The High Stakes of Sexual Mystery

October is here, the month of my birth, as is Libra season. Though it happens every year, I am endlessly amazed by the sense of power I feel as Fall descends. This is my time in that curious metaphysical sense (isn’t time always metaphysical?)

But there’s so much more to it this October; the stakes are higher for me than they have ever been before.

Summer was an emotional minefield. I’d been researching myself. More specifically, I looked long and hard at my sexuality.

For the last 20 years I have loved a man who is my best friend. And for those 20 years, I have pursued sexual health therapy with multiple professionals to be a better intimate partner, wife, and heterosexual woman. In 20 years it was never suggested to me that the problem was my view on sexuality. Instead, my #metoo moments and #whyIdidntreport informed a heteronormative approach to my mental health. I was deemed “broken by men” and the work I did was to fix myself “for men”.

The work. That work. It consisted of me diving deep into myself and confronting a herstory of physical violence from friend and family alike. It looked like me breaking myself apart on purpose so I could perform for the male gaze successfully. So I could give myself over body and mind instead of hiding in a corner of my psyche and experiencing re-traumatization due to physical proximity.

It was hard work, made harder by the reality that it was the wrong work.

With the support of my husband, I began to question why every released trauma made it more difficult for me to sexually engage. He asked me to take space. He talked to me about the attraction I have to women. And with his encouragement, I began to examine my bedroom behaviors. I realized there was a “safe” place I was going in my mind when the possibility of intimacy arose. It was very different from reality. I was imagining myself in the arms of a woman. It made me feel whole, happy, complete.

I began to ask myself frightening questions: Why did I marry a man? Was I attracted to men? Could I stay married to a man?

The answers were quick to arrive. I married my partner because he was safe. My family was not. He was an escape. I married him because he is my best friend, I love him and because he is a man. Marrying a man was what I was supposed to do. And then we had kids. Because that’s what we were supposed to do.

Accepting that I am not attracted to men took me longer. I do love looking at men. They are beautiful. I went back through my crushes and big loves and was forced to admit to myself I’ve never liked touching men. Yes, touch can be fun, but the boys and men I chased after were (and I’m sorry fellas) adjacent to a girl or woman whose attention I wanted. They were the safe place for my eyes and emotions to land because I lived in neither a time, place nor family where wanting women was acceptable.

Women are what I want. When I accepted this truth about myself, I felt an immense relief. Okay, first I felt panic. I wondered who I am and how I could have hidden from my sexuality practically into midlife?

Clarity came quickly on the heels of fear: I am a survivor of violence who performed the life she was told she should. It was integral to my survival. From those choices came a best friend who has grown with me and supported me in finding myself. Together we have three beautiful children. He also has his own romantic partner, a woman I am happy to have join our family.

And I have mine, a woman I met at a moment when the only clear thought in my head was, “I’m comfortable not meeting anyone for at least two months, maybe two years.” She was a shock and a welcome one with whom I’m able to experience how safe and varied intimacy can be.

Life is a mystery. That’s what this month on Heart and Humanity is all about. I know it better than ever. I’m taking it all one day at a time. If you are feeling stuck in your life, know you can come here to read the wisdom and vulnerability of open hearts.

I hope you join us and find yourself in these pages. Happy October!

Shawna Ayoub Ainslie


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Shawna Ayoub Ainslie

Shawna Ayoub Ainslie is a mental wellness advocate and writing coach in Bloomington, IN. She teaches writing through trauma for release and recovery to survivors and veterans through the Center for Creative Writing, Ivy Tech Community College, and Survive Your Story. Shawna is also The Relationship Blogger's Editor-in-Chief.

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