The year is winding down so there’s been a lot of introspection. Your girl has been on a journey to unpack her sexual identity and as I’ve thought through things some stuff that I hadn’t really given much thought to has been illuminated. We’ve discussed how I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist and an ardent advocate for sexual pleasure in bed, right? Yeah. So it will probably surprise you as much as it surprised me when I started thinking through my sexual experiences and realized that this year I had failed to be the person I thought I was. Somewhere along the line I had stopped being honest about what I liked. I had had painful, uncomfortable sex more than once without saying anything and there had been times when I wanted to change positions or ask for something but had just felt like it was too much trouble. I had lost my voice. I used to throw my head back when I was on top and feel like a goddess as I was riding the guy and that hadn’t happened at all this year. Huh? What? How? I had to start asking myself some questions. As I asked myself more and more questions the picture I got of my sexual history and my self-care practices got fuller and fuller. So I’m going to share some of the questions with y’all:
- How many sexual encounters did you have this year?
- How often did you enjoy yourself during the sex?
- How often did you orgasm and/or feel satisfied and satiated after the sex?
- What things made you orgasm or feel satisfied? Who did them, you or your partner?
- How often did you feel comfortable vocalizing your desires, preferences, fantasies etc.?
- How often were your partners receptive to your requests or feedback? Which partners were they?
- Did you do something you were uncomfortable with or found less than pleasurable? If so, how often? With whom?
- How often did you zone out during sex? Do you remember what was happening at those times? What things made you engaged and what things made you disconnect?
- How often was your preferred form of STD prevention or birth control used? Were there times your request for condom use or the pull-out method were denied or ignored? And if so, how often? With whom?
- How often did you feel self-conscious about your body? What were you self-conscious about? At what times were you the most self-conscious? At what times were you the least self-conscious? Did the person you were with do something that made you self-conscious? What was it?
- How often did you feel light-hearted and carefree and relaxed? When were those times? Who were they with? What was happening?
- How much time did you spend with your sex partner(s) outside the bedroom? Were you satisfied with your non-sexual relationship with the person i.e. were they fulfilling the purpose you wanted them to (whether it was as a fuck buddy, Netflix-and-chiller, side piece, sugar daddy, husband, boyfriend, intimate lover, soul mate etc.?)
- How often did sex leave you feeling better than you were feeling earlier? How often did the sex leave you feeling worse? Did you feel like you were getting what you needed or wanted?
This exercise can take a while; you don’t have to do it in one sitting. There might be things you don’t have answers to, things you don’t remember, things you frankly don’t think you need to think about because they don’t matter one way or another to you. That’s all okay. Answer the questions you want to. And remember that no one has the right to privilege one type of sex over another. Sometimes a casual encounter where there is no hair stroking and forehead kissing and soul meeting is exactly what a girl needs. An orgasm is not always the ultimate goal of sex and sometimes it can be a journey rather than a destination. Sometimes the energy required to advocate for your own pleasure isn’t worth it for someone you have no deep connection with and don’t intend to continue sleeping with (on a regular basis). So this isn’t a measure of “Are you an empowered sista?” “Are you having sex the right way?” “Would Maya Angelou be proud of you?” The idea behind this is simply to take an honest assessment of what your sexual footprint is and have an honest discussion with yourself about whether sex is fulfilling its goal, whatever that is, for you. Even if the goal of the sex is to have no goal at all. It’s just a check-in, girl. And you don’t have to evaluate 2016, you can ask yourself the questions about the past five years, the past ten years or the lifespan of your sexual life.
What this list did for me was that it helped me see trends. Sex with this particular person at this particular time in this particular way made me feel shitty. Good to know. No more nookie for him. Sex in this place pushed my buttons, sex without dirty talk was nothing to write home about. Good to know. More Twi in the guest bathroom at my aunt’s house. For my friend Esi the list helped her choose between the two guys she was seeing. She asked herself how often she had enjoyed sex in the past year and realized it was about 60% of the time; she asked herself how often she felt self-conscious in bed and like she couldn’t express herself and realized it was about 50% of the time, and then she started thinking about the specific instances where she felt good or bad and it hit her that, OMG, all the fun times were with Mike… The non-fun times were with Yaw, the other guy she was seeing. So she was able to do some soul-searching about why sex with Yaw was so fraught for her and she came to the conclusion that when she was with him she was constantly comparing herself to his ex-girlfriend. Why did this happen? Oh, that’s right, because he talked about his ex alllllllllllllll the time. And sometimes when he was inside her he seemed to go someplace else in his head.
Yaw gave excellent head and was more intense so she had just assumed that sex with him was great. She was using that metric a lot of us use: “Is he an accomplished cunning linguist? Yes. Does he take control? Yes. Okay then, he’s putting it down!” But she realized that was an arbitrary measure once she started picking it apart. When she really thought about it, she was like, hey, Mike wasn’t less passionate, he was just less aggressive. And when she gave that some more thought, she realized that it was probably because he was scared about hurting her because he was a really big guy. Mike didn’t go down on her much and when he did, no two ways about it, his technique wasn’t as good as Yaw’s. But when she brought up oral sex casually one time on his couch she realized that Mike just hadn’t had much practice at it. All the women he had dated before her were really self-conscious about him being down there and so he had just sort of decided that it was something he would wait for women to explicitly request. He didn’t get asked much so he didn’t get any better at it. Esi was able to figure out that she needed to communicate more of her desires to Mike and that sex with Mike was good because it was fun, he didn’t expect perfection, and they could have tickling sessions in between Round One and Round Two. He didn’t look as good on paper as Yaw did but he made her feel better. And with this newfound self-awareness she was able to make some executive decisions. Spoiler: Yaw got dumped.
So yeah, take a minute and swirl some of these questions around in your head. I’ve realized that a lot of us think of our sexual experiences as a blur with highlights of pleasure or disappointment — with a few breakout stars and some highly forgettable extras. We need to start figuring out what makes us come, what makes us happy and what version of ourselves we are when we are getting some. It will help us build a complete picture of who we are so we can start the work of loving all parts of that person unconditionally. It will be a crazy big step in becoming our best selves.
F.N. is a thirty something Ghanaian free-lance writer who alternates between living in Accra and Washington, DC.