Difficulties in our sex lives often parallel the broader landscapes of our lives. There are ways we can learn from these challenges to deepen our knowledge of ourselves. Cultivating a sense of mindfulness, self-trust and intimacy can enhance the power and aliveness we experience in both sex and life.
In an interview with Justine Dawson, we discussed the role of mindfulness in the power of sexual awakening. Justine is a teacher and guide of mindfulness and the erotic, including sex, desire, self-expression and connection. She works with clients to dismantle the shame, fear and judgment that prevent them from intimacy in all aspects of their lives.
My conversation with Justine is an opportunity to explore how we think about sex, express ourselves sexually and feel about ourselves as sexual beings — and ways we can break free from any constraints to feel more empowered, aligned and fulfilled.
Melissa: I’d love to start off by having you share a bit about your personal journey to mindfulness and the erotic and what compelled you in this direction.
Justine: I had always been quite shy, more introverted — and yet longing for this sense of aliveness and connection. As I was doing more and more of mindfulness practice and meditation, there were times where I could tap into a sensation of lightness.
But there also could be a place where mindfulness and that meditative practice conflated with my habits of control, of being more strict with myself and having this kind of discerning judging mind. And so while some aspects of it were really powerful and beautiful — and continue to this day — there are other aspects that we’re molding right in with my personality that I didn’t think were helpful.
So it provoked questions for me. How do I actually undo some of that conditioning? How do I access this feeling of aliveness like vitality and this sense of being deeply nourished? And especially, how do I do that in the world of connection?
So those were the questions that really started me on the path of wanting to understand more deeply what I’ve come to name as the erotic.
Melissa: I love what you said about this discernment — like how there was a certain direction you could have gone that would have been nourishing and beautiful in its own right. And yet there was something about it that wasn’t resonating. There is a way in which discernment is so important to the process.
Justine: Absolutely. And the way that I’ve come to understand this is by understanding more deeply my underlying motivation. There was both this deep motivation to understand the nature of my mind, to feel more open and to have a sense of interconnection — all those things that can be developed through meditation.
And there was also this motivation, which could say, “Oh, it’s more comfortable being alone; it’s more familiar being alone,” playing out a habit that I would now say wasn’t serving me.
I think for a lot of people on the spiritual path — or really anywhere in life — we can look at where our decisions are motivated by a conditioned habit. So I had to do a lot of work to untie those two. And that continues to be a lot of my work with myself and with clients.
What’s the thing that’s really motivating us? What are our past patterns, trauma, fears and shame? And certainly, I had my own unique collection of those, as we all do. That was the beginning of the path.
Melissa: I think it’s so interesting to think about the ways in which this conditioning operates on so many different levels. Conditioning — whether it’s cultural conditioning, gender socialization, negative sexual experiences or traumas — can infiltrate in a way that sometimes we feel confused about whether that motivation is coming from the conditioning versus the wise inner part of ourselves.
Justine: That is the “what” it asks of us — a willingness to say is that really true? How do I see what’s actually true? Even that question itself is often the layers of an onion; it’s drawing us deeper and deeper in and constantly revealing something new.
For example, if we take something like sex and how much gets tied up in it — culturally, personally, our own histories, our own traumas — and we are willing to sit with these questions, we slowly drop beneath the surface to feel what’s actually right and true for ourselves.
Melissa: One thing that I think is so powerful about reflecting on sex and the domain of sex is that there is such a parallel between how we are relating to sex and what kind of barriers or roadblocks we’re noticing around sex and other parts of our lives.
I’m wondering for you, personally, what do you see as some of the ways we can learn from what is happening in our sex lives and use that wisdom to reflect on our lives more broadly? How do you see that sort of interconnection happening?
Justine: I do see all life as interconnected. It’s almost like you could take any slice of life and gain insight from it, when you look at it deeply, and certainly sex is no exception. We can use our experience of sex as a metaphor for other aspects of life.
When we look at our sex life, it shows us in our most raw state; it reflects back to us our ability to be in our bodies and our connection to others. Our ability to let go, so often, is reflected in other aspects of life, whether it’s spiritual life, professional life or even family life. The willingness to attune and respond to the inner guidance that comes in our bodies is about developing care and intimacy with our internal world, which in turn reflects on our relationships with the people around us.
Ultimately, we’re all sensing and feeling beings. Some are more directly in touch than others, but we all have the capacity. In sex, we see each other in a raw way. And we see ourselves — especially as we go out of control — and what comes up in our minds, what happens in our bodies and where we can or can’t let go. In some ways, that also magnifies our internal landscape; it comes out in a magnified way. We learn through our sex, and there’s so much available to see.
There is an abundance of wisdom that we can tap into by learning to hear and trust our inner guidance.
For my complete conversation with Justine listen to the full podcast episode:
Justine Dawson is a teacher and guide of mindfulness and the erotic. A 23-year practitioner of Insight meditation, she completed her five-year teacher training with Jack Kornfield in 2012.
In addition to her education in mindfulness psychology, Justine has devoted over 13 years to practice and teaching in the realms of the erotic – sex, desire, self expression and connection. She has taught throughout the US and Europe, establishing and guiding communities of practice, as well supporting mindfulness retreats at venerable American spiritual institutions.
From the inside out Justine works with people to dismantle the shame, fear and judgment that prevents them from intimacy with all aspects of life. She is a translator between worlds, bridging the rational and instinctual, mind and body, desire and responsibility. Justine is currently keeping it real in Los Angeles, CA where she teaches at Insight LA, and maintains a private practice working with individuals and couples. You can find her at justinedawson.com and on IG @justineadawson.
As a holistic coach, psychologist, mindfulness, meditation & yoga instructor, & Ayurvedic doula I offer personalized paths to growth & healing.