We are in our twenties, thirties, forties. Our Pantones are honey, brown, sand, cream, pink. We have children. We have stepchildren. We have no children. We are frightened that if we have children they will rip us open, and we will hate them. We are in open relationships. We are in guarded relationships. We are recently divorced. We are midwives, tech women, high school teachers, accountants, and artists. We like men. We like women. We have only ever slept with men but have always wondered about women. We wonder if our mothers had asked us a different question would we be with a woman? Some of us have been touched when we said no. When we stayed silent. Some of us have not. Some of us can’t remember.

We. Don’t. Like. Sex. One of us loves sex but only when we are tied up by someone who is not our husband, when our husband is at home boiling water for wagon wheels for the kids. We only ever orgasm with our vibrators, when we are the last one awake—more a bargain for the spell of sleep than our own pleasure.

The woman with short red hair and long turquoise earrings—the woman who gathered us here—tells us to write down moments of pleasure. We are at a loss. We write down: our leg hair in the breeze. We write down: dragging a crayon across the page. We write down: the itch of a bee sting. We write down: touching our lovers’ nipples with the pads of our thumbs.

We are told to close our eyes. To find our midline. To rock our pelvis forward. And back. Feel the bones of our butt. Feel the vulva. Feel up, in front of the spine. We are shown Betty Dodson’s charcoal vulva illustrations, named: Baroque, Classical, Art Deco, Gothic, Renaissance, Modern. We are told to paint our pussies. At home, we sit on the carpet with mirrors. We brace a foot on the bathroom counter. We pile pillows on the bed. Some look like sea urchins; some like winged, scaley sky-creatures; some like asymmetrical flesh in bloom.

Reunited, we hold our paintings up next to our faces—our most known skin next to our most secret.

At home, we call each other naked. We describe what we see. The sharp cut of our noses. The moon-shape of our bellies. We look at the lines in our faces and say, “What a privilege it is to age.”

Then we blindfold ourselves and put the phone on speaker, rest it somewhere close to our mouths. We are told to feel ourselves. We start at the center. Our hands a heart around our navels. We feel strange touching ourselves—are we feeling with our hands? Or receiving with our bodies? Our hair long like a cape. Our hair cropped short against our necks. The heels of our hands in our eye sockets. We move down. We move up. We move down. Our small breasts like saucers feel full in our hands. We like the fleshy bits. We like hands spooning, resting on our coarse mons. We hold on to the knees like doorknobs. Our cold feet.

Nowadays, our partners are sulky when we don’t want sex. Indignant. They fight us, cajole us, become the stones in walls. We cry thinking about it. We are not sure where our loyalty lies. We leave them. We stay with them. We marry them. We break and return to them.

We want to know: Should we meditate? Try pole dancing? A sex-surrogate? What about a sexological bodyworker? Perhaps polyamory? A kink club? A Somatica group orgasm? Hypnosis? Or holotropic breathing? What about psilocybin? Will it take the psychedelic to crack open what’s wrong with us?

We ask each other: What is pleasure? We think rubbing our legs in clean sheets is better than sex. We think sticking our hands in a bin of dried beans is better than sex. We think dancing the tango in a tight dress with someone we’ve never met is better than sex. We think nothing is better than sex.

When we say sex, we don’t mean sex.

We mean everything.

Mika Sutherland is a writer and teacher living in Berkeley, CA. She is currently working on a memoir about the fraught mosaic of female sexuality. You can find her at Mika.D.Sutherland@gmail.com.

Photo by Amy Selwyn