I don’t know what exactly qualifies me to write about this, other than that I am a woman who deeply enjoys the experience of having a body, and that this was not always the case.
I grew up with a lot of silence about sex and sexuality, and often felt “behind” my peers. (My friend’s mom worked at the MN AIDS clinic, so she was definitely ‘in the know.’ I think I only learned what condoms were because her mom had a goldfish bowl of them on her desk at work.)
By the time I got to high school, I was spending lots of time with evangelical Christians, and that silence swiftly shifted to shame. It felt like every positive message about sexuality was immediately reversed: “Sex is a gift BUT…” “Sex is good BUT…”
“Bodies were built like this BUT…” you’ll be the shattered mirror that doesn’t go back together. You’ll be the water dyed with food coloring that you can’t get out. You’re the duct tape that is no longer sticky.
And somehow in all of this, I also took away the understanding that sex was something men desperately wanted to do to women (exclusively cis- and hetero-normative culture), and it was our job/duty as good Christian girls NOT to tempt them and to keep them on the path. (We were responsible not only for the lust of Christian boys, but all men the world over.
My body was SO toxic that I could tempt and cause sin to any male with a gaze.) Two things were clear: 1.) sex was something that a man did TO you (and he was obviously the expert since he apparently was always watching porn and thinking about it every seven seconds) and 2.) girls didn’t really care about / want / need sex.
Now I may have absorbed this from purity culture, but these messages are everywhere. Sitcoms are filled with women who always “have a headache” or joke about how fast it’s over before he falls asleep. I never learned that sex could be for or about the woman.
Women’s sexuality has been so commodified and objectified that it’s about men even when they aren’t there. Two women mud-wrestling? Probably a bachelor party scene in a movie.
But no one is selling Brokeback Mountain as an aphrodisiac to women. Combine this with the cultural mentality around men’s entitlement to women’s bodies, and the billions of dollars spent on instilling insecurity in women in their appearances (sure, men are basically horny predators but Buy This Bra! or Wear This Thing! so that he finds you attractive), it’s no wonder we’re left with a bit of a mess.
This was only confirmed by my own sexual experiences – partners who didn’t ask for consent or consider desires other than their own. Perhaps the most glaring example of this, of men somehow being entitled to, and experts on, women’s bodies, is the number of men who have tried to explain proper vaginal care to me.
If you think this is an isolated incident, please take a few minutes to read this piece from The New York Times earlier this month entitled, My Vagina is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not. (If you don’t read it all, at least read this: “All I can say is, if someone speaks to you about your body with anything but kindness and concern, it is he who has a problem. And: The vagina is like a self-cleaning oven.”)
We get a lot of mixed messages about sex because we’re not great at informal sexual education. With advertisements obsessed with the sexiness of sex, and religious education so often focused on purity culture, who is having these conversations? Who are you having them with?
Is there a place to have healthy, affirming, non-judgmental, curious discussions besides anonymously writing your question on a slip of paper and putting it into the bucket for your high school health teacher to answer?
Nate and I seem to have a bit of a history with this, including making an argument for pre-marital sex, which was also part of a larger conversation that I want to be able to have about women and body positivity and sexuality. So when Nate asked me to write about female masturbation, to go along with his (amazing) piece about his experiences around masturbation, I knew I had to say yes.
This larger discussion of sexuality and how and where we learn it is a long way round, but necessary path, to what I’m trying to say about solo sex in particular: (from a cis-white woman who prefers sex with men) what solo sex helps us reclaim is our bodies as our own.
I can be hungry for pleasure. I can experiment and learn. I can take ownership of my body and sexuality. And when I do have a partner, I can speak up and ask for what I want and be directive about what I like. Neither partnered sex nor solo sex are ever the same time to time, so this is not about some singular discovery or achievement.
The value of female solo sex, to me, is the active ownership of, and participation in, your own sexual experience. Particularly when so many cultural narratives (religious or not) have objectified women in sex. As though we were there only to please men. And if they managed to be ‘great in bed’ aka to actually please you, then it was because he were some hot-shot or stud.
There is no ‘right’ amount that anyone can prescribe (though I’m sure people have opinions) – again, that’s just handing your body over to someone else. What great sex comes down to, solo or partnered, is a deep connection to your own physical experience, and being in touch with, and able to communicate, those desires.
There’s a lot to be said about the cultural movement we’re having right now around the surfacing of the traumas of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, and the pervasive destruction of a culture that is permissive, if not encouraging, of such acts. Every woman sharing her #MeToo story is voicing the radical notion that her body is her own, and that no one has the right to it but herself (and those to whom she gives ongoing, enthusiastic, verbal consent).
That this is a revolutionary idea is only reinforced by the scores that have risen up to discredit or disbelieve these experiences. That these claims even have to be made at all.
That this is a fundamental truth of our beings is only reinforced by the scores that have risen up, and continue to rise, claiming the right to their own body, saying #MeToo. That there is a recognition, and a pride, in making the claim to our own bodies and boundaries.
Women – your body is your own. You get to learn and discover your own sexuality and enjoyment.