I wake up in a strange bed.
Remnants of malbec linger on my tongue and I’m reminded of the cigarette I smoked when I catch a scent of the tobacco in my hair. Tiptoeing, I sneak out of his room. I swallow a few ounces of regret as I dress at lightning speed. He swings open the door as my tits are squeezing into a bra I bought to impress him and I quickly scurry into the bathroom to gather my things. I think I yell a halfhearted ‘see ya!’ as I promptly swing the front door open and practically run down the hallway. I’m on the seventh floor but I fly down the stairs and walk in a hungover stupor to my car as I wonder if any man has ever questioned how he could share his body with a woman he hardly knew.
This was one of my many attempts to be sexually-liberated — attempts intended to make me feel Samantha Jones confident but instead were met with a wicked next-day shame spiral coupled with a headache (thank you, red wine tannins) — and I wonder: What does it mean to be a sexually empowered woman in the 21st century?
Is it choosing freedom, sleeping with everyone and anyone I please as if to say, look at me now, I’m a woman and I can do anything! Or saying no to sex to keep the spark alive, to keep them chasing, to keep them wanting, to be validated by the attention and desire in their eyes?
Is it approaching sex like a man has been conditioned to: Proud, unfaultered, unadultered, pragmatic? Or remaining innocent, pure, unaffected by our natural urges; our primal, animal instincts like some kind of otherworldly, ethereal goddess who is above it all?
While I attempt to date in the middle of a pandemic, I again sit with this question: What does it mean to be a sexually empowered woman?
As I write this I can hear the familiar reminder from the men in my family: Remember, Riley, you need to respect yourself. But self-respect is a confusing notion when it’s historically been synonymous with abstinence and virginity. Feminists have worked hard for our freedom and lately my hookups are more often met with you can do anything you want! The more sex the better! You got laid! which makes me proud and equally worried: Is this newfound wave of sexual empowerment — brought on, rightly so, by the frustration of centuries of female suppression and a deep desire for equality — actual sexual empowerment? Or is this feigned confidence — this I can do what I want and I don’t care who sees it! mentality — simply a mask for abandoning our own needs to please another as we rebelliously and desperately break the mold that’s been created for us?
I’ve embodied the Good Girl archetype much of my life. This outdated mold with contradictory messaging that says don’t be too much, don’t say no, don’t give it up too soon, you’re being a slut! has overstayed its visit.
Growing up, the media’s messaging told me that Good Girls are respected. They’re wife material. They don’t take up too much space. They’re selfless. They give and give and give. They’re chill. They go with the flow. They’re adaptable. They don’t get angry. They aren’t too opinionated (that would be crazy!). They know better than to rock the boat.
Good girls aren’t too sexual. But they don’t say no, either. Good girls make their man happy.
But us Good Girls, we’re tired. Because whether we’re being good or we’re swinging to the other side of the pendulum in weekend sexcapades with lovers met in a blur of half-drunk wine bottles and tablets of MDMA, one thing remains the same: Self-abandonment.
Perhaps sex isn’t where self-abandonment begins. In my experience, it happens long before I’m naked.
It’s when I’m either upholding the Good Girl archetype so delicately as to not tip the scale on either end or desperately trying to destroy the mold altogether. It’s when I laugh at his jokes when I don’t think they’re funny. When I make his weird comment seem okay; I’m trained to make sure he is comfortable. When I go along with what he wants, because pausing and paying attention to how I feel seems inconvenient. When I forget about my own pleasure and prioritize his. When I say fuck it! and sleep with someone who doesn’t know how to take care of my heart after. When I pretend I’m someone who’s okay with that — that I’m always strong, independent, and unaffected.
And when I self-abandon to meet expectations that are not my own, I am met by my familiar friend: Shame. Shame that is not mine, but has been passed down generation after generation of women who were stuck in the Good Girl mold and never released themselves from its restrictive bindings. Shame that is not mine, but has been passed down by mothers, sisters, elders, and ancestors who also were tired of the Good Girl; who swung so far to liberation that they were slut shamed and made to feel dirty.
While those of us who are tired of the Good Girl mold attempt to be free of the cultural narratives that paint a certain picture of woman’s relationship to sex, I wonder: What does it mean to own my authentic desire, pleasure, wanting without the shadow of patriarchy looming over me like an unwelcome visitor? What does it mean to separate myself from the cultural norms and narratives just enough to ask: What do I want? What do I need? What feels good to me?
Independence is new to us women, and something we’re clinging onto tightly so as to not go back to the path that was set out for us. We crave men who can stand beside us as we take up more and more space and watch us soar. We crave men who want us in our bigness, our fire. We will no longer settle.
For me, sex feels important. Deeply intimate. I waited until I was nearly 20 to have sex for the first time, and yet when liberation is celebrated in openness and discernment is few and far between, I am confused. What is a liberated view of sex to me? What is my own relationship to sex — without the engrained narratives that I’m supposed to believe?
While I’m still navigating what it means to be a sexually empowered woman, here’s what I do know: There is nothing sexually empowered about abandoning myself to meet the needs and expectations that are not my own.
So I ask you: What does sexual empowerment look like to you?
And when do you self-abandon?
Guest Author Bio
Riley Webster is a storyteller and creative whose mission is to help make a positive impact on society. With an innate sense of curiosity for the world and the people in it, she is passionate about crafting compelling narratives that raise awareness about timely issues, highlight people making a difference, and help others feel seen in their human experience.
With a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication from Royal Roads University, Webster has been a freelance storyteller and creative for nearly three years, covering human interest topics related to arts, culture, society, health, and business.
Blog / Website: Riley Webster