by Latoya Burnham
Denise Charles is fascinated by sex. She has always been. She loves romance and all the entanglements that come with being in a relationship.
Having married at the age of 19, an educator and psychologist now by training and profession, she sits in a somewhat quiet room at the Graydon Sealy Secondary School. She teaches here, though not as a counsellor, and with her sister locks falling down the sides of her face and her neck she admits it boldly that sex can be good, should be good and enjoyable for both people, but they need to understand what it’s about, what it means. She talks openly of her own early challenges with sex at such a young age; about coming from a broken home and the fact that all her early experiences helped to shape her frame of mind going into marriage.
So when she published her second book last year, How To Have Mind-Blowing Sex Without Losing Your Brain, she wasn’t surprised at some of the tongue-in-cheek responses she got. She was a little more amazed and pleased at the people who started telling her how the book changed the way they looked at sex in their own lives and relationships.
You see, sex is still something Charles believes the Bajan society talks a lot about if it is in rude jokes or in bragging, but the real “nitty-gritty” of romances and how couples can find true connection and meaning through the act — now, that’s something we still aren’t comfortable with.
It was after writing her first book, Your Baby Is Coming Now Push, that, as she puts it, a “light bulb just went off in me” and she had the idea of what her next book would be about.
“Shortly before that book was to be published, I said to the person who was doing the foreword for that book my next book is going to be called How To Have Mind-Blowing Sex Without Losing Your Brain and he said, ‘what?’
She laughs now, a loud, rolling chuckle from the belly, “That’s usually the response that I get. I don’t know where the title came from but I know people are always talking about having sex and having a mind-blowing orgasm and the quality of the orgasm, and that is all well and good, but I thought maybe we don’t give sex enough thought and realise that there is a whole lot more that goes into it than just the orgasm and that our pasts, our history, how we were taught about sex, all of those things help to solidify how we interact with sex, and a lot of that came from my own experience.
“I had an experience with abuse to some degree when I was younger and it scars you deeply. It makes you feel guilty about pleasure. So when I thought about this nuance and having counselled other young women and realised the things that they too went through, I recognised that dealing with sex we have to go past the logistics and just the physical logistics. We have to go into the psychology and the spirituality and how it makes you feel, what you think about it, what you were taught about it; when you are in church all the negative images and so on that are associated with it.”
Denise says too often sex is glossed over in discussion, especially among people who grow up in the church. There is less talk about sex and more talk about abstinence, but then when those same people get married the assumption is that suddenly they will know what to do, how to enjoy it and what it means. That transition from no sex to being able to have as much as one desires is something she believes can run relationships into trouble.
It’s one of the reasons Charles and her husband, Gabriel, formed the Better Blends Institute to counsel couples and even individuals about sex.
“I think that giving people sexual education, whether they are single or married is important. People need to know what sex entails, not just at the physical, logistical level of penis, vagina, but in terms of what is going to happen to them psychologically; how sex binds you to a person…
“Sometimes you may be with a guy that you know is not good for you. You know this guy is not the best person for you or you know this girl is not the best but you tied to them because you have been sleeping together and having sex, so you are tied up in each other. You can’t get away, even though you know this person is unhealthy for you and people don’t think through those things and that is why I decided to write the book about sex, and the response has been phenomenal.”
The feedback, she says, has been positive. As he whips a single small lock away from her face she tells that not only has the book been therapeutic, but it has enabled her writing to travel beyond Barbados.
An avid reader of online publications and blogs, she came across one by sexologist Dr. Trina Read and decided to contact her about breaking into the North American market. Read advised her to send some copies of her writing, and having just started her own blog, Red Red Apples on WordPress, Charles fired off a number of her articles only to have Read upload her work to her column, and furthermore, recommend her to the California-based online Hitched magazine, which led to even more exposure in the Canadian Fresh Vancouver magazine and furthermore the Canadian Rogers Cable TV station, where she was featured numerous times on Sex @ 11 with Rebecca, via telephone from Barbados.
“So it has opened those types of opportunities for me to really be global with this message in terms of being in touch with our sexuality and so on. So I plan to do a lot more of that type of thing. I want to do a lot more speaking, I want to develop my own talkshow, that is what I am working on with CMC which will be regional.”
In fact, tomorrow at Divi Southwinds, she will record her first local segment at 7:30 p.m. themed Sex: The Big Deal. It is an free open forum for discussion.
“So I want to go down that road and write a lot more books on sex and motivational because I am going into the life-coaching area. My first book was motivational … so I want to continue writing in that area where people can be developed as whole persons as well as dealing with issues of sexuality.”
She admits that not all of her views are easily swallowed. In fact, she welcomes those who are willing to discuss their different points of view about what she might have written.
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons her brow furrowed a bit and her eyes grew more intense when the question of women withholding sex was brought up. It’s not a new question for her, but she admits it is one others, especially women, may strongly disagree with.
“I understand the humanity of it — you are hurt or not getting something that you want and you withhold, the human response is to withhold, but that is treating your spouse like a child. Our child doesn’t do something we want and we withhold a privilege and you shouldn’t see sex in that context. It is not a privilege that you are giving your partner, it is something that the two of your should share equally. So if you deprive your partner, you are also depriving yourself.
Withholding the “apple” as she terms it, benefits neither partner, though she admits that in cases of abuse or infidelity there should be some measure of counselling or attempting to sort through those issues if the couple agrees to stay together before sex becomes a staple once again. In that response in particular, she expects much debate.
“A man has a headache, he wants sex. A man has a bad day at work, he wants sex; he had a good day, he wants sex. He has an off day, any kind of day, he wants it; it doesn’t seem to matter. With women now, we are more linked to our emotions. We might only want it under certain conditions. These are things we have to talk through as couples.
“While I understand the propensity to withhold, it isn’t something I encourage, but if something really serious has happened, like your partner has cheated on you, if your partner has hit you then I can understand the decision not to be physical with your partner until there is some level of intervention, some decision about where the relationship is headed.
“In a situation for example where your partner is unfaithful to you and you know this and he has even admitted and you know it and you continue to sleep with your partner, you are exposing yourself, not only to an STD, but you are almost weakening your own stand. That’s how I see it. I know others will have different views. Some people might think he’s cheating so you lay it on thick, show the other woman you are better than them. I ain’t for that. I ain’t competing with no woman in bed.
“I think if you have a serious issue and there is infidelity involved then we need to go back together in that physical way. The normal day to day, I don’t think you should use sex as a weapon. I do believe in make up sex. You can use sex as a way to reconnect. I always tease my last son mercilessly by telling him he is a make-up sex baby – my 18 year old. I think it does have a place, but you have to know how far to go, but not using it as a punishment or reward.”