From the moment I saw her, I wanted to be Samantha from Sex and the City. To me, Samantha was the embodiment of sexual empowerment. A vixen who indulges in casual sex without shame. Whose lack of convention (when it comes to marriage and family) translates to freedom.
This character understood her sexuality and built a life that evolved around pursuing pleasure. She wasn’t perfect, but she did seem fulfilled.
Soon I was desiring to become a seductive entrepreneur with no inhibitions. If I could achieve that, then I believed I would be happy.
Turns out, I’m a mix between Carrie and Charlotte.
And for a long time I hated this about myself.
When I originally watched the show, I categorized Carrie as the woman who spent six seasons and two movies being unsure. Charlotte, on the other hand, knew exactly what she wanted. And it was brazenly traditional.
Carrie’s uncertainly touched a nerve because of my experience as a queer person. I date across the gender spectrum. Since high school, I’ve been told to “pick a side”.
For many years feeling “unsure” was a plague that our gendered, homophobic society bestowed upon me. I was afraid to fall in love because it meant that I’d have “chosen my side.” What if my love was a cis-man, would my LGBTQ community still accept me? What if my love was neither a man nor cis, would they trust that my love is authentic?
When it came to my “Charlotte-isms”, this was also difficult to unpack. I grew up between the Roman Catholic tradition and the Jewish tradition. Ideologies that can be emotionally rewarding (like monogamy, marriage, children, and certain aspects of femininity) were used as shackles. I developed a gag reflex for traditional norms, believing that I would not find autonomy or empowerment in these systems.
Tring to be my own version of Samanta was how I fought against uncertainty and tradition. This made me happy for a time. Rebellion is a source of empowerment.
I’m proud of myself for exploring non-monogamy. For honoring my sexual orientation and enjoying my masculinity.
But for a decade I was also striving to achieve an ideal without ever asking myself: what do I really want? Which made “Samantha” just as confining as the systems I was trying to distance myself from.
Tail between my legs, I realized, I didn’t really feel sexually empowered. Far from it. I was now in a position where I couldn’t distinguish between what made me happy and my shallow impulses.
It was time to press pause.
My Celibacy Meant: No Sex, No Romance, and No Social Media.
As a millennial, I grew up surrounded by stimuli. Conditioned to digest external validation and use that to measure my identity.
Sexual empowerment has been commercialized.
Mainstream feminism is a flimsy interpretation of the transformative and intersectional philosophy of gender equity.
Both of these concepts are used to sell us material possessions by influencing our identities. In a way, my attraction to Samantha (and aversion to tradition) was a product of the collusion between capitalism, sexualized marketing, and watered-down female empowerment.
If feminism and sexual empowerment can be used by a company to influence my identity, then someone else is influencing my sexuality.
I didn’t just need a break from sex. Being “celibate” wasn’t a religious decision. It was a spiritual journey. This temporary lifestyle change was all about creating my definitions of sex, intimacy, and empowerment.
It was jarring to realize that I was distracted by everything except for myself. Whether it was in-person or online, the party never stopped so the self-work couldn’t really begin.
Turns Out, Sexually Liberated People Have One Thing In Common
What does it mean to feel free, empowered, and at peace with sex? Do people really exist who felt this way?
Dr. Emily Nagoski is an expert in women’s sexual wellbeing. She wrote the best-selling book Come As You Are and has spoken at three TED Conferences.
After examining the research, Dr. Nagoski found one similarly among all the participants. Each person had to relearn everything they thought they knew about gender, sex, and sexuality.
“Everything we are taught about sex is wrong.” Dr. Nagoski states unapologetically.
While you may or may not agree with such a broad statement, her words resonated with me. As did this research. As a queer person, I was young when I learned that much of what I had been taught about love was incorrect. The very fact that I existed proved that.
Hearing Dr. Nagoski’s words felt validating. If everything I knew about sex needed to be thrown out, then I was ready to find a trash can. My next question was this: if everything is wrong, then how do I discover what is right?
“Pleasure Is The Measure”
I believe that all humans are taught that sex should be “a certain way.” That if we are “doing it correctly” sex will automatically feel good physically and emotionally.
If you’ve been alive long enough to have sex for yourself, you’ll soon find out it isn’t that simple.
We are barely taught about sex. Most of us aren’t even adequately taught about our own bodies. For example, most humans don’t know that the average clitoris is a four-inch-long erectile structure. I was twenty-eight when I discovered that I get hard-ons. And I’m lucky to have discovered this in my twenties.
When I took my celibacy break, my goal was to rebuild my sexuality on my terms. Education was one resource. Another was discovering what genuinely brought me pleasure. Whether it was exploring my own body or discovering what music, food, and entertainment made me feel good. Sexuality isn’t just about sex.
Dr. Nagoski not only explains that what we are taught about sex is wrong. She also provides a way to reclaim our relationship with sex and our sexuality.
The only measure that should influence your sexuality is what feels good to you. Pleasure, the Doctor informs, is the measure.
Taking a purposeful pause from social media and dating was exactly what I needed to reconnect with sex. It no longer mattered if I related more to Samantha or Charlotte. I was myself.
Getting rid of social media helped me see my body again. It's disheartening to realize how many images undergo digital surgery. And know that I was comparing my physical form to these fantasies.
On a spiritual level, pausing sex and romance allowed me to become literate in a new language: my intuition.
When I stepped away from stimuli I could hear my instincts again. It took some time, but soon my body and mind were speaking the same dialect. Gut reactions sent affirmations into my brain. Even when I find myself in religious communities from my youth or watching a particularly manipulative advertisement, I feel self-assured and protected. This strength is radiating from inside of me, rather than any external influence.
Ironically, this certainly-of-self was blossoming because I was leaning into the uncertainly of it all. Having difficult questions ended up producing empowering answers. “Not knowing” means your growing.
I found that my self-awareness was leading to more intimacy. Self-awareness inspires confidence in who you are. A confident person can communicate their needs, be vulnerable, and stand up for themself. Thus fostering deeper connections through the dichotomy of strength and vulnerability.
Sexuality is an organic, living entity. Just like you, it will grow and change.
It is inevitable that religion, culture, and entertainment will shape our understanding of ourselves. These structures, by their very nature, are loud and intrusive. Still, our spirit is stronger and more intuitive than any outside force. We define who we are. We empower ourselves.
Celibacy provided a spiritual outlet for me to put in earplugs and question everything I’d grown up with. The answers I found in solitude provided the clarity to grow closer to everything that mattered to me.
You are entitled to build your sexuality as you see fit. If you are in the process of building your sexuality, try to pause. Even for a moment. So you can listen to what your body has to say. Trust that deep down, you already know what empowers and liberates you. As you delicately move forward, let pleasure be your measure, and remember.
Your sexuality is no one’s business but your own.
You are entitled to change your mind as you grow. Empowerment is a destination, but the trick is realizing that this destination is the ever-winding path you are already on.
Nadège is a sexuality scholar and spiritual mentor who uses her knowledge to bring warmth to heavy topics. Stay up to date with all her empowering discoveries here.