Since it’s Strong and Sexy Week here at Lady Smut celebrating Elizabeth Safleur’s brand new release The White House Gets a Spanking, I want to explore something I think is vital for everyone, and especially women, when it comes to gaining strength and power: sexual knowledge. I don’t just mean sexual activity with other people, although that can be part of how we learn about ourselves, or sex education, which is woefully lacking in so many parts of the United States. Rather, I mean understanding our own internal sexual selves, what turns us on, what doesn’t, what we want from our sexuality, and how we will get it. After all, how can we exert our sexual power if we don’t know what we want?
There have been times when I’ve looked back on my sexual history and thought, Why did I do that? That was such a dumb decision. Things like chasing after someone who was clearly not interested in me (I did this on more than one occasion), or hooking up with a guy just because I was enamored that he’d been a contestant on Top Chef, or cheating on my girlfriend, which still haunts me to this day even though we’re now friends. I could go on, because I’ve had lots of sexual experiences that in retrospect seem pointless, but all of them taught me things about myself, which to me means power. Why? Because that past helps guide me in my current life and relationship. They made me more powerful when it came to erotic decision making because I knew what situations I didn’t want to repeat. I was able to be more assertive with future partners based on that collective information.
In my personal life, sexual trial and error has taught me so much about myself. For instance,, even though I’m generally more submissive than dominant in my sex life (though I struggle to be assertive in my non-sexual life), the times I’ve been with a partner who wanted me to dominate them have been some of the hottest of my life. I learned how to step into that role, showed myself and my partners that I was capable of it, and even enjoyed it. Aside from the specifics of domination and power, simply knowing that I got off on something I wouldn’t have expected has informed my outlook on life and on my own sexual personality.
That’s the kind of sexual knowledge you can’t really glean in the abstract, although sometimes it can come from talking about sex, which is precisely the situation in the excellent new novel Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.
I finished this book recently and loved it. It’s not erotica per se, but about erotic storytelling and how, for the title group of widows who join a London English class taught by protagonist Nikki, sharing these sexual fantasies unlocks a very special kind of power. Jaswal does a wonderful job focusing on women who’ve largely been forgotten by society. They’re widows, and elderly, so are viewed as sexless, yet they are far, far from being over desire. In fact, once they’re given this opportunity to freely explore their most shameless urges, they go wild with it. The class was originally meant to teach them how to read and write in English, which isn’t their native language, but what they consider more pressing is unburdening themselves of all the ways their culture has kept sexual knowledge from them. They take turns sharing their erotic stories and quizzing each other about the origins, in the process learning about the kinds of secrets we all keep buried behind closed doors.
Kulwinder, Nikki’s boss, who’s initially against the idea of the women under her indirect supervision discussing sex so openly, finds that the stories have worked their way into her mind and affected her marriage to her husband, which has been largely distant since the untimely and violent death of their daughter. Yet when she reaches out to him for intimacy, he responds, leading to a wild night when she wakes up naked in bed, shocked at herself.
She closed her eyes in embarrassment. Oh what have we done? she thought. Behaving like goreh, getting carried away in their excitement. They had wrapped themselves around each other last night like giddy lovers, moving up and down, left and right, twisting even. Where had it come from? The stories had provided no instructions, but they had known anyway how to bring each other to such heat. The thought of it sent shocks through Kulwinder’s body and then she was overcome by a wave of shame.
She was startled by the question, uttered so clearly that it broke the silence in the room. Why was she ashamed? Because she was supposed to be; because women, especially her age, did not ask for these sorts of pleasures. She blushed, thinking of the uninhibited moans that escaped her mouth – from every part of her body it seemed – as she drew Sarab in closer and closer. What if the neighbors heard? It had not even occurred to her last night.
For me, this was one of the most moving passages of the novel, highlighting how once our sexual knowledge has taken hold, it can’t be tucked away as if it doesn’t exist. It can’t be ignored and, for Kulwinder, and many women, it forces us to stand up to the often sexist and shaming cultural notions we’re offered about what’s “proper” for women. I’d venture to say that every woman has butted up against those notions at some point in her life, whether about how she dresses, what she’s done sexually, her “number,” or how she’s perceived to have behaved sexually.
The widows in the book share fantasies about sex with their husbands, with other men, with women, with sex toys. And even women outside the circle of widows find that once this Pandora’s box of erotic tales has been opened, it can’t be contained. There’s a reason these stories spread like wildfire, especially from a population that’s clearly been starved for just such carnal knowledge: they are finally coming in to their power, their autonomy, their voices.
I consider this a lesson all of us can learn from, whether we intimately share the details of our sex lives with one another or simply remain open ourselves to what’s truly in our hearts. Sexual knowledge can be unnerving, scary and dangerous; it can throw us off from a course we assumed was our destiny. It can put us on a collision course with what we’ve expected for ourselves, or what others have come to expect of us. It can be far easier to ignore what we know about our sexuality in favor of making nice or compatibility or respectability or any number of other reasons. But I’d argue that there are far greater rewards than negatives for pursuing our sexual power, for learning more about ourselves rather than less. Not only can it be enlightening and arousing, but also the better we know our own sexuality, the more empathy we can give to others who may take a different approach. That’s what happens in the book, as the widows are confronted by their peers’ experiences that clash with theirs. Yet ultimately, through discussion and exploration, they come to understand each other far better than they did when they were keeping their sexual secrets under wraps.
For lots of erotic knowledge and a strong heroine, be sure to check out hot off the press Washington, DC sexy femdom erotic novel The White House Gets a Spanking by Elizabeth SaFleur! It’s on sale today for the launch price of 99 cents. You don’t want to miss it!
Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.