Hurrah! You're a feminist! (Ot at least I imagine you are, given that you're reading this article.) But if you've ever looked at your sex life uneasily and wondered if it's fulfilling all the beliefs you have when you've got your clothes on, fear not. There's actually a fair simple test to determine whether the sex you're having is feminist: are you able to communicate what you want and be heard? If so, high five. If not, don't worry, you're not a secret misogynist or a doormat. You just haven't reached the full awesome feminist potential of your sex life yet, and that's not a failure in any way. It's just a new thing to be explored. Yay! Adventures!
I am both a loudmouth feminist and a sexpert with a sex advice column under my belt, and even I've found it historically very difficult to talk about what I want in bed, communicate desires directly, and not just fall into the trap of "well, they're happy, so that's good enough". Women are not taught to ask for what they want. We're supposed to be meek, and inoffensive, and accept what's given to us, or risk sounding "bossy" and "unfeminine". And many of us have absorbed that idea in the bedroom as well. It's important to bust that myth, because mediocre orgasms and unequal division of sexual labor are nonsense.
So here's the number one sign you're having feminist sex, and how to get closer to that goal in your sexual life.
The Key To Feminist Sex? Communicating What You Want
Female sexuality has encountered a lot of impediments on its journey to gender equality in Western society. (And we're not there yet; slut-shaming, rape culture and general nonsense about women "being disgusting" for going to the bathroom make that quite clear.) The female body and libido have been repressed, sidelined, and often utterly invalidated: the notion voiced in the Victorian era that "the majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind," existed alongside a paradoxical terror of female sexuality. Women were supposed to be habitually virginal, but also sometimes had their clitorises amputated for fear that sexual urges would turn them into lunatics. At this rate, just having sex as one wishes, and maybe an orgasm to boot, is a thing to celebrate.
But the real feminist element of modern sex is the possibility for women to demand what they want in bed. For most of human history we've been told, by men, what we want and what we don't, and the bedroom is no exception. To be like, "Tonight, I want oral, and then I want you to spank me, and frankly I have better orgasms that way," as a woman, is a sexual act of revolution. You're like Susan Sontag or Germaine Greer in excellent lingerie.
This doesn't mean being rude, and it certainly doesn't mean prioritizing your own sexual pleasure above your partner's; that swings the pendulum a bit too far the other way, past equality into selfishness. But the ability to have an honest conversation about your sexual wants and needs, with a partner who listens and responds, is the most feminist thing you can do with your sex life. You're validating your own preferences, expressing your desires, and having them truly heard.
Empowerment is the central focus of feminism, and that's particularly important sexually, because for so long our power has been taken away from us: we've been baby-making machines whose preferences either didn't matter or didn't exist. Expressing the particular ways in which a partner can make you happy, and help you achieve your desires, is feminist as hell, because it gives you power and a voice.
How To Learn To Speak Your Mind In Bed
Sexual expression can be particularly difficult for women who have sex with dudes, largely because of patriarchal forces that inform us that our desires are less important than our male partners', and that we exist to provide pleasure rather than experience it. Breaking through that cultural programming can take some work. And inexperience, where you don't quite know what you want to do yet, can make it hard too.
But you can ease your way into it. Talking about sexual desires doesn't have to be a sit-down-on-the-bed-let's-chat scenario; many experts recommend that in-the-moment encouragement is an easier way to get used to the idea of giving direction. Positive validation is usually the first step they propose. If a partner's doing something you like, tell them. If you want to do something else, suggest it. And it doesn't have to be dirty talk, either, if you're not comfortable saying "cock" or "f*ck" or whatever. Your choice.
A study from 2012 even proved that science is on the side of communicators: the more you talk during sex about what you're doing, expressing what you like, what you want, and how you're feeling, the better the sex you're likely to have. And, interestingly, nonverbal communication — putting somebody's hand in the right place, for instance, or moving them into a new position — was rated as a massive satisfaction-booster as well. So it doesn't have to be a chat-fest; there are many different ways for you both to express what you want next.
It's also perfectly valid to go with a suggestion rather than coming up with one yourself. You don't have to be the one supplying the ideas all the time to be having feminist sex (that sounds exhausting). And if your partner just gets it and does what you want without asking, that sounds awesome (fist-bump to you). But if, on the other hand, they refuse to take direction or prioritize you — if respect for your wants isn't 50/50 — then dump them, hard. Ain't nobody got time for that unfeminist nonsense.
But What About If You Want To Be Dominated?
I know many feminists have worries about their sexual lives being incompatible with the realities of their political beliefs. But being dominated, tied up, or playing out fantasies in which you're helpless or out of control, does not mean that you are a bad feminist or don't truly believe in women's empowerment. BDSM sex can still be feminist sex. Here's why.
Sex is a fantasy space filled with storytelling, and it has its own rules and limits. If what really stimulates you sexually is domination, that doesn't mean you're disempowered in other areas of your life; in fact, if you spend all day kicking ass in a boardroom, sex may be the space in which you relax and want to be "taken care of" rather than taking charge. When BDSM is done properly (i.e. with total consent, understanding and equality between both parties, and everybody capable of saying "no" at any time) it is a game of power, not a reflection on real-world dynamics. Submissives are just as in charge in a BDSM situation as dominators, entering willingly and exiting as they choose.
So if that's what you actively want to do in bed, what you choose and express your desire for, you're just as empowered as the lady who lays down the law about how she wants her hair pulled.
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