“Self-respect has nothing to do with sex or nudity. Self-respect means making choices that make you happy.” — @MattXIV
Your sexual empowerment journey can feel long, confusing, and even isolating. It’s no secret that societal pressures often sway you into forgoing boundaries and guidelines that would fit your personal definition of self-respect. For example, it is common to be misled into thinking that respect is the equivalent of “holding out.” Extreme warnings that people — and women in particular — should want to avoid being “chewed pieces of gum” or “petalless flowers” (two phrases I’ve heard taught in abstinence-only education) can be utilized against you to keep you “pure.”
For women in particular, this encourages the misogynistic idea that our experiences are not our own, or that we are to act in ways that cater to male expectations. What’s worse is that this patriarchal approach is hidden under the guise of “self-respect.” To me, these ideas are just synonymous with self-limitation — often, to earn our counterparts’ attention and respect. But if you have to diminish yourself to earn someone’s respect, is that respect even worth much?
So, is losing your own self-respect via sex a possibility? Of course… but it might not be what you think.
A Game of Balance
In my opinion, life is about finding balance in all areas. If you are new here, I love talking about sexual ideas outside of the context of sex, because sex itself can carry a lot of baggage. So, in my old blog post “Sex On The First Date,” we talked about cake. Today, we are going to talk about fruit.
A few years ago, when I was struggling with body image, I decided to seek help from a nutritionist. During the transitional phase, I went from under-eating to over-eating. I still had lists of “good” foods and “bad” foods, so I would often over-eat on things like fruits, or even vegetables. And while you might think that this pattern wasn’t “that big” a deal, my nutritionist focused on uncovering the unmet needs that led me to utilize emotionally suppressive tactics — in other words, why I was overeating in the first place.
My point here is that no matter the activity, anything positive or negative — even if it’s as simple as consuming fruits or vegetables — can be overdone. It’s not always the substance itself that we need to focus on, but rather the activity or the “why” behind its need.
Consensual sex is a great thing — but using sex to generate feels of worthiness might have a deeper root. It can be worth asking yourself if you’re trying to suppress insecurities rather than focusing on your pleasure.
Find What Works For You
“Too much” is not something that I, or anyone else, can define for someone. If you are someone who is struggling to define what experiences, and how much of them, feel good to you, it can be helpful to ask yourself some introspective questions to help guide the process. I found a few in Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex that might be of use:
- How does this make me feel?
- How does the other person, or people, involved in the experience feel?
- If the feelings are negative, why do I feel this way?
- What can I do differently to ensure my sexual experiences are adding to my happiness, rather than detracting form it?
It’s important to note that your answers may change regularly, so this likely won’t be a one-time exercise. “There are a lot of ways to be sexual, it doesn’t have to be this linear thing of going from point A to point B,” Orenstein notes in Girls and Sex (1). To me, this includes the amount of sex you’re interested in, the activities you choose, and who you choose to explore them with. Ultimately, taking the time to answer these questions can help you work through a topic that is so deeply personal, yet so heavily influenced by societal and cultural norms (2).