The Heart and Soul of Sex: Exploring the Sexual Mysteriesby Gina Ogden
Drawing on the results of her unique national sex survey—and on decades of clinical practice as a sex therapist—Gina Ogden offers a revolutionary exploration of women's sexual experience. The best sex, say thousands of women, doesn't just happen in the body. It is multidimensional, connecting body, mind, heart, and soul. In The Heart and Soul of Sex, Ogden coaches readers to fully realize the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of sex, making what she calls the "ISIS Connection."
Throughout the book are firsthand stories of survey respondents, offering examples of how ordinary women—from ages eighteen to eighty-six and from many backgrounds—have found their own way to sexual expression that is deeply satisfying and even life-changing. The Heart and Soul of Sex takes the reader on a journey beyond the usual emphasis on performance, including practical exercises that can be done alone or with a partner. Ogden shows us that we can be much more than we've been told—not just fun and exciting but deeply healing, magical, and transformative.
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Introduction: Listening to Women
As a sex therapist and researcher, I’ve had the privilege of listening to thousands of women describe the most intimate aspects of their lives. The more I listen the more I understand that sexual experience encompasses much more than what happens in the bedroom. It can affect our whole existence—and can become a powerful path to growth and healing.
Sex is more than something we do. Sexual energy is part of who we are, though we may not always be aware of it. Many women speak of sex as a kind of ongoing journey that changes how they respond to the world around them. Their stories range from ecstatic confluences of body, heart, and soul to chronicles of hurt, disappointment, and abuse. And many women also speak of holding back, so they experience only a tiny fraction of their sexual desire and potential.
Whatever our experiences of sex, and whatever our age, cultural background, or sexual orientation, it’s almost impossible for any of us to tell the whole story. We simply don’t have the language to convey the full range of our sexual feelings, our longings, fears, or dreams of what might be. Our fast-lane culture sexualizes everything from beer to Barbie, but it doesn’t yet acknowledge the core power of sexual connection: its ability to transform our lives.
The national conversation about sex trivializes women’s most meaningful experiences. Sexual slang reduces us to body parts. The just-say-no language of sexual morality offers too many “shoulds” and “oughts.” The clinical language of sexual science shrinks sex to what can be counted or measured—pulses, spasms, hormone levels, goals. In some ways, the language of spiritual experience comes closest to expressing the fullness of our sexual response, for it is the language of connection and ecstasy. I’ve heard women describe their most joyous sex as “bliss,” “a joining of hearts,” “a revelation,” “a gift from God.”
My goal in this book is to expand how we think and talk about sex—by offering information from thousands of women and suggesting how their experiences might broaden sexual meanings and language for all of us.
The Varieties of Sexual Experience
The core information in this book is based on results of a nationwide survey I conducted on integrating sexuality and spirituality—known as the ISIS survey, for short. I received 3,810 responses, making ISIS one of the largest American scientific sex surveys. Most of the ISIS respondents were women. Their ages span seven decades, from late teens into their eighties. These women are diverse in other ways too, including race, religion, education, politics, work, geographic location, sexual attitudes, and the kinds of partners they choose.
The ISIS survey asked respondents how they experience sex and what sex means in their lives. Extraordinarily, this was the first (and so far only) nationwide sex survey to ask these kinds of questions in any depth. Other surveys have asked how many partners you’ve had, how old you were when you first menstruated, how often you masturbate, have intercourse, and achieve orgasm. We can count and measure all these data, and they help us understand the physiology of sex. But they don’t move us toward understanding the deeper purpose of sex in our lives or the power sex has to change our minds, our relationships, and our bodies.
The ISIS survey responses are unique in sexual science. Respondents wrote almost 1,500 letters describing the varieties of their sexual experience. These are remarkable documents, spontaneous, moving, often surprising. They are the first to confirm from women all over the country that there’s far more to sex than mainstream experts have led us to believe. They delve into the mysteries of sexual connection—how to open up our hearts and souls, how to let our partners know what we most deeply want, how to keep from being overwhelmed by so much feeling, so much trust, so much light. Their collective story challenges fifty years of performance-oriented norms established by other major sex surveys, from the 1953 Kinsey Report to the 1976 Hite Report to the 1994 Social Organization of Sexuality. The generous spirits of these ISIS women shine on every page of this book.
The Heart and Soul of Sex is based on scientific research, but it’s also based on what I’ve learned in my life—as a clinician since 1974, and as a woman on this planet since well before that (I was thirteen when the first Kinsey Report was published). After all these years I know at a deeply personal level that sexual energy permeates our lives from the very beginning. From nursing my babies I’ve seen how closely pleasure is linked to our first stirrings of life-force—our infant instincts to nuzzle and suck. Nobody’s charted when our sexual energy ends, but I was once privileged to witness its glow in a dear person who was only hours from death. His wife had put on a CD of dance tunes they’d loved and he began to move—first a finger then a shoulder. He was dancing! And he was inviting her to join him. She crawled in bed with him and they danced into the night, hearts touching, until he left his body.
The truth is, our sexual energy is always with us, whether or not we choose to act on it in a genital way. It’s not just about intercourse and orgasm. It’s about receptiveness and movement. It’s about our most profound emotions and how we reach out to touch others. It’s about how we think and feel and love. It affects every aspect of our lives and it’s potentially there until we cease to inhabit this planet. As an ISIS woman wisely said, “Sex isn’t everything, but it is a part of everything.”
Using This Book as a Guide
The chapters in this book weave together a story about sex that’s never been told before in quite this way. The themes come directly from the experience of contemporary women—the thousands who answered the ISIS survey, and thousands more who have attended my lectures, workshops, and therapy sessions over the years. They illustrate the depth and breadth of our sexual responses—from what I call skin hunger to emotional flow to cosmic connection.They acknowledge that sex can be a wellspring of our highest human values. They validate the complexity of our sexual journeys and the wisdom they inspire.
The book also reveals some of the roadblocks to integrating sexual energy into our lives. It tells how the selective sex education we receive as girls and women diminishes our sense of what we can expect as lovers, wives, and mothers—creating a sort of “gaslight” syndrome that so gradually deprives us of light we don’t recognize we’re functioning in the dark. The Heart and Soul of Sex spells out ways we can transcend guilt, shame, and good-girls-don’t messages to find sexual safety and sacred union. It offers insights into the ravages of sexual violence, abuse, and substance dependencies—how these can wreak havoc on our sexual choices and our ability to give and receive pleasure. From my years as a marriage and family therapist, I know that a crucial part of recovering the ability to love is sexual recovery—reclaiming those shards of your inner self you’ve jettisoned in the attempt to outrun your demons.
There is guidance and advice in many of these ISIS stories. Not the mechanical kind that tells you how to turn your engine on and keep it running, but practical nonetheless, because there are suggestions and exercises that really do work if you practice them. The aim is not to set a new sexual standard for women. We’ve already had too many standards set for us—the last thing we need is to bump the bar up any higher. The aim of this book is to affirm what many women are already experiencing, or at least longing for: intense emotional contact and a sense that true eroticism encompasses much more than intercourse or orgasm or pleasing your partner at the expense of yourself.
In these stories the paths to sexual satisfaction connect physical sensation with spiritual energies such as love, compassion, commitment, empathy, and reverence for life. The intent is to help you discover which paths lead away from your center and which lead you home to yourself.
Part One, “The ISIS Connection,” invites you on a journey of discovery. In these eleven chapters you’ll travel through a broad new landscape of sexual health and meaning. You’ll learn about the ISIS research. You’ll be introduced to the ISIS Wheel, a user-friendly model that helps you become aware of the many aspects of your sexual experience—physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. You’ll hear how other women have been able to move beyond old, limiting beliefs about desire and performance to find deep sexual wisdom that’s opened their minds and transformed their lives. You’ll also learn about a breakthrough in sex research: how contemporary brain studies reveal that all of us have the capacity for sexual responses that are widely multidimensional. This is evidence-based support for the ISIS model of sexual experience.
Part Two, “Paths to the Heart and Soul of Sex,” invites you to incorporate these ISIS discoveries into your own life. Here are eight chapters you can use as your personal coach. They can help you move toward more meaningful, satisfying sex even if you have a history of disappointment and abuse. You’ll learn about the chakra system to help you open your own flow of sexual energy, and about Tantric techniques to help you connect physical sex with your spiritual values. Steps and strategies in this section include guided imagery; intensive journaling; communication exercises; role-playing; values clarification; affirmations; guidelines for creating sexual ceremony; and playful suggestions for increasing your sensuality, empathy, and spiritual sensitivity.
At the end of the book you’ll find the original ISIS questionnaire on integrating sexuality and spirituality so you can see how you might answer these questions—and what your answers have to teach you. There are also suggested readings, counseling resources, and websites that enable you to look beyond this book for information and support. And beyond this book, another book based on the ISIS findings is in the works, one that explores how our relationships impact our sexual experience—as well as more closely examining the issues of sexual desire.
However you decide to use this book, may pleasure and wisdom guide your journey, and may sex touch the depths of your heart and soul.
Meet the Author
Gina Ogden, PhD, has had a distinguished career as a marriage and family therapist, sex therapist, teacher, researcher, and author. She is the author of several books, including Women Who Love Sex and The Heart and Soul of Sex, and has been a featured guest on numerous radio and television programs including Oprah. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Dr. Gina Ogden moves the discussion of sex from a quantitative ordeal (how big, how many, since when?) to a qualitative discourse (how deeply felt, how connected, how passionate?) Or let¿s say that she uses quantity ¿ 3,800 people, mostly women, answered her survey ¿ to get to the quality of their experience as sexual creatures. There have been very few American sex surveys this large and few that concentrate on what Ogden coins the ISIS: the integration of sexuality and spirituality. In fact, the scope and focus of this in-depth enquiry into what women feel about sex challenges the very nature of classic American sex research, which prefers information it can simply count. Ogden demonstrates that girls want to talk about sex not in terms of how many pulses there are in an orgasm or the length of our clit hoods, but in terms of where sex takes us and what that journey feels like. Ogden¿s survey has given thousands (33% more than the Hite Report) of women that opportunity. ¿The Heart & Soul of Sex¿ addresses the need of women to take control of their own sexuality through the sex-positive message that all of us have the right to intimacy and pleasure. The book then provides tools and self-help material to use in connecting spiritual and sexual sensibilities. WHAT DOES THE SURVEY COVER AND WHAT ARE THE RESULTS? Ogden explores the connection between spirituality and sexuality and finds that 69% always or sometimes feel that really satisfying sex needs to have a spiritual element. The vast majority connect that spiritual sense to being in love or feeling committed. This would come as no surprise to lesbians, perhaps, who as two women often have a double-dose of the love-huggies. The survey shows a good deal of overlap between the respondents who felt sexuality involves ¿excitement¿ (97%) and ¿oneness with partner¿ (94%) and the 91% and 85% respectively who felt the same thing about spirituality. I was surprised that a full 15% (the largest number) said drinking or drugs contributed least to spiritual sex. So much for the 1960s! Dr. Ogden points out that this has been a self-selecting survey: women who identify as spiritual are likely to have been receptive. Still, it is interesting that 84% of those surveyed said they had ¿experienced sexual ecstasy¿ and a bit surprising to my cynical mind that a full 70% felt the same about ¿spiritual ecstasy.¿ But the final (44th) question of the survey is revealing indeed. How important are these three things to your present life, it asks: Sexuality (84%), Spirituality (91%) and Religion (34%). Clearly Ogden is on to something: women want it, but they want it heart and soul.