2018 was declared “Year of the Woman.” In the age of #MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious nomination, what does it mean to be a sexually empowered woman in college? August McLaughlin, a nationally recognized health and sexuality writer, media personality, and creator of the female sexual empowerment brand Girl Boner had plenty to say on the topic. Her recently published book Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment delves into subjects such as sexual empowerment, masturbation, birth control, and hookup culture.

The definition of sexual empowerment evolves with feminist theory, but one definition allows the individual to decide — it’s taking ownership over your sexual life, on your own terms, for your own pleasure, whatever that looks like to you. In a world where female sexuality is used to sell everything from sex toys to soap, discussions of heterosexual female pleasure and empowerment are often brushed under the rug. Heterosexual hookup culture tends to ignore this as well.

For women at Penn, hooking up does not always mean sexual empowerment. August provides her opinion on casual sex, saying that it “can provide an empowering way to get to know your body and explore sexually, if you go about it safely and respectfully." She says, "Some women feel more ashamed after casual sex than men, but that’s largely due to societal messaging or values we’ve been taught—that ‘good girls’ don’t sleep around. I don’t believe that shame is innate.”

Societal views on sex also means that sexual pleasure is not seen as a priority for women as it is for men. This “pleasure imbalance” between men and women isn’t due to womens’ “complex biology” or the “elusive nature” of the female orgasm. One landmark study found that when masturbating, 95% of women reach orgasm easily and within minutes. The issue for many women is that penetration alone cannot bring them to climax. 

However, women can feel pressured to fake their satisfaction and prioritize the man's pleasure instead. Just think of the "I'll have what she's having" scene in When Harry Met Sally. The orgasm gap is even higher in casual sex than relationships, where even fewer women report finishing from a one night stand.

Sexual empowerment isn’t only about pleasure, though. Sexual empowerment means having your sexual boundaries respected. Sexual empowerment and birth control aren’t always discussed together but the two are intrinsically linked. Too often the burden of pregnancy and STD prevention falls solely on the woman. Not to mention, the pressure women sometimes face to forgo condoms at the man's request, often for his own pleasure. 

Even less discussed is masturbation, generally a culturally taboo topic for women. August brings this issue to light in her book and says, “You don’t need a man for pleasure, you can do that on your own. However, many women aren’t encouraged to do so. I didn’t start masturbating till I was in my 30s.”

While Girl Boner attempts to clear the murky waters surrounding female sexual agency, August emphasizes that to not engage in sex is also a viable option for women.

“It’s also really important to realize that it’s 100 percent fine not to engage in casual sex, or sex at all, regardless of your gender. College years tend to be a very stressful time, and stress is a leading libido tanker. It’s okay to not desire it or to want to wait for that special someone,” says August.  

August’s candidness offers a refreshing perspective to issues that are pertinent for all women in college to understand, whether or not they are sexually active. Check out Girl Boner for more.