In her new book author Lucy-Anne Holmes interviewed women from all over the world about their journeys of sexual self-discovery. Here, she tells Stylist what she learned along the way and shares a message to all women on how to reclaim their sexual power now.
So much has been pitted against female sexuality through the ages. Deuteronomy, a book from the Old Testament of the Bible, suggests that men should stone a woman to death if she is not a virgin on her wedding day, civilisations and cultures have been cutting the clitorises from their girls since 500BCE. Our female ancestors and living sisters killed and cut, shamed and persecuted to stifle their wildness and eroticism.
But, as my dear friend and tantra teacher Roxana Padmini says: “You can’t suppress female sexuality, it’s our nature, and like the flowers that grow through the cracks in the pavement it will find a way to express itself.”
Throughout the last year I interviewed women of all ages from all over the world and asked them what they think of when they have sex. The resulting stories, compiled in Women On Top Of The World, are shocking, touching, tender and inspiring.
A tide is turning when it comes to female sexuality, although we are still far from a multi orgasmic utopia. The World Health Organisation statistic that almost a third of all women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime rings true here as we meet women trying to navigate their relationships and sexual pleasure through the shadow of this trauma.
Take Wambui, 32, from Kenya, she was cut as a girl, suffered sexual abuse and attempted suicide. She said, when she had penetrative sex: “I’d hold my jaw tight and wait for it to be over”. Her husband died suddenly and she thought, “Phew, at least I don’t have to have sex anymore” but this thought broke her heart. She looked for solutions and in 2017 underwent restorative surgery, which she describes as a “rebirth”. Now, she takes joy in her orgasms and body. Her story sums up the brave and triumphant spirit of womanhood that has continually moved me while working on this project.
One thing which unites all the women I spoke to is a lack of sex education.
74-year-old Lucy from New Zealand first heard about contraception after she fell pregnant. 55-year-old Anita in India, got married to a much older man at 14 and had no idea that sex could or should be pleasurable until years later she found herself on top and experiencing an orgasm for the first time.
Perhaps the simplest and most profound words we can whisper to ourselves when it comes to sexuality are ‘what do I want?’
As Jaya, who grew up in Austria and Equador, says it ‘is one of the scariest and most freeing questions.’ Yet very often it doesn’t occur to us to ask it.
Anja, from Germany said, “I was 50 when I started to think ‘what do I like?’ What are my preferences?”
Rose, 26, from the USA told me all about her sexual hook ups, and how at the end she thinks “I’ll feel glad I performed well and it was successful, but I’ve never thought to ask myself whether I’ve enjoyed it.”
This is perhaps a time when, here in the UK, we are feeling a little despondent about our sex lives.
If single we might yearn for the touch of a lover, in a couple, find ourselves desperate for some time alone, or perhaps we are in a family dynamic where we feel totally overwhelmed with work and homeschooling wondering if we’ll ever have the space to explore our sensual side again. It’s a time to be very kind to ourselves and remember that this unprecedented time will pass, but my gentle advice would be to mull over this question of ‘what do I want’ whenever possible.
Stop for just a few moments now, close your eyes, take a deep breath, feel the experience of being in your glorious body, as opposed to whirling around in the busy mind, and vision a sexual experience that would feel really good for you. Spend as much time as you have colouring this – where are you? What is happening? How do you feel?
It’s a lovely exercise to practise in its own right, but can also become enlightening if you compare your longing to your actual sex life and see if you can take some brave steps towards making your vision a reality.
It’s a very pleasurable and powerful way to fuck the patriarchy.
Women on Top of the World, edited by Lucy-Anne Holmes is published by Quercus on 25th February (£20).