When putting together the 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the editorial team invited women to take part in an online discussion on relationships, identity and sexuality. The heartfelt, honest and engaging conversations that emerged formed the basis for the relationships chapter. Learn read.
Below are bios for each participant.
Alexa: I’m a twenty-two-year-old heterosexual woman, though I’ve had a few intimate relationships with women in my college years. I’m from a working-class family and both of my parents were/are struggling with multiple addictions. I am living a securely middle-class/ intellectual/progressive lifestyle. I’m currently living with my monogamous boyfriend of two years.
Amanda: I am sixty-three years old. My relationship with my life partner (married for twelve years) has been nonmonogamous for all of our thirty-two years together. We each have long-term very satisfying other relationships. My main “other” has been part of my life for thirty years; my partner has been in a relationship with a woman who is now also my good friend for fifteen years. Everyone knows about everyone else; there are no secrets. This is a very complex lifestyle and not for everyone; it has been a great challenge and brought much richness to my life.
Astrid: I am forty-seven years old, straight, a Caucasian immigrant from Europe. For six years, I have been a single mom of a daughter; I am twice divorced (once on this side of the Atlantic, once on the other). There has not been much of a dating/sex life in these last years, and it’s not only due to the fact that my time is read or less all spent on my daughter and my job. I have also just not really connected with anyone—perhaps I am disillusioned, picky?
Cathryn: I’m sixty years old, was born a hermaphrodite (tetragametic chimera or “true hermaphrodite”) and was surgically assigned male at birth. I transitioned as an adult, had surgery to restore my body to close to its original state. I’m bisexual and have a thirty-four-year-old daughter. I was married for twenty-four years to a very butch woman and I’m physically disabled.
Cecilia: I’m sixty-three years old, white, healthy, happy, married. I love men and I love women, and sex so far has been only with men. My first husband always said he was sure I would cheat on him and if I did, that would be the end of the marriage. His having affairs was all right (old story), and of course it turned out just as he predicted (old story continued). After twenty years, when Love at First Sight came along for me, I didn’t hesitate to jump into bed and find out how great sex really could be. When we got engaged, I felt committed and have been since— twelve years.
Cheryl: I am thirty-three years old, African American, heterosexual, a single mother of two sons. I am a trainer of educators in teen pregnancy prevention approaches and programs, which is great work that I feel passionately about and also is reflective of my personal journey as a young mom. My son’s father and I ended our relationship when I was in my midtwenties, and I have been on this crazy journey of dating and being in relationships as a single mom.
Chloe: I am a twenty-three-year-old queer transsexual woman. My primary partners are also trans women, though I have dated cissexual women as well.
Cody: I am a twenty-two-year-old white queer kid, looking (somewhat distantly) ahead to a career in nursing. I identify as genderqueer and very recently have been moving away from also identifying as a woman. I am somewhat androgynous/ masculine and I like to mix it up and play around with femininity, to intentionally push myself out of my comfort zone in regard to gender presentation. I identify as polyamorous and currently have a primary partner (of four years) and a long-distance date.
Danielle: I’m a twenty-five-year-old preoperative transsexual lesbian. I’m currently coming out of a long-term relationship that stretched over most of my transition. I’m really interested in nontraditional relationships, how body issues can impact relationships, and how to look toward the future while still focusing on the present in a relationship.
Efia: I’m a thirty-two-year-old black queer woman. Being raised by a father who was an army chaplain/marital counselor and a mother who was a schoolteacher—all in a very loving, nurturing, and religious (and practicing) home—meant that a lot of what I’ve come to know and own as my sexuality and sexual health was obtained through a little bit of self-discovery and a lot of rebellion.
EJM: I am a heterosexual twenty-four-year-old. I am Korean, growing up half my life in the U.S. and the other half in Korea.
Faith: I’m a twenty-two-year-old single white heterosexual and I was raised by my dad and grandparents. The environment I grew up in was fairly blue-collar, although now I’m privileged to navigate the ivory tower. At school, I’m involved in several feminist organizations and I’m working to revise the sexual assault disciplinary procedures.
Francesca: I am a fifty-year-old never-married black woman. I am the proud mother of a thirty-year-old son. I consider myself an Africana Womanist. I am not currently involved with anyone and have not been for too long! Sexually I am most often attracted to men. I believe for some sexuality can be fluid . . . at least it is for me sometimes.
Gemma: I am a thirty-one-year-old single heterosexual woman. I’m trying to navigate the exciting world of dating while simultaneously wondering if I’m way too picky or way too accommodating. I want very much to become a mom and have recently started to think seriously about how I may do that on my own one day.
Heidi: I am a twenty-six-year-old single mother with two children. I have been separated two years and will be divorced this month. I would define myself as queer, but to try and put it to read precise words, I seem to move between androgynous and female, and pansexual and asexual. I am currently in an open long-term nonsexual relationship but have been involved in sexual relationships with men and women in the past and probably will be again in the future.
Jaime: I’m straight, white, USA-an, read or less middle class, partnered but unmarried, childless, East Coast, atheist with a mixed Christian heritage, highly (possibly over-) educated, cisgender, currently mostly able-bodied, twenty-five years old, underemployed, and nonmonogamous. I currently live with a male partner. Thinking of heading back north to find a job soon, which would entail leaving my partner and possibly ending our relationship.
Jordan: I am a white, college-educated twenty-five-year-old asexual queer nonbinary trans person with disabilities. I’m also fat, an advocate for size acceptance, and a practitioner of BDSM.
Judith: I’m not quite twenty-five, white, and cisfemale. I identify somewhere in the queer/ lesbian realm. Unfortunately, the political (for me) has yet to translate (fully) to the personal. Although I’ve been “out” since I was nineteen, I’ve never been in a relationship, never had sex, never even kissed a girl (or guy, for that matter). I have been on one date (this week, in fact), and am slowly working to sort out the gulf between the sex-positive feminism that informs how I view others’ relationships—and the sex-negative and body-negative upbringing that informs my own.
Kali: I’m twenty-six, cisgender, and bisexual. I’m in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man (coming up on two years). I am white, fat, and disabled. I have a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which has caused repeated joint injuries and chronic pain. I’m also a sexual abuse/sexual assault survivor. It has really brought to the fore the need for positive consent instead of passive consent.
Leigh: I am a twenty-eight-year-old queer white woman raised primarily in a single-mother home. My evangelical Christian roots gave me an early commitment to abstinence and virtually no body-positive sex education. Over the years, I have done a lot of intellectual, emotional, and community work to cultivate a new ethic of healthy promiscuity and body positivity. Currently, I tend toward open relationships in which issues such as monogamy, geography, communication, and vocation are negotiated collaboratively.
Lola: I’m a twenty-four-year-old queer, polyamorous, mixed-race, cisgender woman who identifies in my spare time between all those other identities as a “stone femme.” Right now I’m pursuing becoming a women’s and adult health nurse practitioner to become, read or less, Dr. Queer Medicine Woman.
Lydia: I’m a twenty-nine-year-old cisgender Caucasian woman. I am the daughter of counterculture-leaning parents who home-educated me and my two siblings well into our teens, drawing on free-school/unschool (rather than fundamentalist religious) pedagogies. I am currently enjoying my first-ever sexual relationship after many years of solitary sexual exploration; my girlfriend has been a wonderful, enthusiastic, and encouraging partner.
Madigan: I am a twenty-seven-year-old white, queer, intersex, femme high school dropout. I have worked off and on as a sex worker since the age of eighteen and am currently working as a community organizer. I am very active as an intersex speaker—doing Intersex 101 work with medical professionals, medical students, other academics, and activists.
Mags: I am Latina, thirty-six year old, married bi/les mother of five. I have known I was interested in both sexes since I was six or seven. But, due to the conservative Catholic home I was raised in, my family did not accept same-sex relationships. In my twenties when I started college is when I began to start to explore women and was curious, and my thirties is when I started to act on it. I am out to my husband, who supports my choice in sexuality. I would like to thank all of the people that have been involved in this process because I am now able to discuss openly and candidly with others about my preference and sexuality.
Miriam: I am a twenty-nine-year-old single, heterosexual woman. I had a total abdominal hysterectomy (removal of ovaries, uterus, and cervix) due to ovarian cancer. Surgically induced menopause, its side effects, and surviving gynecologic cancer have greatly affected how I view my sexuality and body, and how I take care of my health.
Nasir: I am a twenty-nine-year-old newlywed and a first-generation American with Nigerian parents. I’m trying to create and maintain a balance in my marriage that will allow it to grow stronger and deeper, taking the best elements of both American and Nigerian cultures, while at the same time making sure I maintain my individuality and uniqueness.
Natasha: I’m fifty-nine; my family background is Ukrainian, Jewish, and Norwegian; and I’ve been widowed for over seven years from a twenty-five-year partnership/marriage. I have an adopted Latina daughter and two grandchildren.
Nidea: I was raised in a very traditional Dominican household where sex and all women-based conversations were often not spoken about. Overall, I have a very traditional point of view about sex which I apply to myself, and I also have a very liberal point of view which articulates itself in my interest in the topic in regard to all women. I am a virgin at twenty-three, single, fascinated and perplexed by sex.
Nina: I am a twenty-five-year-old New Bohemian, which is a fancy way of saying I am unemployed. I am single and I don’t bother with labels. As for my relationships, I have allowed myself to be surrounded by some pretty awful people, but each experience has prepared me to make “The List” of attributes I will and will not accept in another person. I stepped up because I was tired of stepping down. I am still waiting for the right person to rise to my level.
Pearl: I am an aging (sixty-two), middle-class, midwestern, white lesbian feminist. My relationship began twenty years ago in a triple that lasted for fourteen of the twenty years we have been together. My partner and I were recently married under the care of our local Quaker meeting. I have spent my career in the disability rights movement. In my outer, public life I am not as wild as I once was, but my private, intimate life is wilder than I could have imagined.
Rebeka: I am an eighteen-year-old African-American/Caucasian bisexual young woman. I am currently a college freshman studying women’s studies and psychology. I hope to one day become an ob‑gyn or a child psychologist. Although I am bisexual, I have yet to tell my family and friends. I have had one sexual experience with a woman, but other than that I am very new to the whole dating and relationship thing.
Robin: I’m a twenty-year-old genderqueer-identified female-bodied person who is happy and actively sexual in a female body. I am white, middle-class, and able-bodied. I have had sexual relationships with men, women, and transpeople, and am currently in a committed relationship with another genderqueer female-bodied person who has been extremely powerful in opening my mind to the power of consent, body play, and BDSM.
Sloane: I’m thirty-five and have been married to my husband for only two and a half years—still pretty green, but this relationship has been in existence or in the works for just over ten years. I had my first child by cesarean . . . I am still mourning the natural birth we were denied. My husband was laid off and stays home with our child so I am the breadwinner of the family, so to speak.
Sophia: I am an Asian/Hispanic woman in my mid-forties, married to a man of Caucasian descent for twenty years. We have two children. My siblings and I were raised in a very religious household and were heavily indoctrinated in the philosophy that sex before marriage was a sin. I was twenty-two before I had my first sexual experience, with a man who eventually became my husband. I’ve never told my parents that I had premarital sex. Even now, I can’t talk to my mother about anything having to do with sex.
Tasha Maria: I am a heterosexual African-American woman. I am thirty-six years old and I have a seventeen-year-old son. I am single and have never been married, which frightens me because I feel like my time is running out. I never wanted to raise my son alone and wanted to have read children and live what I felt was the American dream.
Victoria: I’m thirty-three, mother to two daughters, married for eight years. When I was in high school and college, I struggled with a lot of shame and fear about my sexuality, and when I was finally able (in my early and midtwenties) to feel confident in my body and my desires, it felt like such an amazing victory. And I really thought I had it all figured out—that I would have great sex for the rest of my life! A few years down the road, I’m realizing that I have an entirely new set of challenges and struggles: changing body, changing relationships, changing desires, crying babies…
Zoe: I’m a twenty-four-year-old African-American/Puerto Rican heterosexual female. I’m single and childless, and I’ve never really had any traditional relationships. I would call myself a late bloomer (at least when it comes to having partner sex). I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-one and a college senior. Even though I hadn’t had sex before then, I’ve always been incredibly sexual. I’ve known what sex was from an early age and had a lot of experiences with masturbation beginning around age eight. On the relationship front, I’m a huge commitmentphobe.
Read the participants’ conversations about relationships: