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Gateway Women Masterclass: Childlessness and Sexual Intimacy: the taboo within the taboo

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Over the decade that I’ve been the vault of childless women’s most private stories, there’s one topic that comes up again and again, once they feel safe enough to talk about it: sexual intimacy. And yet, whenever I’ve tried to create some kind of group conversation around it, it’s fallen flat.

It seems many of us are hungry for someone else to talk about this – as long it’s not us and our sex life!

Whether we’re in a relationship or not, our sense of ourselves as women cannot be separated from our bodies. Those very same bodies that didn’t have children (for whatever reason).

The story of our childlessness is written on our bodies. And often it speaks to us through what’s going on (or not) in our sex lives. 

And so, being the ‘taboo girl’ that I am, I am proud to say that I recently created the world’s first CPD (Continuing Professional Development) video training program for COSRT (the UK College of Sex & Relationship Therapists) on the ‘Impact of Involuntary Childlessness on Sexual Intimacy’. You can find out more about that COSRT course here and take it, whether you are a therapist or not. (And maybe forward this blog to your therapist so that they might consider doing the COSRT training too – so few therapists are ‘childless-aware’, as so many of us have already discovered…)

Some of the stats (all of which you’ll find academically referenced in my book, Living the Life Unexpected: How to Find Hope, Meaning & a Fulfilling Future Without Children

  • An average of 1 in 5 women in the developed world reaches midlife without children: 10% because of choice (childfree), 10% because of infertility, and 80% due to circumstance. Currently available public data shows that it’s 1 in 3 for women in Germany & Japan; 1 in 4 in Ireland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Finland & the Netherlands; 1 in 5 in the UK and 1 in 6 in the US, Canada, Australia & New Zealand. (See chapter 2 of my book for details and analysis).
  • Anecdotally, in my experience, the most prevalent ‘circumstances’ leading to involuntary childlessness I’m seeing in GW members are either being single not by choice and/or the impact of chronic illnesses.
  • 1 in 8 heterosexual couples have difficulty conceiving (and rising, some stats show 1 in 6); for same-sex couples, the journey is necessarily more complex.
  • 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage and many of those women do not go on to have a ‘rainbow baby’, although these stories are missing from the miscarriage narrative. (I wrote about that here.)
  • 1 in 3 women in the UK and 1 in 4 women in the US have had an abortion; of those who later find themselves involuntarily childless, some may experience complex feelings of ‘not being allowed to grieve’ because of this (I write about this in Chapter 4 of my book).
  • In 2016, the global figures for IVF/ART (available from ESHRE) show that around 75% of treatments did not result in a live birth.
  • 50% of women who’ve undergone infertility treatments experience PTSD (compared to 8% of the general population).

Is it any wonder our precious bodies, the only ones we’ve got are struggling to show up in the bedroom as healed when so many of us are carrying so much pain? 

So I brought together four very special guests to help us navigate this subject with candour, tenderness and understanding. All of us are involuntarily childless. My guests were:

  • Stella Duffy OBE (UK/NZ) is the author of 17 novels, a theatremaker, yogi and a doctoral candidate in Existential Psychotherapy. She and her wife are childless due to cancer, miscarriage and infertility. You can find out more about Stella at her website www.stelladuffy.blog and on Twitter @stellduffy and on Instagram @stellduffy.
  • Katy de Jong (USA) is a feminist philosopher, sex educator and the founder of The Pleasure Anarchist, a project created to help people reimagine a new relationship to their sexuality after the trauma of infertility. You can find out more about her at her website www.thepleasureanarchist.com and @ThePleasureAnarchist on Instagram.
  • Sue Newsome (UK) is a psychosexual therapist, coach and educator who combines her deep experience and training in a range of sacred sexual traditions, including Tantra and Chuluaqui Quodoushka with more formal couples therapy. In 2013 she was named Sex Therapist of the Year by Outsiders, the UK charity that provides sex and relationship support to physically and socially disabled people. Partnered and childless-by-circumstance herself, Sue has been a long-time member of Gateway Women. www.suenewsome.com
  • Yael Wolfe (USA) is a writer, artist and photographer whose passions are feminism, love, nature and sexually liberated women. She is single and childless-by-circumstance. You can see her website at www.yaelwolfe.com, read her amazing articles on Medium and follow her on Instagram @yael.wolfe

Together we began an exploration how childlessness impacts our sexuality and our sense of ourselves as sexual beings, whether we are currently partnered or not. I hope you’ll enjoy this powerful, tender and actually quite magical conversation! We all had so much more to say so please stay tuned for further projects around this.

1 Comment on Gateway Women Masterclass: Childlessness and Sexual Intimacy: the taboo within the taboo

  1. Hello I have watched this retrospectively and just wanted to say how “nourishing” I found it! I love how Stella says it is ok to feel resentful, bitter and angry for a time and to respect those feelings as part of the human emotional process. Society conveys a strong powerful message that these are “negative” dark emotions that we are not allowed to feel – let alone express them! It is, I think it is so important to feel these emotions before we transform them into something else that we can live with and learn from. I love how you talk about the transformative process Jody. We are constantly evolving as people and what I do find interesting (and annoying!) is that people from the past have this fixed idea about who we are based on a previous version of ourselves! The 56 year old me is a very different version of the 36 year version of me! I love how “inclusive” you have made the childless community from its “conception” – you have “birthed” a community Jody! I hope you don’t mind me using these metaphors- in this context. In some way I thought it was strangely fitting! Over the years I have watched you develop into this astonishingly accomplished speaker and articulator of the childless experience. Although this is still a somewhat taboo experience- you have opened up a narrative that has at least validated this experience. It is not just something and nothing. It is a profound experience that reaches into our future and transforms us forever. Thankyou X

2 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Why do the issues of motherhood get so much more attention than those of childless women? Jody Day interviewed by Helen Russell for her ‘How to be Sad’ Podcast (May 2021) – Gateway Women
  2. World Childless Week 2021 Free Masterclass: Childlessness & Sexual Intimacy (Tues 14 Sep, 7pm UK time) – Gateway Women

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