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Note: This episode contains adult content and is marked "explicit."
This week on my “Healing Herself” series I’m honored to introduce Leah Carey, who tried to be a “good girl” for decades before waking up sexually in her early 40s. Now she is a sex coach and educator, in addition to host of the “Good Girls Talk About Sex” podcast.
Leah did not have the “Leave it to Beaver” perfect childhood. Her father was an alcoholic and emotionally abused both Leah and her mom, although she didn’t understand it was abuse until later in her life.
“When I watched the former president be elected, having said things like ‘grab her by the p*ssy,’ I went into complete emotional lockdown. I couldn't really understand what was going on with me… a lot of women were having a very strong response to him, but I didn't understand why I was having such a severe and prolonged response to him."
When she saw people sharing articles about narcissistic behavior, she read them and saw the story of her childhood laid out in front of her. Her childhood was full of verbal abuse, inappropriate sexual comments, and lots of gaslighting. As a result of her father saying things had never happened (which she knew had happened), Leah started to question herself.
“I've gone through the great majority of my life, thinking that I'm crazy that I can't trust my own memories and instincts about things that I have seen, heard, experienced.”
He spoke to Leah sexually about her body starting when she was about 11 or 12, including telling her she was starting to get fat and ugly, and that no one would ever be attracted to her. He also talked to Leah about his unhappiness about his sex life with her mom. Later he told Leah he was going to lock her in her room until she was 30 and break the kneecaps of any boy who showed interest in her. This combination of verbal abuse and a sinister sort of protectiveness led her to feel confused about what was appropriate and what was not.
“Was I so desirable that you have to lock me away, or am I completely fat and ugly and undesirable? There was no way to make any logical sense of those two messages in the same place, so what I did was just completely shut down my sexuality. I didn't date, I didn't flirt. I was still totally boy crazy, and eventually girl crazy, but on the outside, you never, never would have known because I was just like an iceberg on the outside.”
Her mom was her biggest protector and best friend, but she didn't know it until after he died because her father worked so hard to turn them against each other.
When her dad died, it sent Leah into a black hole of grief and depression. She’s suffered from depression at various points in her life, but she sunk further and further until she was nonfunctional. When she started having suicidal ideations, she realized that she was not okay. Because she had very little money at the time, she went to a free health clinic and got the medication that she needed.
By the time her mom passed away from cancer in 2015, they had formed an extremely close, healing relationship. She had been living in New Hampshire to be near her, but she had no reason to stay there. She decided to sell her mom’s house and take a solo road trip around the United States for a year, just letting herself follow her nose from place to place.
“Early on in that trip I started to get really honest with myself about the fact that I had never had any kind of really pleasurable sexual sensation. I had had a few orgasms with partners, but they generally were not pleasant. I would refer to them as my genital sneezes, because that's what it felt like…and when somebody touched me sexually, I didn't have all those feelings that people talk about.”
She had heard of tantric massage, and she thought it might help her access her body’s sensations. Although the idea was terrifying, she found a practitioner in New York City. Leah explained that tantric massage therapists are sex workers and many sex workers are doing profoundly healing work.
“She was able to say to me the words that changed things for me and set me on a new path: ‘You're not broken.’ I had spent so much time thinking that maybe my father was so abusive because there was something inherently wrong with me. Maybe I don't feel sensation because there's something inherently wrong with me.”
She gave Leah homework to “play with sensation,” so she used the road trip to do that. She had complete freedom because she didn’t know anyone, and no one knew her. She didn’t have to be the good girl anymore. She traveled around the country and had incredible experiences, discovering that she was allowed to be sexual, and she never thought that was available to her.
When she got to Portland, where she is now, she made an Internet contact with a guy and had another profoundly healing experience with him. He was the first one to teach Leah the true meaning of consent.
“How did I get to my early 40s and not know what consent means? Then I started telling this story to my friends and they were like ‘oh my God, that's what consent means.’ None of us learned this, which is shocking and horrible.”
On Leah’s website, she says that she no longer believes that good girls are quiet and docile and take care of everyone else's needs before their own. She believes that taking control of our sexuality, speaking up for our needs and talking honestly about what really matters, is the essence of goodness, kindness, and integrity….and that’s the kind of good girl she wants to be.
After Leah shared her sexual adventure stories with her girlfriends, they started telling her their stories, too. So she started an amazing podcast a few years ago called “Good Girls Talk about Sex,” in which she interviews women, queer, and nonbinary folx about their sex lives, most of the time anonymously. She recently got to interview Alexa Paulay-Simmons, star of Netflix’s “Deaf U.”
“I want for people to hear their own stories spoken back to them so that they know they're not broken. They're not wrong, they're not alone. I so much want for people to know that they're not alone because I felt so alone for so much of my life.”
I told Leah about a play I had seen once. I couldn’t remember the title during the podcast, but it is called “A Small Fire” by Adam Bock, and I highly recommend it! The story is about Emily Bridges, who develops a mysterious disease that strips her of her senses, one by one. At the end, all she has is touch.
Leah offers sex and intimacy coaching to people who grew up socialized as little girls; hosts “Good Girls Talk About Sex” PJ parties; and leads courses about sex. She helps them find their most authentic sexual selves and teaches them how to talk about it so they can communicate with their partners.
I mention on the podcast that the episode that stuck out with me was Leah’s interview with a trans man, Lachlan, “I Tried to Pee Standing Up.” Because Leah had established trust with Lachlan, he shared information about his surgeries and sexuality that trans people rarely discuss outside their close friends and support system.
Leah also mentioned how much she enjoyed interviewing Michelle in “A Throbbing in My Nether Regions.” Michelle talked about sorting through whether she is gay or bisexual and opening up what was previously a monogamous marriage.
“It was an amazing conversation and she was just so upfront…I love the conversations where people are just like, here's my story. Let me lay it out for you and just put everything out on the table.”
Leah and I talked about the evolution of the word “bisexual,” which in some circles is now viewed as anti-trans or anti-nonbinary. You can read more about this complex issue here. Many, especially younger people, prefer the word “pansexual.” Leah offers a helpful definition for ‘bisexual’:
“The way that I have come to define it is I am attracted to two kinds of people: people who have bodies like mine, and people who don't have bodies like mine.”
I asked Leah what sex and intimacy advice she has for people during the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was talking about how to keep your sex life fun.
“Now I'm like, you know what? Let's just be honest. If you are 24/7 with your significant other and maybe you have kids running around and you're in your sweatpants all the time. And Oh my God, you're sick of each other. Let's just call a thing a thing. You may not be feeling sexually interested at all, and that's okay. Let's reduce the harm that we're doing with our partners right now.”
Leah shared her own challenges with sex during the pandemic in “My Pandemic Sex Life,” in which she “gets raw and real about how her intimate life has weathered the storm of a year-long international crisis, and about how confronting her partner’s depression spiral turned out to be a better strategy—for both of them—than enduring it competently.”
We spoke about the real damage the pandemic is having on people who are lacking physical touch, especially if they are single. Science shows how babies lacking touch do not thrive.
“This is hard for everyone, and single people will look at partnered people and be like, Oh my God you're so lucky…and partnered people will look at single people and be like, Oh my God, I wish my partner weren't here 24/7…It’s hard for everybody.”
I asked Leah what she had been reading or watching recently, and she highly recommends “In and Of Itself” on Hulu, but she cautioned me not to read anything about it before watching. She didn’t know anything about the movie before watching it, and she describes it as “a profound experience” and mind-blowingly good.
When I asked Leah which grit and resilience story has been an inspiration for her, she mentioned the stories of Harry Potter. She is still trying to ascertain how to engage with those stories and their meaning while making peace for herself (because of JK Rowling’s transphobia). I recommended that Leah listen to my interview with trans activist Harris Eddie Hill, in which we discussed this issue. Harris (they/them) and I agreed that it’s incredibly disappointing that someone who wrote amazing stories about oppression and prejudice could become such a big spokesperson for anti-trans bigotry. Harris said:
“I always think to myself, how can we best use our energy and our voices and our platforms...She can think what she wants, even if it’s wrong...I do think it’s right that we hold people to account and that we say this is unacceptable behavior. I think we are better off to concentrate on the things we need to concentrate on. There are always going to be people who don’t get it or speak out against people.”
Leah and I also geeked out about Casper and Vanessa in the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast. At the end of that podcast, the co-hosts choose a character in the chapter they’re discussing to bless. Leah mentioned that in the first episode, Vanessa chose to bless Harry’s mean, verbally abusive Aunt Petunia.
“I was really taken by that because I had never allowed the grace for that character to see her as anything other than horrible.”
Leah tries to see people who have done wrong as people who have been harmed. The vast majority of people who become abusers were hurt themselves as children.
“I think that that's the only way forward in healing is to see the abusers as people who were themselves hurt, because at some point somebody has to stop the violence.”
Leah with her mom, who started her off on this journey of sexual healing I told Leah about my episode with Madeleine Black, another woman healing herself, who was gang raped at age 13 and found a way to forgive her attackers.
I suggested that our homework, in light of this conversation, should be to bless JK Rowling. She’s our Aunt Petunia.
Next week I interview Stefanie Michele, a friend of Leah’s. Stefanie suffered with eating disorders for over 20 years. After decades of extensive therapy, she created her own formula for healing and made a full recovery, all while raising three kids and working full time. She started her own business to help others do the same. Now she feels more "awake" in her 40s than ever before.
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