Our sexuality is part of who we are, one of the many identities we may hold that makes us a whole person. As we continue to think about, explore, and examine the process of liberation, we must also consider how our sexuality can be liberated and how we can support the liberation of others.
Sexuality is more than just our sexual preference — it is also how
(or perhaps if) we view ourselves as sexual beings. Yet, many of us have experienced ridicule, harassment, stigmatization, or discrimination that may have led us to question our sexual nature, or how to even embrace it.
We bring our whole selves to liberation, including our sexual selves. Let’s consider how we can deepen our liberation, and begin to untangle our sexual selves from shame, stigmatization, and oppressive systems.
Acknowledging the systems means that there is nothing wrong with us for experiencing ourselves sexually. From the patriarchy to white supremacy, these systems seek to inhibit sexual expression particularly through actions like slut-shaming. Patriarchy is most noticeable — the idea that sex is the fulfillment of (particularly white) men’s needs is pervasive and well-documented. White supremacy is less talked about. Rewire News Group examines how Black folks are often depicted as asexual beings in media and have historically been suppressed for racial purposes, to “uplift white female sexuality as more demure and obedient.” In an article from The Atlantic, Olga Khazan highlights a study from researchers that found that slut-shaming was also rooted in classism. They found that the “higher class” women actively engaged stigmatizing and harassing the “poorer” women who they deemed to be “slutty”.
Naming the systems that operate to oppress is one of the first ways we begin to welcome truth and healing into our lives. Actionable mindfulness cannot happen if we don’t get to the roots. Naming them helps us learn the ways the systems move in our lives, and then we know where to start to dismantling.
Shame surrounding sexual expression can be deep. In an article for Scientific American, Annette Kämmer explores how shame affects our mental and emotional wellbeing. Kämmer finds that when we are accused of violating perceived “social norms” by others by being “admonished” or stigmatized for the behavior, such beliefs about ourselves can become internalized. Shame is directed inward, and as Kämmer further explains, it is “painful and debilitating, affecting one’s core sense of self, and may invoke a self-defeating cycle of negative affect.” Mandy Ronda also explores sexual shame in a TEDx and asks us what it would mean, or even look like, to be shameless.
Exploring the shame associated with sexual expression deepens our liberation. Mindfulness teaches us to be authentic, showing up with our whole selves on and off the mat. We learn to replace compassion with shame, and by doing so, we heal the wounds of being shamed for how we’ve expressed ourselves sexually.
Many of us may feel uncomfortable talking about sex — whether with friends or a significant other/partner. The taboo of talking about sex is rooted in particular ideologies related to Christianity and Catholicism. These religious organizations have inhibited sex education, which can often normalize how we experience sex and sexual expression. Sex education also gives us a real, authentic understanding of how sex works. Not having this education leaves many folks uncomfortable talking about their sexual needs and interests (or not knowing them at all).
Practicing actionable mindfulness is sometimes just holding space for these uncomfortable conversations. As we begin to talk about sexual experiences and expressions, we can find deeper relationships with our friends and our partners. Normalizing these conversations can also guide others in dismantling their own shame, sometimes by saying, “Me too.” When we choose to be vulnerable we are not only supporting our own liberation, but the liberation of others.
Liberating ourselves sexually is about getting to know ourselves. After we’ve dismantled some of the shame surrounding sex, we may be more open to explore our needs and desires. What do we need to feel good about ourselves sexually? What are we open to? How do we experience our sexual expression?
Sexual liberation does not mean boundary-less sex. It does not mean that we become hypersexual either. Rather, sexual liberation allows us to explore our sexual expression in a way that honors our needs and desires — whatever they are. Reflecting on our sexual needs and desires honors the part of ourselves that may have been ashamed. By exploring our needs and desires, we offer that part healing. And additionally, when we reflect on our needs, we create boundaries for ourselves. Mindfulness asks us to show up for ourselves, stand tall in our values, and treat our bodies and minds with kindness and compassion off the mat.
Sexual liberation also means connecting with our body to get to know what it likes and what makes it feel comfortable. When we connect to our bodies, we may learn more about what it needs and desires sexually. Most importantly, when we’re in touch with our bodies, we know what feels good and what doesn’t and by practicing talking about sex, we can tell our partners what is working for us and what isn’t. We can advocate and honor our bodies.
When we honor our bodies, we create space to deepen our liberation. We are no longer sexual for someone else’s needs — we are sexual for our bodies, honoring its worthiness, love, and desires. When we practice mindfulness, we honor the body in yoga and meditation. We drop in to our bodies on the mat. Yet, off the mat, we can also connect with our bodies as we would during a flow. Just as we speak to our bodies in a deep stretch, we speak with our bodies as a sexual being, asking them questions and honoring our bodies when they say no.