In Feel It All , Queer Therapist Casey Tanner Invites You to Have Your Own Sexual Awakening

For most of us, the idea of sex education brings up some uncomfortable and often embarrassing memories, whether it’s classes segregated by gender that explain the oncoming terror of puberty, or the endless litany of warnings about STIs and unplanned pregnancy with no room for any sex positivity. It’s no wonder that this culture of sex negativity has led us to experience all sorts of anxiety around intimacy.

Queer sex therapist Casey Tanner has already been doing her part to combat sex misinformation in sessions with clients, and through her insightful Instagram account, where she has accrued a large following. Tanner, who uses she/they pronouns, offers insights ranging from the factual, such as signs you’ve had an orgasm, to those that bust prevailing myths around sexuality, like reminding her followers that someone’s gender presentation doesn’t determine their sexual interests. (Not every masc has to love topping, for example, and not every bisexual fancies each gender equally.)

Their debut book Feel It All, out now from Harper, draws from their expertise as a trauma-informed therapist to dispel even more myths around sexuality, giving all of us the chance to benefit from their wisdom. Part guide, part personal narrative, the book details Tanner’s own journey from evangelical youth leader to queer sex therapist, all while helping us to understand the origin of our misconceptions around intimacy. It’s a book that recognizes the shared societal trauma of sexual miseducation while encouraging the reader to understand the nuance of their own experiences. With a gentle hand, Tanner helps us understand how our parents, friends, teachers, and a capitalist society have all impacted our intimate relationships with each other and, just as importantly, ourselves.

Ahead of the release of Feel It All, Tanner spoke with Them about the origin of her debut book, the shortcomings of sex education, and the power of queer enthusiasm.

Feel It All: A Therapist’s Guide to Reimagining Your Relationship with Sex by Casey Tanner

$30.00, Bookshop

What was the starting point for Feel It All?

I think the starting point of this book happened 10 years ago, when I was sitting in an inpatient residential psychiatric facility, and had been struggling with my mental health for a long time. I sort of had an epiphany when I realized that I was queer. None of my mental health providers had ever considered that my sexuality might have anything to do with my mental health. And it was at that point that I was like, “Oh my gosh, why are not enough people connecting these dots? And how can I connect these dots for myself?”

That started my own journey in sex therapy, which then led me to become a sex therapist. So when I think about the starting point for Feel It All, I really think about that version of me that never in a million years would have imagined that I would have written this book, but really, really needed this book.

That’s one of the things that I love about this book: how you chose to mix traditional nonfiction with personal insights to tell us your story. Why was that an important part of it?

I think whenever a therapist is talking about mental health, it can be really easy for there to be this divide between this healer and the people that are healing — and that divide isn’t real. That doesn’t exist. Every single therapist that I know has been on their own journey, so by using my own story as an example, I was hoping to start painting a picture of how diverse sexual awakenings can look: “Here’s my sexual awakening, but here are 10 of my clients’ sexual awakenings, and every single one of them is different.”

I wanted my readers to know that I have sat on both sides of the chair, right? I’ve been in the client chair and the therapist chair, and that the division between the two isn’t some lofty sexual perfection that no one can attain. And [I wanted them to know] that my starting point was rock bottom, just like a lot of other folks.

I’ve always had a different image of what a sexual awakening would look like. But then my sexual awakening came during the pandemic when I was isolated from sex and I got to have a think back over everything. My initial response to this book was thinking it was kind of a sex therapy session for queer people. But I think there’s actually way more to it. Would you say Feel It All is for everyone?

I think it’s time that everybody gets to learn sex ed from queer people, so I hope everybody reads it. The language that I teach in the book is language that is relevant to everybody. I don’t think that expansiveness is just for queer people; I think it is for everybody.

“The reality is that your value as a sexual partner has nothing to do with the experience that you’ve had before or after.”

Feel It All certainly invites readers to have their own sexual awakening, so for those of us coming into our queerness later on, how would you work to undo the anxiety around being inexperienced?

I like to say to people who are coming out later on that no time was wasted. I mean, if you weren’t spending your 20s — or the period of time before coming out — exploring your queerness, it’s not like you weren’t doing anything: you were still getting to know yourself, you were still developing, and there’s a ton of knowledge that you still bring to the table. So I first like to point that out.

I think secondly, inexperienced people can bring an enthusiasm and curiosity to the table that experienced people can lack. I think there’s a real gift in being with somebody who’s coming to the table, curious and open and enthusiastic, because I really believe enthusiasm is like 80% of what makes sex great. So lean into that hard.

I would also say, don’t make any hard and fast rules for yourself around whether or not you disclose that it’s your first time doing something. If you want to tell somebody, “Hey, this is my first queer date” or “This is my first time having queer sex” — if that lowers your anxiety, awesome, have that conversation. But if it raises your anxiety, you don’t owe that information to anybody. You get to decide on your timeline.

That’s definitely something that comes up for me a lot is whether I need to lay all of my information out. Then I work my way back from that and remind myself that no one has ever given me the lowdown on their sexual history.

It’s because we have been taught paradoxical things about our value as a sexual partner: the more people we sleep with, the less value we have, but the less experience we have, the less value we have, right? Either way, we end up not feeling valuable. The reality is that your value as a sexual partner has nothing to do with the experience that you’ve had before or after.

It does feel really like you have to undo the virginity myth in your head.

It helps when you realize what a joke it is that we’re all supposed to be these pure virgins who are also amazing at sex, right? Like, the standard is impossible! There’s just no way. Nobody can do that.

Sex therapists and erotica authors share their best tips for navigating gender dysphoria in the bedroom.

One of the things that comes through is the importance of exploring queerness in other ways and not defining it solely by who you’re having sex with, or how you’re having sex.

It’s the virginity myth all over again, right? Like, it’s just being applied to queer people. It’s this idea that we haven’t solidified our identities until we have had sex in those identities.

And it’s a double standard, right? Straight people don’t have to have sex to prove that they’re straight. Why do we?

I think it’s a harmful thing to queer people to equate queerness with queer sex, right? I think the longer you are queer, the more it invades every area of your life, even if it maybe starts out as just being sexual. It just feels like a huge minimization of what queerness is to equate it with having sex.

What do you hope that people are going to get out of Feel It All?

I hope people walk away willing to surprise themselves, no matter how old they are, no matter where they are, or what kind of relationship they’re in. I hope that people let go of this idea that they are ever a fully formed sexual person and that there’s nothing left to surprise them or awaken them. And I hope they go out with new language, new eyes, new ways of connecting, and through that process, have a more secure relationship with sex.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Feel It All is available now via Harper.

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Originally Appeared on them.