Considering the intense attention doctors and parents paid to the sexual equipment of people who’ve had genital surgeries as children, it’s no wonder that the first challenge to a satisfying erotic life is feeling that these parts of our body belong to you. As more than one intersexed person has discovered, it’s hard to feel at ease about your body when other people have been making decisions about it or intruding upon its integrity without your permission. Most of us try to avoid situations (like a doctor’s office) where that’s likely to happen again. When such experiences cannot be avoided, we tend to either numb out or become hyper-alert to how we’re being treated.
You’ve probably discovered by now that avoidance, numbing, and hyper-vigilance are not great sexual aids. We bring those same strategies with us into sexual situations because some of the aspects are the same (getting undressed, being vulnerable, being touched and looked at). This similarity and the low self-esteem many intersexed people are left with as adults make many of us too shy to date, convinced we’re going to get rejected for our “flaws” or freak out if someone gets too close, physically or emotionally.
You’ve made one positive step toward claiming your sexuality by visiting Bodies Like Ours. By beginning to discover your history and share it with people who have similar histories, you start to define yourself and be valued by others just as you are. Some people come here because they are worried they are gay or lesbian, that their infertility or sexual discomfort will prevent them from finding a loving partner, or that they are too physically or emotionally damaged to ever feel close to anyone else. Participating in chat rooms, listservs, and bulletin boards are relatively easy ways to listen to a variety of people talk about their social and romantic relationships and to learn that loving, healthy people practice a range of sexual activities.
Most of us, however, eventually want to meet and date people face to face. How you go about doing this depends a great deal on how sociable you are and where you live. It’s easiest for people who live near big cities and don’t mind taking the initiative. One time-honored means is to join a volunteer organization or activity group focused on something you truly enjoy — the local animal shelter, a hiking group, a political campaign. The more you have in common with someone you’re attracted to, the more comfortable getting to know one another will be.
Before you start having sex with other people, you might want to spend some time getting to know your body better, not as the reason you have to take medication or spend time in waiting rooms or therapy. Take a warm shower, put on some good music, and take yourself on a sensual date. By exploring your entire body (don’t focus entirely on the genitals; other parts of the body can be very erotic to touch) you’ll discover how you like to be stimulated and where. By masturbating, you’ll know whether scarred areas are numb, hypersensitive, or even painful. Partnered sex improves with experience as each of you gets to know what turns the other on, if you can tell your lover what works to begin with, you’ll both be happy with the results.
When is it best to tell a potential sexual partner about your body? It’s easy to say something like, if you are afraid of telling this person, you’re not ready to have sex either, but this is not the same experience as asking someone about sexually transmitted diseases and contraception; you’re revealing something most of us don’t reveal to anyone. Some people tell the story on the first date so there’s no worry that a relationship will develop and then be lost by the revelation. Others wait until just before they have sex or even during it, as in a partner’s asking, “What’s this?” Perhaps what’s most important is that your timing allows you to share this history with as much positive self-esteem as you can muster. As one activist writes, presenting yourself as a happily unique being is more likely to excite a partner and evoke respect and acceptance than acting as if you’ve got something to be ashamed of.
— Thanks to Dr. Nina Williams for researching and writing this important article for Bodies Like Ours.