2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day

The  2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day is happening tomorrow evening (yes, September 4, 2014) in New York City. Not anywhere near New York City?  No worries!  You can follow the streaming video at the link above.

Shan Jeniah and I are going to the city to meet August McLaughlin, whom we met through WANA (the brainchild of Kristen Lamb) in a recreation of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse that should prove a growth experience for each of us. Why in heaven’s name, you ask, would I take a day of precious annual leave to go to New York for World Sexual Health Day? Well, I’ve already named two reasons in Shan and August.

I met Shan in person soon after I moved to upstate New York a little over two years ago,  We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to meet up, but I enjoy each time we manage to do so. August is someone I got to know online, to the point that I find it hard to imagine I’ve never met her in the flesh.  When my brother passed away last December, August was one of the first of my “online” friends to offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I was honored to participate in her Beauty of a Woman Blogfest last spring.

That is the friendship/personal side of things.  I have other personal reasons to be interested in this event.  Many of them echo Shan’s in her post about this event.  I was raised Irish Catholic in a time when the schools felt besieged by the changes in the world around them.  Skirts were shorter, so we had to kneel on the floor to show the modesty of our uniforms before we could enter the school.  The Pill had arrived, heralding sexual freedom, so we were terrorized with the fickle nature of men, who “wouldn’t buy the cow when they got the milk for free.”

On a more individual note, I had found my freedom and my passion in the life of the mind.  The body was secondary, whimsical and illogical, prone to flash judgements that promised only decades of regret. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” might have been emblazoned on the family crest, had poor shanty Irish had one.  I was at war with my body, confused and betrayed by physical desires I little understood and tried to put in their subterranean place.  As luck would have it, most of the young men at my high school saw me as the brain with whom they did homework and confessed their secret desires for the cheerleaders, popular girls, and the beauties.  Thus, without an outlet, the desires dimmed and guttered out.

In my mid-twenties, a divorcée, I reluctantly put myself back in the dating pool. On one of my first dates, a man asked to come into my apartment for a glass of water. He drank the water, shattered the glass, and threatened me with the shards while he raped me. At the time, AIDS was in the headlines, with people dying by the day, yet it was too early for date rape to be a concept.  The police sympathized with my cuts and bruises, but could not prosecute given that I had gone out with the man and let him into my apartment.

Long story short, I have a deeply personal connection with sexual health, both physical and mental.  I sweated through the weeks of waiting for my test results; I worked through months of therapy. I am not the common story, but I am more common than one might think. Because of my scars, I rejoice in the physical, the sexual, the freedom, because I have fought harder for that freedom than most people (until now, I suppose) know.

So, join us.  If not in the flesh, in the spirit; if not through the streaming, give a thought, a wish, a dream, to a freedom that should come naturally but often does not.


Garden of Steel Magnolias

BOAW The most beautiful woman I ever met

Closeup decorative grunge vintage woman with beautiful long hair

This year I am taking part in August McLaughlin‘s Beauty of A Woman BlogFest.  She will list links to all of the blogs participating in the fest on her blog. Stop by for fun, inspiration, laughs and more. You may also win one of two $50 gift cards, so go on over—after you’ve read this post.

Among her topics, August suggested the most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.  I met that woman, whom I will call Kathryn, when I was a sophomore in college, at a small women’s college in the South.  I had gone to college a year early, and felt a bit like a misfit, so when I noticed Kathryn sitting alone in the dining hall, I asked if I could sit with her.  When Kathryn looked up at me, I realized in part why others were avoiding her. Her face was oddly misshapen, with a very small jaw, and her hands were knotted as though arthritic.  Although several women stared covertly at her, no one was obvious, and all were well-mannered enough not to say anything mean to her.  However, it was clear from the space everyone left around her that they were uncomfortable.  While I noticed this difference about Kathryn, I am drawn to people’s eyes.  Her eyes were clear and beautiful.  My mother always said the eyes were windows to the soul, and that old canard was true in Kathryn’s case.  There were depths of pain and wisdom in them, but her wit and kindness also shone through them, pure and blue as the sky after a snowstorm.

Kathryn smiled and invited me to sit at the table.  I learned that she was several years younger than most freshman, which created a further bond between us.  Intelligent and quick-witted, she seemed to ignore the combined avoidances and sideways glances of the women around us.  We found several areas of common interest and similar backgrounds during that meal and many others that followed. We came to be friends, although several of my other friends continued to avoid her.  There was always a space around her, a sort of benign neglect zone that moved with her.  Despite this reaction, Kathryn never felt anyone was unkind, saying she realized how different she looked and it was normal for people to shy away from her.

After a few weeks, she told me that she suffered from Progeria, which is a rare, rapid-aging disease.  Most people with the disease do not live beyond their teens, which is why she had gone to college early.  When I replied that I couldn’t imagine bothering with college in her case, she shrugged and said she had nothing better to do. In the time I knew her, she never complained about her pain, never felt sorry for herself, never felt slighted.

Instead of feeling sorry for herself, Kathryn concentrated on doing whatever she could for her small group of friends.  At the end of that year,  an acquaintance asked me in private how I could stand to look at her.  I was stunned, because I had truly forgotten Kathryn didn’t look like the rest of the freshmen. I saw Kathryn, not what her disease had done to her. She  was the kindest soul I ever met, and a far better person than I could ever be.  She taught me volumes about self-confidence, acceptance, and striving for one’s goals.  She was hands down the most beautiful woman I have ever met.