I started having sex late-ish (I was 24). Even then I didn’t hit the ground running. As an ex-Christian who had attended Catholic school, I had always been surrounded by guilt and the fear of damnation. So, sex never really happened for me. Plus, despite widespread information to the contrary, lots of men who are committed to Jesus aren’t big on sex before marriage, or even just making out. One ex freaked out after touching one of my breasts; over my t-shirt, no less. When I finally did get my sex life off the ground, I had a tricky relationship with my own physicality.

However, throughout my 20s, I became sure of one thing: I was a feminist. I’d known it before then. I told my high school sweetheart that I’d never change my name if I got married (he was shocked and appalled!). I continued to allow feminism to soak into every aspect of my life. But sex was the last aspect of my life to be shaped by my political viewpoint. Without realizing it, I deferred my sexual happiness for a really long time. I was inexperienced, and I did not know what to expect from sexual relationships. But when I finally took control of my own sexuality, it was a game changer. Here's how it happened. (Read: Feminists Have More Fun: A Sex Manifesto .)

How Sex Became My Feminist Statement

Now, I’m in my 30s. I have a chronic illness. I lost my ability to orgasm altogether for several months due to nerve damage. While losing orgasms is something that can happen to anyone, when a person has MS, it’s a little different. My body still performed the action of orgasm: my muscles contracted, but there was no rush to my head, no full-body release and no pleasure peak. That was terrifying, but it made me sure of one thing: I wanted to experience as much sex as I could, to cum as much as possible and to understand what a full sexual relationship with another human being felt like. I thought I was incredibly selfish for wanting this, but MS had taken so much from me; I didn’t want sex to be another thing I’d lost and could never get back.

It took a while, but sex became a feminist statement my body was making. Fully taking control of my own sexuality, for the first time in my life, was the ultimate sex-positive move. I completely agree that every person should have as much, or as little, sex as they want or need. And sometimes, sex is a need. I state this because I was told the opposite by a relationship therapist who specialized in MS, who firmly implied that sex wasn’t a necessity. Not all health professionals I spoke to had this point of view, but my takeaway from two sessions with this specialist was that as an individual with a disability, I was lucky to have support from anyone, and that sex could be given as a gift and would fade out soon enough anyway. I was told that I should re-frame and re-evaluate my wants and needs. But at 30, I wasn’t remotely ready to start bidding sex farewell. Not yet.

All relationships involve compromise, but my body had already compromised so much of itself, completing changing the possibilities my life once held. So when my orgasm came back (following daily masturbation, exercise, and god damn perseverance), I knew that I couldn’t compromise my sex life. This was my first step on the journey to being a sex-positive feminist.

Sex-Positivity Is an On-Going Process

Combining sex-positivity with feminism is an on-going process. It is something that’s continually worth striving to achieve. Why should a person demand any less for themselves during sex than they do in all other aspects of life? Why can’t sex be another means of personal expression? Of expressing feminist beliefs? (Learn more in 3 Steps to Sex Positivity.)

So much had to change in order for me to feel like the feminist I staunchly am in all areas of my life, including sex. For one, I had to stop begging for sex. I would no longer be defined by my lack of, or another person’s relationship to, the act of sex. The value of my body wouldn’t be prescribed a value according to another person’s opinion or gaze. I wouldn’t be told how I felt on the subject. I decided my thoughts and feelings mattered. Although this sounds simple, it really wasn’t simple at all.

I can’t blame Catholicism for everything. My ingrained sense of wrongdoing had flooded my sex life without me even realizing it. I had also forgotten to assert myself when it came to sex. While I have always asked for what I wanted to some extent, I used to take feedback from others about how I should be groomed, what I should wear in order to have sex, or even how I should ask to have it. Objectively, this is more than a little crazy to me now. I always thought that I refused to be told what to do. Yet, somewhere along the way, I let my sense of self be shaped by another person’s wants and desires. I allowed my own desires to be completely overridden. This was nobody’s fault but my own. A naivety I’d acquired from years of Sunday school and Bible teaching regarding sex meant I had never really known what to expect. A desperate need to maintain a so-called perfect relationship had driven me to persevere when it came to being the perfect partner.

My Body, My Choices

When having sex with a consensual partner, it can be fun to do specific things to please them. Whether's you're performing your partner's favorite sex act, wearing a costume, or honoring a request, it can be fun and good for your relationship to take your partner's wants, needs and desires into consideration. However, problems arise when any of these things is expected, and especially when not doing something that your partner wants draws criticism. Repeated criticism.

If I don’t want to shave ever again, that’s my choice. My body is mine. While I care about my partner’s needs and preferences, I refuse to be coerced, to only be rewarded with sex should all these requests be carried out. The way I dress shouldn’t influence whether or not someone wants to have sex with me. Complaints about my body, be it stubbly, untrimmed, or not dressed in sexy enough lingerie are unacceptable. If I want to wear sweat pants, every day, forever, because that makes me feel sexy, there is nothing wrong with doing that.

While certain things are totally OK to ask for in the bedroom – a level of cleanliness you’re comfortable with, a method of birth control that works for both partners, a willingness to change positions, try new things, or stop sex altogether in an instant – none of these is comparable to demands that infringe on a person’s sense of self. If you want a person to dress a certain way, alter their body, or stop expressing themselves when they desire sex if it’s inconvenient for you, you probably shouldn’t be in a sexual relationship with this person in the first place.

Sex-Positivity Takes Work

Sex-positivity takes work. It helps to find a partner who is open in their approach to sex and who wants you to be yourself. It’s of the utmost importance that you’re always completely comfortable when having sex. Feminism can be work too. Yet, in time, it becomes second nature. Value your body and yourself in all areas of your life. Demand equality. Refuse to settle. Your desires and wants are an intrinsic part of what makes you you, and it’s OK to own them.