My introduction to womanhood
Becoming a woman felt like war.
I was sitting on the toilet, screaming for my mum. I couldn’t feel pain, but I was bleeding. A lot. From… there!
My mum was as unprepared as I was. She explained that this is what happens to women. I shouldn’t worry, and it would continue until I was 40.
So, I was now a woman. Aged nine. And I had 31 years of continuous bleeding ahead (I’d assumed). That felt like a VERY long time.
Things would never be the same. My periods were heavy, painful and irregular. Scrubbing my stained knickers by hand with salt felt like a cruel punishment. And I hated waddling in those thick pads that chafed my baby thighs.
I cringe when I recall my mum trimming my underarm hair with nail scissors. And the long minutes I sat on the bathtub’s edge with stinking, burning cream on my legs. I wasn’t allowed to use a razor. The hair removal procedure was so inconvenient that it didn’t happen often. I began to fear exposing my legs.
My breasts grew quickly… long before it was acceptable to wear a bra. My ‘crop-tops’ did their best to keep my painfully growing boobies contained. When they ripped, I used safety pins to repair them. The pinnacle of glamour!
Soon after, hormonal acne arrived, and I wished the ground would swallow me whole. My doctor treated my acne with (unnecessarily) strong tablets and a burning ointment. She prescribed Guinness for my period-induced iron deficiency (for real). And she started me on the pill before I was a teen.
I was not to tell anyone I was taking the pill, which became a source of great shame. I was curious about what people would think of me if they found out.
My childhood had ended, and I yearned for the carefree days of my youth. I didn’t rejoice at the arrival of my womanly body. I was utterly consumed with combating all visible signs of its hideous transformation.
This is the part of my story where I was most hurt and formed limiting beliefs that took years to undo. Limiting beliefs emerge when we attempt to make sense of what is happening to and around us. Our minds are too young to comprehend.
It’s like adding two and two and getting 26. We find evidence that 26 is correct, and that becomes our truth. We don’t re-evaluate the equation, so we live for years with a false truth, wondering why it doesn’t feel right.
When I look back, these parts of my story stand out the most painfully.
- My father left home, and after a few visits, I never saw him again (I was seven years old).
- I was discouraged from locking/closing my bedroom/bathroom doors (aged 9+).
- When I spoke about sexual boundaries being crossed (at the age of 9+), it caused massive family divisions that lasted for decades.
- My therapist revealed discussions about my abuse to my mum.
- I was punished for writing in my private diary about imagining boys naked when I was 12.
- At the age of 13, I was told by a close family member that boys would only want me for my big boobs.
- At 17, I was forced to leave my home and live in a bedsit with a shared bathroom. I was the only female in a block of six. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to my sister. The reason? Because I’d disclosed that I had a boyfriend.
I concluded that I was unsafe, unprotected, unlovable, and unworthy. Underpinning it all was the belief that I couldn’t rely on anyone to be there for me.
I dealt with it by disconnecting from my body. I did not seek help from anyone as I was angry and stubborn — which eventually led to me building strong walls around my heart.
And to add salt to the wounds, I put myself in dangerous situations, abused alcohol, and let men abuse my body. My self-esteem was in shambles.
Stuffing it all down
I came up with some strategies to help me get through the next few years.
- Gather up all the suffering and lock it in a box. Swallow the key.
- Disconnecting from my body = No catching feelings. No pain but also no pleasure.
- Study obsessively = Hooray for ten straight As at school (well, a B for maths), 4 A-Levels and a BA Hons in Business Management.
- Begin a compulsive diet and binging cycle = Hello, crazy relationship with food.
- Become a doormat = I developed world-class people-pleasing skills.
- Be hyper-independent and rely on NOBODY = I worked to completely support myself from 17, paid for university, and got a car. I graduated and landed a great job in London, where I had to wear a suit every single day (I can’t imagine that now!).
These trauma responses helped me to survive and get stuff done. On paper, my life looked great. But, of course, I hadn’t dealt with a single thing.
I met a man during my university years when I was 19. He was ten years older, dependable, and kind. He took me under his wing and made me feel safe. I played the doormat, doing precisely what I thought I should do to keep him from leaving.
We moved in together when I graduated, and I soon fell pregnant aged 23. This was a turning point for me.
I fell in love with my body and what it was doing, even after I’d devalued it so cruelly. Over 18 months, I enjoyed two beautiful pregnancies. Experienced two spontaneous and (dare I say) spiritually awakening births. And I breastfed two strong, healthy sons. The enormity of this blessing was not lost on me.
My sons smashed the wall around my heart, and I allowed motherhood to consume me. I became aware of how much little Lisa had gone through. For the first time, I felt deep compassion rather than disgust for myself.
I was now 26 years old, a married mother of two, with a house, a car, a job, and everything I should want. But I realised that I’d created a false identity to protect myself. I didn’t know who I was and felt lost.
The healing journey
I wanted to resist the scary urge to grow. But it felt MORE uncomfortable to remain trapped inside the cage I had built for myself. I began peeling back the layers of band-aids that held my heart together and faced my truth. Feeling the full force of pain put me in a spin and revealed a tiny spark of ‘real me’ still inside.
I wanted to burst out of the tight bud of my life and finally let the real me blossom. I was desperate to get to know her, to hear her voice, and to let her take up the space she deserved. But she couldn’t fit into the life I had built for myself.
I was only 28, and I felt trapped and unhappy.
Sadly, marriage counselling didn’t help. Divorce was excruciating. Systematically destroying the beautiful family that we created together — one legal letter at a time.
The parting was fraught with anger, and I was left with nothing. But I quietly picked up the pieces and carved out a new life with my sons.
I still experience waves of guilt and grief for walking away from that life because it was a selfish choice. And for a people pleaser who couldn’t bear to upset people, choosing my happiness was way out of my comfort zone.
My healing journey began by reconnecting to my body. Gentle, patient self-care practices, many tears, and curious inquiry.
I hibernated and took the time to explore what I liked. I tuned in and learned to listen to my own body. I also discovered what I didn’t like and how to say no to those things.
I dismantled the false identity I’d built, and with it went any self-doubt.
I was finally getting to know who I really was without judgement. It was as though I was dating and falling in love with myself.
And, because I’d let myself down so much in the past, I needed to forgive myself and build self-trust. I needed to know that I would keep the promises I made to myself.
Starting a new life
I began publicly sharing my thoughts on a Facebook page called Happiness for Her (my first online platform back in 2012). I sparked a connection with an acquaintance online named Gavin. He was fun, straight-talking, and, best of all, 8,500 miles away in South Africa. He felt safe because he couldn’t get close.
But we did become close, despite the miles. I shared my story and was surprised at his rage. It was the first time I’d seen fierce, protective love, encouraging me to take action against those who’d hurt me.
- I had hard conversations and said what I needed to say
- And I set and enforced the boundaries I deserved
It’s hard to describe the mixture of pride and awe I felt, watching myself do these hard things.
Soon, my divorce was complete, and Gavin invited me to visit. The thought terrified and excited me. I took a deep breath and booked a flight. The visit was better than I’d dreamed, like coming home and having an adventure all at once. It sparked a longing to live there with the boys, Gavin, and the ocean.
Over the years, the longing didn’t dissipate, so I began to investigate how to make it happen. It was harder than I imagined, but I decided to try. With no legal guidance, I built a case to move with the children.
I was a single, working mother preparing to emigrate to another hemisphere. I focused on the goal, gathered courage and took one day at a time.
Wake up, put on a suit, make packed lunches, walk to school, gather up documents, get on the train, stand in front of a judge, defend against Barrister without crying, get on the train, rush to school, make dinner, bed-time story, prepare new documents, sleep.
While that was happening, I organised school places in SA, packed up minimal items, put them in a container, handed in my notice at work, sold our possessions, packed three suitcases, said our goodbyes, and boarded a plane. Phew!
I realised the enormity of what I’d accomplished and prayed it would be okay.
Landing in my happily-ever-after dream life was… well, not a dream, to be honest!
My expectations were ridiculous but understandable. I’d poured so much time, energy and money into emigrating. I’d sacrificed my friends, family, job, free schooling, healthcare, and more to stand on South African soil beside Gavin.
Now I wanted him to fill that void.
Meanwhile, Gavin’s carefree world disappeared when three exuberant, needy Poms arrived. A ready-made, mess-making family.
The honeymoon period was tense. I had to accept him disciplining my kids. He had to feed three extra mouths. And we both had to get to know each other in the flesh.
There were trust issues, communication fails, clashes of opinion, raised voices, tears, and a lot of great sex.
I wondered if I’d made a colossal mistake. After four months, the boys and I returned to England (a court condition), and I considered whether to return to SA.
We did return. And I slowly learnt how to show up in this relationship as my authentic self without being defensive. I gradually dropped my protective behaviour and stopped feeling jealous, insecure and needy.
I remembered how strong I was on the inside. The unbreakable foundation that I’d built by myself gave me the courage to swap my armour for a gooey marshmallow-softness on the outside. I knew I would always be okay, which allowed me to relax and start having fun. That’s how I still choose to show up today.
After three years, Gavin asked the boys for permission to marry me. We married a few months later at a music festival. My sons walked me down the aisle where Gavin was waiting with his son, the best man. It was perfect.
Marrying Gavin meant that my surname changed for the 5th time (aged 35), thanks to two marriages, an adoption, and a legal change. And I’ve decided that my surname is final this time, no matter what happens. I’ve taken full ownership of the name Lisa Welsh, which feels good.
The lesson I needed to learn in this stage was that protecting myself unnecessarily from pain was also blocking me from pleasure.
So, how did I become a sex educator?
So now you know the truth… I’m very normal!
I’ve been divorced and remarried. I have two teenage sons and a stepson — who all home school, at home, with me! So yes, I have my fair share of grey hair!
I am a busy, sometimes overwhelmed woman with body image issues, a tumultuous relationship with sexual shame, and an insatiable desire to put everyone else first.
But I accidentally discovered the power of pleasure to help me cope with much of what I have been through. Pleasure enabled me to relax my hyper-independent trauma response, reduce my fear of abandonment, and heal my relationship with my body.
I’m not “fixed.” I don’t think that ever happens. But continuing to invite pleasure into my life helps.
I’ve been helping women online since 2012, when I launched my first online platform, a FaceBook Page called Happiness for Her. It was a cathartic space to share exactly what worked for me. And slowly, I built the confidence to admit that sex was a massive part of my journey.
It brought me unmeasured joy to see how my messages permitted women to use pleasure in their own lives. I realised that I wanted to dedicate my life to this work.
But I don’t have a medical degree… I have a BA Hons in Business Management! So, I’m not a medical professional, therapist, or psychologist. But I can recommend excellent colleagues who are.
I completed a qualification in life coaching — which was helpful.
But what has gotten me where I am today is my obsession with learning about sex — more specifically, sexual health, sexual pleasure, sexual rights, and sexual justice.
I read piles of books and peer-reviewed journals on human sexuality each week. I also complete hours of sex-based learning each month through the Sexology Training Club, Sexual Health Webinars and Conferences, and other sexual health professional development training programmes.
Oh, and I try loads of things in bed. Yep, that’s relevant!
And that’s why I call myself a Sex Educator.
I don’t describe myself as a Sex Coach because that term isn’t regulated and can mean many different things depending on where you are in the world.
I’m here to help women have more fun in bed by permitting them to trust themselves and explore their own pleasures.
Wondering what keeps a Sex Educator busy?
- I’m the host of the “In Bed With Lisa” podcast.
- I was the Communication Manager for the 2021 Congress of the World Association for Sexual Health.
- I’m a copywriter for My Sexual Health.
- I regularly feature in podcasts, radio stations etc., talking about sex and pleasure.
- And my favourite thing of all? I run a membership of amazing women called the Better in Bed Academy, where I teach women how to have more fun in bed.
So, if you’re intrigued and want to learn how you can have more fun with sex, consider joining the Better in Bed Academy, where you’ll learn how to experience more pleasure and confidence in the bedroom — both with self-love and with a partner.