Legs in fishnet stockings.

Photo by Dennis Brekke. Creative Commons license.

I became sexually empowered the hard way — but you don’t have to.

by Caitlin D’Aprano

[content warning: assault, rape]

I went to an all girls’ school. Boys were a novelty. You could say I was boy crazy, but I’d say it was because they were unfamiliar to me.

I wish someone had pulled me aside and spoken candidly about sex, but due to the lack of open discussion in my community, I learned many hard lessons about sex.

My first on/off boyfriend had a premature ejaculation problem. Instead of taking ownership of that — and due to my lack of knowledge — he was able to twist things around and blame it on me. After sex, he would berate me, saying, “lay off the pasta,” “I am just not attracted to you” and “I don’t have these issues with other women.”

My third boyfriend would have sex with me when I told him I didn’t want to. My therapist calls that rape, but I am unable to label it that, even though it was rape. I wish I’d known that I could say no. I wish I’d known I could leave the room. I wish I’d known I could say no very firmly. I wish I’d known I could say no over and over until he got it — but instead I would freeze up. When I do think about it, red hot tears of anger stream down my face. I am most angry at my helplessness, my inability to act in order to save myself.

This is such an important topic for my Willpowered Woman blog, because sex is a huge part of becoming attached to a partner, and that factor makes it even more difficult to leave your partner if they are abusing you. This happened to me. I had broken up with my fiancé once before. I broke up with him because he strangled me. The breakup didn’t last long and we continued to casually see one another. It wasn’t until we started having sex again, that I became convinced that it was an isolated incident, he had changed and he was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Related: Why I Stayed With an Emotionally Abusive Man

I married this man — and four weeks after we got married, he strangled me again.

This time, it was much worse. This time, he strangled me four times. This time, the damage was visible, a huge 6-inch bruise on my neck and scratches from where his hands were grabbing my neck. My neck ached, my whole body ached, my neck was swollen and I could barely swallow. It felt like I was living a nightmare. I mustered all of the courage and strength I could to leave a four-week marriage. It took every ounce of willpower not to go back to him. I was fighting the chemical bond sex had created with him.

Here, I impart what I have learned about sex so that you can be an empowered woman around your sexuality, which I hope will trickle through to other areas of your life.

1. Own your sexual voice.

You have the right to say no. You can say no and when you say no, it should be respected. No one has a right to touch your body. Your body is yours. I find it hard to say no. So I practice. When I want to say no and I notice that I don’t want to, I push myself to say it. You deserve sexual pleasure and you have the right to ask for what you want. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

2. Have sex with people you feel comfortable with.

Know where you are at with someone before you start having sex with them. I once dated this police officer. It was obvious to me that he was not looking for a relationship, but I enjoyed his company, so I decided that a casual relationship could work for me. I didn’t get hurt because I knew what to expect. Expect reality, not fantasies.

3. Unhealthy relating can heighten your sexual desire for someone.

It’s like a drug. You make up, then a fight ensues and then you make up again. If your relating is unhealthy, this is a regular occurrence in your relationship and each time it gets worse. As the ups and downs get worse, it becomes more difficult to get out of that pattern.

4. You are human, not a Barbie doll.

Real sex is not how it is presented in the media; you don’t have to look a certain way, but the media makes us think that we do. For me, this was a huge barrier to my sexuality, because I thought that I always had to look perfect while having sex.

At its core level, sex is about connection and feeling comfortable with one another. (Side note: sex is not just intercourse, it’s everything, from kissing to oral sex.)

5. Sex is a balance between the mind and the body.

If you have had sex with someone and are feeling overtaken by sexual attraction, take a breather and verbalize to them that you want to take some time out for yourself. Do something you enjoy, ask questions about why you might be feeling intoxicated. In other words, take care of yourself.

Caitlin D’Aprano started Willpowered Woman when she saw that there was a gap in services for 18 to 34 year old childless women who are being abused or have been abused. To learn more, visit the website.

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