The concepts of sexual self-confidence, sex positivity, and sexual agency are such important ones – but they’re not discussed enough.
To help us navigate these concepts and learn more about them, FemmePharma connected with sex positivity expert Dr. Juliana Hauser on the concept of agency and how we can develop it both inside and outside of the realm of sexuality.
What Does The Term “Agency” Mean?
According to Dr. Hauser, there are five steps needed to achieve agency:
- Recognize that there’s a decision to be made.
- Be confident to make that decision with purpose and intention.
- Make the decision – decide what you need to do and take action on it.
- Live with the consequences of the decision – both the intended and unintended.
- Determine the meaning. What do you take away from the decision?
In addition, while completing these steps, you must also: 1) Know who you are. 2) Do the steps authentically and truthfully, and 3) Have a tolerance for ambiguity. Doing so enables you to react in a non-destructive way to what happens and to accept your decisions and the outcome of your actions.
When you put all of these together, your agency is activated and you become a person who lives authentically – true to who you are. You find your voice and know that you’re going to be okay – and that feels good.
How Do We View Agency Through The Lens Of Sexual Self-Confidence?
Viewing agency within sexuality means understanding and realizing connection from a vulnerable place. If we define sexuality holistically – as the purest sense of who we are – we can expand that outwards to all of our relationships and how we connect with others. We want to connect with people authentically, whether it’s in a platonic relationship, a work relationship, a family relationship, or sexually.
Having sexual self-confidence means consenting enthusiastically with others so that no harm is done in our relationships to self or others. It means understanding our “yums” – what we enjoy, and our “yucks” – what we don’t enjoy and don’t want to do.
What Are Some Examples Of Sexual Agency Or Lack Of Sexual Agency?
An example of a lack of sexual agency – or when sexual agency is not activated – is when someone participates in a sexual act without fully thinking through why they’re doing it or if they want to do it.
A common example, according to Dr. Hauser, is women participating in oral sex with their male partners.
“Often I’ll hear from women, especially the first few times that they’ve experienced this, things like, ‘Before I knew it, I was doing this. I don’t ever remember saying yes; I don’t necessarily ever remember being asked. All I know is I wanted him to like me – that it felt great that I was getting attention. I don’t think that it was non-consensual. But I also didn’t say yes to this. So what does this mean?’”
It doesn’t give them the social currency they expected and that feels terrible. So they look back on this experience that wasn’t positive, that wasn’t affirming and they didn’t feel their agency was activated.
Conversely, when sexual agency is present, you’re aware of what you want to do and what you don’t want to do and you enforce those boundaries.
Above all, it’s important to have self-compassion for your younger self for not having agency so you can learn what to do next time.
How Can We Activate Our Sexual (And Non-Sexual) Agency?
Complete A Sexual Acts Exercise
To get comfortable with our sexual agency, it’s helpful to think about what we may want to do or not want to do beforehand.
Dr. Hauser suggests the following sexual acts exercise:
Draw four quadrants. Then, label each quadrant as such:
- Sexual acts I’ve done that I would like to do again
- Sexual acts I’ve done that I don’t think I want to do, again
- Sex acts I haven’t done but may want to try
- Sex acts I haven’t done that I don’t want to try (for now)
Then, compare and contrast your list with your partner. Completing this exercise ahead of time in a non-sexual environment – learning to navigate consent – is empowering and can help you gain control of your sexual agency.
Discuss Consent Early And Often
Part of the reason some of us lack sexual agency- or sexual confidence- as adults is because we weren’t taught it growing up.
Sexual education is getting better, but it’s still evolving. If you have children, it’s never too early to teach them age-appropriate methods of consent.
Agency As A Superpower
When we realize who we are and what we want – and that what we need matters – we can show up in the world authentically and take back control of our true selves.
As women, we’re often taught not to take up space; to be people-pleasers. So for those of us who’ve experienced the negative consequences of taking up space – those of us who’ve been in relationships where our opinions didn’t matter – agency changes how we live. It changes the depths of the actions that we make, and the meaningfulness we can have in the world.
Having agency and sexual self-confidence means we’re not threatened by others or feeling threatened by others. It helps us become fully formed people who respect others and interact with them respectfully and not from a place of emotional reactivity.
What Are Three Things To Remember When It Comes To Sexual Agency?
Here are three takeaways from Dr. Hauser about sexual agency and sexual confidence:
- What you need and want matters. It’s important to discover your yeses and nos – both inside and outside of sexual connections.
- It’s important to continue learning and absorbing the concept of agency. Look for agency mentors – those who’ve made decisions and are comfortable with their decisions, and then become a mentor for others.
- Sexuality and sex is fun! It doesn’t have to be so serious or a taboo topic. Look at the vibrancy in your life as a way to reconnect with your sexuality. Start with things outside of sexual connections and use that spark as a catalyst inside your sexual connections.
- Instead of thinking of consent as sexual insurance, use the terms “yucks” and “yums” to reinforce enthusiastic consent.
Negotiating sexual agency: postmenopausal women’s meaning and experience of sexual desire