I rolled out of bed to pee. I shuffled past the roaring wood stove, into my snow boots and towards our one and only bathroom—the outdoors. After leaving New York City, my fiancé and I moved to Montana and built a traditional yurt from scratch. It was a bitch of a task, but the outcome was a nomadic home surrounded by five mountain ranges. And this was our inaugural night of official yurt slumber. Yanking the door open, I stepped into what felt like a meat locker: pitch dark, minus 20 degrees, tree shadows, the hush of night. Bare-assed, bare everywhere, I squatted in the snow.
Letting my eyes adjust, I dripped dry. Wind blew itself in from somewhere—first small wisps, then full-blown gusts. It whipped around me, moving between my legs and up my back, alerting every pore, shivering my elbows and loosing my hair to a wild mess. As the wind continued, my whole self began to vibrate. Whoa. I clutched myself, trying to not fall backwards.
I felt aroused.
The word arousal shouldn’t be limited to wet or hard. There is so much of the world to be aroused by. And when I’m in the mood for revealing, I tell friends that the sex that came before stepping out of the yurt was equally as arousing as the wind that followed.
But I would never have admitted something like that during my first year in New York City. New to the eight million people living in skyscrapers thing, I was quickly dubbed Nature Girl. I was indeed a sensory being who gushed about things like eating a pineapple or rain on my skin. But the reveal-all-about-sex urban world intimidated me. Arousal only seemed to have one meaning in this place.
Often, a friend would scroll down her iPhone and dictate a recent sext session with her boyfriend. I would marvel at her openness to share something so intimate with me. Curled up on the couch, she would ask about my sex life. Squirming, I would utter some killjoy word like sacred and sink back into the pillows. Was I weird? Or worse, quaint? Did I need to announce that I’d been doing the deed all different ways for ten years, that I also owned a vibrator, albeit a prehistoric version? When a group of us ladies got around to going out dancing, everyone was shocked I had moves. Wait a minute. Just because I don’t dish about my sexual escapades, doesn’t mean I can’t dance.
In the city, the message was clear: body = sex. But wasn’t the body good for other things too? I corralled a massage therapist friend. We had gotten to know each other in New Mexico and reconnected in the city. I told her about how odd I felt and that I had encountered a new type of woman here: kickass for sure, and a sexual wizard, almost academic in her thoroughness on the topic, but one who seemed to know very little about sensuality outside of sex.
“It’s as if sensory awareness died on the side of the road,” I sighed.
“Maybe it’s because,” she explained, “to live here, you have to tune out of yourself on some level. And we just haven’t been taught how to re-engage with our senses.”
She was right.
I stopped apologizing for being Nature Girl and started re-engaging. I cataloged city smells, flung my arms akimbo to sense the subway vibrations and leapt for joy at the splatter of rain on concrete. When encouraged, I also began to share one more centimeter about my sex life. For the record, sex does benefit from sensory.
Now I wonder: what if sensory awareness was as big an industry as sex? I’m not knocking on all the sex talk. But why start and end the conversation there? Especially when we’ve each been endowed with what I call a sensory body. It’s what pole dancers call the erotic creature; what Walt Whitman called the body electric; what your mama, if she owns it herself, calls what you got. It’s our birthright. Even during my time as a city dweller, I found a way to tune back in. It isn’t rocket science, but then again, that’s exactly the point. My tips for getting back in touch with your sensuality, no matter where you live, after the jump.
1. Move your body in a new way. Rise from your computer. Don’t worry it’ll be there when you return. If you can get outside, do it. Rollerblade and jump a curb to feel balance. Climb a tree until you are high enough to be scared. Walk to any body of water and smell it: grease, salt, gasoline and all. Wave your body around. Slither on the ground. Sprint, not to burn calories, but to feel your heart race. Cartwheel. Lie face down in grass. You get the idea.
2. Tend to something. Preferably not a person at this stage, because that can get all confusing and co-dependent unless undertaken carefully. Water a plant and, please, prune back its dead leaves. Clip your toenails. Smell a fresh mint leaf before you plunge it in rum. Do yourself a favor and read Wild Feminine (don’t judge the title). Tending to something = tending to yourself.
3. Enhance the conversation. Our girlfriends are our gold, but it’s time we call each other out. Do exchange the latest news on sexual discoveries, but then redirect the conversation. Ask each other whether you are feeding, watering, moving and loving your body well? Do you make time to appreciate it? Talking about sex is never going to go away. Now make the sensory body conversations just as common.
4. Mimic an animal. My dog knows how to stretch and please himself. He hurls his body into snow and pants with euphoria. When he needs to sleep, he sleeps. When he’s hungry, he eats. When he’s sad, he howls. He lounges in the sun. He does exactly what his body needs him to do. Okay, so he doesn’t have deadlines, but he’s got a wisdom worth paying attention to.
5. Eroticize your landscape. Nature will take anyone there, even the skeptics. No woman can shake the primal out of herself. In the absence of nature, do not fear. Most things constructed by people are influenced by nature’s design: sagging fences, the arc of bridge, or the bend in a highway. Find a shape that reminds you of your body and study it.
Molly May is a writer, freelance editor and teacher of place-based writing workshops. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.