I am preparing for a webinar this week and my topic is how sexual agency shows up in our workplace. At first glance, it may seem unrelated but it isn’t. Our sexuality and our sexual agency is with us in every context, every minute, every relationship. I’ve also been asked lately what ‘empowered’ means with my work. Combining the two has been fun. It is such a juicy topic that I wanted to share it with you.
I’ve mentioned before that when people get in touch with their sexuality and really harness the energy this brings forth, the confidence and learned skill-set permeates into all areas of their lives. I am serious when I say this. I’ve seen my students ace tests on material that vexed them because they felt empowered to take action and take charge of their studying. They were less shy and passive and asked for tutoring. They had more energy to study and more creativity to put forth into their work – all because they were doing the work in their sexual lives.
I’ve seen employees take flight in business meetings because they have something new about them that lights up energy to those around them. They close deals. They nail a presentation. They get the raise. They change lives.
They are happier. More hopeful. Their creative juices are flowing and their energy is contagious to others.
I am not bullshitting you. This is all true.
But. . . why? It depends on your belief system.
Do you believe that sexual energy is in your second chakra and related to creativity? If so, you’d believe that this means sexual and creative energies have a synergetic relationship. If you feed one, the other is raised as well. Higher vibrations. This translates to work creativity, which often leads to positive things in the work place transpiring. Good sexual energy=good creative energy=good stuff happening at work.
Perhaps that is too ‘woo woo’ for you and you believe more in biology. Although sexual agency is not directly correlated with sexual behavior occurring, some times when someone feels a strengthened sexual agency they are experiencing more sexual pleasure-partnered, solo, or both. In some of these circumstances, pleasure and orgasm may also happen. The trifecta of hormonal help with orgasm is the release of oxytocin which lowers cortisol (main stress hormone), feels good on its own and brings forth feelings of happiness and can raise levels of testosterone. All these things rock. When you have reduced stress hormones, feel generally happy and have a shot of testosterone, you have an opportunity for production increase, relationship connections, and desire for communication and creativity. Good hormonal situation=good energy=good stuff happening at work.
Maybe you fall somewhere in between – Law of attraction. People notice you are happy, confident and producing some amazing things and want to be around you. They want to contribute to your work and see you in a more positive light. They crave whatever you have. You feel more positive and you are bringing more positive things to you.
But the formula isn’t all roses and puppies. It also isn’t a guarantee. It takes work and consistency. It takes faith and strength and a change of mindset.
It is also complicated. There are times when sexual agency in the workplace is hard or hurtful or at the least negative.
I’m going to describe a very quick moment that happened to me in a place of work and sift through the confusing and conflicting reactions to it and show you how I used it to influence my sexuality and sexual agency moving forward.
I was second in command in an office setting. My boss was a man. We had a pretty easy rapport. Absolutely nothing sexual between us. No flirting, no weirdness, no tension. Platonic and professional. I do not exaggerate this—others made comments or asked questions because we worked closely together but I felt fantastic that I never had to worry about him hitting on me or feeling tempted myself. There was no sexual tension between us. None that I was aware of.
I was in a good place in my life. Happy in my relationship, confident in my skin, liking my work, excited about my future. I felt like I had great sexual agency, thriving in my sexuality and confidence and my job opportunities were taking off. Life was good.
Due to some changes in my family, I needed to step down from my position at work and shift into a part time situation elsewhere. Our office had a tradition of send-offs and I tailored mine to fit my personality. Office Olympics. It was a blast. My boss didn’t give me a send off toast or thank you at the conclusion of it. We finished the games, laughed, did individual goodbyes and hugs and it ended. I was a bit surprised to not have even a two minute group goodbye but it really wasn’t his personality so I didn’t make too much of it. I started packing the rest of my belongings and finished up preparing my replacement.
In my final hour, he took me aside and asked if we could talk privately and ushered me away from the group. His demeanor was happy and cheerful. Oh, I thought ‘here is the thank you, you’ve done so much and will be missed’ talk. That seemed more his style-private and reflective and not attention seeking. So we walked outside.
We could be seen by other office people but not heard.
He looked at me and said he wanted to tell me something. I nodded and waited. He said “I had a sexual dream about you last night”.
[cue screeching tires] . . . Wait. What??
I just shook my head. What? It was like in a movie when the girl thinks her boyfriend is proposing but he is just asking her to go on a trip but it doesn’t compute so she still cries and says ‘yes’ because she was so sure of what he was going to say.
I was so sure he was taking me aside to thank me. I had done good work there. I had done a lot for him. It would have been like him to thank me. But he didn’t.
I was silent and waiting for the punch line or joke. I was known back then for being the sex expert on campus so I thought maybe this out-of-the-blue statement was his attempt to be funny because of that.
“Do you want me to tell you about it?”
I snapped into reality and realized he was serious.
I wanted to run and I really wanted out of the situation. I laughed a weird laugh and got all splotchy and did a “Oh, stop it silly” kind-of utterance and walked back in the office. I went into my private office, packed up my remaining things, said a few final goodbyes and drove away.
I never heard from him again.
When I drove home, I began processing what happened. And I cried and cried.
I cried because I didn’t get that thank you, I cried because he ended our professional relationship on something so bizarre, I cried because I didn’t say anything back or call him out, I cried because I wondered if I had been blind all along, I cried because I knew I would really miss working and was afraid I’d made a mistake quitting, I cried because I knew I was too afraid to say anything and I cried because once again I felt powerless and fled instead of standing my ground.
And this all happened based on one sentence to a woman who felt very empowered, confident and happy at the time.
Over the days and weeks that passed, I thought about it a lot. I thought about my reaction a lot. I know women who would have known exactly what to say at that moment. I know women who would have filed a harassment suit against him. I know women who would have put him in his place or said something clever and pithy.
But not me. I froze. I laughed some insane sounding laugh and got splotchy. And then I felt sorry for myself and cried.
But I’m curious about all of it.
I had a slew of questions. This is just a small sampling.
Why did he say it? Why then? What did he expect to happen? What did he want? Was he trying to hit on me? Just inform me and think I’d be flattered? Was he attracted to me after all and I missed it?
What power did I have in that moment? And afterwards? Where was my voice in this situation? Why did I freeze and what was that hyena laugh all about?
Was it really that bad? What does it mean he had a sexual dream about me? Who cares? Is that sexual harassment? I was an hour away from not working there anymore. Would I have felt that same way if a woman had said that to me? Or a staff peer instead of a boss? If he had given a glowing toast publically and then said that to me privately, would it have felt differently to me? If he had said anything nice before saying that or said anything afterwards, would it have felt differently?
It felt more complicated because I knew that being someone who talked about sex and sexuality a lot for my profession made some people think differently of me. Assumptions came along with it, for most, people were much more comfortable saying things to me that they would never say to other people because they knew I would not judge them. Maybe that’s what this was? A last chance to open up to me but in a non-sexual way about something sexual? Or did he think that I would want this because I talk about sexuality?
Had I really been that blind? I can pass a lie detector and say I never once felt anything awkward sexually with him. Never felt like he had anything for me. Never felt like I needed to be careful or on guard.
Was I being sensitive or thin skinned or was I being naïve and afraid? Was I being too timid and why hadn’t I filed a complaint?
I had never had someone say that to me before like that. He didn’t say it like ‘It was so hot and now we have to act the fantasy out.’ It was more matter of fact. But that was him. He was very matter-of-fact. I’ve been hit on, I’ve been told about sexual dreams from guys I was dating but they were more playful and the context made more sense. But a married man in a professional setting who was my boss but only for one more hour?
What is the line between a socially awkward misfire and sexual harassment?
I knew he valued my work and knew I was wrapping a lot into that one sentence. But why? Lots of ‘why’s’. It all felt complicated.
I judged myself a lot for that one sentence.
And then it hit me.
I judged me. For his decision.
Oh hell no! I wasn’t going to do that. What happened to that empowered, happy woman?
I’ll never know what his motive was but what I did know was that that statement wasn’t the culmination of my worth or my work value. I knew that I was taken off guard and that isn’t my strong suit. I knew I wasn’t a woman who was going to create a scene. I knew I was a woman who would feel hurt by that kind of situation. And I knew that was okay and didn’t mean I wasn’t empowered. It didn’t mean I needed to shut down or stop shining or I brought it on or anything like that.
He said it. I reacted. It was done.
What he said was about him. The meaning I made of it was about me.
I choose to have a symbolic burial for the woman who became paralyzed during that incident.
She wasn’t bad or wrong but she knew more things now. She had more of a voice. Although I’m still not great at coming up with things to say when I’m blindsided, I know how to set a boundary without a huge dramatic flourish. I’ve had some practice.
That woman had been through a lot harder things than that incident and this was really just a reminder to reflect and grow.
I don’t know exactly what the changed woman would do now if it happened at this juncture in my life but I do have a different relationship with empowerment now.
If you were in that situation I described, I bet you’d have some of the same questions but also different ones. You’d have a different perspective, a different visual reaction and your meaning making afterwards would be unique. You also probably have different ideas of why he did or what could have been done about it. You may identify more with him and than me in that situation. 1000+ experiences join every human interaction. Every. One.
So this is how I would like to handle it with who I am, what I’ve learned and who I am growing into today:
“I had a sexual dream about you last night.”
“What ‘Ken’?” with a tone of calm detachment.
He gives me his answer. Or he doesn’t.
I respond “We’ve been great colleagues and good friends for years. This is the last hour I’m working here. It doesn’t feel good to have you end our working relationship and my time here on something personally sexual.”.
And that’s it.
This fits my sexual agency and my values. I want to be a woman who can set a boundary, can speak my mind but does so in a way that doesn’t take his decisions personally. I don’t want to freeze. I don’t want to swallow my feelings. I want to sit in them, aware. I want to share them, calmly. I want to walk away, with dignity. And then I want to move into my life without spiraling to a place of self-incrimination, self-doubt or anger.
My scripted response won’t be yours. Your best sexual agency guiding system may be to use pointed language or file a complaint against him. Your journey may guide you to respond with something humorous or want to hear the details of his dream.
It really isn’t about the WHAT but the WHY. Self-reflection, questions, probing combine to help you strengthen your skills along your journey.
We grow. We change. We learn. Sometimes we have set backs. Sometimes our heartbreaks and we protect ourselves. Sometimes we open ourselves up after trauma. Or after a great relationship or experience. We do the best we can. But we must keep growing and learning and doing the best as we know it to be.
And the truth is Ken has his own journey too. He had his reasons, his meaning of it and his thoughts of my reaction to his statement.
Human interactions are complicated. We bring a 1000+experiences, relationships, pain, joy, hopes and fears to every conversation and interaction we have with each other. We can’t always get it right. We don’t always have the full story. Focus on you and your journey.
I’ve learned being an empowered woman doesn’t look the same for each person. I’ve learned that sexual agency in the workplace can bring forth great things and it can attract weird things. Sexual attraction, sexuality, sex can influence people to do crazy, awkward, weird things. It also influences how we interpret things too.
How does ‘being empowered’ look in real lives? In your life?
I want to know how sexual agency shows up in YOUR inner world. And I want you excited about the journey you are on with finding the beauty of sexual agency in your world.