The Many Layers of Sexual Identity – Your Burning Questions Answered: Sexual Healing

sexual identity

Got a burning question for Stefanie, Ecosalon’s resident sex expert? Once a month, she’ll be posting a Sexual Healing Q & A in these pages, so whatever’s on your mind — bring it on. Today we discuss variations in sexual identity. Email your questions to: stefanie at ecosalon dot com. Or tweet your question to @ecosexuality.

Hello Stefanie,

Throughout my life I’ve had a wide range of sexual experiences. Looking back, it might have been so that I could figure out in which niche I belonged.

When I was 14 I was obsessed with losing my virginity. When I did, I regretted it but proceeded to use sex as a tool to hopefully get my classmates interested in me (they weren’t). In college I jumped from one long-term relationship to the next and was often quite bored with having sex with these men. So I tried to spice it up by becoming interested in BDSM. I realized that I wasn’t even getting off to the sexuality of it, but something else entirely. I had one summer where I flirted with the idea of being lesbian. I had a couple drunken nights of exciting gay sex, but it never went anywhere and I didn’t ever seek it again.

Almost all my relationships (save one) I felt that sex was just something that you do, and in a way I owed it to them because they desired me, so it was unfair if I didn’t desire them. There was one person where it was innocent and delightful and absolutely pleasurable sex. But just one person.

However, I like to kiss and cuddle with friends who I love and respect as a way to show my affection/connect with them on a deeper level. In my ideal world, I would be trapped by no one person, but have love for everyone and just keep it at kissing and cuddling.

Here’s where it gets even weirder- when I masturbate, I think of nature. I imagine zooming through dappled-sun canopies of dripping wet rainforests, tumbling down a waterfall as a drop of water, laying in tall grass as a thunderstorm pounded down around me. I imagine flowers blooming and the sun sparkling. I have never been able to orgasm at the thought of sex, even when I tried to trick myself.

So what would I identify as…a polyamorous asexual ecosexual? Or just a damn wood nymph?

– Lost in the Woods

Dear Lost,

Thank you for letter — I want to start by saying there is NOTHING weird about what you’ve revealed here. It’s all perfectly normal – but I understand that you’re vexed by not knowing where you fit in.

We humans are so fond of labels – they help us figure out where (and to whom) we belong. Finding one’s tribe is incredibly important – it’s hard to be the only star-bellied Sneetch on the beach, just to Dr. Suessify things for a moment. But sometimes getting caught up in labels stops us from knowing who we truly are.

Categories of sexual identity serve an important function in a hetero-normative world – especially for those people who don’t fit perfectly into the most accepted category for gender and orientation. You know that you’re not a typical woman with typical needs, so you’ve gone down a list of possible “isms” you might be or desire.

You say that when you were 14 your were obsessed with losing your virginity, then tried some (uninteresting) long-term relationships, then BDSM, then dabbled in lesbianism briefly. It seems like you’ve been trying on sexual identities like people try out different styles – from boho to goth to punk. This is incredibly common – and not at all weird. But you didn’t identify with any of them – none came from your pure desire, just from your interest in pleasing others or fitting in. Many women have sex for years to please others, and only come to the idea of pleasing themselves later in life.

Finding our sexual identity can take time — it’s a journey, and honestly it never ends. You may stop at a certain spot on the road for a while because it pleases you — but it won’t necessarily feel good or right forever. Women tend to be sexually fluid — most people think of “fluidity” in terms of sleeping with both genders, but I argue that it can mean more than that. We are quite stuck, culturally, in a construct that allows for only binary gender and thus, a limited understanding of the great variety of orientations we might have.

Eroticizing the Earth — trees, rain, grass, waterfalls — this is as normal as nature itself, even if it’s not the kind of thing you see on the latest episode of Scandal. My friends Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens are pioneers of the Ecosex movement. Trust me when I tell you that there are many, many people who are turned on by the sensuality of the outdoors. Some might call it a fetish, but as we find ourselves living on a warming planet with a daily routine that revolves around smartphones and computers — wanting to make love to the Earth sounds just about right.

Polyamory is gaining wider and wider acceptance – there are even television shows and Marie Claire articles about the poly lifestyle these days – it’s almost mainstream. Poly types tend to be so open-minded sexually that a nature fetish wouldn’t surprise them at all. The same goes for asexuality — that’s why there is now an A in LGBTQIA.

But still I wonder if there’s something you’re not facing. You said there was that one person with whom you had “innocent, delightful, and absolutely pleasurable sex” – what was it about this individual? I’m very interested in the word “innocent” here – and wonder why you chose it – were the other sexual relationships somehow less than innocent for you? Maybe this is why you couldn’t connect sexually with your other lovers. Is there something deeper in your sexual history – before you lost your virginity, that speaks to this idea of innocence?

You may end up in a polyamorous relationship with a group of people who respect your affection for cuddling, ones that will never expect you to perform unwanted sexual acts for or with them. And you can always bring yourself to orgasm in your own way. You don’t need to trick yourself into a sexual indentity- you just need to be okay with who you are. So it’s not about where you fit on the spectrum of labels, from LGBTQIA to poly to wood nymph. How you label yourself matters little — as long as you find a tribe that embraces you for who you are, and never shames you for what you want.

xo Stefanie

Got a question for Stefanie? Email and she’ll answer it in the next Sexual Healing column.

Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality

Related on EcoSalon:

What Women Want Matters, A Lot: Welcome to the Sexual Revolution 2.0

The 9 Most Empowering Sex Positions for Women: Female Sexuality Remixed

Image: schatz

Stefanie Iris Weiss

Stefanie Iris Weiss is the author of nine books, including her latest title–Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010). She keeps her carbon footprint small in New York City, where she writes about sustainability, sexuality, reproductive rights, dating and relationships, politics, fashion, beauty, and more. Stefanie is a regular contributor to British Elle, and has written for Above Magazine, Nerve, The Daily Green, Marie Claire, EcoSalon and Teen Vogue, to name a few. Her HuffPost blog is sometimes controversial. Stefanie is an on-and-off adjunct professor when not busy writing and teaching about sustainable love. A vegetarian and eco-activist since her teen years, Stefanie has made her passion into her work, and she wouldn't want it any other way. She believes that life is always better when there's more pleasure, and sustainable satisfaction is the best kind. Learn more about her various projects at and follow her on Twitter: @ecosexuality.