I can’t be the only one who does this: You’re puttering around the house, doing dishes or sweeping up dog hair, or you’re riding your bike to work, or you’re sitting in a terrible meeting, and you start talking to yourself in your head, rehearsing an answer to a question no one has asked you yet but you feel sure they should and will ask.
The question for me was, “Emily, what do you really mean by ‘confidence and joy’? What is confidence? What is joy? How do you create them?”
The reason I think people should and will ask me this question is that one of the things I say a lot is that anything sexual can be mindblowing if it’s done with confidenceand joy. This is an idea I began articulating way back at the start of the blog, and I said it so often in my book that my copyeditor started marking it and suggesting alternatives and I was like, “No, I’m saying the same thing over and over on purpose! Because it’s really important!”
The hard part has been explaining what I mean by the ideas “confidence” and “joy,” in a way that makes them “actionable,” if I may use a horrible corporate word. The “Yes Emily, but how?”
And I’ve finally come up with something that I think sums it up clearly, concisely, and – above all – practically.
Definitions you can DO SOMETHING with.
If the question is “What do you mean by confidence and joy?”, my answer is:
Confidence: is knowing what’s true about your body and your sexuality.
Joy: is loving what’s true about your body and your sexuality.
I don’t think either of these things is easy. Accessing accurate, impartial information about sexuality is DEFINITELY not easy. If you’ve found this blog, you have access to more (and better) information about sex than 95+% of people – not just because of what I write, but because you probably actively look for better, clearer, deeper answers. You’re TRYING to know your body (and your partners’ too, maybe). And there is a lot of shitty, moralistic information out there, a lot of biased information, and a lot of outdated information, and you have to weed through all of that.
So knowing what’s true isn’t easy.
And loving what’s true might be even harder for many people, since what’s true about your body is almost certainly NOT what you’ve been taught is “supposed” to be true. You’re SUPPOSED to have spontaneous desire and genitals that respond to the slightest touch and interest in sex that isn’t damped by stress or exhaustion and a body that is a particular shape and size… in short: we’ve all been lied to, consistently and repeatedly, for decades, about how very unlovable our bodies are. To love your body and your sexuality in spite of how ashamed the culture says you ought to be, is a radical act.
I believe both confidence and joy are essential, if you want a really rich sexual connection in your life. No I believe something more than that: I believe that the more we expand people’s access to sexual confidence – knowing what’s true – and sexual joy – loving what’s true – the more we prevent sexual violence and heal sexual trauma, the more we protect people from unintended pregnancy and STIs, the more we prevent and treat sexual dysfunction. Confidence and joy are public health interventions.
And I believe both are ongoing processes. Because what’s true about your body and your sexuality today is not the same as what was true five years ago – and what’s true today is not the same as what will be true five years from now. So we must continually relearn our own bodies, and our partners’, and love all the different things that can be true about our bodies.
And finally, I believe that confidence and joy are things we can all – at least potentially – access. Everybody. And every body. No matter the shape, size, functioning, sexual orientation, whatever. All of us deserve it and have, deep inside us, the capacity for it. (Though not all of us have equal access to the cultural resources that make it easier.)
To have confidence and joy right now, in the midst of a culture that shames literally EVERYONE’S sexuality, is a remarkable thing. But as each of us works toward those two goals, we take up more and more cultural space with it, leaving less and less space for shame, judgment, and exclusion.
Which makes confidence and joy like voting, in a way: if just improving your own (sex) life isn’t motivation enough to pursue confidence and joy, do it for those who need a world where more people care about them.
What do you think? Are you persuaded? Do you feel empowered? How can I make this clearer?