"I want to be on top!" Whether or not you've uttered that string of words about your career or in the bedroom with your S.O., you know that a lot (and I mean a whole history's worth) of gendered baggage comes along with them. Sexy times are a-changing though. Now that research is recognizing the widening gap between sex and gender and people are waking up to pleasure quality (rather than things like duration or quantity) being the gold standard for all sexual activities, the question of which partner holds the power during hot-and-heavy time is becoming a bigger part of the dialogue—and not a gendered given. And Bethany C. Meyers, LGBTQ+ activist and founder of the be.come project, shared their thoughts about it at the February Well+Good TALKS in New York City, which focused on sex.
"I personally think that power dynamics are not necessarily specific to whether you're male, female, or nonbinary," Meyers, a panelist, said when an audience member, who identifies as nonbinary, asked how to handle shifting power dynamics in sex as a nonbinary person. Meyers elaborated that, in their opinion, the dynamic has way more to do with each individual's personality. "I'm really more of a dominant in my life in general, so when I'm with someone new in the bedroom that really comes through. I feel like that's my personality, and how I appear really doesn't play into it as much."
Tyomi Morgan, a sexpert with The National Coalition of Sexual Health (NCSH), confirms Meyer's personality > assigned-at-birth, gendered thesis. "Based on our programming, society, and everything, power dynamics are most definitely gendered. But when it comes down to how people express themselves, they don’t have to just fall into whatever category they’ve been told that they’re in," she says. Many people simply fall in line with a socialized, heteronormative power playbook, even if/when their own personal pleasure isn't covered in the table of contents.
"I personally think that power dynamics are not necessarily specific to whether you're male, female, or nonbinary." —Bethany C. Meyers, founder of the be.come project and LGBTQ+ Activist
Morgan adds that, in reality, subordinate/dominate relationships function in numerous ways that really have to do more with the structure of a person's career and lifestyle than how they identify. For example, a high-powered male, female, or nonbinary exec might value a partner who takes charge in the bedroom. Meanwhile, someone who has a, say, entry-level job might long for more control between the sheets. In short, the power you do or don't crave in the in your sex life can fill a need that's not being met in your everyday life (see: Anastasia Steele). Or, as in the case of Meyers, it can act as a continuous expression of your personality (see: Christian Grey).
Both Meyers and Morgan stress that your preferred dynamic may change from partner to partner—and even from season to season. So getting the action you truly desire is an ongoing, fully consensual convo with a. yourself and b. whomever you're doing the dirty with. Your gender doesn't get a say in whether or not you're literally or proverbially "on top"—unless you want it to.
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