A woman welcomes me to the party with a blue ball and instructions to drop it in one of the plastic boxes lining the back wall. They’re labeled: "ashamed," "disconnected," "frustrated," "anxious," "neutral," "curious," "relaxed," "excited," "confident." I’m supposed to choose the one that best represents how I feel talking about sexual desire. (Spoiler alert: Mine is low, and I don’t really want to talk about it.)
“I’m going to have to work my way up to that,” I say, grabbing a glass of chardonnay from a passing tray.
And so begins Unblush, a night of panelists, food, drinks, and frank conversation encouraging women to talk about their sexual desire. I can hardly believe I’m about to breathe the same air as the speakers: Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, 2 Dope Queens’ Phoebe Robinson, Pen15’s Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, and my personal hero, Sonya Renee Taylor, author of The Body Is Not an Apology. I also can't believe I might be asked to talk about my own libido. My eye automatically goes to the “anxious” box, but it’s empty. There are a couple of balls in the “confident” box, and more than a handful in “excited.” I take a generous gulp of wine and go to the next room in search of food.
There’s no time to reach for a dumpling before another tray is in front of me with mac and cheese bites. At first I’m reminded of all those friends’ weddings where I skipped appetizers in favor of a fourth vodka tonic. Now I look around the room full of only women-identifying guests—and take two mac and cheese bites. I’m chasing a platter of fries and aioli when I see the wall of keyholes. Women are sticking their hands inside—à la your fifth grade Halloween carnival where the head of the PTA encouraged you to feel a bowl of cold spaghetti labeled “intestines.” I warily approach a keyhole and stick my hand through the opening. It takes all my self-control to not leap back as I feel someone grab my wrist on the other side. I inhale deeply as the person I can’t see kneads my palm and the skin between my fingers. I’m longing for a second glass of wine as they move on to my knuckles. All I can think is: When will this be over?
Let’s pause here. The hand massage felt good—but I felt uncomfortable with the physical touch, or perhaps the pleasure, to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy it. Throughout the night I watched that keyhole. One woman screamed when she stuck her hand through, and another winced the entire time. It’s hard for women not only to experience pleasure, but also to enjoy it. This is what Unblush was all about: Women owning their desire, their sexuality, and their libido, no matter where it falls on the spectrum.
After my hand massage, I went back to the room with the boxes and dropped mine in the one labeled “anxious.” I felt a twinge of shame as I heard it bounce against the others, knowing that I only felt comfortable admitting my anxiety after others already had.
After a quick stop by the essential oils table (I’m drawn to a vial of ylang-ylang and try not to laugh when the specialist explains it’s an aphrodisiac; I haven’t wanted to get down in months), I head to the auditorium. We’re given a number to anonymously text questions to during the panel. “We often feel alone in a lot of our secrets,” says Erskine in her opening speech with costar Konkle, who said her worst sex-related fear is that she’s doing it wrong. The audience is rapt as we hear similar reports from actress Gillian Jacobs, ob-gyn Lyndsey Harper, sexologist Shan Boodram, Academy Award–winning producer Melissa Burton, and entrepreneur Estrella Jaramillo. Such powerful, intelligent women can’t have the same issues in the bedroom that I do, can they?
I listen to them trade stories of exploitation in the industry, difficult partners, not wanting to have sex but not feeling entitled to say no, and the difference between sex and desire—and I realize that they can and do. I also learned that low sexual desire could point to hypoactive sexual desire disorder—a clinically diagnosed lack or absence of desire for sexual activity—and wondered how women are supposed to know if they should seek treatment for HSDD when we don’t talk about sexual desire?
Sex is hard—especially for women. We’ve been taught that our role is secondary and our pleasure is not important. If we enjoy sex, we often feel ashamed, keeping it secret. If we don't—or we're just not satisfied—well, we don't want to talk about that either.
You're entitled to desire. You're entitled to pleasure. Neither is just about sex. They’re both about you. They’re about what turns you on, what makes you hungry, what you chase after. Maybe that’s your partner, maybe it’s someone else, maybe it’s your vibrator. Stand up for what you want—from others and from yourself. Kick your shame to the curb and make your voice loud.
At the end of the night, I went back to the massage keyhole. Taking a deep breath, I stuck my hand through. I closed my eyes as the person worked on my palm, unlocking my legs and leaning against the wall as they began to roll my wrist. I made sure to notice the music—Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” of course. Afterward I ate chocolate cake and ran my fingers along a vase of peonies. Then I grabbed a purple ball, the one I was asked to drop into the box I most identified with after hearing the panelists.
I picked “curious.” Maybe it isn’t “confident” or “excited”—but it’s a start.
Ready to talk about your sexual desire—or lack thereof? Join the community of women at unblush.com.
Originally Appeared on Glamour