“Taking responsibility means that even in the face of barriers we still have the capacity to invent our lives, to shape out destinies in ways that maximize our well-being.”
-- bell hooks, all about love: new visions
In her book All About Love, New Visions, the feminist scholar and poet bell hooks reminds us that society teaches women that self-assertiveness is a threat to femininity. For the dutiful daughter, the compliant worker, and the obedient wife, being assertive is an obstacle to success, not a means to achieve it. And even for women in the professional class, and those who are their families’ main breadwinners, the lessons are all too often taught that some truths are better left unsaid and that talking tough in your personal and family life means you appear hard and/or emasculating.
Given how challenging it can be for women to claim their experiences explicitly and articulately, is it surprising that claiming one’s erotic energy and being out about it can be even more difficult? I’m not talking here about admitting to a friend that you actually like sex, or telling your partner what feels good in bed, I’m talking about acknowledging and claiming your own energy as a full sexual being—and the power and acceptance that action can bring.
Even though we live in a culture where night-time television veers ever closer to soft porn—and cable TV has explicit sex in ensemble shows such as HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me,” there is something very Victorian about the ways we avert our eyes from women’s sexual pride. I don’t know many women bloggers, for example, who are comfortable sharing their writings about sex and sexuality under their own names, and those who write under pseudonyms, like Dirty Pretty Things’ Chelsea Summers are often slimed by anonymous commentators or threatened with being outed (Oh, the shame!).
Sometimes it seems as though the only women who are allowed to manifest themselves as sexual beings, with full erotic power, are writers who make a living as sexual beacons and leaders in the erotic culture, like Susie Bright and Violet Blue, or those who have crossed to the Sacred Whore side because they make their living from explicit sex advice and porn, such as Nina Hartley and Tristan Taormino.
As a women in mid-life, I’ve both struggled and been amused by the ways that middle-class straight women are expected to deny their own sexuality, whether it’s the dating sites that don’t seem to even acknowledge kissing, the popular conventions of polite conversation that leave talking about sex for bachelorette parties and barrooms, or the social conventions of Silicon Valley, where women are judged as either Hot Babes or Serious Intellectuals, with few managing to be perceived as both. Most importantly, I’d say it’s the women themselves—all of us, our friends, families and colleagues—who empower these restrictions. In many of the circles I’ve traveled in, sisters doing it for themselves seems to imply living safely in your head, not celebrating the links between your heart, your head and your body.
It amazes me sometimes, here in 2007, that acknowledging your own sexual self can feel so taboo. Recently, one of my friends, not long divorced, bought and reveled in a fairly well-known book called “The Ethical Slut.” Written by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, The Ethical Slut posits that it’s okay to be as sexually active as you might want, with multiple people (in a safe way) without necessarily experiencing any loss of self.
“You have to read this book!” my friend said to me. “It makes me feel like I can do anything I want!”
“But you can do anything you want,” I replied, wondering why this was such a surprise.
In Audre Lorde’s famous essay from 1989, The Erotic As Power, Lorde talks about the erotic as the centering part of the self, the aspect that brings edge and intimacy to all connections. “But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough,” Lorde says, adding “ For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.”
Lorde’s description of the erotic and how it can center in the self is powerful. For that reason, I’d like to urge everyone reading this to think about how the erotic, that core of a sexually confident and integrated self—fits into your own identity and life.
Is erotic power something you act from—or react to? Can integrating this aspect of yourself bring more depth and joy into how you approach life? Help deliver more authenticity, and hopefully, trust?
Post your thoughts in the comments, please.
For The Renegade Goddess, claiming her own sexual power has become the focus on a year-long journey. Long-married and married young, RG, as she calls herself, has been on a journey that’s brought her from sensual massage and tantric yoga to BDSM, S&M and public sexual play, all in the service of finding and cconnecting to her own erotic self
Always Aroused Girl writes eloquently of coming to terms with her body and feeling her own erotic power. AAG’s chunky and not porn-perfect, she says, but she’s complete comfortable with her own erotic power.
DN is a writer of erotica, married, and sex positive to the max. I appreciate her openness, her adventureousness, and her ability to combine sexy fun with serious questions and sharp comments.
the journal of juno henry
this lovely poet of heart-felt erotica has a crasftman's delicate touch.