I didn’t go on my first date until I was nineteen. Nineteen. Between fears from the trauma and the dogma preached to us in Catholic school, sex was something I avoided like the plague. Talking about it, thinking about it, hearing anything related to it just freaked me out. I’d shut down, dissociate, and cry a lot during health class as a kid. omg
I don’t know what caused me to jump towards the opposite end of the spectrum after that. Maybe it was angst at the church after all the years or watching too much Sex And The City. There were many parallels between the show and the way I was living. Except, replace cosmopolitan men (although that has happened) with mostly tan, skateboarding, guitar playing, flannel-wearing men who’ll throw a Shaka in every picture opportunity there is.
I’m lucky to have girlfriends who are open and confidently are able to speak about their sex lives. I think that’s important because if you’re surrounded by people that associate sex with shame, it’s going to be difficult to venture out of that perspective. Nowadays, no one looks twice at a woman who goes on tinder for hookups. Personally, I think it’s great we’ve gotten to that point now. We’ve been working on deconstructing the ties between women, sex, and shame for decades. If you go way back (and still, some hold these beliefs) women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex, sex was for marriage and only to have children, etc. So to say that society has finally been starting to celebrate women and their sexuality is incredible. I’m all for it.
HOWEVER, there was one thing I mixed up. For the longest time (and honestly, not until very recently) I didn’t understand what really makes a woman sexually empowered. To start, the most important thing I want to get across is that there is a major difference between a sexually empowered woman and a woman having sex to feel sexually empowered. The essence of a sexually empowered woman is something internal, whereas the second of the latter is more of this chasing, “never going to be enough” experience.
I used to think that being casual about sex and avoiding emotional intimacy with sexual partners made me feel like an “empowered woman who doesn’t need a man.” I felt “empowered” for keeping a laced bra from Free People, along with miniature airplane bottles of Smirnoff in my glove compartment, because, hey ya never know, right? If you are familiar with Attachment Styles, you’d understand what I mean by when I say that I was the poster child for “Avoidant Attachment.” A lot of this was intertwined with trauma-related wounds, such as chasing after more risky situations to reclaim a sense of control I lost from the abuse.
Time went on, along with a lot of breakdowns. I was in pain. I caused a lot of emotional pain for others. I said yes when my inner child was screaming no. I followed that script we all learned as young girls. Moaning at all the right times. There was no pleasure at all. I believed that having casual sex and seeming “chill” made me sexually empowered. I didn’t want to go back to avoiding it completely out of fear like how I was in the beginning. Even in relationships, I’d tell myself to “get it over with” and put their desires before mine.
What made me realize something had to change was when I cried during sex. Yeah, that was…awful, awkward, I don’t even have the words to describe it. I remember texting my roommate after, in tears, asking if that’s happened to her. She said no. I experienced probably what was one of the worst flashbacks in my life. This is just my own observation, but I feel like that happened because I wasn’t listening to myself for a while. I kept saying “yes” or thinking “ah whatever, It’ll be over.” for way too long. It was as if my body had to step in and say, “it’s time to listen to yourself, it’s time to change.”
That’s when I decided to redefine in my mind, what makes a woman sexually empowered.
It has nothing to do with how often or who you have sex with. It’s an inner sense of self, a set of guidelines, the openness to learn about all of your desires, fears, and what you like and don’t like. It’s a promise to never abandon yourself and to follow what makes you happy. It means to continually practice listening to how your body responds to certain things. It means to become familiar with your menstrual cycle, make your own choices when it comes to birth control and self-grooming. It means to learn how to say what you like. It means to understand that sounds are an energy being released through your body and not something that is “thought about or timed”. To have sex as often or little as you want. It means to learn about your anatomy and what your vagina looks like. To be able to say the word vagina, without embarrassment or shame. To know that pleasure doesn’t only come from sex but also candles, salt baths, dancing, fuzzy blankets, facials, long talks with friends, or going to sleep in clean sheets and a t-shirt.
You already are a sexually empowered woman, it’s just that we have to clear the fog of all the “should’s” we have learned in society in order to tap into it.