Women On Top 009: Gopi Lev
Women On Top is an interview series that features everyday women from around the globe and asks them straight-to-the-point questions about their sexuality. Women On Top aims to inspire and grow a community of women who learn and grow from each other's sexual stories and wisdom. This week I interviewed Gopi about shaving her head at age 12, her Mother's relationship to sex (and how that influenced her), bathing in a river in Chile naked and lastly, pre-orgasmic eye contact.
Sexual Orientation: Queer
Occupation: Photographer / Writer
What was the message your mother gave you about sex as a little girl?
My mother is Chilean and has a beautifully expressive way of moving within her body. She always encouraged me to get physical whenever things in my head got too much (telling me to kick pillows when school stressed me out). I think this contributed greatly to the ease with which she educated me about sex.
My parents separated when I was young so there was a rawness to our discussions that I think was made possible by the proximity of being an only child in a single parent household. I know she did her best to be as honest as possible when sharing her perspectives with me, I can still remember her raised eyebrows when I asked her at what age she’d lost her virginity and what it was like (I must have been about 10). She answered me though! I was always allowed and encouraged to ask whatever I wanted.
My mother is also a strikingly beautiful woman and always presented sex as an experiential double-edged sword. She was no stranger to being objectified, fetishized and sexually mistreated and therefore always made sure to include that sex can be degrading and painful if not engaged in from a self-respecting place from where it could be transformative, empowering and beautiful. I went through a time of sleeping with really bad people and she had no qualms about telling me how worried it made her to see me allowing them into my space. I resented it at the time but I’m grateful I had those insights.
It is worth noting that my mom is straight and therefore my initial understanding of sex was as a heterosexual experience. Recognising the existence and validity of sexuality outside of this representation has been a journey I’ve gone on alone, although not unsupported. Having sex since coming out has been the best of my life.
Can you identify a moment when you feel you officially entered womanhood?
Definitely. There were 2 moments that led to a deeper understanding about moving through the world as a woman and subsequently what it meant for me.
The first came when I was 13, the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I remember it in high definition detail. I’d shaved my head about 18 months prior and my hair had grown out to a choppy bob. I’d also been getting my period for about a year and my body started to look like it made sense, not like I was a blobby child with the sort-of breasts of early puberty. I remember wearing a blue dress and going to the Sunday markets with my mother and suddenly feeling everybody looking at me. I think being a voyeuristic object is a constant experience women learn to assimilate into their public lives, but as a child, it caught me so completely off guard I remember checking to see if I’d smudged food on my face. I felt invaded by the fleeting, razor sharp glances of men my father’s age that suddenly seemed to come from all directions. Climbing into bed that night, saddened and disoriented, I thought to myself ‘’nothing will ever be the same again’’.
The second instance of understanding womanhood was when I was in Chile, staying on a friend’s Eco village with my mother and a group of artists and innovators. I had just turned 19 and was emerging out of a painful, disempowering time of life.
Being so close to the earth in that time was indescribably healing. I spent my days barefoot, lying beneath the trees and nights around the campfire singing songs and sharing stories in Spanish. Being mixed race has left me really aware of the privilege and potency of connecting with the land of your ancestors.
I went down to the river alone to bathe one day and remember making the decision to get completely naked. I’d been treating my body horribly prior to the trip, which left me very reluctant to have it exposed. I slid into the water and floated on my back, looking at the golden light filtering in through the trees, weeping willows trailing their boughs through the water, and my body, how seamlessly it blended into this world. I cried tears that fell back into the river and then sang songs from my childhood. I suddenly understood how durable and powerful it is to be soft, to be vulnerable. Womanhood became an accessible avenue of autonomous expression and identity instead of this uncomfortable source of heavy confusion I’d felt it to be. I kept thinking to myself ‘’I am of this earth, of this earth’’.
How important do you believe it is to embrace your sexuality as a woman?
In a word: essential. Sexuality is such a nuanced, fluid part of life, understanding and embracing whichever way you connect to yours is vital.
In a society where sexuality is simultaneously misunderstood, demonised and commodified, finding sexual authenticity is a radical and necessary act.
How important is self-pleasure to you?
It’s a huge part of my life. I think people’s relationship to pleasure is quite dangerous. Society seems to have ingrained this capitalist belief that you need to always make sure you’ve ‘earned’ your enjoyment. As if simply allowing pleasure for the sake of it is shameful or self-indulgent.
I discovered self-pleasure quite young and remember being so confused at how much embarrassment my friends expressed when it came up. I was so grateful and excited at how good my body could feel!
What are three things you love about your body (that perhaps you've struggled with in the past)?
I had an eating disorder from ages 11-19 so I always deeply resented the parts of myself that took up ‘too much’ space in the world. My wide hips, thick thighs and soft belly always caused me anguish. Now in recovery, all 3 are parts that I endlessly appreciate for their comfort, warmth and strength. Giving myself permission to stop striving toward an unattainable standard was one of the best things I ever did for my body.
What are three things you look for in a lover?
Self-possession, responsiveness and taking pleasure in subtleties.
What inspires you to make love and enjoy sex (either alone, or with a partner)? Do you feel more inclined to enjoy sex at certain times of the day/month/year?
It’s always small details that make me feel most sensual; a warm breeze, watching my partner paint, fresh sheets, live music, early mornings. It’s hard to pinpoint anything too specific though, feeling sexy is always an internal instinct. I also find that the 3 weeks following my period I’m usually most sexual and the week leading up to it is generally spent being more introspective (/hysterical wild mood swings if we're being honest!).
Do you have any particular women in your life who inspire you to be a sexually empowered woman?
I’ve got a whole array of beautiful women in my life, all from drastically different backgrounds, all living diverse narratives. Anybody who’s explored themselves enough to feel anchored and empowered within their uniqueness are the most inspiring. Those who have written their own script and taken steps to do themselves justice through self-love and authentic expression. Women who uplift, prioritise and find solidarity within their relationships to each other are powerful beyond measure.
Do you have any re-occuring sexual fantasies? Tell us more:
It’s funny, I have some vague ones but I find myself mainly fantasising about these fleeting instances that happen during sex. Pre-orgasmic eye contact, different viewpoints of my partner’s body, hands intertwined within each other, warm lips on cool skin. It’s like my mind becomes a macro lens.
What rituals do you have for self-care and self-love?
I love this question! Practicing self-love/care is crucial to my wellbeing. I find shopping and cooking for myself to be a huge source of self-love.
Further rituals include: face masks, body oil, baths, walking in nature, journaling and playing the piano. I keep a lot of ‘self-care’ lists in my journal, making sure to take time every day to continue my self-care practice as much as possible. I don’t feel comfortable in gyms or fitness classes, so I usually put on my ‘dancing’ playlist and thrash around in my undies to get my endorphins going a few times a week.
I’ve taken a lot of steps to ensure the company I keep is an extension of this practice. I can happily say I don’t spend time with people who leave me feeling drained or unsafe to be myself.
Find Gopi on Instragram // @gopilev