Ethical Sex: 4 Ways to Reclaim Your Power

November 30, 2015

We here at Peaceful Dumpling strive to live ethical lives. Many of us become vegans because it’s a lifestyle that encourages doing the least harm possible to all living creatures. This is the premise of ethical veganism. If we are ethical vegans, we pay attention to what foods we do and do not consume, where we buy our clothes, and how we treat the earth. All sentient beings have the right to not be used for their flesh. Yet, we rarely relate this value to our own lives, especially when it comes to sex. Why is it difficult to extend ethics to the bedroom?

Sex is no longer regulated to the private sphere; instead, it is now an accepted part of societal and political discourse. Abortion, rape, even orgasm: all have taken their place on the national stage. And, in a lot of ways, this is positive. You will notice, however, that it’s female sexuality that continues to be discussed, misused, and examined. We still use men’s bodies as the definitive of how women’s bodies should react and respond to sex– yet, we fail to take into account such a standard is arbitrary.


When asked what ethical sex means, most people cite it as an act two of-age adults (usually straight) agree to engage in. Considering our acceptance of varying gender identities and new understandings in how pleasure actually works, this notion is outdated. Yet, we still operate under this term.

New York Magazine addresses our old definitions in their November issue, “Sex on Campus.” Touching on everything from random hookups, gender identity politics, and consensual sex, it brings to light a world long stuck in the private sphere. In “Why Consensual Sex Can Still Be Bad,” Rebecca Traister considers the term an ineffective measure of sexual pleasure. By using consensual as the metric of good sex, she says, a “vast expanse of bad sex — joyless, exploitative encounters that reflect a persistently sexist culture and can be hard to acknowledge without sounding prudish — has gone largely uninterrogated…” As a woman, I feel it is my obligation to have sex and enjoy it, all of it. Yet, that enjoyment seems to be inherent in our definition of consensual sex. The “yes” becomes a green-light for any matter of erotic behavior no matter how uncomfortable it makes a participant.  

Traister briefly addresses notions of ethical sex. Sex, by virtue of being consensual, does not mean it is ethical. I suggest we need to demarcate the differences between consensual sex and ethical sex; to believe they are interchangeable brings true pleasure to no one.

What is ethical sex? It is not a term meant to dictate who you sleep with or when you do it. Rather, ethical sex denotes treating all participating members as valued human beings. If you’ve been to college, hung out at a bar, or just watched reality TV, you know consensual sex does automatically mean good sex. In fact, sometimes we leave the bedroom with zero satisfaction and a vague sense of “that wasn’t right.” Or we feel nothing at all, which may be worse. Why we feel a certain way varies for all of us, but it is time to honor these emotions. It’s time, as Traister does in her article, to start the interrogation. We then need to implement changes to get the best bang for our buck (pun totally intended).

Sex has been reduced to a purely physical act as a consequence of operating from a platform of power. Usually, traditional power dynamics in a hookup situation suggest one partner is inferior– and why should you care how you treat someone “less” than you? For instance, I identify as a heteronormative female. In the space I operate in (working professional in a large city with an accepted hookup culture), women automatically consent to give up their bodies when they step into a man’s personal sphere. Many sexually active females find we only do what he wants when he wants to do it. Our sexual needs are only met if they do not screw up this power play.  

Sex as power is not inherently bad. In fact, when used ethically, it creates essential bonds in relationships. You know this. I know this. But, we often forget that we need to claim our own personal power to make sexual power beneficial for both partners.

Owning your personal capabilities allows you to voice your needs. It gives you the strength to say no or yes, and the clarity to know when. By becoming empowered, we do not need to find validation in others. We engage in sexual activity because it feels right for us. We proudly claim our sexual identity. Personal power is not ruled by emotions and physical desires. Instead, we learn how to answer to these needs by honoring ourselves and our partners.


Yet, how exactly do we go about claiming our personal power?

Here are four places you can start:

Give yourself permission to heal. Some of us have meaningless sex because we believe we’re meaningless. Ethical sex begins with you understanding you’re actually worthy of it. If you hold unresolved feelings from past sexual encounters, abuse, self-hate, or guilt, you’ll be unable to access your power. Counseling is one way you can heal. More alternate forms of therapy, including yoga, reiki, and meditation, are also beneficial. But, freeing yourself of this pain is only possible if you allow yourself the opportunity. You must be willing to deal with the pain and then be willing to let it go. 

Stop making decision based on fear. Are you afraid of seeing yourself as a sexual being or do you struggle with your sexual identity? Are you frightened of being alone?  When we are motivated by fear– of rejection, abandonment, of not being worthy of true love– we act from that space. Actions born of fear reduce our ability to navigate the external world in a way that capitalizes on our eternal goodness. Fear blocks our energies, clouds our judgement, and makes it impossible to honor ourselves and others.

Be brutally honest with yourself. Let’s be real: many consensual hookups are the result of excessive drinking. You may be a lady on the street but a freak in the bed once you get some wine in you. Or maybe you seek out sexual partners when you’re feeling bad about your body. Who do you surround yourself with? People who respect your sexual decisions or those who encourage behavior that doesn’t feel true to you? Recognize instances where you give your personal power away. And then…

Balance your chakras. The chakras, or energy centers in the body, are the source of your personal power. The second chakra, Svadhisthana (sacral plexus), is the heart of your sexuality and creativity, while the third chakra, Manipura (solar plexus) is the seat of your Power. Excessive of either leads to guilt and shame. Sexual disgust may mean your second chakra is weak. The inability to say no or create healthy boundaries is usually a result of a blocked third chakra. There are a variety of exercises you can do to bring balance to your energy system. Sound a little crazy? That’s okay. Check out Jennifer’s great explanation for more information.  

The bedroom is a complicated space. Some of us may be fine with having sex for sex’s sake. And that is okay. Yet, we are not strictly physical beings. Our souls and energetic bodies need more than physical stimulation to thrive. Saying “yes” doesn’t guarantee we’ll be satisfied, either corporeally or spiritually, which is why marking the difference between consensual and ethical sex is so important. Claiming your personal power is just the first step to having great sex. The rest, well…I’ll leave that up to you and your partner.

Also by Caitlyn: Self-Love: Why You Don’t Have to Earn Your Body

Related: 24 Best Foods that Boost Libido

What You Need to Know About Addyi, aka Female Viagra

Yoga for Balancing Your Sacral Plexus Chakra


Photo: Unsplash

As a proud Chicagoan, Caitlyn enjoys exploring her beautiful city on a motorcycle. She is a 200-hr certified yoga teacher and eats more hummus then is probably good for her. Follow Caitlyn on Instagram @caitlyn.gibson.


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