Mimi & Sammy: When Sex Becomes Spiritual
The artist Mimi Zhu explores what it means to heal from sexual trauma in their new book, Be Not Afraid of Love, the October pick for Lemonada’s book club with Penguin Random House. On this episode of Good Sex, Mimi takes that same tender approach alongside the love of their life, Sammy, to discuss sex ed, feeling present in the bedroom, and, as always, the importance of lube.
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Mimi, Sammy, Claire Jones
Some people like love spit. I also love using natural body excretions. But personally, I also really love lubricants.
We love lube, we stand lube
Hi, I’m Mimi Su and my pronouns are they/them. I am a queer Chinese Australian artist and writer, and I just published my first book, be not afraid of love.
I’m Sammy, my pronouns are they down. I am a Korean American performer, writer, artists.
And you’re listening to GOOD SEX. So Sammy and I are life partners. We are lovers best friend’s husband and wife, spouses in this lifetime. And I intend to know and love Sammy forever. And that’s the only way I can really describe our relationship.
I think the relationship that I have with Mimi has always felt like home to me. I think when we were exploring ourselves in our early 20s. In New York City, we’re trying to find community, we’re trying to find a sense of home, within ourselves. And I think being able to navigate that together, we’re like holding each other’s hands and like holding each other through that process, that very, very messy process has given me a lot of crowdedness, it has given me a lot of security and knowing that even through all the messy parts, even the parts where I mess up, or there might be a lot of hurt involved, intentional or not, we can still come together at the end of the day, and still don’t really hold each other through it.
This could have made me cry. So Sammy, let’s get into it. I want to ask you, what is the best sex advice you’ve gotten?
Well, I feel like usually I’m the one giving six advice. You know, for someone to give me sex advice, I feel like there’s something within sex that I’m trying to figure out or that I’m not completely, like, sure about, I think, like, I struggle with it sometimes feeling present, when I have sex, you know, like, I think I’ve gotten very comfortable with like, knowing how to be sexy, and you know, like, going through all the motions, what I think a good sex should be. But sometimes I get so in my head of like, just performance of sex and like, what I think is hot, what I think is gonna give pleasure, that I don’t get to something that I’m like, oh, I’m actually having sex right now, like, an experience is so good, you know, that you can’t even be present in that experience. I think that that’s something that I have had to take a lot of time to really conditioned myself to learn how to be present with, I think the best advice that I got in with that is actually to just breathe while you’re having sex to like, kind of slow it down to remember your breath to not just like, get so lost in it. Like, of course, there’s some sex where it’s great, where you just get lost in it. But, you know, with all things, I think that’s a really good reminder that I’ve, that I’ve been given. Throwing it back on you, though, what do you think the best sex advice that you’ve gotten is?
The best sex advice I’ve gotten is probably from you. Honestly, I think it is about, like you said, and I’m really gonna echo a lot of what you just talked about, but it is about that presence. And I’ve thought about my own, you know, history of sex. And you know, I’ve been through like sexual trauma. And I think after that I really changed my relationship with sex, sex became actually, at first, I just had a lot of sex right after I was like, assaulted. And I just went straight into like, this urgent state of like, promiscuity that I really wanted to chase. And so for me at that time, because I had such a different difficult relationship with sex. I had a lot of really dissociative sex, right with like people with a lot of different people. And I don’t ever want to shame myself for that time, and it existed the way it did. But it’s interesting because when I like kind of look back at that time in my life when I was a lot younger, I don’t remember a lot of the sex that I had. And I think that’s quite indicative of my absence in my body. And so the sex advice that you’ve given me about breathing about being present, you know, has been really helpful, because actually feeling my body, and like tapping into that pleasure is really transformative and I think also reaches a certain spiritual state. And I think presence in sex can make sex feel that way too, where it’s the total opposite of like the very opposite sex I was having, where I didn’t want to notice anything, I didn’t want to look at the other person, I didn’t want to even think about where how my body was curling and reacting, as opposed to present sex where I actually like, feel everything. And it’s almost like so much that I can’t handle it sometimes, you know, but I think that’s really tapping into pleasure. It’s really tapping into like, the nature of the erotic. So that’s the best sex advice I’ve ever gotten. And it’s definitely from you. You taught me that.
So Sammy, how do sex and love relate for you?
I love that question. Because I think, yeah, that’s just like such a fundamental question. When you think about sex, you think about love, right? You think about how are they connected? It’s hard to extract sex from love, like, have it totally separate. But I think that’s important question, because not all the sex that people have is, through the pursuit of this idea of love, of finding their one person may be more than one person that they want to end up with, you know, for the long run, love is a human need. And they also think sex is a human need, maybe not for all people in the same way. But from my experience, and from what I hear from a lot of people, it’s a need, that maybe they overlap, they can be also be separate. So sex, in itself as a need is a way for us to connect with ourselves, our bodies, connect with other people. And I hope that, you know, I want to explore sex with other people in a safe, healthy way, it can be done in a loving way, it can be done with a lot of care. So we’re not hurting each other. But I don’t think you know, like, every single sexual encounter that you have, is gonna look the same way and that I’m trying to act super lovey dovey with them. Or it’s like, when you see someone and you’re like, really attracted to them, and you can even, you don’t even need to explain it, you know, you just know that it makes you feel some type of way, your heartbeat gets a little more, and you’re like, you start to think about what it’d be like, if you like were in a room with them alone, or the bed there. Maybe you’re in a bed. And I think that’s just like a very natural, kind of, like, human response. And why can’t we explore that, you know, without having to be necessarily like, oh, like, I have to be in love with this person. You know? I don’t know, it’s a kind of a complex question. Because I think it’s important to talk about sex with love and but also know, like, to have boundaries, I think with yourself as well, to know like, what is love and sex. And what, how can you still be a loving person and have sex where it’s not like, about like you and this person falling in love, necessarily. You know?
Totally, I agree with everything you said. And I think, like, the biggest thing that I took away from that is just like, ultimately, I think you carry love with you everywhere you go and do everything you do. And so I think that when you choose to have sex and to engage in that pleasure, you’re still doing it with love embodied, you’re still doing it, while loving yourself and loving your pleasure and wanting to pleasure this other person, anything, does a very loving act, I just feel that there are different levels of relationship, there’s different levels of closeness, and that sex can look really different depending on how close you are, or the specific dynamics within that relationship. You know what I’m saying? It’s not just like sex versus love. It’s like, there’s a lot of intersections there. And I think they intersect a lot more than we think.
Or do you feel like for you, though, in past experiences, with love and sex, how do they relate?
There’s some moments in sex, I feel just so spiritual, where it’s just like, you want to cry because you love this person so much you love being able to, like connect with them in this very specific way. That’s when sex and love connects in a way that almost feels like deep spirituality was just like, we get to embrace this closeness. We get to feel our bodies and twine our breath, move at the same pace. And I think that is the meditation in itself. So for me, that is my favorite type of sex, I would say is not the sex that like one can have all the time but when it does happen, it’s like, wow, you know?
Sex that makes you cry afterwards.
Sex that makes you cry.
Mimi, what’s something about sex that you wish society would handle better?
I think maybe the sex education that we’ve gotten isn’t always surrounding our own pleasure, funnily enough, right, like fully embodied pleasure, I think, at least a lot of the time, the ways that we consume sex is as if sex is like a product or something, right? Or it’s not. It’s not like a state of embodiment. It’s something that we give away. But I think instead, we can look at sex as like, what it looks like to be in physical relation, what it means to have that energy exchange, I think is really interesting, because I do think the way that a lot of our society talks about sex is very like extractive whereas it’s, it’s a gift, you know, it is a gift, and it is a gift that we share. And I guess I just want people to understand that more, and to also be able to, like, receive that pleasure. I think, okay, I’ll just speak for myself. But I think as a femme person growing up, I believed that sex was just something that I was supposed to, like, provide for somebody a pleasure was something that I was supposed to provide as opposed to also receiving. And I think there is obviously a very reciprocal nature in it. Like, for example, I think masturbation is really important, right about having sex with yourself, exactly. Having sex with yourself, getting to know your body, I think that’s something that’s absolutely not encouraged for a lot of us to do, right, to really get to know the ins and outs of our bodies, literally, I think investigating our sexual pleasure needs to be really thorough, and also communicating about sex needs to be very clear, and there needs to be boundaries in place. So that’s my answer. What about you?
So sex is such a huge part of our culture, right? Like socially, like, in media, you know, like, I think pornography is a huge meat, like first way that we’re educated to sex, you know, in this like, digital age, as millennials. And if you whether you look at mainstream media, or you look at pornography, which is highly, like shamed and censored, yet still very easily accessible. I think it shows that we live in a society where sex is very kind of transactional, it’s very performance space. Basically, I just hope that sex can be a safe space for us. Because I think that when we have sex in a transactional way, we can end up hurting each other and harm each other. Because we don’t know ourselves. And we’re trying to maybe give ourselves away, we’re trying to gain parts of ourselves back by having sex with other people. And so we end up kind of hurting each other, hurting ourselves. And I think that if we’re able to approach it in a way where it’s just be the safe space, for us to be vulnerable with each other, to explore ourselves, maybe make mistakes. But that can be the excitement. Part of it is like, wow, this person’s trying to like, discover their own pleasure, helped me discover my pleasure, how can we help each other out in this way? And have it be reciprocal? And I think if we’re able to, like have society teach us that that’s what sex is, I think that we would have a much healthier, safer idea of like how to approach sex in our own minds, where it’s not this thing that where we feel bad about ourselves, if we’re not having enough good sex of we’re feel bad about ourselves have written not a sexually competent person. It’s like, well, we’re sexually active and we’re exploring that and I think that’s something to be really proud of in a society that shames that and also really exciting that’s something in our lives that we really get to explore to our full potential if we allow ourselves to, if that’s what we want, you know, it’s just about pleasure. So if we can pleasure ourselves, I think that we’re, we’re on the right track.
That’s so beautiful. I feel like I can hear you talk about it for hours. And I think some things came up for me when you were talking about that, where it’s like, making a cultivating a safe space for sex, right, not shedding these performances, especially of gender roles, right, especially of what we’ve been assigned to be in relation to others, I think is really important. And I’m really into, like, somatic healing. And they explore that a lot in my book, but just about like, what it means to listen to your body, mind and spirit, including in, you know, sexual situations, including during moments when we’re having sex, like listening to my body, seeing how I react to things, and actually like, communicating based off of that. And for me, for years, I did not even know what triggered me. I just knew that sometimes and like, being totally transparent, but sometimes in the middle of sex, I wouldn’t like the ways that I would be touched sometimes. But I would say nothing. And of course, it’s so difficult. And that’s what I’m saying. Like, it goes to this deeper, more societal question of like, why don’t we feel safe during sex, one, and two, why don’t we feel safe communicating that as well. Right. And I think those are all things that we really need to shift and have a conversation about, because sex is deeply based on pleasure. And so we need to move toward a society in a world where that is the center of that, while also like centering like survivors in that or like, teaching survivors how to have sex again, you know what I mean? Or like, yeah, teaching traumatize people how to create new patterns of sex in their semantic memory. So, I mean, it goes really deep. But at the end of the day, sex is an opportunity for people to be closer, more intimate.
Yeah. feel more connected. And as opposed to disassociating or escaping. Yeah. Sex is like; however you want it to be, you know, you are allowed to have a voice and like, the kind of sex that you want to have.
And at the end of the day, sex is our bodies communicating with each other. Right? And so having that verbal communication is the added layer of literally saying with our words that yes, I like this here. I like this there. And I think that is very clear. And like you said, can create that safe space where it’s like, there’s no like, you know, strange little like gray area where it’s just like, I like this, you like this. And I think I think that’s really hot. Like I love so Daddy talk. You know, I love some like back and forth conversation, because ultimately it’s being in conversation more ways than one which I love.
Yeah. And it is sexy.
It’s hot. Thank you for listening to GOOD SEX.
GOOD SEX is a Lemonada Media Original. The show was produced by Kegan Zema and Dani Matias our supervising producer is Xorje Olivares. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Music is by Dan Molad and APM music. If you like GOOD SEX, please rate and review us. Listen and follow for new episodes each week, wherever you’re listening right now. And if you want more good sex, subscribe to Lemonada Premium for some quickies additional conversations between our guests only on Apple podcasts.