Everyday Epiphanies: ‘The Mirror Within: a new look at sexuality’ by Anne Dickson

Ever since I was a child, I’ve believed that inspiration is everywhere. When a new thought comes into view — if it makes you think differently about the world, or about yourself — it is magical and spiritual, regardless of what awoke it.

In this blog series, it’s my pleasure to share with you moments of inspiration from all sorts of origins: books, music, film, art… anywhere! I’ve been thinking a lot about sexuality lately; not just sex, but the vital energy that drives us — as women — to be sexual beings. A lot of what I’ve been pondering is thanks to my experience with Anne Dickson’s 1875 title, ’The Mirror Within’…


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Words by Lauren Bennett

Despite being first published over 30 years ago, I felt an instant connection to the context Dickson  creates for, what goes on to be, a book which unblushingly covers a manner of topics from female sexual stereotypes (The Whore, Eve, Black Widow etc.), to arousal (with a partner and with yourself) and genital anatomy. For me, this book is the absolute antithesis to Glamour-esque magazine articles — “20 Things You Can Do In Bed To…” and so on — which helped shape my understanding and expectation of sexuality as a younger woman.

Epiphany: “It is common sense that when you take any object to pieces, it doesn’t function”

Dickson argues that we, as women, have become disconnected from our sexual energy and our sexual bodies. There are two things to consider here: how you view, respect and admire your physical body and what role you allow sex to have in your life.

Starting with the physical body — which I think for many is more easy-to-grasp, as we find ourselves critiquing it every day — Dickson believes this very picking apart of our womanly form limits us from respecting our sexual selves. “Attractiveness is rated in parts: a woman’s breasts, face, legs, hands, eyes, lips, buttocks are signaled out for display. It is common sense that when you take any object to pieces, it doesn’t function and this again highlights the difficulty in retaining integrity and wholeness." So not only are we disconnecting the parts of the body from each other, interrupting their natural synergy, but we are disconnecting ourselves emotionally from the body; rating it, liking some parts and disliking others, stopping ourselves loving ourselves as a whole.

Dickson suggests a number of ways we can begin to rebuild a connection and admiration for our physical body, which I’ll go on to share. Before I do, I’d like to touch on the relationship between sexual energy and sex as a physical act. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I understand myself quite well when it comes to sex — that is, the act of. However, I’m not sure I’ve ever really connected with my inner sexual energy and spirit: what’s she like? What is she doing when I’m at work, or food shopping, or doing any manner of everyday activities which don’t involve sexual intention?

“It helps if we begin to affirm for ourselves that sexuality is part of the rest of our lives. We can acknowledge the erotic in every day life without confusing it with sexual activity… it is the being of sexuality which we have lost in our obsession of doing”.

This got me thinking about other times in my everyday life when I get lost in something, be it during a yoga flow, reading a good book, enjoying cooking a favourite meal, driving and singing along to a powerful song, feeling a refreshing sea breeze against my face… these moments all provide me an intense feeling of satisfaction and joy. Perhaps my sexual energy is here too? Give yourself permission to acknowledge this kind of eroticism day to day.

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Epiphany: “Few people understand the significance of their feelings… the head is split from the heart, the mind from the body”

…”What is felt in the genitals is assumed to be unconnected to what is happening in the rest of the body”. Once we have begun to work on reconnecting our physical body, then understanding that our sexual energy is omnipresent and not just appearing in the bedroom, we can look at how it all comes together.

Dickson covers in detail changing sexuality over lifespans, month spans, through grief and joy and stress — there is indeed far too many moving parts for me to cover in this blog post. What I will focus on though, is some of the ways Dickson shares for actively loving your body and starting to listen more intently to how your emotions are affecting your physical and sexual feelings.

Loving your body is…

  • Playing and having fun

  • Saying it hurts when it does

  • Saying no when you want to

  • Crying when you want to

  • Jumping for joy occasionally

  • Stretching it fully

  • Putting your feet up and asking for a cup of tea

  • Singing

  • Looking in the mirror with pride (and observing your unique genital anatomy)

  • Exercising for pleasure

  • Laughing

  • Resting

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By ensuring you respect the ebb-and-flow of your active energy — knowing when you feel tired, and taking rest — and giving the appropriate significance to injury and pain — asking for help when you need it — you will begin to care for your sexual self too. After all, as we’ve learnt, it’s all connected.

Indeed, it’s not just women who can benefit from this self love and acceptance. “If men could reclaim their own beauty, their own skin, their own sensuality, their own vulnerability, then sex would [for them] be more of an exchange and less of a competition”.

Epiphany: “As women, we know… [our] response seems to spring from an ancient and secret wisdom which is kept hidden for most of the time”

On the last page of a book which, I believe, asks the reader to quite fundamentally challenge and reframe a lot of their thinking surrounding sexuality, Dickson asserts that it’s not truly about learning new behaviour, but instead reaffirming that which is already there.

A lot of it comes back to assertiveness; having the confidence to communicate with yourself and others what you — your physical and sexual self — needs and wants. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more female assertiveness modelled for us, thanks to movements like Time’s Up and Press for Progress. What we can do now, as women, friends, lovers, sisters, mothers, is start to speak up more in our own circles. Let’s remove the taboo surrounding sexuality, to learn from each other and validate our experiences; shedding inhibition and nurturing the confidence to live our most authentic sexual lives.

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Having travelled to fifty countries across the world, Lauren is hooked on culture, environmentalism and the power of people working together. In her spare time she loves reading, cooking and crafting; she’s hoping to launch a jewellery collection soon. Find her on Instagram

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