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Melissa Vrouvides is a writer, social media manager, and psychology student living in Montreal, Canada. She joined the WOOP team of regular authors after her personal story was featured in the Finding Wonderland segment. Here is her first article with WOOP.
I hear myself utter, “If only I could go back in time and tell that young girl that saying, “No,” wouldn’t have lessened her worth...” As the words escape my lips, I feel a familiar pang in my chest; a sensation I now recognize as my truth being spoken.
I hang up the phone with my friend and fall into a tangled mass on the couch. We have just spent an hour recounting sexual experiences of our past. Of our younger, naive selves who failed to prevent certain acts from diffusing through our minds and bodies. Acts that are somewhat difficult to swallow.
But that’s ancient history now. Though what’s astonishing is how we embodied those roles with such expertise. Roles that we never wanted in the first place but seemed to be placed upon us without our awareness; by this patriarchal society we’ve been born into.
It isn’t the first time I have a conversation like this with the close women in my life or those who have swiftly passed through. It won’t be the last either. Our exchange triggered an examination into my sexual evolution, relationships with men, and everything in between.
I’m flooded with sadness when I recall the times I demonstrated or accepted certain behaviours that were out of alignment with my inherent character. Why did I, might you wonder? For countless reasons but truthfully, my sense of self was so frail that, for a time, I believed sex was all I had to offer.
It also cannot go unmentioned that rape culture, especially during my twenties, was thriving. I don’t know a single woman who, at one point or another, wasn’t gaslit into believing that she was a tease for not “finishing what she started.” And admittedly, I was not exempt from this.
Next, there is the age-old limiting belief that I feel many of us possess to some degree or another; that sacrificing ourselves, be it for men or children, is part of what defines us as women. Undoubtedly, we each have unique upbringings and experiences that shape our sexuality, and my childhood certainly had profound effects on my own. To quote psychotherapist Esther Perel, “Tell me how you were loved, and I’ll tell you how you make love.”
Nevertheless, I don’t think that we can deny the fact that, regardless of upbringings, we are learning most of our sexual education from pornography. These days, porn has transformed into a complete dramatization of sex and glorification of the degradation of women. Call me a wet blanket, but I can’t help questioning the type of harmful impact this has on the budding sexuality of impressionable girls.
And what type of internal blueprint is this creating for young men surrounding the treatment of women? Slapped. Choked. Spat on. Forced sex. Fish hooked? Why and when did we begin normalizing sexual violence toward women? I strongly believe in freedom of expression but if we are being conditioned by what we consume then it isn’t freedom, is it? Is pornography disconnecting us from our sexual essence and widening the gender gap?
Smoke and Mirrors
Looking back on my sexual experiences, true connections were few and far between; even on occasions when I would rave to my girlfriends about how amazing it was. Reflecting back, what I meant was that the performance was amazing. Seldom was it ever two conscious beings united mind, body, and spirit. No, no, it was two individuals unknowingly acting out a dramatic scene from a movie.
And throughout my experimentation, whether it was with casual or serious partners, there seemed to be a shared trait; nobody was interested in the style of making love, it was all about fucking. And ultimately when you’re not secure in your own skin, you follow the majority, adopting qualities that aren’t necessarily part of your intrinsic nature. It was certainly the case for me.
Now, I have endured entire long-term relationships giving the appearance that I was satisfied while suppressing my truest desires. Which never really were to be bent over doggy-style, while being stabbed repeatedly in the cervix at lightning speed. But, if that’s what my partner needed then so be it, right?
Wrong. To each their own, but I think that the minute we sacrifice ourselves when it comes to sex, it will inevitably evoke separateness. Casual or not, sex should be about unity. Yoga; not the western world’s appropriation of the term but the true philosophy, which can be applied to anything. The Sanskrit meaning is to yoke or coming together. Oneness with every action, whether washing your dishes, brushing your teeth, or making love to your partner.
I believe porn is inducing the exact opposite by teaching us to withdraw from our bodies and those of our partners. And I’m not going to open that can of worms to discuss the neuroscience and profound effects that regular use has on the brain and our relationships, I’ll invite you all to do your proper research.
I will, however, speak from my personal experiences. I can discern, like so many women, the moment I am intimate with a man who is a regular porn user. He is not with me. For whatever the duration, I have become his tool for masturbation. I have experienced it firsthand with both serious relationships, and casual encounters.
And my mistake rested in my complicity. In my adoption of the mentality, “Embody porn character, get him off and get it over with.” Anything to avoid that dreaded conversation. And possibly be met with resistance, I know I certainly have. Because let’s face it, I’m not the only woman who deserves an Academy Award for her role in the bedroom. So, when you think of it, we have been our own worst enemies in perpetuating the cycle of unsatisfied sex.
Meet Me On the Bridge
When I decided to incorporate psychedelics in my path to healing, I had done my research. I expected the repressed memories to resurface or the dismantling of deeply held belief systems. But I had never anticipated mushrooms exposing the lie I had been living in regards to my sexuality.
From the day I first began my relationship with psilocybin, I have been undergoing a metamorphosis. Each dose comparable to a spool of yarn unraveling, and buried within those fibers, little scattered pearls of truth. Some beautiful, some uncomfortable; all necessary. And concealed beneath the wool lay yet again, an unpleasant reality I was meant to face.
I had been embodying a role for so long, that it became a second skin. The role of the wild, porn star in the sack who, without fail, came 5 times or more and always howled like a banshee woman. It’s almost laughable when I think of it. Almost, but not quite. Every time I would enter the bedroom, I unconsciously slid her on, and after all these years she fit like a tailor-made glove.
The role of a woman who was up for “anything you wanted.” Who remained neutral to “slut” pillow talk, sometimes even echoing the words back. How twisted when I think of how I requested to be degraded. Like a perfectly trained puppy. Sometimes I wish I could travel back, wrap my arms around that girl and hold her until she felt the love she so desperately sought.
Well, thanks to fungi medicine, that glove no longer fits. I can’t even fathom putting it back on after everything I’ve uncovered. Though I have pondered, if it would be easier to go back to pretending. To regress and join so many others in navigating this world, drowning in their ignorance.
To not have to do the hard part of taking accountability and asking myself, “What do you want? No, no, who are you without society telling you?” Who are any of us without social programming? Without our traumas. But that is the beauty of psychedelics. They strip all of the bullshit away and leave you face to face with - you.
Sounds scary? Maybe a little at first. Pretty empowering getting to write your own narrative though, uninfluenced by all the noise. And I must say, this chapter of my life has been the most rewarding yet. There is undeniable confidence that comes with falling in love with yourself, and that energy transcends all. So, if the process requires turning over stones only to find pills that aren’t so easy to swallow, so be it. Because ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance is easy. Raw, meaningful connection is bliss and so is getting to know the real you.
Off the Beaten Path
So, how do we narrow the gap between the masculine and feminine? How do we stop pouring salt onto these deep, generational wounds we’ve been carrying? How do we reconnect?
The magnificent Stevie Wonder once said, “Without truth, we cannot have accountability. Without accountability, we cannot have forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we cannot heal.”
Perhaps the first step is in looking in the mirror; undertaking the hard work of acknowledging that these wounds exist, and accepting responsibility for ourselves. For the roles that we play in our own discontentment. Meditating on difficult questions, like “Is this my truth or was it handed to me? Is this character I’m playing congruent with my values? Are these values even mine? What are my deepest desires?”
A quick fix doesn’t exist for such a colossal problem. This is going to require slow, deliberate work and God knows, introspection is not always easy. Our psyche sure does a grand job of building defense mechanisms, to protect us from seeing beyond the image we have built up of ourselves. But the best weapon I have encountered thus far for penetrating this indestructible armour has been plant medicine, and I wonder if it could be one of the answers to dealing with this gender divide tangibly.
And what about redefining sexual education? At home and in the classroom. Teaching valuable skills to young women like resilience building. Creating such a strong sense of identity that the sacrifice of their body for the other, at the expense of their soul, is never an option. And I’m not suggesting censorship. Merely the possibility for us to explore our sexuality before porn sets the standard and contaminates our perspectives.
Personally, I have completely abandoned any use of pornography. I have no intention to shame those who do choose to consume, but I could no longer ignore how desensitized I was becoming. How I began building tolerance to more twisted themes and degradation. And at this point in my healing journey my desire to be disrespected, in real life and my fantasies, has dissipated. To watch my sisters onscreen being devalued angers me so, supporting an industry that exploits them is no longer on the table.
As I allow former versions of myself to wilt away, deepening my relationship to mind, body, and spirit, what turns me on is conscious connection. Being honoured and worshipped like a Goddess. Because that’s what I am. All women* are. And when you connect to that divine truth, it materializes into every other aspect of your life.
My vision for the future is one where the female collective has reclaimed control of their minds and bodies, in social and cultural conditions suitable for her highest growth. Our current society does not represent this fundamental need. And monumentally less so for our Black, Brown, Latin, Asian and Indigenous sisters.
We have a ton of work to do if we want radical change, as well as a myriad of scary truths to unearth and uncomfortable conversations to be had. But the truth cannot be ignored if we want the coming generations of young girls and women to thrive.
So, bring on vulnerability, taboo discussions, and unpopular opinions. I’ll take that over neutrality any day. And maybe I won’t be around long enough to see that vision for the future.
But I’ll be damned if I don’t use this precious life of mine to be a piece in the puzzle.
*women of all racial, cultural, gender identities and sexual orientation including but not limited to QueerLesbianBiTransInter
Melissa is a freelance writer, translator, and social media manager, passionate about topics ranging from feminism, racial justice, psychoactive substances, and mental health. She also studies psychology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
Inspiring awakening in women through storytelling, advocating for the legalization of psychedelics, and raising awareness on non-traditional methods of therapy are among some of the missions that fuel her. When she isn’t writing, she loves spending time in nature with her dog, listening to music, engaging in meaningful discussions, or reading a good book.