Series 17: For the Love of Health & Wellness | Episode 04
You are Worthy of Great Sex (And so Much More): Dr. Celeste Holbrook
*Since this episode contains mature themes, we recommend listening where kids can’t hear.*
We forge ahead in For the Love of Health & Wellness with an important facet of our health we don’t address as openly as we may care to admit: sexual health. Jen sits down with sexologist Dr. Celeste Holbrook, who has dedicated her life to helping women achieve soul-centered sex, and they broach topics many of us might be too timid to bring up. Ever wonder how much sex is normal? It’s in here. Want to know what the #1 arousal killer is? Gotcha covered. And (gulp) we even discuss how to talk to our kids about sex (!). Not only does Celeste discuss these important topics, she also relates her own journey with sex—from the anticipation of having a mind-blowing sexual encounter for the first time, to finding that for her, the whole event was . . . less than ideal. For years, sex remained a painful, shame-inducing experience for Celeste that finally drove her to get help, but even then her doctor couldn’t give her the answers she needed to address the physical and emotional issues she had around sex. Celeste decided to take her sexual health into her own hands and got her PhD in sexology. Now Celeste sees one of the biggest ways she can help her clients have better sex is by helping them find their worth. She wants to empower women to know themselves and feel confident in their bodies, so that they are able to ask for what they want inside and outside the bedroom.
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Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your very, very happy hostess of the For the Love Podcast. Looky here. Welcome to the show today. And everybody, buckle up. Today, we are looking at sexual health.
My guest is someone you’re going to want to turn the dial up for and look, if you’re listening with kids, this is a good moment to just send them on their merry way, unless you would like to have some real fun, unexpected conversations at the end of this hour. This could potentially be a headphones episode that you want to stick into your earbuds, but you’re going to be really glad you stuck around. That I can promise you.
Today we have on Dr. Celeste Holbrook. She is a sexologist—you heard that right—a speaker, author. She’s literally dedicated her life to helping women achieve very soul-centered sex through mental and behavioral transformation.
She’s really great, you guys. Oh, you’re going to love this discussion. She inspires all of us, really, to move through the very laborious mental blocks that surround our intimate lives to sort of help guide us into this sexual experience that we were spiritually designed for.
She always says that her favorite moment is the spark that appears in a woman’s eyes the very instant her confidence, her sexual confidence is reawakened.
This is a really fabulous conversation. This is nourishing and nurturing. Don’t be afraid. If you struggle sexually, if this is a source of sadness for you or confusion, if you are still working to overcome really early damaging messaging, we’re talking about all of that today. We’re talking about some of the mental mechanics. We’re talking about some of the physical mechanics, so that’s what I’m saying. Buckle up, you guys. You’re going to be glad that you listened.
I just think, Wow, this is a missing message from women’s health. We do not talk enough about this. We focus on so many other areas, while this one is so powerful and so important.
And so I’m really glad you’re here. I’m really glad that she is here. So I am pleased to share with you my really fascinating conversation with the very wonderful, very funny, very brilliant Dr. Celeste Holbrook.
Jen: Hi, Celeste. I’m really, really happy that you’re on the show today. Thank you for saying yes to this.
Celeste: Well, I cannot contain my excitement right now. I’m not going to lie. I’m super thrilled that you have invited me to speak to your listeners. I’m thrilled.
Jen: Same. Same. This is really important content to put in front of my community, and you are the girl for the job. We actually met live and in person. It was only like two weeks ago, right, maybe three?
Celeste: Yeah. Yeah.
Jen: Celeste and I spoke at the same event outside of Ft. Worth and yeah, we huddled up in that green room. We made some headway.
Celeste: We spared no words, really. We jumped right in.
Jen: There wasn’t a minute lost. I’m so happy that I got to meet you in person because we’d already booked you for the show and I’m like, Oh, this one’s going to be good! This one’s going to be real good.
I’ve told my listeners a little bit already about who you are and sort of your credentials, but I know they’re just as curious as I am to hear because we want to know how did you get into this line of work, like what happened in your life that made you think, Do you know what I’m going to be? I’m going to be a sexologist. That’s the thing, and I now have my dreams in life. How did this come about?
Celeste: Yeah, that’s a question that I get asked a whole lot.
Jen: I’m sure you do.
Celeste: I love it.
Well, I grew up in small town Texas, small, conservative town. My favorite books were Reba McEntire’s autobiography and the Bible. I grew up in a conservative little town. I know you can understand this.
Jen: I sure can.
Celeste: I went to all the purity conferences. I had the ring. I signed the contract. I was, I’m a rule follower. I’m an Enneagram 9, and I please people, and I followed all the rules. I waited until I was married to have sex. I don’t regret that, necessarily, but I was 26 when I had sex the first time. I got married right there in Austin, right down the road from you on Town Lake. We got married in the morning because my daddy always said, “You’ve got to get married in the morning so if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the day.”
Jen: That’s awesome.
Celeste: Yeah, we got married in the morning. About high noon, we head to our hotel, which is the sexiest time in Texas.
Jen: Super sexy.
Celeste: Mmhmm. We’re real sweaty. We get to our hotel. I have sex for the first time, and it was awful. It was very painful. It was very, very painful.
I thought, Hmm, okay. Well, my girlfriends have told me that this is going to get better, that oftentimes, the first time is painful. I’m 26. Maybe I just have a rusty vagina or something. Maybe it’s just old.
We left. My husband’s a physician, but he was just starting medical school then. And so we left everything we knew behind and moved to Missouri, where we knew nobody and continued to have really painful sex. What happened was, I started to feel angry, and I started to feel very resentful. Anytime my partner would touch me, I would feel like, Why does he want to hurt me like this?
Here we are away from everybody and newly married. And newly married people don’t know how to deal with resentment and anger and those kinds of things. I really struggled, and he was just trying to get through medical school.
After about a year, I went and saw an OB-GYN. I finally told my mom after all of this. “Mom, this is what’s happening. Sex is really painful. It’s not getting better. I thought it would get better, and I just feel really badly.”
She said, “Okay. Just go to see the OB-GYN. I don’t know what to tell you. Go see the OB-GYN.”
So I did. He did a full examination. I will never, ever forget this day, Jen. He did a full examination and he said, “Well, you know what, Celeste? I don’t see anything physically wrong with you. But what’s probably going to happen is your probably going to have some great sex right after you have that first baby.”
I thought, Wow, man. I don’t want kids right now. We’re broke. That wasn’t in the plan. I was in grad school and he was in med school.
I just kind of leaned back and the crinkle of the paper. I remember the crinkle of the paper behind my head, and I thought, I can’t do this. I cannot do this. My marriage will not survive this. It was that moment—
Jen: Right. A baby feels like an unfair solution.
Celeste: Babies don’t fix anything.
Jen: They don’t. That was mean.
Celeste: Yeah. You know what I needed was somebody to hold my hand and say, “I see that you feel this resentment. I see that you’re angry. I see that you’re sad, that you feel a lot of shame that you’re not living up to this expectation of a wife.” I needed that person.
That was the moment where I decided, Okay, I’m in grad school. I’m already studying behavior. I’m going to start studying sexual behavior because I’ve got to fix this. Nobody else can fix this but me. I’m going to fix this. And so that’s exactly what I did.
And then later on down the road, I figured out, Well, if I can fix it for myself, I think probably I could help somebody else get it fixed. I have now this degree in behavior and is specialized in sexuality and I can probably help people, too.
Basically, I had to walk myself through this path of deconstructing all these messages that I’d had from growing up that I wasn’t worthy of sex, and that I wasn’t worthy of pleasure, and that pleasure was only for men, and sex is dirty. All those things created physical pain for me. I didn’t really have a physical issue. I had these limiting beliefs that were my issue, and I had to walk myself through that and overcome those. And I did!
Jen: You did! You’ve got some kids.
Celeste: We did. By the way, I have twins and I had them via C-section, so it wouldn’t have helped any.
Jen: Oh, my gosh. That’s right. Oh, that doctor’s advice was terrible.
If we can go back to the beginning—and you’ve just alluded to this—let’s lay the axe at the root of the tree here. So much of your work is about inspiring our worth, which is interesting because you’re a sex expert and so you deal a lot with worth. Can you talk for a minute about what does feeling worthy have to do with a healthy sex life? What’s the correlation here, and how does that help us and then, ultimately, our partners?
Celeste: Right. Man, this is such a big, big question, the feeling of not being enough, not feeling worthy of good sex, not feeling like my body is sexy, not feeling like I’m worthy of pleasure, all those things. Those are big, big questions that bleed out into the rest of our life, in my opinion.
What I always start with is that sex is powerful. Sex sells hamburgers.
Jen: Yes, it does.
Celeste: It sells Drano. It brings people together. It creates life. It breaks families apart. Sex is very powerful. If we can establish our worth and feeling really good in this place that’s very powerful—and it’s powerful, I’m going to reference Brené here—it is powerful because it is one of the most vulnerable things one can do, be literally raw, organic, naked with somebody who we care deeply for often. And so if we can foster that sense of enoughness in that space, then we can feel good about walking into your boss’ office and asking for a raise.
Asking for what you want in the bedroom transcends to other areas. You can do it in that really hard space, you can do it in other spaces.
Really, my work is, yes, it’s about sex, but really, it’s about establishing that we are worthy in these very vulnerable spaces, which we’re told from a very young age that we are not.
Jen: It’s so resonant what you’re saying. We’re going to unpack that, too, kind of as this inner view goes on because I also want to go back to some of those unworthy messages.
Let me ask you this, though. If I’m sitting across from you, I bet 90% of people ask you this question. I’m thinking about my listeners, too. The question is how much sex is normal?
Celeste: What’s the number?
Jen: I know it’s not fair, but how do we even begin to answer that question how much sex is normal? Is there an answer? Is this a fair thing to ask?
Celeste: Right. This is the number-one question I get.
Jen: Is it?
Celeste: Yeah, it is the absolute number-one question I get because I go speak to different places and I have people submit anonymous questions, and I actually record and log all of these questions, so I have thousands of questions recorded. This is, by far, the number-one question that I get. How much sex is normal?
I always say normal is just a dial on your washing machine. There’s no way that we can say what is normal in my relationship should be normal in your relationship. We just can’t say that.
Sexuality is as individualized as our fingerprints. What works well for me and my partner, what helps us feel connected and what helps us feel pleasure, that number may not work for you or may not work for your girlfriend or your guy friend or whatever.
Yes, you can look up online and find “this is the average amount that an American has sex.” You can find those numbers, sure, but what are you going to immediately do when you see that number?
Jen: Feel either really great or bad.
Celeste: Correct. Yeah, you’re going to compare. And comparison, especially in sex, is the absolute thief of joy. Yeah, I can’t tell anybody a number. I just can’t. I refuse to do it.
Jen: Good for you.
Celeste: I have clients who have what I call “ABC sex,” which is anniversary, birthday, Christmas and that works for them. That works for them. That feels connected. That feels pleasurable for them. They connect in other ways that feel good. Then I have clients who have a lot more sex, and that works. It’s really just about finding what works for your relationship. That’s all. That’s all.
Jen: That’s great. That’s liberating. I thank you for that because you know that we’re all having that conversation.
I thank you for sort of demystifying that idea that there is one way to connect sexually that’s right, and everything else is either too much or not enough because it’s just simply not true.
Jen: I want to go back to the last question that we were just on, on worth, because you have said that the brain is the biggest sex organ. We could just sit with that for a long time.
Can you talk more about that? Do you think this is as true for men as much as it is for women, or is this a women’s battleground?
Celeste: Yeah. I don’t think it’s gendered. I really don’t. We’re kind of conditioned to see men as very physical and have these carnal needs. But for men and for women, sex is in your brain. It starts there. Arousal is in your brain. It starts there.
One of the most apparent ways to see this is when we think about arousal, there’s one thing that is the biggest killer of arousal. And when I say arousal, I mean like libido, your sex drive, that kind of thing. Responsibility is the biggest killer of arousal.
Jen: What does that mean?
Celeste: Yeah, so that means it makes sense that sex can make babies and babies can mean the end of sex. You don’t feel any more responsible than you do when you maybe have a kid or have really a lot of stress at work or there’s just so much going on. Have you ever been having sex, and you can’t get that contract that you need to write off of your mind, or that conversation you need to have with your mom, or all of those little things that continue to rattle around in your brain?
This is something that Esther Perel, one of my favorite sexologists, teaches is that responsibility is the biggest killer of arousal. So if we can manage what’s going on in between our ears, all of those responsibilities, if that means taking your work computer outside of your bedroom, or taking the laundry outside your bedroom, or making sure that you’re asking for help so that you can get into an erotic space in the evening. We like to say that everything that happens in between sex sessions is foreplay, so that’s how you’re helping each other and how you’re interacting and those conversations. All of those either lead you toward or away from a great sexual experience.
So yeah, I think the brain is the biggest organ, and this is for men and for women just to know that it’s what gets you into that freedom of erotic space. It gets you there and then your body follows. Your body follows it anywhere.
Jen: Oh, those are good tips.
You alluded to this when you talked a little bit about your story and how you got to this path as a sexologist. I think you called it “purity culture.” You and I have talked about this that I was also raised in purity culture.
Not all of my listeners know what that is. That was a bit of a niche place for a lot of us who grew up in sort of conservative or traditional religious spaces. In short, there’s a million things to say about purity culture, but we were sort of given a lot of ideas about sex, like when to do it, and who to do it with, and how to do it, and how not to do it. I think a lot of people who raised us in purity culture and taught us in that space said them—I believe mostly, at least—from a loving and a well-meaning place. I do suspect that.
However, so many of those stories and even their underlying messages, they are hard to shake and they have stuck with a lot of us for a really long time. They were not helpful—not, not helpful.
What that means is a lot of us cannot escape this sense that sex is dirty, even after we’re married, or even if we’ve been married for years and years and years and you would think, Gosh, why aren’t I over this?
Can you talk a little bit about purity culture? I know this is a huge, complicated, very complex question to discuss, but I’m wondering if there’s just a place we can begin to identify the stories that might be plaguing us sexually. And then how do we shed them? How do we replace them? Where do we train our thoughts to go? If you could just talk a little bit more about some of those early messages, what that look like, maybe some of the damage that it did and where we go from here.
Celeste: Yeah. Oh, man.
Jen: I know. I’m sorry. That was a lot.
Celeste: Yeah, no, don’t apologize because we have to be having these conversations. I’m so glad you’re asking. I’m so glad you’re going there because a lot of us—and really, it is kind of like a couple of generations, a lot of us have experienced those abstinence conferences and those purity pledges. I really want to emphasize—like you did—I believe, too, that it came from a place of love and it came from a place of the understanding that sex is very powerful, but not knowing how to deal with that message. You know what I mean?
Celeste: That’s where it comes from. “Don’t have sex because I know that it’s really important and really powerful. But I don’t know how to tell you to do it in a healthy way, so I’m just going to tell you not to do it until you’re somebody else’s problem.”
Jen: That’s a summary. That’s a pretty good summary.
Celeste: Yeah. I want to reiterate that, that it does—I believe, too—come from a place of love.
Unfortunately, what happens is it is sidelined with a whole bunch of shame, as in, “Sex is really powerful. You shouldn’t do it until you’re married. So if you do, something’s wrong with you. Or if you do, you’re dirty. Or if you do, you are not worthy of love anymore.”
There was an example of chewing gum, like, would you want to chew a piece of chewing gum that everybody had chewed? How awful is that saying to us as women?
Jen: It’s terrible.
Celeste: Like, My body is a piece of chewing gum or a brownie that’s mostly eaten. It’s just really giving these pretty damaging messages.
One of the things that I work on with women who go through my courses or, certainly, clients of mine and something that I even teach from upfront is to . . . there’s kind of a two-step process. Become aware of what those messages are and then start to deconstruct those limiting beliefs. Let’s just go through that together, you and I.
Some of those messages you might have gotten or you become aware of is maybe Dad told you your shorts are too short. This is really kind of a light message, but your shorts are too short. What does that mean to you, that my body is the most important part of who I am? Or my body is either good or bad? Or what if maybe you tried to come out to your parents, out of the closet to your parents. You were 21, and you were just told that you’re wrong and that was not okay.
You’re given all these messages of two extremes, but you can probably think back to earlier versions of yourself that were given some sort of message. What happens is those earlier versions of ourself need to feel like they belong. Again, referencing Brené’s work, belonging is our most important emotional need, so these earlier versions of ourself speak up in our adulthood and say, “Hey, I still feel really ashamed of my body.
And so one of the things that there’s this really fantastic counselor/therapist here in Ft. Worth. Her name is Rebecca Jeffers. She has written what’s called a “shame script,” and I use it with my clients and women that I come across. I’d love to speak it out so your listeners can hear it, but it’s actually just a way to talk to those earlier versions of ourself because they speak up.
Jen: Oh, that’s powerful.
Celeste: It is. They speak up. They want to feel like they belong. They want to feel heard. When we can acknowledge them and not say, “I’m not trying to push you away. I’m not trying to say you don’t exist, but I’m trying to tell you that you don’t have to live the current version of my life.”
I’m going to read this script out to you, and hopefully it can help some of your listeners, too.
Celeste: It’s basically talking to earlier version of yourself, so I usually put my hand on my heart, just so you know, hand on your heart where they live, so, “Younger Celeste inside of me, I feel your shame or whatever feeling it is you’re feeling, anger. There is nothing wrong with you. There never has been. I love you. I remember what you went through. I’m so sorry no one was there for you. I’m here for you now. I will protect you. You don’t have to live my present life and circumstances. That’s my job. You can now stay safe in my heart where you belong, and I will take care of life. I am here for you. I will never leave you. And I love you.”
Jen: Wow. That gave me goosebumps. Yeah.
Celeste: Yeah. It’s really important to have, in my opinion, some real practical tools to deal with those things that trigger us in the current, so this you can see can work for really more intense things to sexual abuse in your past and things like that, but just having a tool to say like, Okay, when I feel anxious, when I feel angry in this moment, who in my past is speaking up? Maybe it was from a year ago who made a mistake on a project, and now I feel like I’m not worthy of doing more intense work or whatever it is. You can use this kind of script to talk to any of those earlier versions and let them live in the past instead of your current.
Jen: That’s really great.
Let’s take that a step further because that work is very necessarily internal. That’s an inside job. Nobody can do that for us. Nobody can really work on re-messaging to our own selves.
Once we’re sort of engaged in that space, I’m really going to do this internal work on myself, let’s talk about what it looks like externally because often, that’s going to manifest like just with some sexual disconnections.
If we are not on the same sexual page as our partner, if that is a struggle, if there is something sort of broken there or if there’s tension there, it seems like the logical next step would just be to talk about it. But in my personal experience and in my just experience as sort of a leader in a community of women, having a conversation, a frank conversation about sex, it can be more intimate than actually doing it.
If we are going to transfer some of that work to a conversation with our partner, how would you instruct us to bring this up? How do we have this conversation, especially if our partner or maybe just we are reluctant to have it in the first place?
Celeste: First of all, know that you’re not alone. It’s really hard to talk about sex for most people, even with the person who you are most intimate with. So it’s okay if you feel that way, if you feel like, Oh, man, it’s hard for me to bring these things up or hard to say, “I don’t like that, actually,” or, “I do want more of this.” It can be really difficult because it’s such a vulnerable thing that it feels really kind of sacred and big.
One of the things I always tell people if they’re having trouble communicating is give yourself a platform. We are never actually taught how to talk about sex. We’re taught how to drive or how to talk about finances and all those things, but sex is a learned behavior, just like eating and exercise and all of those other things we do, but nobody’s teaching us really very well.
Give yourself a platform. Find 20 questions. I’ve created 20 questions that I give people like, “Okay, here are some questions that maybe you haven’t thought about asking like what is your favorite view during sex? Or what can I do during the day to help you feel sexual at night?”
Those kinds of things that maybe don’t naturally come up because what happens a lot of the times is one partner will say to the other partner, “Baby, what do you want?” That’s a really hard, intimidating question for a lot of us because I don’t really know, exactly, sometimes. I want tacos. I want tacos. That’s what I want.
Having a more intricate discussion about, “Yeah, I really like it when you touch me here after we’ve been getting going for a little while,” or, “I like to be kissed here at the very beginning.” Having some of those harder conversations may be more helpful with a platform to start with. That could be an article that you’re reading together, or a list of questions, or anything that can be a platform to talk about it.
Lots of times, it’s easier to talk about when you’re not in that moment, when it’s over dinner or date night or after your movie or whatever, just something that’s not in that really raw, organic space that can maybe feel a little bit more intimidating.
Jen: That’s great. Those resources exist, so I appreciate you saying we can be a learner here like we’re a learner in any capacity, in any field. It is possible to do a little research, do a little homework, bring a little resource along. “Here’s 20 questions I printed off from Celeste’s website.”
That’s useful. It’s useful and it’s okay to not just intuitively or naturally know what to say or what to ask.
Jen: What about those of us listening who have been married or had the same partner for a lot of years? So like anything and everything, it’s easy to fall into a routine in life, in home, in all of it. What if sex in that capacity gets boring? What if we want something more? How do we bring anticipation and excitement and desire back into our relationships that may be older or with more longevity? How do we reconnect with our partner on a sexual level when we’ve logged so many years together just relationally?
Celeste: Such a great, great question and, I think, dovetails nicely from what we were just talking about because asking questions of your partner is a lifelong endeavor. Being curious about each other’s bodies and about each other’s life is a lifelong endeavor, so you’re going to have relationship after relationship after relationship with the same person over the course of your life. So continuing to be curious about our own bodies and continuing to be curious about our partner and their needs,
wants, and desires is what you got to do. It’s just kind of a nonnegotiable if you want to be in a long-term relationship. It happens. Things get into a rut, and you’re doing the same three things every Thursday at 5:00, or not doing it when you want to be.
One of the things that I think I hear a lot is, “Celeste, I wish sex was more spontaneous like it was the beginning of our relationship.” I want to debunk this myth of spontaneity. I don’t think there is such a thing as spontaneous sex. I think spontaneous sex would be like you’re walking down the sidewalk, and all of a sudden, you’re having sex. Not sex that anybody wants to be having.
Jen: Sure. That seems terrible.
Celeste: Yeah, but sex just happened a little bit more easily in the beginning of your relationship because it was more on the mind. It was more on the brain, and you may not have had as many responsibilities. We know that responsibility is the biggest killer of arousal, so maybe you didn’t have kids at the time, and maybe you were in college, or there was opportunity for you to have sex that wasn’t so difficult.
Sex at the beginning of a relationship feels more spontaneous because your brain is already working to get there, like, “I know Thursday night I’m going to go play Scrabble at my partner’s house. I’m going to shave my legs!” It feels more spontaneous because your brain is already working to get there.
You can recreate that in a long-term relationship. You can recreate that anticipation just by creating some intention around sexuality. I often will have couples say, “Okay, to get the spark back, why don’t you make this Thursday, you’re going to plan to have sex, but get it on the brain first.” This kind of scheduling piece only works if you start the hustle Tuesday and Wednesday, so you can increase some of that anticipation.
Also, it does two things. It increases some anticipation, but it also reduces the anxiety of, Oh, my gosh, when are we going to have sex? It’s been this long. I’m not really sure. Is it going to happen? Is it going to not happen tonight? I don’t know. I don’t know. Instead, it’s like, Oh, no, I know it’s going to happen Thursday, so guess what? I’m off the hook Tuesday and Wednesday and Monday and we can really connect, even physically, in ways that feel really good, where there’s no pressure to have sex.
By bringing the pressure off for lots of us as partners helps us go into an erotic scenario situation where we can fully engage with sex. Because we’ve had the pressure off and the touches are just simply touches and the hugs are just simply hugs and they have no other meaning behind them on these other days except for connection. That’s really beautiful.
But it takes some very intentional intentionality around sex to create that anticipation and reduce that anxiety when you’ve been in a relationship for a significant amount of time.
Jen: That’s great and it’s possible. It really is possible, even if those embers feel pretty cooled. One good make out in the middle of the day, well, that’ll just set you on fire. Wow, yeah, it’s possible to rekindle. That’s not out of reach.
I appreciate how you said a minute ago that just the price of admission to a long-term relationship is that you have to stay curious about just your own body needs and wants and desires and your partner’s. That’s just true and real. There’s not really a route around.
Let me ask you this because, well, the inevitable is happening. We are not the spring chickens we once were. So as we’re getting older, my body is changing. Brandon’s body is changing. This is the same for all my listeners. We’re getting bigger or smaller or more wrinkled or more stretched. Obviously, this is inevitable, but isn’t necessarily welcomed because we live in a world that prizes young, tight, fresh bodies, which we’re working very hard to dismantle in this podcast, too.
Celeste: Yes, and I appreciate that.
Jen: Our culture is going to do us no favors here. We cannot look to big marketing or the beauty and antiaging industry to help us in the slightest.
How do we feel or develop maybe self-compassion toward ourselves and our bodies that we maybe we wish we were different or maybe we wish they were kind of like the ones we started our sexual journeys with? How do we end up feeling like we’re enough physically, especially if maybe our sex life even makes us feel like we’re not?
Celeste: Yeah. Yeah, such a great question. I think the key term that you have used is self-compassion, because we’ve kind of changed our trajectory from self-help to self-compassion, which I really, really, love. It’s not, “Do all these things and then you’ll feel better,” which we used to feel like, “If I just lost 10 pounds, if I just had bigger boobs or smaller waist or blah, blah, blah, blah. Then, then I could be a sexual being.”
But my friends, you’re all sexual beings just the way you are. I’m standing up in my office right now because I’m so passionate about this. I just love the work that the @i_weigh campaign is doing.
Jen: Oh, yes.
Celeste: Oh, my goodness. Jameela Jamil.
Jen: Yes, I had Jameela on my podcast. I don’t know if I told you that, but I love her. I cannot get enough of what she’s doing in the world right now.
Celeste: Oh, it’s changing the way we’re thinking about our bodies. Just like looking at Instagram can make you feel like crap, looking at Instagram can make you feel better, too.
Jen: Yeah, that’s true.
Celeste: By following the people that feel empowering to you and the accounts that feel good to you.
The more that we kind of sink into this message of I am enough just as I am, the easier it is to feel sensual. Sensuality is, basically, the study of presence. If we think about babies, babies are as sensual as they come, right, because sensual is just a description of using all of your senses. If you set a toddler out on the grass, she’s feeling the grass. She’s putting it in her mouth. She’s smelling it. She’s throwing it up in the air to see if the wind takes it.
Getting back to our sensuality has nothing to do with how we look and the space we take up in the world. It has everything to do with creating presence for ourselves and really sinking into, What does the feel of his skin feel like to me right now, and the coolness of the fan blowing on my naked butt? It’s those sinking into sensuality that creates amazing sexual experiences. It’s not the way that we present ourselves in the world.
Jen: That’s just so refreshing to hear. Let me ask you a more clinical version of that question. My 25-year-old listeners are going to be like, What the heck!? But for my listeners who are closer to my age group and even north of me, as we get older and we’re moving through later stages in life, like specifically through menopause even and beyond, what would you say as a real practitioner, what should we start expecting from our bodies sexually? How would you prepare us for those really some real physical changes, and does desire ever go completely away? How would you counsel us as we are moving into that season of life?
Celeste: Yeah, so we continue to remain sexual beings throughout the course of our life. We’re born sexual. We die sexual. That doesn’t ever necessarily go away. Our sexuality doesn’t go away.
Desire waxes and wanes depending on your life stage, life cycle, and your life experiences, for sure. But in a very practical way as we age, things like your vaginal tissue becomes less elastic, so you might not create as much vaginal lubrication, so you need to have a great lubricant in your bedside table. Don’t be afraid to use it, and don’t associate your vaginal lubrication with arousal. You can feel aroused in your brain, but maybe your body’s not responding in the moment, and so you help it out a little bit. That’s totally okay.
I’m thinking about this woman that came up to me not long ago after a presentation. And she in a private moment said, “I’ve had a double mastectomy and I no longer have breasts. We’re having a really hard time having sex because A, I don’t feel feminine, and B, our sexual script always started with breast massage, so how do I navigate this?”
This is a very common thing. Our body changes and maybe the way that we initiate sex needs to change, too. Or what if I’ve gained some weight or some positions aren’t available to me anymore? My partner has a colostomy bag now or has limited mobility?
All of these things happen, and it’s in those moments that we start to redefine what sex is going to look like for you at this stage. Maybe your sexual script doesn’t start with breast massage. Maybe it now starts with a lovely back massage, or kissing all over your neck, or doing something really different and new, but it takes some practice to be able to tell our partners, Maybe I don’t feel comfortable you touching my scars from my mastectomy. Maybe I want you to start on my thighs or something like that.
It’s just kind of this redefinition of how sex starts and what it looks like over the course of time and aging and just things that happen through life. Even emotional things like you’ve lost a loved one and you really do not feel the freedom to get into that erotic space and for a while, and that’s okay. That’s okay.
Jen: Let me ask you this super fun question. How do we talk to our kids about sex? This kind of closes the loop from earlier because we don’t want to necessarily duplicate the way that we were talked to about sex. That felt really not great and had some hard repercussions that a lot of us still digging out of.
Help us know what is the pendulum here, and where do we land, and what is healthy? This is a really enormous question, but how do we make sure, maybe, that they just don’t grow up with harmful narratives about themselves, about their bodies, about their worth, about sex itself? How do you talk to women or men, for that matter, how do you talk to parents about this?
Celeste: Yeah, so yes.
Jen: Yes, I know.
Celeste: It’s a big, it’s such a big question. My first response is always we must understand our own sexuality. We just must. We must understand our own sexuality in order to have a narrative that is healthy for our children.
So get to know yourself. What do you really feel about sex? Are there these limiting beliefs rolling around in your head, as well, as there is in anybody’s about what sex is for women or men or for anybody? Get really comfortable there.
Then the next question to ask is, What do I want for my child’s sex life in his or her future? If the answer is, I want in the future for my kid to have healthy, pleasurable, connective sex, then start to build some education around that goal.
Jen: That’s good.
Celeste: Yeah. So at the very beginning, I always say establish yourself as a trusted source for sexual questions always, because they’re going to get information.
Jen: Oh, yeah. Oh, gosh. Fact.
Celeste: Yes, so establish yourself as the trusted source for sexual information. You do that from the very beginning, naming their body parts the correct thing, vulva and penis. And continuing to use that correct verbiage so when they’re eight or nine or ten you don’t have to say to them, “Well, actually, I was telling you it was your pee-pee the whole time when really it’s your penis.”
Start early. Start having those conversations early, and know that sex it not a talk that you have once. It’s a conversation that matures as your kiddo matures. Above that, make yourself the person they come to with questions, and you’re going to be fine. You’re going to be fine.
Jen: That’s great. That’s great.
Celeste: No, don’t be scared. It’s okay to feel nervous about talking about this really sensitive subject. It’s okay. I felt nervous talking to my kids, and I talk about sex all day, every day.
Jen: That’s true. I love you told me that couple weeks ago, and I loved hearing that. You normalized that little bit of anxiety around that conversation. But I think also it gets easier. So it’s for people standing on the very precipice of cracking open that discussion with their kids, it feels daunting. Once you’ve had 29 of them, the shine’s worn off, and it gets a little bit easier, and it gets a little bit more normal. I think our kids will ultimately be so grateful for that, even if they cringe. It’s okay if they do. They’re going to. They’re like, “Ew, Mom, gosh.”
I think ultimately, they’ll be really grateful for the instruction. I know I can’t count how many times we’ve sat around, me and my girlfriends, and be like, “I didn’t know anything. I got some weird information. That’s not a conversation we had at home.” We don’t want to do that again either. We don’t want to perpetuate that we never talked about it sort of family dynamic either. So thank you for just peeling that back and saying, “You can do this and it’s okay to feel a little bit squishy about it and you can still do it.”
Jen: Okay. Let’s wrap this up. We’re asking all the experts in our health series these three questions. They can just kind of be off the top of your head, whatever comes to mind.
Here’s the first one. What’s one either small or simple thing that you do every day to take care of yourself?
Celeste: Hmm. I have the generic answer is I do move my body every day, because I just need that to not assault people in my house. But I think probably the most vulnerable thing is that I do heart work every day. I talk to earlier versions of myself. To be quite honest, I was doing some heart work right before this interview because I was nervous. I was going, “Okay, feeling a little bit anxious. Where’s that anxiety come from? It’s an earlier version of myself that tells me I’m not smart enough to do an interview with Jen Hatmaker, right?”
Celeste: I got to talk to those ladies back there from my past and tell them like, “I hear ‘em, but you’re no longer going to live this version of my life.”
Jen: That’s really strong. I’m not going to forget that. I find that entire approach incredibly, incredibly powerful. It’s also safe because it doesn’t shame that earlier version. It doesn’t say, “Shame on you for feeling that way.” It’s kind. It’s so nurturing. I’m so convinced that if we can figure out how to be really maternal to ourselves in every way—mind, body, soul—we would just be so much healthier. The way we mother other people, why can’t . . . we’re so mean to ourselves.
For you, because you have this very interesting and specific field, who’s one teacher that you love that you recommend a lot, that you’ve learned from, who’s impacted your physical or your mental or intellectual or spiritual health?
Celeste: Yeah. It’s hard to choose just one, but if I had to choose just one about sex in particular, it would be Dr. Emily Nagoski. She wrote a book called Come As You Are. She’s everywhere, on NPR and all of these different outlets. She’s just doing it and not being precious about it. You and I talked about this.
Jen: Yes. Yes.
Celeste: She’s really inspiring to me and has helped me in my own kind of sexual and spiritual journey. She’s just fantastic.
You know what? I’m going to add another one is also I love the Enneagram, as you do. I have an Enneagram coach. Her name is Erin Baute. She has helped me really understand myself and my business through the eyes of my 9-ness, so I’d say those two people are very good teachers for me.
Jen: I think you and I touched on this when we talked a couple of weeks ago, the idea of adding some Enneagram layer to our sexual understanding and health is very fascinating and not anything I’ve ever heard or seen.
Also, the book that you referenced, Come As You Are, has been really important to several of my friends, and so I’m glad that you said that. We’ll link to that, listeners. I’ll have that over at jenhatmaker.com.
By the way, Come As You Are, it is a double entendre, the title, so you can imagine she means what she says there. She’s a sexologist. Okay.
Here’s the last one. Of course, we ask every guest every series this Barbara Brown Taylor question, which we love, and you can answer it as seriously or as not seriously as you want to. What is saving your life right now?
Celeste: Oh, man. Honestly, female comics. I just love standup comedy. I love Whitney Cummings. I love Jessica Williams, of course, Amy Poehler and then just funny women—you, Glennon Doyle, Tina Fey. They just teach us how to be real big in our voices, but not lose our audience, be real big and relatable. I feel like I have to do over and over, and so I just learned so much from female comedians. Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, all of them. I love them.
Jen: No one’s ever said that to that question, and I love it so much because female comics have—I’m not exaggerating—been incredibly formative to me in every way, just in personality, in career path, in skill and so I love that answer. That is so, so fabulous.
Did you watch the, I think it was on Netflix, the comedy special Nanette?
Celeste: Oh, my goodness. Life-changer, Jen.
Jen: I just didn’t see it coming. She’s obviously hilarious, but as tender and precious as that interview or that comedy special turned, I’ll link to it, listeners, because it is pretty—
Celeste: Yes, you have to go watch it.
Jen: It’s pretty powerful. Okay. I love that answer. That made me really happy.
Also, you make me happy. I am so thankful for your candor. This is just a conversation we should be able to have with frankness and without shame, and you’re teaching us that. You’re modeling for it. As I’m listening to you today, I’m thinking, This is great. Finally, we can just hear a very capable woman just speak normally about sex in ways that are healthy and true and good.
We need a lot more of this, a ton more of this. I’m really sorry for your early sexual experiences that had you turn your car into the curve, but I’m so happy that you did, and that now your life’s work is kind of come out of a place of struggle that’s now been redeemed and is beautiful and wonderful.
I’m grateful for your expertise. I know that a lot of things you said today are falling on really soft ears. That makes me so happy. Can you just tell my listeners quickly where to find you, anything that you’re working on?
Celeste: Yeah. Well, thank you for those really kind, lovely words, Jen. It means more to me than you probably know.
You can find me at inspiringyourworth.com. That’s my website, or you can look me up at Dr. Celeste Holbrook on Facebook and Instagram. I just like to meet women where they are. If you have a group of ladies, I will virtually be there. I will Skype in. I will come meet you and do a Q&A for your audience. I just like to meet women where they are.
I also have online courses, one specifically called Elevate that could be very interesting for your listeners. It’s basically about overcoming sexual barriers like low libido, sexual shame, painful intercourse, that kind of thing. If it’s something you know you need a little bit more help on and you want to do something on your own in private, an online course like that would be very helpful for you. Then I also see clients virtually in my practice here in Ft. Worth, so that’s how you can find me.
Jen: Perfect. I will make sure that they have every bit of information to contact you, to find you, your coursework, your personal online work. So guys, you can go to jenhatmaker.com underneath the Podcast tab. We’ll have it all, every single thing that Celeste just talked about we’ll make sure you have access to.
Thank you for being on. I’d love to have you on again sometime. I’ve got more questions.
Celeste: I’ve got more answers. Let’s do it.
Jen: Yes! Yes. Perfect. Perfect.
Thank you. Thank you for your work. Thank you for being who you are. I’m so happy to have met you and that I now know you, to be able to share your work and your resources with my community. I’m so grateful.
Celeste: Well, the gratefulness goes both ways, Jen. You are just a north star for many of us, so thank you very much.
Jen: Thank you.
Okay, awesome. Gosh, I’m super into her. I’m also so happy that I met her a couple of weeks ago because she is so engaging and interesting, and she’s a really good listener. She’s really kindhearted and just feels like a really trustworthy leader and guide through a conversation that so many of us struggle to have.
I hope this was useful to you. We scratched the surface. There is so much more to Celeste’s work that you have access to. Like I said, I will link it all over at jenhatmaker.com under the Podcast tab for this episode.
I feel she’s just a very hopeful leader. Didn’t that feel hopeful to you? Like no matter how hard or difficult that sex has been in your life and your marriage, no matter what sort of history surrounds it, there’s possibility still. Hope springs eternal, and so much goodness is in front of us, and so I’m really grateful to her for her approach to sexual health and to women and their bodies and their partners and fabulous, fabulous.
Thanks for listening today, you guys. Send this on. This is one of those conversations that women just don’t have enough. This is not put in front of us enough. This is a great conversation starter between you and your partner, maybe. Maybe that’s who you send it to, to say, “Just have a listen. There’s some things in here I want to talk about. Maybe if you listen to this first, we can get started from there.”
Anyhow, thanks for being a part of this amazing podcast community. You are the very best. I love the health series. We’ve got some more great guests in front of us.
I cannot tell you how good this podcast is for my own life. If it serves you at all, great. I am happy about that. I know that it does because you tell me all the time. However, I do want you to know this podcast has served me. I can chart some of my spiritual and emotional and physical improvement in health to things that I have learned from my guests, and how deeply their messages have embedded in my own personal life. And so if it serves you, too, well then, that’s just a double bonus for me because it’s absolutely teaching me, as well.
Thanks for listening, you guys. Thanks for subscribing. If you haven’t, click over there and subscribe to the podcast. It’ll just show up on your phone every week. It’s fabulous.
On behalf of my team who works super, super hard on this—Laura and her crew, my producer, and then Amanda, my assistant, who builds out the whole website page for you every week—we’re just glad you’re here. Grateful to serve you guys. See you next week.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!