Sex is a wonderful thing for many people. We have movies about sex, people singing about sex (I’m talking about you, Madonna), and the pornography industry is booming, making billions of dollars every year. Here in the US, as in many places in the world, we have seen an expansion with regard to who feels empowered and what that empowerment looks like when it comes to sex.
Sure, the topic of sex is still a bit taboo, but when it comes to taking a look at where our society was and where it is today, we have undeniably seen growth. For example, many people would say that women are more empowered now than ever before in our history; though we still have a long way to go before this empowerment is equated to equality; and this same notion can be applied to the LGBTQI communities, too. However, when empowerment is viewed through a sexual lens, things become quite narrow. It is not uncommon for one’s thinking to go to the negative aspects of sex; for example, sex and violence, sex and STIs, sex and abuse, and the like. However, we must remember to also look at the pleasurable aspects of sex for a more accurate portrait of sex and the empowerment for women, men, and the LGBTQI community.
When doing a simple Google search on empowerment and sex, much of what comes up has to do with feminism or empowering women. And even though that is extremely important, remembering that the topic of empowerment and sex impacts everyone and all of us has a vital role in creating a balanced playing field. Sexuality is a fundamental facet of one’s well being. Every aspect of our sexuality, sexual choices, and sexual experiences shape how we view ourselves, how others see us, and can have a significant impact on our overall mental and physical wellbeing; as well as our capacity to contribute to the communities we integrate ourselves in. The negative and harmful consequences of sexual stereotyping and the various abuses and harassments that LGBTQI women and men experience as a result of society’s prevailing sexual and social norms should be reason enough for an immediate shift in our thinking on this topic. As a people, we need an approach that emphasizes the negative aspects of sex as disempowering. By rendering LGBTQI women and men as vulnerable victims of harassment and sexual abuse, a focus on the hazards and harms of sex and sexuality draws attention away from the many positive dimensions of sexuality and their contribution to our empowerment. And besides, at the end of the day, having a positive focus makes life much more enjoyable not only for us but also those around us and research has shown that this positivity can add years to our life.
According to Dr. Stephen Diamond, a forensic and clinical psychologist, “Sexuality is inherently different for women and men. Most men tend to see sex as something they can never get enough of, and seek, at some primal level, to disseminate their seed as widely as possible. Most women see sex as secondary in importance to intimacy, physical closeness, and commitment. Men tend to be able to separate sex from love, eros or romance; whereas women tend to equate the two…. For most females, sex is mainly about relationship and procreation first, and pleasure and sexual satisfaction second. For the majority of men, these priorities are reversed.” It could be argued that this perspective of men and women and their relationship to sex is an example of a narrow view, not to mention a bit overly stereotypical, on the topic. In an era where casual sex and the use of apps for finding “no-strings-attached” encounters for men and women, gay and straight alike, might indicate that all genders are using and seeing sex on a continuum, as opposed to either you want a relationship or you want sex. And although sex and sexuality historically has been quite different for women and men, I do wonder more about the similarities than I do the differences and if the general population would agree that things are still as different as they once were.
A recent investigation completed by researcher Jane Fleishman, PhD looked into the sexual satisfaction of people 60-75 years old in same gender relationships. According to Dr. Fleishman’s findings for both men and women in same-sex relationships, “sexual satisfaction was not only correlated with relationship satisfaction but relationship satisfaction was the only variable she tested that also predicted sexual satisfaction. Interestingly, sexual communication was not correlated with relationship or sexual satisfaction. The less internalized homophobia her participants experienced, the greater their relationship satisfaction.”
What these results tell us then is that “same sex couples wanting to improve their sex life could begin by focusing their attention on improving their relationship and reducing their own internalized homophobia—but not their sexual communication.”
It should also be pointed out that “the correlation could work in the other direction—a couple who wants to improve their relationship could work on reducing their internalized homophobia and improving their sexual satisfaction.”
And though this research is pretty revolutionary, since most studies of sex involve younger generations, we still have many unanswered questions. For starters, we need more research on this growing population. Fleishman’s study involved 265 seniors in same-sex relationships with most participants being in their relationship for at least 20 years, and with men more likely than women to be in longer-term relationships.
One substantial piece missing from this research is the connection between other forms of culture, such as: ethnicity, class, religion, social class, and location (urban versus rural settings). This study also had relatively few persons who identified as bisexual or transgender and thus information on these two groups in particular is lacking.
So, that returns us to our central question: how do we become empowered sexually?
Sex, like a relationship, takes work. What we put into it is what we get out of it. Like most things, it begins with communication. We have to talk about sex; about our desires, needs, and expectations. It also takes a bit of knowledge. We need to learn about who we are, what we like and don’t like; literally and figuratively we need to get in touch with our bodies. Once we know what we like and how we like it, we can teach our partners–and what is more empowering than giving direction to a lover on how to pleasure us?Lastly, the most important piece of this puzzle seems to be that we make sure we love ourselves–because that is how we truly become empowered.