Gina Ogden, PhD, LMFT is a twenty-first century pioneer in sexuality and spirituality. Her latest book, The Return of Desire: A Guide to Rediscovering Your Sexual Passion (Shambhala, 2008), combines her decades of experience as a sex therapist, a teacher, and a retreat facilitator. She’s also the author of Women Who Love Sex(Shambhala, 2007) and The Heart and Soul of Sex (Shambhala, 2006)—a book based on findings and stories from her breakthrough nationwide survey, “Integrating Sexuality and Spirituality” (ISIS).
Gina’s chosen path is to work with others to help broaden the understanding of sexual experience beyond limiting notions of function and dysfunction. Through this, she sets the stage for a woman’s mind to feel safe enough to sink into the pleasure of her body! Enjoy the following excerpt from her new book, The Return of Desire, which will certainly help women everywhere connect with their deepest desires. – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Expanding Your Own Story of Sexual Desire
By Gina Ogden, PhD, LMFT
The route to great sex is like the route to any other of life’s deep mysteries. It means exploring new emotional landscapes. It means opening your wild, precious, vulnerable self and allowing the Divine to move through your body. It means daring to know what you want.
What do you want? How do you plan to ask for it? What will you do with it once it comes to you? There’s the popular myth that desire ought to be spontaneous, a kind of hormonal deus ex machina that drops from the heavens while you’re folding the laundry. But for many of us desire takes conscious preparation. Even contemplating what you might want can take preparation—especially if you’ve been raised to believe that good girls don’t, and aren’t supposed to speak up about it, either. Think of Cleopatra and her triumphal entry into Rome. The elephants, the jugglers, the plumed canopy. What kind of procession do you need for your sexual desire to blossom and flower?
I’m an eternal optimist, and I believe your life will be better when you can answer these questions—even if they are difficult for you. I believe that answering these questions will make your life better even if you have a sexual partner who can already play you like a magic flute. And I believe that becoming clear about all the aspects of what you want and what you don’t want will also make your life better even if you don’t have a partner. Because at the end of the day, the being who most needs to hear this information is you.
Find the Space to Explore—A Honeymoon of One’s Own
Opening up to all the energies of sexual desire means more than just activating the requisite hormones and neurotransmitters. It also means expanding our whole lives and nourishing our spirits. A word I hear again and again from women is “connection.” We crave a sense of oneness with our partners, ourselves, and the universe. We yearn for touch and love and meaning. And we long for these even though we may be embarrassed or scared, or reeling from histories of hurt and disappointment.
But not all of us want to be immersed totally in our partners, not for long anyway. Even in the closest relationships, we need some downtime, some space to be ourselves. Feminist novelist Virginia Woolf famously wrote of the need for “a room of one’s own.” She uses this phrase in reference to British women in the 1920s, but it speaks volumes about our current requirements for the return of sexual desire into our lives—the need for privacy, for time out from housework, child care, aging parents, and on and on.
You may need a room of your own to provide the space for you to recognize your deepest sexual desires. And if you can’t afford the actual real estate, you may need to create some kind of psychic and emotional space all for yourself. I’m not talking just about scheduling a haircut or massage, indulgent as that may seem. I mean making the space to think and feel and connect with your own inner being.
A friend who was about to embark on a honeymoon with her second husband echoed this sentiment when she confided, “He asked me where I wanted to go, and all I could think of was how wonderful it would be to just go someplace all by myself where I could regroup and reenergize.” It wasn’t that she didn’t care for her new husband—or that she didn’t look forward to some hot honeymoon loving. Her statement sprang from her need to recover her own identity, amid the chaos of amalgamating two boisterous families—five children, two dogs, various parents, stepparents, grandparents, and more.
Her idea made so much sense to me that I routinely suggest women take themselves on solo honeymoons every once in a while—to refresh their senses and spirits, to connect with themselves, to be still and listen. If you can afford a pricey spa vacation, well and good. But you can also keep it simple. How about an afternoon by a rippling stream? How about a date with your journal, or your favorite music, or your trusty vibrator? An hour or even ten minutes stolen from a hectic day can help rejuvenate you. Meditate. Smell a flower. Take a shower. Take a walk. Take a nap. Or just breathe. Often it’s in our breathing that we find the space to visualize what we want—to feel it in our bodies, know it in our minds, hearts, and spirits.
Follow Your Dreams
It’s crucial to understand the difference between your fantasies and your deepest dreams. Fantasies offer delicious hassle-free vacations from your everyday activities. You can be Sleeping Beauty, Sex Goddess, Queen for a Day. Your fantasies can refresh and restore you. They can inform your sexual desire, but they may not be reliable to hitch your wagon to. As one woman admits of her forays into her fantasy world of bondage with rock stars, “They’re great places to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
A dream is your heart’s desire—that comes from deep within you and that motivates you, body, mind, heart, and spirit.
“To hell with happiness—I want ecstasy!” This is how a beloved colleague expressed her sexual dream to me many years ago. I find myself weaving her into book after book because her spirit brings me so much joy—the kind that calls out to be shared. Her exclamation urges us to think big, to refuse to settle for a life that’s half-full.
What is your dream? Your happiness? Your ecstasy? Many of us discover the answers bubbling up through the actual dreams that come to us in sleep—the level of consciousness that slips under the radar of cultural conditioning. Images and stories revealed here can be powerful guides to what we want and the sexual directions we want to follow.
Here’s how one woman began to explore a crucial question in her sexual story. She’d come to one of my workshops to explore whether or not to commit to a new relationship with an old flame. I tell her story as an example of how the universe can help you clarify what you want if only you stop, look, and listen.
A week after the workshop, this woman had a dream that shifted her fear of commitment and opened her to exploring a new level of sexual desire. In the dream, she was confronted by a huge lion whose mane was braided with golden bells. On the one hand, she was terrified by the lion—she feared it was going to tear her apart and kill her. On the other hand, she was elated, because she also recognized the lion as a protector, a benevolent being from the spirit world who was sent to deliver a message that would change her view of life and death—and give new direction to the form her sexual desire might take.
Later, as she reflected on the dream, she understood that part of the lion’s message was indeed about her death. But it was not about her physical death. It was about tearing apart and killing off the fear that no longer served her—especially the fear of fully engaging in the new sexual relationship with her old love. It was as if her dream was revealing a process of healing and transformation, the kind that can take place instantly and magically. She ultimately accepted the dream as a kind of shamanic initiation—in which the spirits dismember the old dysfunctional you, then put you back together, more completely whole and with a new lease on personal power. In her case the new lease on power was permission to allow herself to feel the full range of her desire to join her new relationship—and at this writing she says she’s committed to doing exactly that.
Not all of us can conjure up such a magical dream to help guide how we’ll follow our wild and precious desires. But we can all use our imaginations. When you’re rescripting your own story, remember to factor in all your experiences of sexual desire including your daydreams and nightdreams. Prepare to expect the unexpected. The basic lesson here is that sexual desire has many faces—and the major one belongs to you.
Excerpted with permission from The Return of Desire, by Gina Ogden, PhD (Shambhala, July 2008).
Gina Ogden, PhD, LMFT has written for magazines like Parade, Fitness, and Ladies Home Journal, she’s appeared on media from talk radio to the Oprah Winfrey Show, and she conducts workshops around the country—which create a safe and powerful forum for women to open to the wisdom of their own bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. Gina lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she’s researching her next book: The Best is Yet To Come: Women Talk About Love, Sex, and Aging.
Learn More — Additional Resources
- The Heart and Soul of Sex by Gina Ogden, Ph.D., LMFT
- The Return of Desire: A Guide to Rediscovering Your Sexual Passion by Gina Ogden, Ph.D., LMFT
- Women Who Love Sex by Gina Ogden, Ph.D., LMFT