When I began thinking about the concept of the “Divine Feminine,” I started to wonder about my own understanding of femininity—outside of the context of gender. I realized that, for me, “femininity” is connected to qualities like intuition, creativity and sensuality. But the role of sexuality seems, as always, more complex. Fortunately, I got the chance to sit down with sex and relationship expert Shamyra Howard to learn more about the role of authenticity, the function of sexology and what it means to be present in the process:
Katherine Tinsley: As a sexologist, what exactly do you do?
Shamyra Howard: I’ll tell you what I don’t do: What I don’t do is have sex with clients. That’s something a lot of people think sexologists do!
Sexology is just the study of human sexuality and how that translates across difficult types of constructs for people. There are so many people who practice sexology, such as nurses and doctors and other sexuality professionals. In my work, I specialize in sex and relationship therapy. I help people manage sexual issues and create their best relationships, while having amazing sex.
Sometimes people will come in with issues like having trouble orgasming or communicating or getting stuck in their heads during sex. A lot of what I do as a sexologist is basically giving people the sexual education they haven’t received before: so, medically accurate information, informed information, evidence-based information, intersectional information and, absolutely, Queer-inclusive information about sex.
KT: How did you find your way into this line of work?
SH: I started off while I was in my undergraduate program at Southern University. I worked as a peer health mentor for the Red Cross, going around and teaching young women on campus about HIV prevention. While doing this work, I realized that most of the people who we talked to (who were cis women) were not concerned most with protecting themselves from STIs and HIV. They were most concerned about protecting themselves from pregnancy.
I also realized that there wasn’t a lot of information about sex readily available. So, I started researching the information myself. I started reading articles and doing condom demonstrations; this is when I first delved deeply into the work.
By the time I was in graduate school, I had read all the pioneering works about human sexuality, all the Masters and Johnsons, the Kaplans, the Kinseys—and I wanted more. So, I was accepted into a PhD program in human sexuality. I stayed there for a year before I got pregnant and the first weekend is actually what changed my life: It was like “unlearn everything that you’ve ever learned.” My mind was blown. I was already a licensed clinical social worker, and I used this as a specialization. Getting certified as a sex therapist was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
KT: How does the overwhelming lack of sexual education affect how women are engaging with sex today?
SH: The lack of education especially affects women because the information they have is so dependent on factors like whether they come from a religious background where sex isn’t condoned before marriage or if they’re told to present themselves in a certain way. They might believe that, if they like sex, something is wrong with them or even just that sex is for their partner’s pleasure. Without comprehensive sex education, a lot of women are operating with mixed messages and misinformation and it limits them as it relates to pleasure. A lot of women have been taught that sex is something that is done to them, not something they participate in to receive some type of pleasure or enjoyment. So, with the limited amount of reliable information that people get around sex puts them in a position of not knowing to seek and enjoy pleasure—in and out of the bedroom.
KT: What is something you’ve noticed that women and femmes often struggle with in terms of sex?
SH: One of the bigger issues that I’ve noticed has to do with tapping into and demanding their pleasure. A lot of women have been so conditioned to give that, when it’s time to receive, they’re closed off. All day long, we are taught that, in our roles as parents or partners, it’s our responsibility to give and nurture. So, it becomes hard to receive, which might mean having a hard time orgasming, taking break or even recognizing when we are feeling overwhelmed. I don’t know where this comes from, but Black women and femmes are taugh t from an early age that their strength is determined by how much pain they can endure and, if they keep going and going, it shows how strong they are—and what’s the pleasure in that?
KT: What is the importance of self intimacy?
SH: I always tell people that “I” comes first in intimacy. This is why I created my book: Use Your Mouth: Pocket-sized Conversations to Improve 7 Types of Intimacy In and Out of the Bedroom. Intimacy starts with you. That is so important because, once you learn how to nurture yourself and how to give to yourself pleasure, you're likely 1) more open to receiving pleasure from another person and 2) more open to learning how another person likes to receive pleasure, as well.
Intimacy is not just sex. Sometimes when I ask people, especially in practice, to “tell me about intimacy,” they’ll say, “Oh, well, we have sex,” but they’ll also say stuff like, “I wish we went on more dates” or “I wish that you would touch me more outside of the bedroom” or “I like when you give me compliments” or “I’m afraid to tell you how I really feel because you might not like it”—and that is intimacy. Intimacy is when are are feeling seen, heard and understood, and that needs to begin with you.
KT: How would you define “divine femininity”? Why is it important?
SH: The most important part of “divine femininity” is defining what that means for yourself. What does “femininity” mean to you and what does it mean for you to be authentic in that? This has zero to do with gender for me. It’s tapping into what is authentic for you: how do you like to show up, how do you like people to experience you and how are you setting boundaries that honor how you like to show up? That, for me, is tapping into your divine femme or femininity.
KT: How can women use sexuality to tap into their divine feminine energy?
SH: Women can definitely use sexuality to tap into their divine femininity because sexuality is something that is with us our entire lifespan—from birth until death. It’s not just about sex; it’s about our emotions towards it, how we identify ourselves, how we like to express ourselves, the messaging we receive about sex, what we give and how we represent ourselves sexually. Are you someone who enjoys sex or someone who doesn’t? Are you someone who is more explorative about sex? Are you someone who thrives best in a sexual environment with one partner, two partners or no partners or are you someone who is motivated or not to have sex?
So, all of that encompasses your sexuality; and it has zero to do with how much sex you’re having or the type of sex you’re having. It has everything to do with what sexuality means for you, which is, again, tapping into your divine femininity because it has everything to do with authenticity.
KT: What does it mean to you to "live the process” and how can we all do that more each day?
SH: It’s important that we do “Live The Process,” especially in a world where it seems like everything is moving at a very fast pace and we are bombarded by pictures. Pictures tell us a thousand lies, and people believe those lies, unfortunately. A lot of people think that they can rush into something. But we set goals and we allow ourselves to move through these goals. To “Live The Process” means to trust the process and to understand what your goals are. It is the understanding that you can’t skip any parts of the process, even the hard parts. The goal is to go through this life as a journey.
Image Via @notoostudio