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Sexual autonomy means someone’s prerogative to determine when, with whom, and under what circumstances they engage in sexual activity; to only engage in sexual activity to which they consent.

Sexual autonomy is conceived of as a “bundle” of prima facie rights organized around the idea of securing for the holder various forms of sexual self-determination. Sexual autonomy is violated either when a person is subjected to nonconsensual sex (usually by another individual) or when a person is prevented from engaging in consensual sex (typically by operation of law).

People can have an opinion about what we should do and what our sexuality should look like. We receive messages from family, friends, and society at large. The "should" run rampant and leave us questioning what we want and why.

Female sexuality is taboo and often women struggle more than men with expressing and getting what they want and what feels good. When studying hook-ups specifically, the data indicate that women experience a ‘pleasure gap'. Society encourages men to be active in sex, and so men tend to experience more pleasure during hookups than women do.

The seeds of a sexually autonomous approach are sown when you begin to see consent as a dynamic process, instead of as a hurdle to overcome. Sexual empowerment is born from us giving ourselves over to pleasure willingly. Sexual autonomy is about the right to make decisions over one’s own life and future. It is about being empowered to make informed choices. These are universal values.

Sexual autonomy isn’t a matter of choice or willpower in the essential sense. Instead, sexual autonomy is a skill you build up over time.

As a sexually autonomous person, you build a mastery of who you are and you see yourself as someone that directs your own life. Instead of just going along with sexual interactions, due to peer pressure or social expectations, you enter into sexual interactions out of your own doing. You do it for yourself by directing yourself towards that activity. You actively understand the choices you have and engage because you genuinely want to because that desire is a part of who you are.

Several skills contribute to building and strengthening sexual autonomy over time such as :

* Context

* Communication

* Introspection

* Analytical reasoning

* Self-nurturing

* Self-reliance

* Asking for help

* Negotiating risk

* Pursuing pleasure

* Setting boundaries and accepting the boundaries of others

* Emotional intelligence.

Any qualities that cultivate self-reliance are valuable ones to add to your sexual autonomy practice.

When going on a date it’s important to create boundaries around what you are comfortable with. Communicate your limits and desires to your date, and see how it plays out. This honesty can open up the conversation and allow your date to feel comfortable doing the same thing. That way, if something does happen, it’s happening because you both want it to.

Your body is a compass and can support you on the journey of cultivating sexual autonomy. Sexuality is much larger than we think, and it’s greatly influenced by the expectations we place on ourselves. When we grow up being told how we must be in order to be loved, we react unconsciously to these messages. To build sexual autonomy, it’s important to differentiate between wanting to engage out of desire and doing what you’ve been told is best. Keep your eyes peeled for the "should" and work on cultivating a practice that focuses less on expectations and more on what feels right.

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