Did You Know: We (Chronically Ill Women) Are Capable Of Loving Ourselves?

You know that I can have sex, right?

Maybe you don’t. Honestly, it probably doesn’t really affect you unless you’re someone who is having sex with me.

But really. If you are aware of my chronic illness(es), have you ever wondered: Can she have sex with that?

These are hypothetical questions (kind of). But it raises an issue that is rarely talked about—& when it is talked about, it is often fetishized; it is placed into a certain category. In other words, it’s not normal.

Before entering the world of chronic illness at 17, I was quiet, concentrating on my music, getting accepted into good schools—&, for the most part, uninterested in the concept of relationships or sex. It was something that would happen one day, I knew—but I was still figuring out my identity, figuring out how to solve my geometry problems, & I had a lot of concerts to practice for.

When I was admitted to the hospital for a severe E. coli infection, it was the atomic bomb on my body; the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was what, after about two painful months of confusion, resulted in my diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease.

I started to realize that all of this “mess” had left scars, insecurities, & pain where it shouldn’t be. As a rising freshman in college, I started to wonder: was I going to be able to do this…you know… “college thing?”

As it turns out: yup. Yes, absolutely. Definitely. Positively. Turns out: sex is a thing that chronically ill people can have, too.

Chronically ill people, especially women, are presented as one-dimensional to society—& because we are a marginalized group, we are not given a platform on which to stand. We can’t talk about the vast diversity in the chronically ill community.

Do asexual chronically ill people exist? Yes, absolutely. But—a chronically ill person is not asexual by default. Illness & sexual identity are ideally separate. Like any aspect of human identity, it’s more complicated than that.

Most chronically ill & disabled women (with illnesses/disabilities that may affect their movement, their actual sexual organs, etc.) are never told by a medical professional that they can have sex—unless they ask, which they should not be entitled to do!

I was lucky. I had a doctor at the very beginning who was gentle, understanding—& a woman. She told me in which ways I should be careful; what things I should avoid; what people I should avoid. Again—I was lucky.

Most young women entering the world of chronic illness are scared, feel isolated, alone, & often are extremely uncomfortable discussing sex with their doctor—particularly if their doctor happens to be a man (extra points if he’s as old as your grandpa). So, they refrain from asking questions. That usually results in them either refraining completely from having sex, or having sex without knowing what’s right for them.

And that is a damn shame. Because, as our culture develops, becoming more nuanced in gender, sexuality, & identity in general, the definition of “sex” also becomes more nuanced. If you’re a middle-aged person reading this, you probably were taught in sex ed that sex was between “a girl & a guy” & that it was penetrative. Maybe you were told to use protection. If you’re in the younger generation, you (hopefully) know that sex is…a lot more than that. It doesn’t have to be between “a girl & a guy.” Virginity isn’t really…a thing anymore. “Cherry-popping” is out. Thank god.

Sex is, essentially, what you want it to be. Because we live in a society where gender & sexuality are nuanced, & sometimes fluid, sex doesn’t always involve penetration. It doesn’t always involve “a girl & a guy.” Sex, in the 21st century, should be for your pleasure, with whomever you choose, given that you’re being safe.

For chronically ill young women, safety is a big factor in sex. Oftentimes, you may be on immunosuppressive drugs, like biologics, chemotherapy, & others. These all weaken your body’s ability to fight off infections of any kind—not just the flu. This includes STDs. It doesn’t even have to be an STD—you could get a tear, or a small abrasion. That’s an extraordinarily easy target for infection. You can be doing all the right things—and your body will still fuck you over. If you’re chronically ill, & reading this, your head probably hurts from nodding at this point.

That’s the unfortunate reality. I’ve spent a lot of my time as a chronically ill young woman wishing that what I was living was not the truth, but it is a waste of my time to do so.

So—I’m sick, my immune system is compromised—but I do not identify as asexual. What to do???

Like most things, answers are different for everyone. I think that if you come into the chronically ill world as an inexperienced young woman, it’s a lot more difficult than if you’re diagnosed after you’ve been around the block a few times. However, I think one thing is important no matter what: loving yourself, & being comfortable with yourself. Self-love.

Self-love comes in so many forms. It depends on who you are, what your sexual identity is, & how you view your body. Self-love doesn’t have to be sexual—but it absolutely can be. It’s important to know your own body—know what works for you, know what doesn’t. Remember that it’s the 21st century! Traditional rules don’t apply anymore. Sex includes much more than penetration. If that’s something your body can’t handle…that is completely fine! It doesn’t invalidate your sexuality or your sexual experiences.

Take time to look at yourself in the mirror. If you’re chronically ill, you might already be doing this. It’s something I do a lot—to document changes, analyze swollen joints, look at a random bruise & wonder what it’s doing there & why. Look at yourself differently. Don’t play doctor when you’re practicing self-love. Try to be in the moment with your own body. Recognize that it’s functioning. Even though it may be functioning in a manner different than other bodies—that’s okay. You are here! You are alive. Therefore, you’re able to love your body & recognize its beauty as well as its faults.

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Take time out of your day/week/month to truly look at your body. You’re alive. That alone speaks volumes. Others may not be gentle with you, but you have the luxury to treat yourself like a treasure.

After you look in the mirror (in a different way), spend time with your body. Like I said, take time to find out what is okay for you & what isn’t. That’s going to make things a lot easier down the road, if you decide to have an experience with a partner.

If you’re fine with yourself? Cool! Like any other human being, you don’t need to have a partner or a hook-up to validate yourself to society (although you may feel the pressure to). Want to just have fun with yourself? Cool! Want to try some stuff with the person you’re feeling a connection with? Also, cool! Want to have a random hook-up? Okay! (But seriously. If you’re chronically ill & want to be in hook-up culture, be careful. Be aware of your surroundings, remember that you can say no. Don’t worry about hurting anyone’s feelings—because if you end up seriously, physically hurt, that’s going to be a lot worse than someone getting mad at you & stomping out of the room. If they do that, they’re not worth your time anyway)

You’ve probably noticed that I keep returning to the principles of self-acceptance & self-love. These can be practiced in so many ways! (& feel free to comment some ways that you practice them) Something I came across lately, however, is…crystals. Not only crystals, but crystal…dare I say it? Sex toys.

Vanessa Cuccia is the founder of Chakrubs: “The Original Crystal Sex Toy Company.” You can read more about her in this article about her entrepreneurial path, as well as her sexual & spiritual paths, & how they all connected to form her business.

I should say I was initially extremely skeptical of this. Is this just kind of a trendy thing? I wondered, as I stared at a dildo-shaped crystal on my Instagram discover page (how’d that even make it on the discover page? At this point, I must say fate).

For whatever reason, I decided to click onto the page. I started scrolling through, & started to realize that this was not primarily about sex. This was about women finding themselves for the first time, or rediscovering themselves after traumas, assaults, &, yes, illnesses. I started to read the actual descriptions of the crystals & what their meanings had. I saw that they weren’t necessarily exclusively intended for sexual use—they were supposed to bring positive energy into not only your sexual life & identity, but also into your everyday life; how you view the people around you; how you can start to forgive someone else or yourself for past events. Self- acceptance, self-love: two things I already knew were so crucial for women, especially chronically ill women.

I reached out to Vanessa & told her my story. I received so much kindness, support, & love—& finally, someone who understood what I was trying to get across: chronically ill women can (& should!) have sex if they so choose, & they most certainly should love themselves—in all mediums possible.

Vanessa sent me some of her Chakrubs & some of her Yoni Eggs. She explained that both can be used in gentle, non-penetrative ways—but that they can also simply take a spot under my pillow at night. Each type of crystal has unique energy & protective abilities—& you are supposed to choose the one (or ones) that speak to you most, or suit you best.

I was allowed to choose several. When I asked Vanessa for advice, she simply urged me to choose the ones that “spoke to me” the most. Again, I was a bit skeptical—but once I started reading the descriptions, my skepticism melted into intrigue.

The Obsidian Egg, for example, is extraordinarily protective. Black Obsidian is said to form a shield against negativity, & to absorb negative energies from the environment. It helps one get in touch with buried issues before they explode; it connects the mind & emotions; it shields against & absorbs negativity. Okay, I thought. There’s plenty of buried negativity in my life. I could use something to help with that. Onto the Rosebud Egg. Rose Quartz is “a stone of the heart, a Crystal of Unconditional Love.” It dissolves emotional wounds, fears, & resentments. I could use that energy to let go of things I hold against myself & others—I could use that when I’m getting pumped with chemicals, I thought. Amethyst: an extremely powerful & protective stone. Strong healing & cleansing powers. White Jasper: enhances one’s ability to relax & come to peace even in difficult situations. Helps one find comfort; brings kindness & emotional healing. Pure Blue Aventurine: Calms & relaxes fiery emotions; supports change. Clear Quartz: “the most powerful healing & energy amplifier on the planet.” Stimulates the immune system; brings body into balance; takes one’s energy back to the most perfect state possible.

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Obsidian: shields against & absorbs negativity, serves as a protective shield, sharpens one’s focus & gains clarity
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Blue Aventurine: promotes inner strength & rationality, finds clarity & encourages self-discipline, helps one understand responsibility for relationships & experiences, supports change.

Okay. I was sold. But why was I sold? I have been told by so many people to “try Eastern Medicine—works a lot better than all those chemicals!” or, “eat this kind of yogurt. My mother has Crohn’s. It cured her.”

Yeah. Okay. That’s not how it works—trust me, if a special tea had the ability to heal me, I wouldn’t be on various chemotherapies.

But this was more than that. I realized, as I read, that whether I chose to use these Yoni Eggs or Chakrubs as sexual objects, spiritual objects, every-day objects, or all three—the energy & principles with which they were associated were all things that I need to work on, for my own mental well-being.

Will these crystals heal me? No. Will they provide a positive source of energy in my sexual life, my personal, everyday life, & my own self-love? Yes. Why? Because I am of the belief that if I use Black Obsidian, for example, in any way (sexual, every-day, etc.) believing in its energy, it will provide me with strength that was already within me—I just hadn’t tapped into it yet. If I carry Black Obsidian with me to a doctor’s appointment, maybe it’ll serve as a reminder that I am strong, & having an object in my hand that represents strength will remind me of that. If I am feeling weak & sick, maybe I’ll use the Amethyst Yoni Egg. It’ll relax me; it’ll remind me that I’m still here…I’m still alive. Maybe the Pure Blue Aventurine Chakrub will help me come to terms with my upcoming surgery; maybe it’ll calm my anger & fear. & the Clear Quartz will remind me that since I am still here, still alive—I am invincible.

I have been using & carrying these Yoni Eggs & Chakrubs for the past few days. Obviously, they can be used in penetrative ways—but they can also be used in non-penetrative ways, for women who cannot or don’t want to experience penetration.

Most importantly, I truly believe that they’ve already brought positive energy & a more positive way of thinking into my life. I’ve been reflecting more on myself, forcing myself to bring back memories that are extraordinarily painful—but using the energies that these crystals provide to heal this pain.

I am the first to admit that my illness has changed me in many ways. In some, it has made me more empathetic to others, more able to tap into why someone else might feel the way they do about something. In others, it’s made me cynical, fearful. It has forced me to put up walls that I desperately fight to keep up. It has isolated me from things & people. It’s made me lonely, bitter. It’s made me sad.

That sucks, right? The fact that I pulled a pretty bad wild card, & that it must affect me in one way or another for the rest of my life—& that there’s nothing I can do about it.

But my last few days of reflection & introspection have helped me bring some things to the surface; some things that I can fix & work on. I can work on my strength; I can work on my love; I can work on spending time for myself to reflect on past situations & using positive energy & thoughts to make them less painful.

I have a loving, healthy, sexual relationship with an amazing person. We connect on many different levels. They have always been extraordinarily understanding & accommodating to my needs. That’s amazing. Every chronically ill woman who wants a relationship should have someone like that! It’s what we deserve.

But we also owe it to our partner(s) to return that love; return that understanding. I know, I know—we build up walls. When my person goes past them, sometimes I freak out. It’s terrifying to be that vulnerable when you’ve spent a good portion of your life hiding so much going on with your body.

But if you are reading this, are chronically ill, & are in a relationship: be kind to your partner. Remember that they love you; they care about you. If you remember this, you will not only be able to return their love (which is what they deserve), you will be able to have a happier, more emotional relationship. You will establish connections that you might never have thought of before. You will be happier.

If you are reading this, are chronically ill, & you are single: love yourself. That is okay. It’s so scary, right? But it is okay. You should do that. You deserve to spend time with your body, with your thoughts, or both at once.

Did I expect to come to this kind of conclusion (& result) after curiously clicking on an image on the Instagram discover page? Absolutely not. But over the past few days, I’ve tapped into more self-love & more introspection. I have found a woman who acknowledges my hurt past & my frightening future; I’ve found positive objects associated with positive energies that will help me get through the eternally difficult & tiring struggle of chronic illness. I’ve found ways to feel more sexual, more content, more fulfilled—without feeling tired, dirty, gross, or unsafe. In fact, I feel infinitely safer, more willing to work on myself, & more willing to open up to those who love me.

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There will still be times when you can laugh. Even though your future (& mine) is frightening & uncertain, we are still here. Simply taking up space, & finding some joy in even the smallest of things is an incredible thing.

So.

Now you know that I can have sex, right?

Chronically ill girls & women, so can you. There are many ways to have sex; many ways to connect with yourself or with a partner. Just remember that you are loved by others; you deserve to love yourself just as much. Be kind to yourself, be safe with yourself, & go forth. Now you know that you, too, can be a sexual being. You get to choose how to do it. You have the options, & the power. Just stare in the mirror. Touch your legs; your hair; your collarbones. They’re there. So are you. You’re alive. That’s incredible. If you’re still alive, you’re still able to love yourself. It’s never too late to start. Self-love is a continuous journey—much like the path of your illness. However, you start practicing that self-love with the same dedication your illness tries to ruin you, the possibilities are endless. You are here, you are reading this. You are alive. That makes you powerful & beautiful—no matter what you’ve been through, what you’re going through now, or what will happen to you in the future.

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I am trying to spend time with myself on many different levels. My body will never be cured, but I believe that the way I mentally approach my physical illness & those who try to manage it can become calmer, more positive, less bitter, & more forgiving.

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