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  • Writer's pictureSarah Foley

TSS - 025 ~ libido + identity

content warning: sexual trauma

I've been wanting to write a post about libido for months now, but could never get beyond the first lines. How to even begin with libido? How can I describe in vivid enough words the sensation of swelling waves deep inside my stomach? Or the quasi-spiritual surge of heat reaching back into my spine, circling my pelvis. How I can feel an erotic softening of blood pulsing into my vulva against my clothes, a heartbeat between my legs. Or of stopping everything I'm doing because I am being subjected to such consuming fantasies that I must surrender my brain to the touch I am narrating. I am someone who has always intellectualised and had a dominant brain relationship with sex, so not being able to reach into my brain and find words for the significance of libido is aggravating. I want to take you to the place where libido sits in your body. Is it more in the mind? A knowing, more than a feeling? Or is it something you feel on different parts of your skin? Is it supple, or is it textured? Is it warm, or does it give you chills? Tell me where your libido is – mine is all around me.

Driving to work earlier last week, I had a stunning revelation. There was a time in my life, not too long ago really, where I thought I'd never want sex again. I wanted to want sex, but also thought I could have probably been content if someone said I could never have sex again. I remember the feeling in my body of complete separation from sexuality. The rare times I could connect to it was to service someone else. I had become completely isolated from the identity I had built for myself in which sex was nearly number one. From a young age, I was obsessed with sex. Completely consumed by thoughts of being fucked, and completely addicted as soon as it happened. So observing the fading of sex from my sense of self felt catastrophic, terrifying. Who the fuck was I without sex? Of course, this absence of libido in that time now makes sense considering the coinciding occurrences: I had just started working in family violence, I was beginning sexual trauma specific therapy, it was the middle of COVID and my mental health had taken a huge hit. I remember telling my therapist at the time that my biggest fear in delving into working on my sexual trauma was not what I would feel, but that I would realise I was closer to the asexual side of the sexual spectrum than the allosexual. The worst possible outcome at the time was that I might not really care about having sex as much as I thought I did. While this speaks massively to compulsory sexuality narratives, it also neatly sums up the extent to which sex had ruled my life as a young person. Through my late teens and early twenties, I built a version of me that was having the kind of sex young Sarah always dreamed about. I adored this version of me, and felt deeply aligned with the prioritisation of sexuality and sensuality. The thought of losing her left me with nothing but a question mark. I was also deeply scared that without wanting sex, I would become unlovable. My obsession with sex had always stemmed from an obsession with love, and sex was a tool for getting more of that. Without sex, I couldn't imagine a world in which I could be loved. They were one and the same. As I dropped further into my six-ish months of prescribed celibacy, sex faded further and further from the forefront of my brain. I was petrified that my partner would leave me when he realised I was content not having sex, and that the end of my therapy would get me to a place where sex had been wiped from the list of things that made up who I am. At this point in my life, I had still barely masturbated (re-read TSS – 017 for more on this!) despite also being paid to do it, and couldn't imagine a version of me where touching myself wasn't a begrudging task that felt like absolutely nothing.

Two years later, I am so far from that reality it feels foreign to have ever been in that place. I can't stop thinking about sex. I love masturbating, genuinely. I completely agree with and adore Emily Nagoski's idea that we shouldn't align sex with a drive, like that of food and water (we wouldn't die without sex), but sometimes it feels like I just might die without sex. I have never been so pushed to masturbate, I have never felt more me-created pleasure in my body, and I am truly wanting sex for the sensation, not just the connection. This is pretty fucking mind-blowing to me. If you've read much of this blog, you'll know that there has been a humungous amount of thought put into the resurgence of my desire, but fuck it's nice to see some actual reward. I've been seeing a sex therapist, Clarke, for the last couple of years and I've slowly become far more pleasure centric generally. She has taught me so much about the immersion of pleasure into every moment of my day. I have been actively detaching from the separation of moments of sex from those without in the hope that steadily pleasure stays in my body for longer periods of time. My work with Clarke has undeniably altered the way I see sex, plucking subtle attitudes I had from my sexual sense of self and restoring a less shameful approach to sex I'd always been nostalgic for without ever having. There's still a huge amount of work to do, but I feel a deep softening in me. Sex has returned to all the spaces in my body where I felt it had faded. Ovulation is a fucking wild time. Dangerous, really. There's more desire in my body than I know what to do with sometimes. It feels nearly catastrophic to consider getting through that week without being fucked. I have never masturbated more, and felt closer to the arcing glow of something resembling the first traces of orgasm. It's become almost alarming how strong the desire for sex is. I am so hesitant to use the word 'drive', but it also feels appropriately respectful of the intensity within my body during big chunks of every month.

In true overthinking form though, the victory I feel at the resurgence of so much sexuality and sensuality makes me feel slightly concerned. How would I be feeling about myself if that thunderous desire had never returned? How much of my sense of self-worth is tied up in my sexuality? A huge amount. Logically I know I would be the same person with or without sex, but that's easy for me to say now that I feel good about the way my sexuality is showing up again. What would I be writing to you if I was still feeling content at the thought of never having sex again? Would I still be writing this blog? Before posting the first chapter of my tumultuous journey with sex in 2021, I felt like a monumental fraud at having to confess my anorgasmia to you. I've never felt more hopeful and positive that orgasm is on the cards for me than I do now. But what if I didn't feel this way? If my biggest fear when engaging in sexual trauma therapy, was the potential of my own asexuality, what does that say about how highly I value my sexuality over other parts of me? Let me tell you, this has been a frequent topic of conversation in therapy. I have poured over this knowing in me and feel deeply challenged by my ascribing to compulsory heteropatriarchal sexuality narratives. As with the stigma that asexuality is imbued with, women are forced to toe an impossibly fine (patriarchal) line between virgin and slut. The Madonna/Whore complex feels permanently rife, creating a perfectly unattainable position for us to hope for: just sexual enough, but not enough to lose respect. While the divine Melb inner north bubble doesn't outwardly express this, we are not immune to this ideological heavyweight. I genuinely don’t know who I would be without sex, and that terrifies me. While I am so incredibly happy that I am renewed in my connection to my sexuality, I am conscious of embodying some sense of criticality to hierarchising allosexuality over asexuality. I stand firm in believing that asexuality is, as an abundant spectrum of experiences, as completely valid and connective as allosexuality. Who benefits from the connection between my worth and my sexuality? Certainly not me.

The regaining of libido is also marred by the ongoing fear that it could so easily fade away again. I have often existed in a dichotomy of sex obsession, and complete lack of interest. What does the middle look like? I sense a peacefulness here, that requires an extrapolation of the idea that my romantic worth is tied up in my sexual offerings. Finding a true sexuality amongst the messages I've fed myself for years is incredibly challenging, but I am working constantly to listen to my body and this in itself feels subversive. I am broadening my ideas of what pleasure can be, and refraining from shaming myself for any of that which I want. For years, I have possessed a disconnected sexuality, one that has kept me safe and protected from more pain. I won’t shy away now from the cracking open of my ability to feel pleasure in my body. Beams of gushing sensation have been awakened inside me, and I am unwilling to return to a time in which my body felt like a stranger.

And so, I am trying to find a tender, thoughtful line between adoring the way it feels to be in my sexual body and knowing that sex is only one component of a very full (loud) array of personality traits I possess. I know without doubt there will be other seasons of my life in which sex cannot be as highly prioritised as it is in this moment, and I (am trying to) know that this will not diminish my self-worth or ability to connect to myself and others. I will not contribute to stigmatising and minimising my own experiences of ebbing in and out of desire, but I would also like to celebrate the steps I have taken to become familiar with my body in a way that felt impossible until recently. There are endless reasons why our libidos change, we are so receptive to the stressors of the steps we walk in our bodies. We are both more than our sexuality, and intrinsically tied to it. I am enjoying this gap in time in which my body is overflowing with want and receptivity. I know there will come another time where my body is dominated by other needs, and so I am using this time to surrender further to my capacity to love and feel, and to celebrate the gifts of the journey that has been. Sixteen-year-old Sarah would be incredibly proud knowing that the sexuality that existed so constantly in her brain has spread with rapid heat to her whole body. I am open to the way my libido will change in the future, but for now, I am cradling the fruits of vulnerability: genuine pleasure.

How does your libido feel at the moment?

How would you feel if it looked different?

<3 <3 <3

Once again, this post was scoured for incorrect comma use by the divinest Louise Cain, editor extraordinaire.

Ps. Photos 1 and 4 on this page are from the incredible High Tide, photo 3 is mine and photo 2 is by literal queen Nan Goldin (1980, Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City).



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