Approximately 43% of women in the United States are reported to have Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD), a “persistent, recurrent problem with sexual response, desire, orgasm or pain” that “distresses you or strains your relationship with your partner.” As vague as this diagnostic depiction is, even vaguer are the medical and social responses to those who suffer from it. What we are learning is that nearly half the women in the United States are having some form of trouble with arousal, its inception or its sustainability. And very few of them have any idea what to do about it.
The tendency in Western medicine is not to use holistic approaches to investigate FSD but to treat it as a dysfunction. The burden therefore lies at the feet of the women experiencing it. Ultimately, FSD is treated as such a pandora’s box, that practitioners tend to oversimplify the issue. Perhaps it’s a diet issue. Perhaps psychological. Could it be related to depression? Culturally and medically, we are grasping at straws when it comes to what has got almost half of the women in our country unable to become aroused even when in emotionally and physically healthy and safe environments.
In the journey toward reconnecting with her own vitality, Jacqui scoured esoteric corners of the world to find answers to essential questions about sexuality and desire. This quest led her from far reaches of the world studying ancient philosophy and sacred sexuality in Bali, to deep dives into the world of neuroscience in the urban United States. MELTED: A Delicious Quest to Discover the Capacity for Physical Desire, a much anticipated book that traverses Jacqui’s tender hearted and humorous journey to understanding and overcoming female sexual “dysfunction,” is in its final stages prior to publication.
Though Jacqui has spent over a decade as a real estate attorney, she has taken what she has learned on her journey, together with intensive training, and is a coach, helping professional women to reconnect with their vital capacity to thrive. She is also a sexual healing educator teaching medical professionals nervous system informed approaches to healing FSD.
Jacqui’s focus in her public speaking is to bring awareness to the dynamic interplay of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system responses to our inner and outer worlds and to share methods for leveraging that system for thriving. Often times cues from the world around us, such as stress and social messaging, signal danger to the nervous system, even when we logically know we are emotionally and physically safe. This phenomenon leads to our bodies being perpetually physiologically prepared for survival, colloquially referred to as “fight, flight, or freeze”, which is a physiological state that excludes the possibility of pleasure and ease. While this part of the nervous system operates outside of our logical control Jacqui teaches ways to influence it, such as managing the cues your nervous system perceives from the environment and cultivating resilience to stress activated nervous system responses. As Jacqui became more and more nervous system aware she realized its importance not just in healing FSD but in the vital role it played in the human capacity to speak up, advocate, express the full capacity of one’s own intelligence, and to feel vibrant, satisfied, and fulfilled. In short she realized that working with your own nervous system is an vital key to being human.
The work Jacqui does with her clients often mirrors the work she has had to do for herself: Finding ways to sense and voice one’s own boundaries, how to process emotion and how to let your nervous system know you are safe in a sometimes scary world. Jacqui took the time to sit down with Mythogynist to discuss her training, her book and her journey to public speaker and coach. More about Jacqui's work can be found at her website www.jmbishop.com.
Many people fantasize about writing a book but it’s hard to stay disciplined enough to do it. Can you tell us a bit about the ways you held yourself accountable in making it happen?
I knew deep in my bones that I wanted to be a writer and that I had a story to tell. In the beginning all the details of life (eating, cleaning, working, paying bills, interacting with others, etc.) kept not only taking priority but also taking up all of the time that I had. I needed a way catapult getting words onto paper much closer to the top of the list. So when a screenwriter friend suggested I send him a check “in an amount that would hurt” made out to the campaign of a politician with a horrible track record for respecting women. I took the bait and went for it. My friend held the check in escrow and each month I’d check in to let him know that I’d hit my 10,000 word goal. He’d been asked to work on the campaign in question so I truly believed he would have deposited it if I hadn’t kept my part of the deal. By the time I was rolling through the second draft of MELTED I was so proud and happy with what I’d created, and my dream was so alive, that I didn’t need any other incentive to keep my creativity a priority.
If your readers finish your book and walk away with one thought or take away, what do you hope it is?
I am whole and the horizon is bright.
What is female sexual dysfunction? Can you tell me a bit about why you think it’s an important discussion?
Yes, Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD) is an umbrella diagnosis doctors use to describe female patients who have lost interest or desire in sex, can’t relax the vaginal muscles enough to allow intercourse, have an inability to become aroused, are pre-orgasmic, or who have pain with intercourse. Approximately 43% of US women have some form of FSD and very few people are talking about it, seeking help, or getting accurate advice when they do reach out. FSD is caused by a combination of psychological, physical, and cultural conditions. While the combination of these factors is unique for each woman there are some dominant contributing themes that include being taught that sex is shameful, that women who engage in it are somehow less valuable or pure, that women are the source of “original sin”, and the chronic fear of living in a society where sexual violence regularly goes unpunished. Everything from acute traumas, such as rape and physical violence, to the perception that sex is a duty or chore that has to be performed to please and stay in relation with another person can contribute to FSD. MELTED is about my transformational journey from believing I was totally broken in the intimacy department to understanding how my own choices and the culture around me impacted my body’s ability to feel and taking exciting (and sometimes hilarious) steps in the direction of healing.
What was your career/daily life like before you decided to take your journey into writing and trainings?
Before I dove headfirst into the adventure of healing and being a writer I was working full time as a renewable energy attorney. I was also in a relationship that repeatedly reinforced the story that there must be something wrong with me if my interest in intercourse didn’t match up with that of my partner. Neither of us understood the concept and need for sexual healing or how to go about it. I am now training medical professionals in nervous-system informed approaches to treating FSD, I started my own coaching company guiding professionals to reconnect with their vital capacity to thrive, and I’m in the process of revising the most recent draft of MELTED in preparation for publication. I have a lot of irons in the fire!
What compelled you to focus on helping people become nervous-system informed?
After I learned how the autonomic nervous system’s response to perceived dangers in my environment had me living in an almost constant state of fight/flight or freeze and had kept me blocked off from the most pleasurable and creative parts of my body, I wanted to learn as many tools as possible for calming the nervous system, discharging shock/trauma, and reconnecting with my own body in safety. The more I dove into the neuroscience of how our bodies protect us from harm and also how the nervous system is capable of providing us the opportunity to experience extraordinary states of wellbeing, the more fascinated I became!
What was the most important mental or personal change that you came away with after your journey in MELTED?
The most important personal change that I have come away with from my journey so far is that I understand that my journey wasn’t just about figuring out how to enjoy sex, it was also about reconnecting with life and learning how to be a human in a complex and fascinating human body. I wish that the things I learned through this process, such as how to sense and voice my own boundaries, how to process emotion, and learn to feel safe in a sometimes scary world, were taught to all of us early in life.
What are three books, podcasts, poems or films that you think every woman should know about?
Come As You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski – This excellent book translates the science of female sexuality into plain language and leaves its readers knowing for sure that there is nothing wrong with them, it’s just all the stories they’ve been told that are wrong.
Womens’ Anatomy of Arousal by Sheri Winston – Do you know about your vestibular bulbs? What about the urethral sponge? Winston demystifies all of the pleasure-related body parts that the school system forgot to teach us about in sex-ed.
The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk – This is not a light read, but it is a consummate resource for understanding the nervous system and the science behind all of the healing modalities that help resolve PTSD, childhood trauma, and the chronic trauma of living in threatening environments.
What personal practice, piece of media or idea has most dramatically changed your life in the last two years?
I love waking up in the morning and saying “something astoundingly amazing is going to happen to me today” it sets the tone for unknown adventure (my favorite!) and has me paying special attention to the good things in life. A brilliant friend taught me this practice about two years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since.
If you could go back in time and tell your 25 year old self something that you know now, what would it be?
I would teach her how to heal and work with her own nervous system so that she could perceive and address her own body’s clear call for help.
Can you briefly describe what the book MELTED is about?
Inexplicably frigid and romantically demoralized, MELTED is the enthralling sequence of awkward experiments and delectable adventures I embarked on in an epic quest to reignite my own desire and reconnect with the primal vitality of life itself.
Looking back, why did you decide to write MELTED?
Ever since I was a child I’ve always wanted to be an author and I always wished for a meaningful quest to write about (I love epic fantasy and sci-fi!). About 4 years ago I had a moment of complete all-the-train-cars-line-up clarity - I was going to write my authentic and vulnerable story of navigating female sexual dysfunction. Looking back I realize I should have been more specific about what I wished for!