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Sex Talk with CHALK: Sexual empowerment in a Puritan culture

Sex Talk with CHALK graphic

In “Sex Talk with CHALK,” Emerson Karsh-Lombardo — CHALK’s sex columnist — answers your questions about sex, sexuality and the culture of sex. 

Dear Emerson,

I feel like we live in a culture where women are expected to repress their sexuality or are shamed for expressing their sexuality. That is to say, we live in a culture with gender stereotypes where male-identifying folks are expected to be hypersexual and female-identifying folks are expected to not be sexual, i.e.: slut-shaming.

Would you speak a little to how we can encourage folks (or ourselves) across the gender spectrum to feel empowered in expressing their sexuality in a healthy way?


Dear sexual empowerment,

This is a great question and a great observation of how sex and sexuality are viewed within society today.

I think in part to answer your question, we should take a little stroll through history to help us understand better.

The Puritans sailed to America around 1630 to escape the religious confines of England. They settled in New England and they arrived by the hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, until they had built thriving religious communities.

Their settling has since shaped a lot of our ideals and beliefs, some of which surround sex and marriage. When the Puritans arrived in America, they brought with them the belief that sex should be only intermarital. All non-marital and non-reproductive sexual activities were forbidden and punished. 

The Puritans believed this for both a religious and practical reason. More babies meant more free labor. So, to create a thriving economy, children were free laborers for their parents. Monogamy is also rooted within this concept of having sex in marriage to produce free laborers—or children— as well as for survival based on the partnerships. 

Even though technology and science have evolved with multiple ways to prevent pregnancy today, the social implications that Puritan culture created around sex are still around to this day. The narrative that sex outside of marriage is bad is still an underlying misconception within current society.

We can also see this through religion still being highly sex-negative, as well as the frequency of abstinence-only sex education that occurs throughout the United States. 

Even with developments in society, the beginning beliefs of the Puritan culture are some of the main reasons why we live in a culture where humans with vaginas are expected to repress their sexuality or are shamed for expressing their sexuality, and men with penises are expected to be hypersexual and reproduce with as many people as possible. 

So, back to your main question, how can we reject Puritan culture and society’s implications so that one can be empowered in expressing their sexuality?

My favorite way to feel empowerment and to encourage the empowerment of sexuality in others is by understanding the human body and appreciate the fact that it was made for pleasure. For people with vaginas, the clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose only purpose is pleasure. The entire clitoris holds 8,000 nerve endings, and all those nerve endings have one job: pleasure, baby! 

For people with penises, most of the nerves lie on the penis head — 4,000 nerves to be exact. Though, for people with penises, there are also nerves on the penis shaft, scrotum and testicles. Both vagina and penis owners also can gain pleasure through the anus, especially penis owners with their prostate. 

If sex is a bad thing, why were our bodies made for the intent of sexual pleasure? This is a question I ask myself and others to encourage empowerment. We have nerve endings there for a reason — use them!

I also think understanding how our bodies work helps us get to know them on a personal and pleasurable level. Feeling at home in your body by knowing it inside and out, understanding what feels good and what doesn’t, what turns it on, and validating when our sexual desires are high or low are all amazing tools in personal sexual empowerment for solo and partnered sex. 

When seeking sexual empowerment during partnered sex, the main piece of advice all sex educators will say is: Communication! Communication! Communication!

It can be so empowering to communicate and advocate for your own pleasure during sexual activity. Talking with sexual partners about your sexual needs, wants and desires can break the sexual shame, which will lead to more pleasurable, enjoyable sex.

Setting healthy boundaries for sexual activity can also feel empowering. There is a ton of power that can come from expressing your needs and boundaries to experience safe, amazing, pleasurable sex. 

Finally, I think empowerment can come from authenticity. Being yourself in and outside of the bedroom is one of the most amazing experiences. Identify and understand your sexual needs and desires and validate them, however you please.

Understand we are all humans with human desires, which may or may not include sexual pleasure. I believe everyone should celebrate their positive sexual experiences and sexuality. Anything that brings us pleasure is something that should be celebrated. 

Unlike what the Puritans will say, sex is about so many things besides reproduction for free labor. Sex is about joy, connection, intimacy, exploration, playfulness, empowerment and, of course, pleasure. I think that’s a pretty empowering thing if you ask me. 

Love,

Emerson

Have your own question for Emerson? Ask here

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