In January 2021, the soulful goddess Jazmine Sullivan dropped an EP that sent the sexologist in me on a spiral! I loved her collection, Heaux Tales, from the title to the finish. The interludes, the passion, yes. Although she did her thing, this article isn’t an ode to the greatness that is Jazmine Sullivan. Instead, it builds upon her work Antoinette’s Tale. This particular interlude described women’s ability to embrace sexual agency as well as society’s response to the act. This brought up so many different conversations and questions, but the most frequent one I was asked was “What is sexual agency?” Don’t fret, I’ll explain how it is defined in research as well as my personal interpretation of the concept. I’ll even share a few tips to support individuals in embracing their own sexual agency.
So, what is Sexual Agency?
When I share information, I like to pull academic sources to show what research says about the topics that relate directly to us. Screw Consent, a book by Joseph Fischel, notes Ann Cahill’s (2016) definition of sexual agency as a person’s ability to contribute meaningfully to the quality of a sexual act. I had to read this description a few times before I processed it as the value a person brings to the sexual experience. Further research into the encyclopedia of human sexuality (yes, that’s really a thing) revealed that Gordon and DeLamater (2015) described sexual agency as a sense of control and fair treatment that is critical to pleasurable sexual experiences.
My shorthand summary of sexual agency breaks down the concept and builds on both these definitions. Agency often refers to a person’s sense of control over their own behalf. I get to dictate what happens with me because I have agency. I’m able to intentionally embrace my sense of agency because I am comfortable being in control in certain situations. I have come to know sexual agency as an individual’s subtle sauce that is selectively activated. The subtle and selective parts of my definition are important because it highlights the flexibility of expressing sexual agency. Take a second to consider how submission can be a form of sexual agency.
Embracing Sexual Agency
Embracing sexual agency is not simple for everyone, I was very uncomfortable discovering and leaning into my own. I took time to explore existing hesitancies and fears that related to being in control. Concerns would crowd my mind causing my anxiety to increase. I’d tell myself things like “oh my gosh they’re going to know you don’t know what you’re doing” or “I bet you look some stupid right now” and unfortunately that negative self-talk created the perfect environment for my fears to come into fruition. Once I changed the narrative I told myself, my sexual energy shifted. I started to not only discover but also appreciate the sexy parts of me.
The turning point for me was a few weeks into standing butt naked in a mirror every morning. This allowed me to view myself at my rawest. There were no clothes to hide my rolls, no socks to shelter my toes, no make-up to cover my birthmark, no walls to block my heart. I’d stand there until I found a compliment to give myself, then I would say it out loud. By verbally complimenting myself instead of simply keeping them as thoughts, I was able to hear positive things about me every day. This made them so much easier to believe.
Another tip to embrace sexual agency is to discuss sexual behaviors and desires out loud. This can be both with a partner or alone. Take some time outside of the bedroom to talk about the sexual behaviors you and your partner(s) enjoy. I encourage this conversation outside of sexual environments because the pressure to perform is decreased if y’all are not in the moment. Sometimes demonstrations are necessary and beneficial, so don’t be afraid to provide or ask for a visual aid to help you better understand the end goal.
Best of luck tapping into your inner sexual agent!