The Range Of Sexual Expression6 Min Read
As my conversations regarding sex and sexual education have grown significantly since starting Beyond The Beez, it seems like one of the most common fears surrounding a formal sexual education is what might be unlocked. People think that an “unhinged” sexual behavior or desire will happen as a side effect of knowledge. There are many problems with this unnecessary worry, including the fact that it often looks at sexual desire from a place of “one size fits all.”
I recently sat down with my friend Tierney to discuss the differences in our sexual “appetites,” even though we are both sex-positive. Because no matter how much you know, you are the one who knows your body and your needs best.
What is your typical approach going into sexual experiences?
Tierney: For me, I would say I'm just the type of person that if I want something, I'm going to pursue it. I feel like that attitude is pretty transcended throughout my life, including sex positivity and sexual liberation.
I do definitely question myself when sexual situations occur. If I'm picking up a vibe, I'm not just going to pounce. I'll sense the energy of somebody and go from there. But, in general, that large appetite for life and affinity for people has definitely transpired into my sex life.
Elizabeth: I love that. I think for me, I get more reserved early on — even more than I would sometimes like. So, the opposite of what people would think. But the reason I don't end up doing things as much isn't because I'm afraid to be slut-shamed, or that I’m thinking about my “number,” or worrying if people will judge me. Instead, it's a comfort thing. If I'm not comfortable with someone, or I’m not naturally interested in that moment, then I won’t engage in it. I just wait until I feel authentically excited, and that process can take one introduction or weeks of hanging out.
Tierney: I totally see that. I think it’s definitely important to set boundaries and not feel bad about them. I always say, trust the energy, because the energy doesn't lie. And trust your gut. I’ve learned that it is better to be alone than in bad company. And even if it's a sixth, seventh date and you're not feeling it, you're not obliged to do it, just as a girl on a first date is obliged to do it if she feels comfortable. Being sex positive doesn't mean you're going to jump into bed with everyone that comes along. Do whatever floats your boat, as long as it doesn't sink anybody else's. To me, that's what sex positivity is.
Have you faced any unexpected personal shame within yourself after experiences, or have you felt pretty consistent in your empowerment?
Tierney: It's definitely taken me a long time to feel confident and empowered in my sexual experiences. For me, a lot of the times sex was convoluted due to alcohol, especially in college. But I'm learning now, more than ever, what I like.
It's taken me a while to get here, and it definitely hasn't been smooth sailing. There have been times, mornings after, where I've toiled in anxiety and wallowed in my bed all day thinking, "I made a mistake.” But a lot of the time, I've grown as a person. I think that growth is so important, especially for things like this, because it's key to be able to learn how to detach from your experiences.
That doesn't mean avoiding your emotional responses, or evading a situation. It just means that things can happen, good or bad. You have to do the best you can, and I've been responsible of course, but it's definitely taken me a couple years to get to this point of confidence and comfortability in all aspects of my life, sex included.
Elizabeth: I'm so happy you phrase it like that because it's a process to learn yourself and what you like, and you're definitely not going to get it right every single time. There will be experiences where you may feel unsure of what you want, but like you said, learning to go with your gut is key. It is so much more enjoyable to feel exactly the way you would want to be feeling, and go into it excited and empowered in that moment, rather than forcing the moment earlier or making yourself wait in order to fit a societal mold.
Tierney: Yeah, and I think it's also important to question everything. You asked about shame and guilt. It's like, why do we feel this way sometimes after sex? Is it internalized misogyny? Why is it shameful to be a single woman and have sex? Why should anyone shame me for being in a relationship? Why do I judge girls who've only been in relationships?
Elizabeth: I do that sometimes too. That's definitely something I've learned to check myself on. Being sometimes apprehensive about relationships, I have to remember that everyone's on a different trajectory. So we all have to check our judgment, whatever way we may be bringing it!
Have you ever experienced slut-shaming, and if so, how did you overcome it?
Tierney: For the most part, I experienced slut-shaming when I was in middle school and high school. I don't really know what people say behind my back, but I feel like I've gotten lucky. There've been some off-handed comments here and there, but I just let it roll off. It's just about doing what you want, and if someone's going to critique me for doing what I want, then that has nothing to do with me and everything to do with them.
Elizabeth: I think slut-shaming is such a fascinating idea too because the probability of being a “slut” varies based on your life experiences. For example, someone who has had frequent relationships is not as susceptible to slut-shaming. But if you are living a single life or enjoy casual dating more, then you're more likely to have an increase in partners and therefore can be considered “slutty.” In other words, there’s just this whole other element regarding who you meet, when you meet them, and how long you're dating someone, rather than this black and white idea of those who are “prude” versus those who are “slutty.”
Tierney: Totally agree. And as we grow older, there are more nuanced ways of slut-shaming. It's like some girls will say, "I can never have sex on the first date," whereas they know one of their really good friends has been doing that, or has done that in the past. And for me I’m just like, cool. A lot of times it's pointed and very clear what they're trying to do — make you feel less than, or like what you're doing is wrong. But again, I’ve learned if I’m smart, safe, and going with my gut, I’m just going to do what I want.
Ultimately, finding what makes you feel sexually comfortable and empowered is a process.
1. Take the time to reflect on the experiences you’ve had, and how they’ve made you feel.
2. This could even include some journaling. (I’ve always found that writing down my thoughts always helps me see things more clearly.)