Kimberly Johnson wants you to know that she sticks her fingers in vaginas and anuses. “Often, halfway through an interview I have to repeat that I do internal work,” she explained to me over the phone. “We’re so disassociated from the pelvis we can’t even imagine what that would look like.”
Over the course of our hour long conversation, Johnson points out many ways we’ve disassociated from our body parts and what we do with them.
Her work isn’t mainstream—she compares its current popularity and probable trajectory to being a doula 15 years ago—but she feels the urgency is greater as women’s sense of their own sovereignty rises. Kimberly does body work to help women (and some men and people outside the binary) better understand their bodies specifically in relation to sex, birth, and trauma. Sometimes this work is helping someone understand how their body has registered trauma. Sometimes it’s helping a woman physically prepare for birth. Some sessions don’t involve touch at all; people want to be heard, to learn, to understand.
The purpose of all this work? To help shift the cultural paradigm through which we view bodies, pain, and pleasure. To help introduce us to the next wave of feminism: which includes embodiment and pleasure.
Feminism and Sexuality: A shifting culture
“I’ve seen a difference in my work since the [2016 Presidential] election in terms of women’s availability to want to adjust their own sexuality. Not only their willingness, but I do hands in, hands on work, and the perception of that just 4–5 years ago was totally different,” Johnson explained. “Now women are saying, I’m not going to let old issues run my life anymore.”
Women are being proactive not just in response to a threatening political climate, but also as an empowered stance to taking back their bodies.
“The last wave of feminism,” according to Johnson, “was about breaking the glass ceiling and doing everything men could do and doing it better. Now we’re realizing that’s not actually working for us. In some ways, instead of becoming more feminized and growing more powerful, we adopted a more masculine approach because that’s what dominance (and success) looks like in our culture.”
The next wave of feminism, then, isn’t about proving equality but about proving the strength in our differences. “There’s something very radical about a woman claiming her own pleasure because it’s a cultural interjection about what’s needed at large.”
Deconditioning our internal framework
To access this shift, we need to “decondition our scripts—familial and cultural.” Many of Johnson’s clients come just to ask her, am I normal? Is this normal? The fact that so many of us have these thoughts, about ourselves and our bodies, suggests we examine where they came from.
To do this, Johnson suggests going back in time. “What did your mom tell you about sex? What did she tell you about your body? How about your dad; what did he tell you about sex? What did he tell you about your body? What did you learn from your mom about sex? We’re getting implicit and explicit messages all the time. What did you learn in your first sexual experience? If that first experience was really painful, we expect [sex] to be painful. Women are conditioned to think the first time will be painful.”
This resonates with me; numerous conversational flashbacks of “getting it over with” and understanding “it would hurt.” The paradigm through which I’ve long understood sex, Johnson helps me realize, is so…masculine.
Reversing power dynamics
“Often when women think of empowered sex, they think of the masculinized version of empowerment. ‘I have sex with lots of people and I don’t care about them that much. That means I’m empowered.’”—Samantha Jones, anyone?—“I’m trying to help young girls and women see that there are many reasons we may be engaging in sexual behavior. Understanding those reasons helps us make choices in alignment with what our body and mind want and can tolerate. Ultimately it should boil down to, ‘is this where I want to be right now?’”
We have been taught to view the act of penetration as something happening to us, which is inherently vulnerable. What if we flip the script and see the same act as a man’s penis being engulfed by a woman? “It’s not just women who have attachment stuff when sex enters the equation; when a woman engulfs a man, it reverses the power dynamic and men relate to that.”
This changes the paradigm of the woman being on the passive, receiving end solely because of anatomy. How else can we flip scripts, decondition sexist conceptions around sexual acts, and allow women to understand their sexual power?
Feminizing sex means better sex for all
Based on Johnson’s predictions, the future of sex—both in terms of how we embody it and how we have it—is exciting. “Where we’re going is a version of sex we’ve never known. Female pleasure wasn’t even on the radar 20 years ago. We still don’t even have a full, accurate understanding of clitoral anatomy.”
As a society, we’re pushing boundaries, questioning what we know, and speaking more honestly with younger generations about sex, love, and consent. And contrary to opposing beliefs, female pleasure doesn’t have to come at the expense of, well, anything.
“It’s not like the feminization of sex is about upholding female pleasure at the expense of male pleasure,” Johnson said. “I don’t think men have any idea what they’re missing out on. When female pleasure is worshipped, there’s no place else to go but better.”