Conversation with Pamela Madsen, Author of Shameless
Sex educator Pamela Madsen joins us today to talk about her new book, SHAMELESS: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner. After being married thirty years, Pamela embarked on a sexual adventure that she explores in her memoir about a new monogamy. She proposes by allowing yourself to be truly seen by your partner, you can achieve a level of intimacy that you may never have felt before. So lets get started, Pamela.
NR: Why did you write this book and what gave you the courage to do so?
PM: Once I owned up to my deepest, untapped desires, I discovered a wellspring of happiness and self-confidence inside me that extended to every part of my life. Whoa! I thought. This is incredible! Everyone should know they have the power to experience life in all its richness right now, just as they are. No diets, no plastic surgery, no nothing. Just intact, healthy sexuality.
If I can stop warring with my weight and workaholism, I think most people can. I know that when I stopped denying my hearty and normal sexual appetites, I started losing my uncontrollable urges to overeat, overwork and over-compensate. For the first time, I could relax in my own skin. Admitting your desires takes a tanker-load of courage, and a rip-stop web of support. That’s what I’m here to provide. That’s my mission. That’s why I wrote SHAMELESS.
NR: For many people in long-term relationships, the very idea of changing one’s sexual practices or introducing extreme ideas may be viewed as a threat to the happiness and health of the relationship itself. What would you say is the best way to approach a spouse or significant other regarding such topics?
PM: Candidly discussing desire, whether it’s new-found or previously undisclosed, isn’t about blowing up a happy and healthy long-term relationship. It is about creating new depths of intimacy and revealing oneself to one’s partner more fully. Make no mistake – it can be an edgy exercise. It’s just as scary to share your deepest needs as it is for your partner to hear them. Honesty isn’t always comfortable but that’s how we develop true acceptance of ourselves and our significant others. It’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between expressing desire and acting on it, and what may feel extreme to one, may be the other’s baseline. No one’s sexuality is “typical” and for both the speaker and the listener, this is the moment to put judgment aside in the name of love. Sometimes, simply naming desire out loud is enough. That is often the key to opening greater understanding between two people. The best way to approach this is with gentleness and an open heart. If you love this person enough to be vulnerable, then hopefully you believe that your love is reciprocal enough to see you through.
NR: If a significant other’s sexual journey and desires may not be in line with one’s own, do you think that it would/should spell an end for the relationship? To what extent should each partner be expected to compromise their own desires for the sake of the other?
PM: The knowledge that we are individual sexual beings inside of a relationship is something that many people find impossible to understand. We always think we should be “one” in our desires, and that our partners should be the ones to give us pleasure. My husband and I agree that we are two people in love, committed to a long-term marriage that has many important and vital elements that we both cherish – including our marital bed. That being said, I had to come to the understanding that no one could give me true pleasure other than myself. First I had to understand what my own desires really were. I was surprised to find how much they had changed and shifted over time.
To be sure, many people won’t examine their own fantasies and desires. More often than not, we sit in such judgment of sexual desires in general and our own in particular, then we hide them away as if they were somehow shameful. And then we forget about or fail to recognize them at all. The denial of our essential sexual natures is so ingrained –we can’t even look at our own bodies without cringing. Body shame looms large. There are so many obstacles to leap over, from religion and cultural mores to family issues, lack of information and possibly even abuse.
So this concept of us being unique sexual beings could be really big news for people. And that we can be two separate beings in ONE marriage is really startling. It may throw a different light onto a dedicated relationship, but with kindness, openness and compromise, there’s no reason for our innate sexuality to torpedo a couple.
NR: The history of the sexually liberated woman is a long and tangled one, ranging from the feared and scorned (but eventually romanticized) flapper to the essentially accepted “cougar.” What can be done for sexual liberation to truly be accepted in a modern, somewhat sexually repressed society?
PM: That question is too big even for me. I guess it is always about people being willing to be brave enough to speak their truths and be seen just as they are. Of course that can be dangerous. But pioneers in any field run the risk of ridicule, defamation or worse. The thing is the more people speak out, the more the taboo loses its power. The idea of a “cougar” is the perfect example. It wasn’t so many years ago when it was a vile epithet that categorized older, sexually engaged women as predators preying on young men. Well, that term has now lost a lot of its sting. The point, of course, is to get rid of terms that demean people –and women in particular –simply because they’ve embraced their sexuality.
NR: You’ve noted several times that many sex writers and sex advocates feel like they have to hide their identities in order to save face among peers, or even to keep their jobs or family relationships intact. You’ve even blogged about your own personal worries about being “found out” and the possible repercussions. What steps do you think need to be taken to calm this fear (legitimate or otherwise)?
PM: The more we are willing to be seen, to take the risks, to come out, the safer everyone will feel. I am stepping on the shoulders of incredible sexuality advocates and pioneers to write my book Shameless. They took a lot of hits on my behalf – and make it feel safe enough for me to come out. And now I have, and I am sure that I will take hits too. I already have. But by telling my story, I will create the space for others to do the same and stand on my shoulders.
NR: You’ve talked about how many people you’ve met come from all walks of life, all across the ranges of age, orientation, body type, and you’ve used these examples to illustrate that sexual confidence doesn’t come only to those who are young, fit and beautiful. However, gaining confidence can be especially hard to those with poor body image. As a woman who’s warred with her weight for the years, how were you able to embrace your own body?
PM: This is an ongoing process even to this day. For me, it was about allowing in pleasure just as I was. Not waiting until some day. Once I allowed my imperfect body to give me pleasure, I became much more accepting of who I was. I began to feed my body what it needed, and it was less hungry for other things. And through this process, transformation occurred.
NR: While sexual openness is slowly becoming more mainstream, many people are still afraid to truly examine their own desires, and may be too embarrassed or unsure how to contact a sex educator such as yourself. What do you think is the best support or education system for people who are willing to learn, but unsure how to begin?
PM: It’s always helpful to use the Internet and begin a careful search. There are well-regarded sites such as The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals that have great sex information. Plugging in terms such as Tanta, Sexological Body Work, and Sacred Sexuality can open up reasonable channels of inquiry that can stay private and quiet. At the same time, these thoughts or desires aren’t as unusual as one might think. It’s liberating to discover that for yourself.
NR: As a mother of two, you must have dealt with the concept of the birds and the bees with your children. How, though, do you think that the concept of embracing sexuality and sexual liberation should be introduced to our younger generations, and more importantly, when?
PM: All kids are different. But generally speaking, I think it’s important to tell our kids that sex is normal, and sexy thoughts are healthy and pleasurable. Whatever we can do to remove sexual shame from our children is an incredible gift. I also think it is important to communicate to our children that their sexuality belongs to them – and no one else.
NR: Our thanks to you, Pamela, for sharing your memoir with us and giving us a peek into SHAMELESS: How I Ditched the Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure…and Somehow Got Home In Time to Cook Dinner. Now our readers have the chance to ask you their own questions. Just click on the "Comments" link below.