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Women, It’s Time to Own Your Sexuality

Just think of how much bad sex you can avoid

Can we talk about sex? Of course we can, but most of us don’t. Oh, we may boast to friends about the great sex we’ve had (and hopefully we have) or make jokes with then about the crappy sex we’ve had (we’ve all been there), but talking about sex — what we think about it, what it means to us, why we have or don’t have it — is, well, complicated.

I didn’t realize just how complicated until I read Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want by Alexandra H. Solomon, a psychologist and professor at Northwestern University and author of Loving Bravely. If you’re a woman, or someone who loves a woman or someone who is raising a woman-to-be, you will want to read this book, coming out Feb. 2. Trust me.

Here’s why.

Imagine you are about to have sex for the first time with someone you’re really into and seems to be into you, too. What could be more wonderful and exciting? As you head to bed (assuming that’s where you’re going at it) though, there’s going to be a lot more going on between the sheets than just the two of you. In fact, each of you will be bringing everything you’ve ever been taught — or more likely not taught — about sex, from religion to your parents to sex ed to porn, etc., as well as past traumas; shame-filled cultural messages; your relationship with your body; your sexual history … in other words, a lot of stuff. A veritable orgy of stuff, actually, which often gets in the way of us having joyful, pleasurable sexual experiences.

And don’t we all want joyful, pleasurable sexual experiences? Yes please.

Solomon wants to change that for us. I’m here for that.

Even long-time lovers will be bringing that same orgy into their sexual relationship until they address the beliefs and experiences that are helping and hurting their sexuality, what she calls Your Sexy. As she notes:

“All our choices, including our sexual choices, are guided by love or fear. Sexual experiences that are guided by fear sound like this: I will be rejected or abandoned if we don’t have sex. Something is wrong with me/us if we don’t have sex. I can’t have sex otherwise people will think I’m a slut. Sexual experiences that are fueled by love sound simply like this: yes.”

Yes! Just a healthy, happy “yes” to an experience you want, and the way you want it.

As much as I research and write about love, relationships and sex, I am embarrassed to admit that I have never asked myself any of the questions she suggests we explore, including these no-brainers:

  • what were the early stories I was given about sex, and to what degree do they serve or hinder me today?
  • what are the ingredients I need to have a “good” and fulfilling sexual experience with another person?
  • what do I believe about the role of sex in an intimate relationship?
  • to what degree do I feel entitled to or deserving of pleasure?

I don’t know about you but I wasn’t taught much about sex when I was young — certainly not from my parents or sex ed at school. Yes, I devoured the books in my parents’ bedroom when they weren’t around — Our Bodies, Ourselves and Human Sexual Response were pivotal — as well as my friend Susie’s brother’s not-so-secret stash of Playboys (which she and I pored over while also pouring glassfuls of his booze stash, sadly creme de menthe). So I can’t really answer how the early stories I was given about sex “serve or hinder me today” because there were no stories. The stories I created about sex were part media-driven, part experience, and thus I was pretty clueless for a number of years except for the handful of skilled lovers who taught me a thing or two.

As for feeling entitled to or deserving of pleasure — who the heck ever talked about that? Was I supposed to feel pleasure? Could I ask for it? For much of my early sexual experiences, I had no idea.

Which is why I especially love Solomon’s question about feeling deserving of pleasure; even now, in 2020, we somehow forget that good sex is all about mutual pleasure (yes, it’s supposed to feel good for women, too!), and that we gals are absolutely more than deserving of having it. Maybe (most likely) we forget that good sex is all about mutual pleasure because we still aren’t being taught that. As Solomon writes:

“Women are taught to be sexually appealing but not demanding, to be sexually available but not too hungry, to bring our partners to orgasm but to fake our own pleasure for their benefit and protection. Many of us cannot name our sexual anatomy or describe what those parts long for.”

Is it any wonder that sex is often a constant struggle for many hetero couples, and that women sometimes lose interest in having sex? That can be changed, and her book lovingly and compassionately walks us through that.

Just think of all the bad sex that can be avoided by owning your sexuality.

“Embrace the fact that you are entitled to sexual experiences that enhance you. Experiences that leave you feeling more alive, more connected (to yourself and to your partner), more curious.”

And that’s ultimately what we want from sex, even so-called casual sex — a catch-all term we use, sadly, for any kind of sex that takes place outside of a committed, monogamous relationship and thus is fraught with baggage, writes sex and culture critic Ella Dawson. If we view casual sex — the majority of our sexual acts, she notes — as “an impersonal act of taking pleasure rather than creating it together,” then we can be “casual with each other’s humanity.”

No one wants that.

All sexual encounters can and should be about creating pleasure together, even if it’s for just one night. But that requires knowing and honoring Your Sexy.

No matter the kind of sex you’re having or wanting, the best gift you can give yourself is to understand, accept and take charge of your sexuality. Taking Sexy Back is a loving, inclusive and essential way to start that journey.

Now, go get get some pleasure.

Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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