Intimacy is joyful and life-sustaining. It is also inherently vulnerable.
After all, even the most successful of relationships ends. Our lovers leave us, our feelings change, or we choose different paths. If we do stay with a lover our whole lives, death itself will eventually separate us. Intimacy is fraught with vulnerability, because to be human is to have a long-term relationship with loss. This poignancy sweetens experiences of genuine closeness: the wild glow of orgasm; the affirming confidence of an all-night talk.
Yet there’s another way in which sexuality is vulnerable. This type of vulnerability is not inevitable, it’s not natural, and it’s not something we should have to experience. This is the societal pain and trauma that we are taught, often forced, to associate with intimacy, from slut shaming and impossible body standards to transphobia, racist fetishization, and sexual abuse. In a world that systematically devalues the love and labor of women, queer people, and people of color, sexual harm is, for most of us, ubiquitous. It affects women, trans, and nonbinary people at every level, from our increased risk of sexual assault and abuse—which can result in mental illness and homelessness—to gender disparities in how often we orgasm.
Many of us are taught to associate shame with our sexualities, and to minimize our desires and our emotions. Or we are taught that our entire worth lies in our sexualities and our ability to find and “keep” a mate. As a result, we either avoid opening up altogether, or open up and find ourselves repeatedly burned.
Reclaiming our sensual power means allowing ourselves to be open to both intimacy and pain—intentionally allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.