Erotic Innocence

Radical Ritual: Reclaiming my Virginity {NSFW}

The Virgin Mother on the Cross

The Virgin Mother on the Cross

I burned my wedding dress in the Burning Man temple this year. Or rather it burned while I watched—tears gushing from my eyes, snot running down my face. An unapologetic display of gratitude and grief. Ignoring the impulse to run into the fire and wrap myself in the warm comfort of the past, I chose instead to wrap my arms around me—knees tucked into my chest like a scared kid on her first day of school. Because that’s what it felt like—the first day of a brutal lesson in love that I was only just beginning to understand.

I liked to think I was good at relationships. This was my first error among many—attaching my ego to some version of relating based on doing it “right.” Always the consummate A+ student through-and-through. But when my relationship GPA depends on being a good girl (need to get into college to find a husband after all), then my wants/needs/desires get left behind out of fear of disrupting the class.

So I had to burn down the institution in order to see what was left. Because I knew whatever survived the blaze would not only be true, it would be the raw material in which I could turn lead into gold. The way of the alchemist—sharing her gifts once the inessential has been stripped away.

I met someone at Burning Man this year who asked me a simple question: When do you feel most powerful?

The answer came quickly: I feel most in my power when I dance/speak/move like no one is watching.

When I behave like no one is watching, I move from desire—an internally-motivated way of being that is rooted in truth and profound self-love. When I think others are watching, I notice how I posture myself in order to cater to their needs or assuage my discomfort.

-Who is this person?

-What do they want from me?

-What do I want from them?

-What do they think of me?

-Do they like me?

-Who do they know that I might know?

-Who holds the power right now and how can I get more?

-Do I feel jealous of this person?

-Do I think I am better than this person?

I think most of us go through life in a constant state of external reference—placing our power and agency into the hands of others rather than in the center of our own bodies. This shows up most powerfully in our most intimate relationships—both romantic and familial.

My intention at this year’s burn was to reclaim my power and agency through a revirginizing ritual. To be clear, revirginizing isn’t about denying my sexuality. It’s about reclaiming the original definition of the word “virgin.” In biblical times, a virgin was a woman who was owned by no man. She could own land. She was considered whole unto herself. That was my prayer. To return power to my center and choose relationship from wholeness—not unconscious patterns based on filling some ego-void or antiquated systems intended to deny a woman her holy right to erotic power and fulfillment.

The ritual was simple: walk to the temple in my wedding dress, take it off, and leave the temple naked. I intentionally left a lot room within my planning because I was curious what magic the playa would contribute.

I gathered my midwives (instead of bridesmaids) around 5pm Friday evening. Dana helped cinch me into my ponderous dress while I tried to ignore the sweat dripping between my legs. Lance offered me his arm and we set off on foot—literally, I was wearing no shoes—towards the temple. 

My midwives, Lance and Dana

My midwives, Lance and Dana

We got about two blocks down the road when we met a woman passing out cupcakes. She saw me in my dress and Lance at my side and offered her congratulations. I knowingly smiled and said “thank you,” amused at her hetero-normative assumption about my intentions.

I grabbed a cupcake and said, “It’s my unwedding day.” Curious, she wanted to know more. I told her about my ritual and she laughed. “Wow,” she said, “these cupcakes just came from a wedding."

How fitting that on my unwedding day I should eat the cake first. I had indeed gone through the looking glass. Full circle.

When we stepped out onto the esplanade, people kept congratulating me as they biked or walked by. I simply smiled and accepted their best wishes.

About a quarter of the way towards the temple, a woman asked to take my picture. I could tell by her camera that she was a professional photographer. She moved me around a bit, placing me in the best angle to the sun. When she asked me where I was going, I told her about my ritual. She decided that she wanted to document it. The playa had provided my unwedding photographer.

About halfway across the playa, we found ourselves at a giant rosary with a cross in front. Since I was reclaiming my virginity, I decided embody the Virgin Mother while placing my body against the crucifix. An offering to the Christ consciousness that lives within me. Again, wholeness. Holy masculine and feminine merging within my own body and blood. After all, I had just attended a spontaneous Eucharist at the temple a few days before.

On the cross

On the cross

We stepped off the platform and made our way to the temple—stopping briefly for an apropos Bloody Mary along the way. Now literally filled with the blood of the Virgin Mother (and bleeding in my own right given that my menstrual cycle had started a few days before), I was ready to enter the temple’s sacred void.

What was meant to be a ceremonious entry devolved into utter absurdity as a woman—who thought she was singing the wedding march—started to sing the Imperial March from Star Wars. I couldn’t help but both laugh and marvel and how perfect her error was. I suppose I was crossing the threshold into some sort of cosmic death star. I thanked her for her contribution and continued along my path.

I circumnavigated the temple clockwise, my midwives holding space behind me while I sung O My Beloved. It was a medicine song to the Beloved within my heart. I always liked to take a page from Hafiz’s book whenever the opportunity arises.

Singing medicine songs

Singing medicine songs

When I finally returned to the entrance, I slowly weaved through the crowd—pulling my dress close to my feet so as not to swipe the faces of those sitting. When I entered, I noticed the center was completely empty. Folks were gathered around the edges, but there was simply open playa in the middle. At first I hesitated, thinking there must be some sort of ritual happening. Then I remembered—oh yeah…mine.

Entering the temple

Entering the temple

I moved toward the center and stood for a moment. I wondered what I should do next. Then I remembered: “Just do what you would do if no one were watching,” I told myself. I removed my front veil and gently placed it on the ground in layered folds. I laid my white flower—my unwedding bouquet—on top, then proceeded to remove my back veil and placed it on the ground, too.

Dana then came to me and helped remove my skirt, which fell to the ground in a heavy poof of whipped cream organza, satin, and lace. She then unlatched the many hook-and-eye clasps that bound up the corset and unlaced the ribbon that held it in place.

In one final sweep, I pulled the corset over my head and there I was, naked in the center of the temple with a hundred forgotten eyes watching me. Not sure what to do next, I felt into my center and knew I needed to give gratitude to the garments that had once so lovingly held me. I dropped to my knees upon the dress and fell over—bundling the fabric in my arms. Tears formed around the edges my eyes and my body gave way to rippling—not quite crying, but a sort of activation through my spine. An enlivening. An awakening. A rebirthing. 

Rebirthing

Rebirthing

I then stood, holding the dress against my bare chest and walked to one of the pillars at the edge of the temple. This was when the grief hit me. Through waves of jangled sobs, I made a prayer as I clutched the garment one last time.

“Thank you for the magic and the prayer that was my marriage. Thank you for the great honor I got to carry while in this relationship. I release myself and all others from unconscious patterns and suffering that hold us back from our power. I now choose wholeness and I call in ways of relating based on choice rather than fear. When this dress burns, may this prayer return to Source so that its gifts may be bestowed on those who now need to learn these lessons. Aho.”

As I put the dress between the pillars, a Hawaiian man who had been watching the ritual came up and spoke a prayer in his native tongue. He ended with “Mahalo” and I responded with “Mahalo” in return. I then began to sing a Ho’oponopono song as I turned my back to the pillar. It was then I saw several people had gathered behind me to witness the ritual. I’m not sure what called then to the temple that day or why they chose to witness. But I am grateful for their presence and I hope that through their witnessing, they too got the medicine they needed.

Not standing on ceremony, I quickly walked out the back entrance of the temple and returned to the open playa. The professional photographer came up to me—visibly moved—and wanted to take shots of me as my new self. Another woman came up and offered me a stick of incense as her thanks for allowing her to witness the ritual.

My unwedding photographer

My unwedding photographer

An offering of incense

An offering of incense

Naked on the playa

Naked on the playa

After they were done, I walked naked back to camp—stopping only for a moment to say hello to a marionette art piece of a teenage girl called "Step Forward," who, coincidentally, was dressed in her wedding whites.

"Step Forward" in her wedding whites

"Step Forward" in her wedding whites

I created this ritual not as a “fuck you” to marriage. In fact, I created it for quite the opposite effect. I created it to cleanse my heart of unloving ways of relating that cause harm and suffering to all the lovers in my life. I created it so that I could live my life from sovereignty and choice. I created it so that I can use my power in heart-centered ways. I created it because I want to know what genuine love can be without getting caught in the trappings of seduction and romance. I created it because I want a life where my sexuality is an expression of authenticity rather than a means of validation.

While huddled on the ground at the center of the temple, the words from The Grandmother’s story in my book Reclaiming Eros: A Heroine’s Journey came to mind:

It was in this moment Nan realized how very lonely she had been. Not just in this life but for lifetimes. Nan began shaking and weeping.

“Oh God,” she cried out, “I miss God.”

Unbearable love pressed against her chest. It was a spherical expansion that cracked the edges of her ribs and tore through her skin. As her heart burst forward, the back of her body burned—like simultaneously giving birth to wings and dying in the phoenix’s flames. An involuntary wave of gratitude and grief gripped her throat, and she keened an ancient sound that twisted with both agony and wonder.

“We touched love,” she thought to herself. “Not ephemeral romance, that crunches and pounces and cramps. But love. Pure. Rich. Golden. Love.”

This is the kind of love I want to call into every moment of my life—full-out, unabashed awe of the ordinary and devoid of the kind of pride that prevents us from living in direct communion with those that we love.

Finally, I am reposting a video I created nearly two years ago called SLUT, a poem I wrote for my book—which also happens to the Virgin’s poem. How little I knew then how far the journey to reclaiming eros would take me…and how very clear that this student has a lot more to learn…

SLUT: A Poem

Penitent Magdalene  by Titian

Penitent Magdalene by Titian

I was a Virgin for a long time.

 

Perhaps you think

I mean

I took 21 years

To let a man Penetrate me

 

Measuring

My Worthiness

By the diminishing inches

Of his Cock?

 

No.

 

I mean a Virgin

In a language long forgotten:

Lost in the ashes

Of burned witches

 

Or in the silenced vows

Of Brides of Christ,

Whose names were erased

In canonical Genocide.

 

I was a Virgin.

 

A woman unto herself;

Whole; Unshackled; Owned by No One;

And in this way

We’ve always been Virgins--

 

Our women's wisdom,

Written in our Mothers' bosom,

Survived the translation migration

From page to pyre.

 

Observe your Holy Rights.

 

Do I deserve to be attacked,

Unwritten from history,

Because I fucked my way

Through the Zodiac?

 

Keep your righteous indignation.

Your taunts and jeers

Only urge my Vestal Reclamation

And the resurrection of my Erotic Innocence.

 

We. Are. Coming.

 

So here I stand:

Palms stretched, legs spread,

Re-Virginized once more,

While making love to the Sacred Whore.

Womanhood and the Reawakening of My Erotic Innocence

Originally posted May 23, 2012

Also view this article on elephantjournal.com

I have been a very dirty girl. And I’m OK with that.

Well, sort of. It’s more like I am learning to love this part of myself. She’s been in hiding for some time now, afraid that if she speaks to loudly or chews with her mouth open or runs naked through the streets, people will get angry. Or they will laugh at her. Or they will watch her with a starving madness and she will feel their shame burning through her skin (which will then light the fire of her own shame and her ‘good girl’ cover may get blown).

But this ‘dirty girl’ is not what you might be thinking. She’s no ‘been-there-done-that’ kinda chick, nor does she spend her nights trolling around town looking for the next hot lay. She’s actually quite naïve—she comes from a place before her sex got tied in the knots of social conditioning.

We’ve only been recently reacquainted.

I’m face down on the bed. My legs are spread. My lover pushing himself inside me. My right fingertips are on my clit. His hands are tangled in my hair as he shoves my face into the pillow. I am bellowing from a place deep within the basement of my soul. It’s uncontrollable, as if a fury has taken over my voice. I vacillate between crying and laughing. Grieving the release of past trauma and marveling at the humorous absurdity of it all.  I am a 31-year-old woman possessed by the banshee spirit of a 4-year-old while in the throes of some pretty brutal fucking.

And within it all, the anger, the terror, the hilarity and the tears, is a tremendous amount of turn-on. My whole body is alive. I have expanded to a point just a hair’s breadth beyond the limits of my safety, for the moment. I feel a twinge of guilt in not pushing further, as if my sex were some sort of product to deliver (and the business of my sex demands utmost customer service), but we fall asleep, sweetly drenched in the hair and sweat of our electric togetherness.

But what expands, must equally and oppositely contract. A few hours later, he reaches for me in the vulnerable darkness, hands on my ass, cock pressing against me. All at once a rage snaps my body tightly together, a violent ‘No’ escaping my throat and I clutch the sheets in a feeble attempt to scurry away. I am angry and terrified, as a childhood ghost flies through me. My lover holds me tightly, letting me know that I am safe. After a few tense seconds, my body slackens, but what was once alive has now gone numb.

And this frightens me. I know this place. I took up residence for a number of years. Starving myself in the addiction of anorexia in the attempt to quell the voices of a ravenous (and dangerous) sexuality. Maintaining a pre-pubescent state of being so I didn’t have to face the terror that comes with stepping into womanhood.

After a few minutes I fall asleep. I leave his place the next morning, quiet and unfeeling. I don’t know how to make sense of what I am experiencing. Is it resentment? Violation? Pain? Anger? Shame? All I can tell is that my emotional body has shut down and is on some sort of autopilot. A big block of cement sits right on my belly. If I let the old Candice take over, a passive aggressive brew of sexual withholding and the silent treatment isn’t far away.

A few hours go by and the pain starts to thaw. Vulnerability wins. I can feel again. I break down and call him, crying. I am a confused mess of a woman. On the one hand, I am angry at all men who rape women and for every man who has ever only wanted me for my sex. On the other, I ashamed at my compulsive need to have every man I meet want me sexually. Who am I if I don’t have my sex to offer as collateral for my right to exist in this world? My insecurity breeds a way of being in the world that invites the very reaction I most fear and therefore, it also invites a reaction that comes with a large amount of desire. Desire to confront and know myself as a woman of sexual maturity.

We end the conversation. I feel a bit more relieved, but there is still a bubble of unexpressed desire sitting in me. A few hours later, I meet with a friend for an OM (Orgasmic Meditation). The moment his finger slides onto my clit, the bubble wells up into my eyes and I am silently crying. In this moment, as he is stroking me with tenderness and care. I connect with the sexual innocence of a child. It is sweet, soft and nurturing. I feel emotionally safe and free from shame—something for which my body has hungered for a long time.

As kids, we are naturally curious about our bodies and express pleasure without concern for what others think. Children aren’t born with shame; they experience it once they learn from adults—who are themselves wrestling with their own unhealed wounds around shame and fear of abandonment—that some part of who they are is ‘dirty’ or ‘wrong.’

Our erotic journeys begin at conception, which is itself a sexual act. You see little babies touch themselves in utero. We are birthed through our mother’s genitals. We are nourished at our mother’s breasts. Our fathers hold us in their laps and tickle us to tears. The entire experience of young childhood is both sensual and innocent.

Then shame enters the picture. This can look like adults condemning erotic expression and setting up walls between themselves and children; or, as in my case, adults will be so erotically starving and are unable to share that with their adult partner (if they even have a partner) that they will use their children for energetic support, which opens the door to emotional or physical incest.

Here are a few highlights in the tapestry of my childhood sexual shame:

I can remember being 6-years-old and the neighbor boy pulling down his pants and showing me his ‘wee wee’ and me thinking “Oh my God, I hope my mother doesn’t walk in on this.”

I can remember being 9-years-old and having family members tell me not to dance or lick my lips like Madonna, lest I get the ‘wrong’ kind of attention.

I can remember being 10-years-old and having play acting sessions with my girlfriends in which I would pretend to be the ‘guy’ and we would kiss and rub up against each other. I was both frightened that they would tell their parents and mortified by how much I desired to kiss them again.

I can remember being 11-years-old and teasing one of the girls in after-school care about being sexual. She went and told one of the leaders, who then accused me of child abuse.

I can remember being 12-years-old and thinking I was the only female in the world who masturbated. I had heard all the jokes about boys doing it, but not girls. I thought I was some sort of pervert.

Shame is an arena where most of us can relate, but are too afraid to share with each other because of the repercussions society dishes out for deviating from the sexual ‘norm.’ We women are supposed to hold on to our ‘precious’ virginity as long as possible and only give it up for guys that are ‘marriage material.’ Then once you finally pick one guy, only fuck him for the rest of your life. Be a whore on-demand with him at night, but totally asexual during the day. Without the freedom to explore our desire and communicate it to our partners, we often live our lives with our orgasm locked in resentment and rotting inside our bodies.

Men don’t have it much easier. They are expected to walk around with perpetual hard-ons and their worth as a man rests on their ability to please a woman all night long (a farcical notion frequently expressed in many love songs). If his only experience is from watching porn and talking to his buddies, he may lie to cover up the fact that he doesn’t know how to handle a woman’s pussy and is too ashamed to admit it. This shame, which is vacuum-sealed like Saran Wrap around our fear of sex, is why both men and women continue to hide within the ‘safety’ of societal conditioning; thus, unfortunately, widening the chasm between ourselves and our authentic erotic expression.

Many of us in more ‘liberal’ cities may think we have moved past this kind of archaic relationship with sexuality, but I contest that it is very present. The war on abortion and women’s reproductive rights is a direct attack on female desire. The recent ban on gay marriage in North Carolina (as well as the ban on civil unions for both gay and straight couples) reinforces the belief that unless you are in a monogamous, long-term, heterosexual relationship, you are an unlawful deviant of society. Abstinence-only sex education is getting more of a push from right-wing leaders and now, young girls are attending events known as ‘Purity Balls,’ in which female teenagers pledge their virginity to God and elect their fathers as guardians—a role which then passes only to her future husband.

As you can see, there are many people and institutions more than willing to take the load of sexual responsibility off our hands. And the longer we continue to play this charade, the harder it gets to separate our personal truth from the social lie.  To stand up and say, “No, it is my life, my body and my sex. I will decide what is right for me,” is nothing short of revolutionary.

In the past, I thought this meant doing all the kinky things I had avoided during my young adult years (my focus on school and my marriage were great places for my sex to hide). This ‘saying yes’ to every sexual opportunity that came my way was ‘proof’ that I was sexually expressed. I see now that the more powerful (and vulnerable) choice lies in reclaiming my own erotic innocence, i.e. that part of myself that is simple, pure, unfiltered in her desires and lives with the ethos of ‘pleasure for the sake of pleasure’ and enjoys something simply because it feels good (rather than looks good), without the fear of ‘not deserving it’ or ‘what do I have to give up in return.’ She doesn’t have to show off or prove her worth. For her, ‘No’ is a valid response—it gives her ‘Yes’ that much more power.

And my erotic innocent is a little dirty at times. Because it’s fun to break the rules. To be a little bad. It turns her on. Rebellion is exciting because it paves the way for some new discovery—shakes up the status quo and creates the opportunity for messiness, play and growth. In confronting my childhood trauma, shame and hidden desires, I am now creating the space for all facets of my erotic being to emerge. Within this sexual self-compassion comes the ability to empathize with each person and accept their erotic self. The newborn, the homeless guy, my father, the elderly lady on life support, the nun—everyone is a sexual being. We are all perfectly built for sensuality. And it is through personal acceptance that the doors of inspiration, abundance and living the life of your dreams open. It’s not a silly, utopian fantasy or a special place reserved only for those lucky enough to find it; it is your birthright.

The journey is not easy. But if it were easy, it wouldn’t be as much fun. The pain, the shame, the falling apart, the voices of doubt—they are not my enemies. They are the raw material for my creativity and serve to remind me just how exquisitely human I am—all I have to do is to surrender to them. What a gift that is. To recognize the gift, accept it with humility and pour out gratitude in service to the Divine is nothing short of grace. And it is within the grace of surrender that an erotic innocent is ushered into Womanhood.