OPINION. Photography Nami Julia Hampe
Since the beginning of civilisation, some societies have worshipped female sexuality and celebrated goddesses with time-honoured sensual priestess rituals. Others have punished female sexual expression by death. It’s understandable, then, that present-day society still grapples with the sensitive topic of female sensual and sexual expression.
Provocative musicians, artists, strippers and prostitutes have taken on the mantle of female empowerment. Naysayers call these forms of sexual expression exploitative and claim that women who participate do so because they have no other choice. That they suffer from a deep abandonment of self and are longing for love. That they have “daddy issues”, or have suffered sexual abuse. These observations may be correct – it is true that many women throughout the world are sexually abused, exploited, and objectified. It is also true that women should choose to express their sexuality how they wish, on their own terms.
With the sexual liberation of the sixties, people broke the restraints of strict religious beliefs. Finally, people started to openly claim back their sexual freedom outside of the traditional. Nudity was normalised again and freedom of choice of when, who, and what we have sex with shocked the pants off the stiffs. However, the hangover of stricter societal beliefs still lingered with my generation, who were not taught about self-sexual pleasure, or to celebrate their sensuality through creative sexual expression. The effect on women today can present as body disconnection, shame around sexual pleasure and pain during or after intercourse.
The ubiquity of porn made for the male gaze has led to a false narrative that women are devices for men’s sexual pleasure. Horny pubescent males, having learned about sex from porn stars, place expectations on their female sexual partners to behave in the same way. They expect women to express sexual yearning by gyrating our asses against a man’s body, that we all enhance our breasts and have baby doll waxed vaginas, and that we moan with pleasure when men ejaculate. For some women, this may be what they wish. For many others, probably not.
Promiscuous women have often been shamed as sluts and men doing the same have been celebrated as studs. These days with the advent of online dating, more women of all ages see dating as a chance to explore their sexual expression and sensuality through safe un-hitched sex.
Even friends with ‘’benefits” explore their friends as lovers and see it as an opportunity to fulfill a basic human need of intimate connection and touch. These chosen relationships may not be ideal for a live-in boyfriend/husband compatibility, but they feel good in other areas I’m sure.
This kind of intimacy is perfect for indulging curiosity around mutual desires and exploring boundaries and communication, without other daily complications. Many spiritual communities are opting for the polyamorous way of living to “advance their self-awareness”.
Recently, I talked to someone with four boyfriends and although that seems like too much life admin for me, it sure would give some variety wouldn’t it?
Or do you think there is more opportunity to explore the depths of intimacy and sexual expression within a loving committed relationship with one other person?
The clothes we wear – or the lack of them – is another important outlet for sexual expression. Pop stars and celebrities are opting to “free the nip”, bums sit below short hems and the trend of swimsuits is getting more cheeky of late. This is very different from my conservative Christchurch upbringing. Constant judgement from my father around my wardrobe choices was extremely unhelpful in my young adulthood, so I am excited by this female movement to show more of their individual bodies, however I am also concerned with the online platforms like TikTok and their influence on young girls – could we be going too far? Are we focusing on what sexual expression should look like rather than what it feels like?
As a teen and into my 20s my father’s values around dressing translated as my insecurities, about what to wear, how to dance, and how to act. It was as if my lower half didn’t exist. Self-pleasure definitely didn’t. Any “pleasure” I thought I wanted was translated through the eyes of men. Sex toys were for the entertainment of my partner, not me. My partner’s climax was my objective.
Now, in my late 30s, I know better. Through experience with dance, reading, workshops, incredible role models, and tantric practice, I have broken down the fears I had around sexual expression. Today I happily and gratefully explore my human experience as an embodied sensual being.
In the past, I judged women who spoke openly about pleasure. Today I experience their freedom.
Yet, from what I have heard in women’s circles, there is still work to do. It’s time to peel back the generations of shame and assert and celebrate our natural beauty, to educate ourselves and young generations of women, and to decide for ourselves what our sexuality looks and feels like. It is time to shift our conditioning and know when we act in a way that feels great inside, that we won’t be judged by other women (or ourselves) or feel unsafe with men.
It is absolutely possible to live life turned on – to turn the sexual switch on. We can show up to any dance floor, boardroom, stage, or bedroom radiating passion from within. We become magnetic. Our sexual expression is ours alone, not as a mere aesthetic, but as an internal juicy force.
When we shame, judge or inhibit any woman in their full sexual expression, we damage our connection to self and pull back womankind. Sexual freedom is ours when we claim it. And when we do, we begin to rewrite herstory.