Maverick Life

SEXUALITY OP-ED

Setting her body free and coming into her sexual power

Setting her body free and coming into her sexual power
Illustration image generated with Dall-E

The thing about some of us is that our desire is shy, tiptoeing around us. It’s the pot of rice on the stove that takes a while to come to a boil, but when it does, it bubbles up to the surface, pushing its way forward.

Not to be nosy, but when was the last time you talked about your clitoris? I know. Some of you are re-reading that sentence whilst your cringe factor escalates several notches. But bear with me.

Let’s dare to think about women’s sexual pleasure.

We live in a country where violence against women is so endemic, that a huge part of our brain is wired to think about our bodies as sites of violence. We are saturated with this messaging, we have deeply internalised it: “Don’t walk the streets at night, don’t wear clothes that are revealing, don’t ‘cock tease.” As if, we’re the cause of the violence. As if, we brought this on ourselves. As if, it would not have happened had we dressed differently/ behaved differently/talked differently.

Even if we’re lucky enough to be one of the few women who hasn’t had a gendered experience of violence, chances are that we know someone, possibly many someones, who has. Think about the effect of this. In her book, The Female Fear Factory, Pumla Qola describes the ubiquitous fear that women have encoded in their bodies. Qola describes this fear as being a consequence of the theatrical and public performance of patriarchal policing and violence against women. The effect on our psyche is, often, to view our bodies through the lens of regulation and control. And here’s the thing – we have to ask ourselves the question, ‘What do we lose in this?” How might we be conscious about giving mind space to thinking about desire, pleasure and liberation? How do we think about sexual agency? How might we frame this discussion outside of the constraints of heteronormativity? 

I recently read a poem, “How to make love to a trans person” by Gabe Moses and it reminded me that our bodies are fleshy, sweaty, hungry, pulsating and erogenous. It encapsulates everything that we need to hold close to our hearts:

Forget the images you’ve learned to attach
To words like cock and clit,
Chest and breasts.
Break those words open
Like a paramedic cracking ribs
To pump blood through a failing heart.
Push your hands inside.
Get them messy.
Scratch new definitions on the bones.

Get rid of the old words altogether.
Make up new words.
Call it a click or a ditto.
Call it the sound he makes
When you brush your hand against it through his jeans,
When you can hear his heart knocking on the back of his teeth
And every cell in his body is breathing.
Make the arch of her back a language
Name the hollows of each of her vertebrae
When they catch pools of sweat
Like rainwater in a row of paper cups
Align your teeth with this alphabet of her spine
So every word is weighted with the salt of her.

If he offers you a thumb-sized sprout of muscle
Reaching toward you when you kiss him
Like it wants to go deep enough inside you
To scratch his name on the bottom of your heart
Hold it as if it can-
In your hand, in your mouth
Inside the nest of your pelvic bones.
Though his skin may hardly do more than brush yours,
You will feel him deeper than you think.

Realize that bodies are only a fraction of who we are
They’re just oddly-shaped vessels for hearts
And honestly, they can barely contain us
We strain at their seams with every breath we take
We are all pulse and sweat,
Tissue and nerve ending
We are programmed to grope and fumble until we get it right.
Bodies have been learning each other forever.
It’s what bodies do.
They are grab bags of parts
And half the fun is figuring out
All the different ways we can fit them together;
All the different uses for hipbones and hands,
Tongues and teeth;
All the ways to car-crash our bodies beautiful.
But we could never forget how to use our hearts
Even if we tried.
That’s the important part.
Don’t worry about the bodies.
They’ve got this.

How assuring is that? Our bodies ‘have got this.’ Think about the ways in which women’s sexuality has been historically erased because of the threat of the potential of erotic power and think about how you might subvert that by going, “Here’s my body, it’s kinda great. It has needs and desires. And I’m gonna just come out and name them.”

What might happen then? Audre Lorde argued that erotic knowledge empowers us. We scrutinise all aspects of our existence through this lens. She urges us not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

Instead, when we are in touch with the erotic within ourselves, we use that lens to light up our actions in the world and we begin to be responsible for ourselves in the deepest sense. Lorde reminds us that when we are attuned to the erotic within us, we are less willing to accept powerlessness, resignation, self-effacement, and self-denial. 

When I was in my early twenties, working at an NGO, I went to a learning circle on violence against women in Nairobi. I remember sitting at a dinner on the first night, listening to an older South African woman tell us about coming into her sexual power. Taking a sip of her wine, she nodded sadly and said, “You’re only likely to truly experience sexual pleasure after the age of forty.” I was aghast. Firstly, because living to the age of forty was a million years away. Second, why might sexual pleasure not come earlier? I liked things to arrive on time. Sad to say, this woman, in her wisdom, was right. I only really discovered sexual pleasure in my forties. When I found my voice. When I was comfortable in my body. When I started believing that I could claim power and agency. When I dared to name what I wanted for my body and, more importantly, what I did not.

The thing about some of us is that our desire is shy, tiptoeing around us. It’s the pot of rice on the stove that takes a while to come to a boil, but when it does, it bubbles up to the surface, pushing its way forward. Don’t be the person who doesn’t let her rice boil. Your body has got this! DM/ ML

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  • Louise Rapley says:

    Thank you, Joy, for this brave piece on an important topic that is still taboo for so many, and for sharing Gabe Moses’s magnificent poem.
    I agree with you and Gabe that our bodies ‘have got this’. But there is still so much unconscious conditioning telling women that desire and pleasure are shameful, and the paradigm in which most sex happens is a massive obstacle to overcoming this. It wasn’t possible for me to free my body until I’d freed my mind and claimed pleasure as my birthright.
    Doing this took a great deal of conscious effort and was complicated by the sexual abuse I’ve experienced in the past, but it was so worthwhile. As you describe, I’ve found that it’s the means through which I gain access to the very best and most powerful parts of myself.

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