After having been bogged down last week by a frenetic work schedule (not to mention the additional passing of a much-dreaded birthday, which may or may not have contributed to the current quest for “meaning”), I am grateful to be able to dedicate my time during this long Labor Day weekend to decidedly more forward-looking creative endeavors, this post chief among them. Although, composing my thoughts here was not without struggle. As with On Being a Work of Art, I found my mind continually returning to certain interrelated ideas without connecting them in what felt like a succinct, meaningful way. I was aiming for tidiness. Additionally, and perhaps more significantly, there was something in the realm of style that was bugging me. I drafted multiple introductions to this post, similar in style and structure to previous posts, and then promptly scrapped them. None of them felt fitting. Maybe I was being unjustly particular. Or, perhaps, my intuition was nudging me in a different direction.
What follows is a bit different from what I have done previously. It may be that I am revealing my shortcomings as a writer, but I find it severely, even unsuitably, limiting to delve into the nuances of sensuality—a subject so indeterminate, so diffuse, and profoundly visceral—without injecting my own creativity. In On Sensual Living, I found that writing a clean, descriptive, essay-like post about sensuality was useful and appropriate. I don’t feel that way here. This post would be starved for impact if it were presented in that manner. And impact is meaning. What you’ll find below reads more like an internal dialogue. It is an intimate record of my thoughts, imaginings, and curiosities on the connections I feel between my sensuality, my femininity, what it means to me to feel like a woman, and why I think erotica is an incredibly powerful tool for kindling those energies.
The idea for this post came to me last weekend, very appropriately while I was engaging in a sensual ritual of self-indulgence: a spa day (or, an attempt to mitigate the encroaching effects of aforementioned birthday). I found myself biding time between manicure and pedicure, perched on a balcony, sipping sparkling wine, and leafing through a copy of Anaïs Nin’s Henry and June—a book I consider required reading for anyone interested in the psychology of female eroticism—when I was struck by a thought: I derive a deep sense of enjoyment from both reading and writing erotica (much as I do from engaging in other forms of sensual ceremony)—and that enjoyment does not feel directly sexual. I would describe it instead as a sweeping, diffuse kind of arousal, a kindling of the senses, or the provocation of a more powerful life force. In some ways, it’s not unlike the gratification of writing an exceptionally powerful short story, poem, or essay on any topic, in which the writer feels his or her words melting from the page with pleasure and passion. For me, the difference between erotica and other forms of literature, regardless of its quality or magnitude, is that engaging with erotica, as either reader or writer, makes me feel like a woman. And I mean that in the most celebratory sense.
I don’t quite know how to define the state of feeling like a woman, but I know no better terminology for describing that smoldering indeterminacy of sensation, the state of feeling powerful, even lavish, in my feelings, those moments of feeling entirely sumptuous in my own skin. I wonder, am I too acutely aware of these feelings? I might be. Or, perhaps, it is simply the writer in me who is putting words to an experience that is shared by many. Either way, I wouldn’t forsake feeling like a woman for anything. It is too intimately tied to who I am. It is part of the best of who I am. To feel like a woman is an experience that it is firmly rooted in my sensuality, and to abandon it would mean a kind of death. The only lingering question I have is, “Why are we generally not taught that we are capable of experiencing this kind of fullness in our lives?”
I have decided that, for me, the true value of erotica lies not in its ability to stimulate me directly, much as porn stimulates a man, but in its ability to ignite a more diffuse and indirect power, which feels, at times, less sexual and more revelatory—my sensuality—to engage my sexual imagination, and to create that holistic, almost euphoric bodily sensation of feeling like a woman. I can’t believe I’m writing this. Do you know that the original title for this post was “On Feminine Sensuality and the Power of Erotica?” As I write these lines, that is still the title at the top of the page. It felt wrong from the outset, but it wasn’t until I decided to sit down and free write in a journal-entry-like format, to loosen the proverbial reigns on myself, that “On Feeling Like a Woman” came out. How weird.
Part of the reason for this shift in focus may be that I have an incredibly difficult time teasing apart the sensual, the sexual, and the powerful, or “charged,” aspects of my experience. I often equate moments of fevered sensuality with feeling too much, or too fully, a woman, as if kindling my senses somehow allows me to sink deeper into my femininity, to become, perhaps, too sensitive to its urgings, its infatuations, and its delights. To be sensual is to feel vibrantly and unabashedly sexy. And that’s a powerful thing.
Is it wrong that I enjoy stoking the flames of that energy as much as I do? Is it wrong that I seek to incorporate sexiness as an aesthetic, as a quality of my experience—of my life—and that, in doing so, I somehow feel more settled into myself, more at home in my own skin? Is that what sensuality is? Is the epitome of sensuality, for me, feeling like a woman, and wholly, mercilessly submitting myself to life? Is sensuality nothing more than a deep, bodily reverence for what is? Regardless, these states of which I speak bring me joy. And they bring great fullness to my life.
I have to ask myself, is that not what erotica is meant to do? What is erotica, if not the language of a body in love with life? Is that not the reason why writing erotica brings us joy—because it gives voice to that feeling, that intensity, the ecstasy that brims just beneath the surface of our being?
And yet, I cannot separate feeling like a woman from that intensity. I find that the subtleties of my sensuality are not easily delineated. There are times when my inner scientist would like to wrestle them apart, to give them definitions and distinct borders. But more often, the woman in me—the sexual being, the poet, the creator—derives unspeakable joy from sitting back and simply allowing them to be.