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At some point, women recognize that they have sexual power. Often, it happens before we’re ready to have it — we develop breasts at a young age, for instance, and we’re clueless about what that does to boys and men. It’s both scary and exciting, but often more scary than not — until we know how to use it, whether in healthy or unhealthy ways.

Recently a friend and I talked about the moment we realized we had sexual power and how we used it. It was the first time I’d really talked about it openly although I’ve thought about it from time to time. Sexual power is different at various ages, and when you’re single and dating, or in a committed relationship, or when you’re married.

I was not one of those girls who developed early. I didn’t have big breasts (and still don’t, but let’s not go there), nor did I do much to flaunt my sexuality as a teen — I wasn’t even aware of it. I was shy and quiet and hide my face behind long hair and was full-on hippie, with underarm and leg hair and all. And yet, I always had a boyfriend. Cute boyfriends.

Liking the male gaze

I didn’t realize I had sexual power until I was in my 20s, when I did stupid things like cheat on my partner. The way my affair partner looked at me  — the male gaze — was unnerving; no one had ever looked at me that way before. And I liked it. I liked the power I felt from it. I still was shy and awkward, but the transformation had begun; I began to recognize and honor my sexual power.

Honestly, what 20-something woman isn’t going to gather attention? But, that was decades ago, and some stuff has happened since then — a divorce, years as a more-confident young single woman, a second marriage, another divorce, being single with kids in my late 40s, having a few committed relationships at midlife and finding myself single again at an age that feels, well probably is, old.

I’ll admit it; being married with young kids did nothing to boost my feelings of sexual power. I kind of lost myself as many women do. Discovering my husband’s long-term affair didn’t help, either. But when I was newly divorced and went back into the workplace full time, at midlife something happened — I got my mojo back. It’s never left.

What happened?

Embracing the flirt

For whatever reason, I acknowledged and embraced the sexual, flirty side of me that I love but foolishly believed had to be in check when I was married — channeling Vice President Pence here — and when I was in some relationships, the ones in which my flirtatious nature was seen as a threat and not a playful interaction with an equally flirtatious partner but trusted and openly talked about.

Women don’t always have power in the ways we’d like to, but we do have sexual power. This dates back to biblical times — Eve was a temptress, after all. As Krista Thompson writes:

Women have the power of sex. Entire industries are based on it (beauty, fashion porn) or attempts are made to cover it completely (some Muslim and Jewish ultra-orthodox societies, etc). Men want it bad, women bestow it on the deserving. Let’s face it. The only way for a man to have complete control over when and where he has sex is to pay for it. If this power is taken from a woman, it is rape. At worst, she is a killed for dishonoring her family. The joy in the gift of female sexuality is pursuing your interests in all areas of sexual opportunity. The responsibility of this power is to share it, allowing men to fully express themselves sexually as well. tweet

But it’s not easy to do that. As Suzannah Weiss writes:

The idea that women attain control by eliciting men’s desires plays into the age-old notion that women’s worth lies in their ability to produce erections. … [T]elling women their value lies in their ability to be desirable devalues women who are not widely considered sexually desirable. … Placing value on women based on men’s attraction makes those who don’t possess the traits society considers attractive feel worthless, and it makes women of all appearances feel like objects.
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I don’t think any woman wants to feel like an object and I agree that telling women that our value lies only in our ability to be desirable could be seen as devaluing “women who are not widely considered sexually desirable.” I don’t necessarily agree that only “Men want it bad” — many women do, too, and saying “women bestow it on the deserving” feels bad, too. Bestow? Deserving? Ugh!

At the same time, I am an older woman, therefore many men might — and do — consider me undesirable. But I don’t feel worthless. Whether they do or not, I just want to embrace my sexual power. Not in a manipulative way, but because it makes me feel good.

Therefore, some men notice it. And I’m aware of that.

‘Women aren’t going to stop being sexy’

Women don’t have to feel worthless or an object just because they own their sexual power. It isn’t either/or.

I like what Sex and the State blogger C says:

Sexualization is seeing sexual value/power and non-sexual value/power as mutually exclusive. The antidote to sexualization, then, is reconciling sexual value/power and non-sexual value/power. To end the sexy double standard we have to replace either/or with yes/and. Because women aren’t going to stop being sexy. tweet

To which I’d say, gals, own your sexual power. You have it when you feel it, when you have it for yourself and not because someone else thinks you have it or don’t have it. Don’t use it to hurt or manipulate others. And it isn’t solely for sex. It’s for you.

Want to explore which marriage is right for you? (Of course you do!) Then read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). You can support your local indie bookstore or order it on Amazon.


2 Responses to “Women, own your sexual power”

  1. Jono says:

    Had I known you when you were a shy, hairy, hippie I would have gone weak in the knees for you I am sure. I am still drawn to that type of woman. Yes, women have that power and it lasts to an age much longer than most of them probably imagine. I am thankful that they have, for the most part, been merciful with me.

  2. Rob says:

    Women have that power over most men but not over guys like me. If they play games, act entitled, don’t put out, etc. I just toss them aside and move on to the next because I have plenty of choices out there. Since most women don’t save money and end up needing a man to take care of them the power shifts to me. I have what they want, i.e. money and the ability to offer them security and a great lifestyle. What they don’t know is that they are not getting my money or any commitment from me, but the fact that I have the means to provide it gives me power over them.

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