The Ties That Bind Us
by Madam Stina Rae
The Trending Northwest team believes sexual health is a key component of our overall wellbeing. Because our society can be a bit shy when it comes to the bedroom, we wanted to provide a safe space where you can ask your most burning questions—and feel free to use an alias.
The Ties That Bind Us is a spicy advice column written by Madam Stina Rae, an advocate and mentor in both the queer and kink communities. She can help give insight on your sex and relationship needs and curiosities.
Is your poly triad in rough waters? Do you and your partners want to explore a more taboo experience? Do you just want help asking out that super cute human you’re sweet on? This space is a judgment-free zone where you are welcome to ask some of the most personal questions with total anonymity. Make sure to check back next month to see your question answered!
Dear Madam Stina Rae,
I’m questioning if I might identify as asexual. I am in a happy partnership, but find myself not feeling a sense of sexual attraction to my partner or anyone else. I love being close with them and don’t mind physical touch, but rarely do I feel “turned on” or “in the mood” for sex. I feel bad when my partner tries to initiate and I can’t “get in the mood.” This was a point of contention in a previous relationship and I don’t want my current partner to not feel desired. What advice do you have for me?”
I cannot thank you enough for your vulnerability and writing in. It can often be a very emotional headspace when questioning your sexuality and how you identify. Especially when you have had past relationships where it has planted the seeds of fear and worry around similar situations.
I feel so often we have had it engrained in our minds that love equals sex, so when we don’t quite match up to the equation, it taught us a norm of feelings of failure, which can cause shame to creep in and take over.
I have had partners that identified as demisexual, graysexual and asexual. Even though I am a very sexual person, we had deeply intimate relationships with varying levels of sensual to sexual intimacies between us. What I found that made all the difference and kept us from having hurt feelings was because we communicated extensively.
When I say this, I don’t mean we talked once or twice and then moved on, but discussed our feelings at great lengths, as well as maintenance check-ins so that we were sure assumptions weren’t clouding reality.
There are many kinds of relationships and not all of them revolve around sex. Sexuality is fluid and exists on a vast spectrum. We complicate sex and sexuality, but it is vital to express it enough to give yourself time and space to explore what you are feeling.
Be gentle and kind with yourself while on this journey. Giving yourself space to research and read up on the varying levels of asexuality, if you feel more sex-adverse or sex-neutral, for instance, and reflect upon what resonates with you.
I have helped partners along this process and explored it myself because I have realized that I identify much more demisexual over the past 5 years and didn’t understand it at all. What I have done when talking with my partners was discuss openly and honestly what each of our needs are with sex and intimacy.
People naturally can be on different sides of the sexual spectrum, but that doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be compatible and fulfilling. It just may take more open communication and understanding of where each of you is coming from.
There are so many ways to connect sensually without ever going sexual and provide you both the connections to bring you closer, make them feel desired by you and not pressure you to “get in the mood” for sex. You stated you love the closeness and don’t mind physical touch, so I would love to give you a couple ideas to help strengthen your connection:
- Creating an intimate space to share where you can give them sensual light touches intentionally where they enjoy being touched. You can include sensory deprivation like a blindfold where it takes some pressure off of you. That way, you won’t be feeling like you are being watched when you are unsure of yourself at first. Then you can start by grazing their cheeks lightly, slowly run your hands through their hair and pay attention to their body language, letting that be your guide if you are unsure. I like to curate a playlist that creates the ambiance I want them to feel during this experience. Slow touches help build anticipation and make them crave your touch even more. That build up can easily be just as good as something more sexual. It can help create a whole new level of intimacy for you both.
- I love providing acts of service for my partners as part of my love language. I have given sensual massages, cooked them their favorite meals or things like giving them a sensual hot shave. If you have been together for a while, then chances are you know many of the things they enjoy, but don’t forget that talking about it can be part of the fun. You can have fun together talking about what kinds of things you both enjoy connecting over, what non-sexual but intimate things they either have wanted more of or wanted to experience. More than anything, creating a safe and loving space where you both can talk about your feelings, wants, and needs. Intent makes so much difference and helps a person feel seen, heard, and loved.
The two things that I find are key when working on challenges in a relationship are honest, transparent communication about our own needs and wants and active listening to theirs.
We are not always going to match up with our partner in every facet, but we can get creative in our relationship to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Who said we have to follow the standard norm of what society deems a relationship should be? With lots of work and open communication, those differences can be something that brings newfound depths to the relationship.
Instead of focusing on the acts that come with sex, turning that focus to the feelings they get during those acts and explore what things within your comfort zone that you can do to give them those feelings. Be kind to yourself while you explore your sexual identity. Shame has a way of creeping in and telling us we are wrong because we don’t enjoy “X”.
Wherever you land on the spectrum, remember you are exactly where you belong in this moment. Be bold when being vulnerable and talking about your fears, needs, and desires. You are worthy of those things and your partner deserves the opportunity to give you those things if that is something you want to share with them.
Remember: love does not equal sex, and intimacy does not require sex. I feel intimacy requires transparency and vulnerability and when relationships keep that strong in their core, the differences, though they take more work, can be something that in the end strengthens a partnership.
A song I find myself listening to when I am in this kind of headspace with my own ever changing sexual identity and drive is Que Sera Sera by Sly & the Family Stone. It has a way of grounding me, reminding myself it’s okay to feel unsure of myself when I am in a time of personal growth, and it kind of connects me to those I am naturally close to in my life.
SEEKING SELF LOVE
Dear Madam Stina Rae,
I struggle with body image and confidence. After weight loss surgery, I am always scared that people see me as how I used to see myself in the mirror every day, rather than see me for all the time, hard work and effort I’ve put into bettering myself. I’ve worked hard on changing my clothing style and being more true to myself; but do you have advice on how I can show myself a better self love? I can’t always dress up for others, it’s just not realistic. How can I learn to be nice to my body on those really rough days I hate everything about myself?”
– Seeking Self Love
Dear Seeking Self Love,
I wanted to applaud your bravery for going through weight loss surgery. As someone who has had gastric sleeve surgery, I know from experience how much work is required for it to be a successful and healthy life change to grow from. That kind of life altering experience changes us as a person and we want to be seen for who we are actively becoming instead of who we were.
There is so much controversy about weight loss surgery and those that choose to get it. Sometimes people think of us as having cheated, or that we took the easy way out. Many people do not understand why a person considers taking that road and instead gets condemned for being fat, then judged for actively doing something better for themselves.
We often spend a lifetime being filled with shame for simply taking up space and then slowly unpack that shame as we work through the reality of our body shrinking in ways we cannot control. The amount of emotional self-work that goes into living life after weight loss surgery is unmeasurable. Then, when it gets diminished by people’s opinions and comments on our choices, it can sometimes feel like we have already failed, making us question why we even try.
Before my vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG) in October 2019, I had never explored my clothing style before. I settled for being happy that clothes fit me and never explored what I actually wanted my fashion expression to say about me because the opportunities simply terrified me. I was afraid of drawing attention to myself and what people might think of me. Sometimes I would be paralyzed with fear and shame, sitting in a puddle of tears on my closet floor, worried about judgment at family and social gatherings. I became an expert at masking and concealing how I was feeling with a smile and depended on my bubbly personality for people to focus on.
Then after the surgery, I worked the program like I was supposed to and the weight started falling off, but I found I had very little control over what was happening to my body. Every week there was something new I had to adapt to and accept as the new me. It took me quite some time to even be transparent about the fact that I was having surgery because I didn’t want to hear everyone’s thoughts about my very personal decision.
Then, when I was brave enough to go out into public, people would fawn over the changes but do so to an extent that made me constantly wonder if I really looked that bad before. I then felt insecure about my weight loss because I spent so much time making myself seem smaller and now people suddenly felt so compelled to exclaim so loudly about it, making it a constant topic that was brought up. I felt like people couldn’t see past the surgery to see me as I was and the work I had been doing on myself.
I was very lucky to have such a supportive husband and partners that rallied around me and not only helped keep me on track, but took on some of my needed habit changes for their own. That kind of acceptance and feeling of being seen at home was so critical for my success. I went into my surgery without a goal weight or dress size in mind. I just wanted to feel happy, find comfort in my body, and not hold myself back in the things I wanted to do because of my size.
With self-love, acceptance and advocacy for our needs and boundaries, that can be such a hard road full of uncertainty, but remember that you are so incredibly worth it. When I was rediscovering and accepting the version of myself that had been hiding inside my entire life, I started asking myself what goals and hobbies I wanted to explore. It had nothing to do with my weight but was me finally saying yes to myself.
I am a big fan of making lists, so I started writing things down no matter how little or big they were a part of me and deserved to be explored. As I made my lists of passions and interests, I also discovered new ways to cushion my fall on bad days. I created a mental list of clothing that I feel good in but require zero effort to wear for bad body days.
Instead of forcing myself to dress in a high maintenance way, it was acceptable to wear something cozy on days where I had very little energy to give. I had to tell myself that I wasn’t being lazy over and over. It is okay to not be okay. I began building an arsenal of self-care options to choose from with varying levels of energy output so that I could help myself even when I felt myself falling into a bad head space.
As I slowly explored new passions, I built a core group of people that I trusted and felt not only accepted, embraced, but truly saw me for who I was. Within that group I could build upon the way I expressed myself. I noticed I was becoming more confident and less afraid of letting my voice be heard. I found my anxiety was becoming easier to manage the more I learned about myself as I also started opening myself up to new people that I met along the way.
So often we think we have to do this all on our own because our burdens are ours to bear, but you are deserving of so much more than silent suffocation. Self-reflection is scary, but I think it is key to self acceptance.
A song I send out to you is The Story by Sara Ramirez. I choose this version because I find the raw vulnerability in their voice when they sing to resonate so deeply within me. The song may talk about being meant for someone, but to me it always hit me as coming from a place of self acceptance over the course of a lifetime of growing and reinventing one’s self. When listening to them sing, I felt empowered in my growth and change as I honored each version of myself. It gave me hope I would find myself.
Madam Stina Rae
The Ties That Bind Us is a spicy advice column written by Madam Stina Rae, an advocate and mentor in both the queer and kink communities and the co-owner of Atomic Threads Boutique (@atomicthreadsboutique). She can help give insight on your sex and relationship needs and curiosities. Is your poly triad in rough waters? Do you and your partners want to explore a more taboo experience? Do you just want help asking out that super cute human you’re sweet on? This space is a judgement free zone where you are welcome to ask some of the most personal questions with total anonymity.