Negotiating Sex

By Claire Martens

How often have you made a promise to yourself that you did not keep? To wait for marriage, to wait for love, to wait for contraception, to wait for the AID’s test, to wait two weeks, not to wait. How about the promise of who and what and how many?

For me, breaking my hymen for the first time meant entering a realm of reality that has proved to be one of the most complicated and stressful. Since that day (itself a sticky situation), sex has loomed like a shadow over my life. If I wasn’t thinking about pregnancy, STD’s, recurring bladder infections and AIDs tests; I was thinking about the cost of pap smears, having cervical cancer (and too many partners) and ending up in hospital with cystitis (which happened once). And that was just the physical. I too have worried about my morality, my relationship with religion, expectations of society and my own relationships.

But that last part has been what I have worried about the most. It seems easier to have control over my body, in the territory of health and healing, than it is to have control over my body in the territory of relationships.

There are numerous small incidences in my life that have complicated my thoughts on sex. Some have been completely disempowering, impacting on my self-esteem in implicit ways and distorting my thoughts and ideas about sex. It was those times where my ideas about sex were ridiculed, questioned or, worse, ignored, by the person I am dating that broke me down little-by-little. Combine this with the messages that society gave me about the expectations of sex in relationships, and I ended up compromising on, or breaking, those promises I made.

Now, just to make sex even more complicated, I have often had to think about the actual physical act and the expectations of “cumming” or having an orgasm. This snowballs the questions surrounding sex into an impenetrable maze of “don’t know’s”. How often is enough; how many times a week, who comes, quickies or extended sessions, emotional expectations; all questions I have considered over and over again.

For me, the most complicated question is this: why do people have sex?

But that is also an empowering question: why are YOU having sex?

Every person should be asking themselves that question. Those promises you made to yourself are intrinsically bound to that question. If you find the answers are shrouded in the patriarchal norms of society, that men expect sex all the time and women should “put out”, then it may be time to rethink the terms of sex. Having control over sex in a relationship is your right. You need to revisit those promises you made in the first place, reform them, rethink them and renegotiate them; but ensure that they are your own terms.

Having said this, I know there are many, many women out there who do not feel that they have a choice; or may not have a choice at all. But for those of us who can negotiate the landscape of sex, do we not owe it to those who can’t to discard all those disempowering thoughts and practices and negotiate sex on our own terms? Not only are we improving our own situations, but little-by-little we are breaking the cycle of sexual abuse and, its milder counterpart, sexual dominance.


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