This piece is adapted from the new book The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World ($17, amazon.com).
This may seem counterintuitive in a culture that celebrates the Kardashians and made 50 Shades of Grey a bestseller, but female sexual power has always been controversial.
Women who own their erotic power have, for pretty much all of human history, been seen as dangerous and disruptive. (Who is Eve, after all, if not a brazen woman who tempts an otherwise innocent man? And she, apparently, caused humanity to be kicked out of paradise as a result!) History and theology are full of tales of women whose sexual power caused the downfall of nations and peoples. From the Hindus’ Mohini to the Greeks’ Sirens to the Old Testament’s Jezebel, Delilah, and Salome to Stormy Daniels—sexually confident women have been long characterized as capital-T Trouble.
It’s not hard to figure out why: women’s sexual power has long been directly associated with men’s sexual weakness. Delilah’s cutting of Samson’s hair is a figurative castration: a sexually powerful woman can rob a man of his strength and will and render him vulnerable. Other cultures viewed a man’s falling under the influence of a woman as so disempowering that it could only be the work of demons or other supernatural forces. And we all know the tragedy of the cuckold (who persists to the present day in the idea of the “cuck”): sexually duped by a woman, the cuckolded man can’t know who his real children are, and so is effectively impotent. (That this became the basis for The Maury Povich Show is arguably a compounded tragedy.)
The idea that women shouldn’t be sexually empowered runs so deep that we often don’t realize how much it influences us. Take the notion of the “slut” and the double standard it purveys. According to author and journalist Peggy Orenstein, “A sexually active girl [or woman] is a slut while a similar boy [man] is a player.” Apart from “player,” we don’t really have words to describe the sexually active boy or man. Girls and women are called “sluts,” “whores,” “slags,” “slatterns,” and (for older women) “cougars,” to name a few. And although we shame unabashedly sexual women (think of how much vitriol gets aimed at Kim Kardashian), we also vilify the so-called prude who suppresses her sexuality. To say that these double standards and contradictions create a confusing landscape for girls and women is an understatement.
It’s not only confusing… it’s also a dangerous landscape. In the era of #metoo, #BelieveHer, and #WhyIDidntReport, we are more aware than ever that our confidence—sexual or otherwise—won’t protect us from the risk of assault. And even though we know that the arguments about constraining women’s sexual freedom for our own protection are completely bogus–even dangerous—it’s hard to not absorb the chill of those messages. So how do we claim and own our sexual power? How can we use it in a way that promotes our emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being?
We think the starting point is to get in touch with your erotic self. Explore your sexual identity so that you can get to know it better. As Amy discusses in our book, The Feminine Revolution, one of the ways she does this is by embracing her love of lingerie—a love that started for her, because it made her feel great and then if men appreciate it, even better. For Catherine it’s been a process of embracing sensuality in all its forms—not just sexual—and getting to know what moves and inspires her senses. For you, it could be something completely different—what matters is only that you get started. Ask yourself, What makes me feel good? What makes me feel sexually and sensually gratified—and confident? And consider trying a few of these tricks:
Practice the skill of erotic observation
Explore what it feels like to “love” a sunset or the curve of smoke above a fire—and cultivate connection to beauty everywhere you find it. Your erotic self is defined by its connection to beauty and spirit in all forms, so being in touch with your erotic—and, by extension, sexual—power requires practicing appreciation of those things outside the sphere of sex and romance.
Use your senses
Sexuality is a power of the mind, but also, of course, of the body, and so the practiced exercise of sexual power requires connection to the senses. But this isn’t restricted to the sexual experiences of the senses—on the contrary, honing your senses more broadly can only enhance more, um, specific sensual experiences. Pay attention to what delights your senses. Is it the taste of fine wine or great chocolate? Is it the warmth of crackling fires, the feel of wind in your hair, the tingling of your muscles after a run? Do more of that. Find more of that.
Own your physicality
The way you sit, the way you walk—every movement plays into your sexual power. How can this work to your advantage? How can you express yourself intentionally through your movement? Pilates is a great way to get really specific with your various body parts and learn how to move and control them. Dance allows you to free and express yourself. Bring attention to how you’re walking down the street and how you feel.
Try different ways of expressing and feeling your sensuality and sexuality. See how it feels. Play with it—visit extremes and fantasies. What feels right? Perhaps you’ll find you’ve been playing it too safe, and there’s room to indulge. Or maybe you’ll find that you want to dial it back. No matter what, the result is clarity and power.
Find inspiration in others
Look to sexual/sensual/erotic role models as a way to find your own approach to sexuality. Consider people across the gender spectrum: Whom do you find sexy? Why? What about that person is sexually or erotically compelling? Is it his or her physical beauty or sense of style, intelligence, or charisma? Understanding what we find erotic—what we desire—can help us find our own sexual being.
As we explore our femininity, our feminine power and, as part of that, our sexuality and sexual power, let’s not forget it’s a journey. A journey of freeing ourselves, learning what makes us feel our best and most confident and moving towards true authenticity. Towards a better world for us and for those around us.
Adapted from The Feminine Revolution: 21 Ways to Ignite the Power of Your Femininity for a Brighter Life and a Better World by Amy Stanton and Catherine Connors. Copyright © 2018 by Amy Stanton and Catherine Connors. Published by Seal Press. All rights reserved.
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