Auntie Starhawk’s Sex Advice for Troubled Times

Resist the Patriarchy: Have Good Sex!

All the #metoo posts and continual revelations of what women have always known and experienced about the ubiquity of sexual harassment and assault are tremendously important, empowering and liberating as they blow away the smokescreen that has obscured the truth of women’s lives. 

But in all the ferment that results, I hope we can remember that, while sexual assault is a Bad Thing, sex itself is a Good Thing!

The Bad is the assault part, the harassment, the rapes and quasi-rapes and coercion, the abuses of power—not sex. Sex is good! If we forget that, we sink deeper into the quicksands of life-denying, world-destroying patriarchy.

Life Force is Sexy

By sex I mean any way people come together in any combination that is mutual, consensual, pleasurable and life-affirming. Sex is life-force—whether that life becomes a new being or simply a reason for us older folks to enjoy living.  In earth-based Pagan spirituality, sex is a way of experiencing the Goddess (or any form of the divine you prefer) within—the pulsating, vibrating, untamed passion of life itself. 

That’s really, really different from misusing sex to display power, to humiliate, embarrass, possess or control another. 

We live in a pleasure-denigrating culture, steeped in old religious thought-forms and current economic conditioning that removes value from our embodied experiences of passion, ecstasy and connection in order to control and exploit us. Rape culture underlies patriarchy, and it’s the opposite of a life-embracing, loving and sex-loving culture. 

In our world, sex is also an arena of tremendous vulnerability and wounding. So, how is a sensitive person to proceed? How can we ever connect with potential partners-in-pleasure in a world that sometimes feels like a minefield of opportunities to inadvertently offend or injure someone? What should I do if I’m genuinely attracted to someone and want to pursue the possibilities?

Take Your Old Auntie Starhawk’s Advice

1.  Examine the power relationships

Are you this person’s boss, teacher, elder relation, spiritual leader, caregiver, casting agent, doctor, potential funder, or something like that?  Is there some power differential between you, beyond the variances of privilege that are always with us?  If so, I’m sorry, forget it.  If the attraction is a true one, it can wait until you extricate yourself from the power relationship, until the course is over or one of you moves to a different job.  Until then, there’s no way to have a truly consensual relationship—no matter how many attending physicians sleep with their interns on Grey’s Anatomy!

2. Examine the Situation

Are you both/all awake, conscious and capable of making clear decisions?  As in, not drugged, inebriated, in the midst of a mental health crisis, etc.  If the answer is no, stop and wait.

3.  Use your words  

A lot of sexual attraction proceeds from body language and subtle signals.  I was raised in the ‘50s, when women were taught not to be the aggressors, but to signal our willingness in subtle ways.  And our unwillingness, for that matter—not to slap Uncle Joe’s hand when it strayed to our thigh but to quietly move away and not spoil the party.  That worked great for abusers, not so great for most of us.  Plus men were never taught how to read those signals.  Some intuitively got it right—others read everything short of a sock to the jaw as a sign of attraction.

Happily, in these enlightened days, we are all free to ask directly, and that’s probably a good policy no matter how honed your intuition.  Saying something like:

“I’m feeling very attracted to you—are you interested?”

is not harassment, provided no other power differentials are in operation, and provided the object of your desire is truly free to say ‘no’. 

Talking doesn’t have to be a legal negotiation—it can be romantic and sexy, as in this (I hope, tantalizing) excerpt from my latest novel, City of Refuge, where a priestess of the Temple of Love initiates a former soldier into the mysteries of sacred sexuality:

She smiled back, her eyes teasing again. “Then let’s play a game. I’ll ask you for something, and then you can ask me. Either one of us can say ‘no’ at any time, or ‘yes.’ But I want you to describe in detail everything you want to do to me, and everything you want me to do to you. It will heighten the pleasure. Do you agree?”

“Give it a try.”

“Then ask me for something,” she breathed into his ear. “And say ‘I.’ Always say ‘I.’”

“Can I kiss you again?” he whispered softly.


Kissing. They had never bothered with such preliminaries in the rec room. But he liked it. His lips touched hers, his daring tongue sought the cave of her mouth, a foretaste of that deeper cave.

After a long moment, she pulled back and in a husky voice asked him, “Will you caress my nipple with your fingers, through my gown?”

They played a duet of request and fulfillment.

“Kiss you one more time? With your eyes open?”

“And now unbutton my gown, if you will, and do the same on my bare flesh … please …”

“And can I touch your ass?”

“And would you now stroke the fringes of the flower …”

The game went on for hours. The sun went down, and Lilith drew him inside, into a candle-lit chamber with a big, soft bed in the middle and mirrors on the walls. River found that the talking and describing slowed their lovemaking to a maddening pace. But then he relaxed into it, and began to enjoy it. He experienced everything twice, once in the describing, once in the doing.

Until finally she asked him, “May I prepare your shaft to enter the chamber?”

“Oh yes!”

She slipped a condom over him, stroking him as she did, and murmuring what sounded like a prayer: “I place this here as a sign of our deepest love and respect for the great powers that generate life. I place this to honor the act we are about to do with reverence and care for one another, for our health and safety. All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals!”

She drew him into her. Their eyes locked.

“Now, no more talking,” she said. “No more need to ask. I am yours. You are mine.”

4. Use protection  

Condoms or other barrier protection if STDs are an issue, birth control if a pregnancy is possible and unwanted.  Incorporate them into sex play if they seem too clinical—you’re an imaginative being and I’m sure you can figure out how.

5.  Bad sex happens  

Even when it’s all consensual, sometimes the fireworks just fizzle.  You don’t share the same tastes or get into the same rhythm.  Sometimes, especially in long relationships, you may respond more out of accommodation than overwhelming passion:  “My partner is eager, I’m frankly more into reading a book and going to sleep, but I enjoy pleasing them and I know I’ll get into it once we start.”  Life is full of ambiguities.  Leave room for them.  Relationships are fraught with imperfections and disappointments,  but we’re humans, and working through those things is how we embrace the wonderful depths and richness of other humans.  For undying, unflagging devotion—get a dog!

6.  The Most Important Thing

Treat your partners with consideration and respect. That’s really what it all comes down to, isn’t it? That goes for how you talk about the incident afterwards as well as what you do and say before and during. You don’t have to pledge undying love or get married. Sex can be many things—the glue that holds together a life-long commitment, or a fleeting interlude of ecstasy, or everything in between. But you do have to honor and respect your partners, speak well of them, keep the boundaries that allow for true intimacy and speak the truths that make for real connection.

Follow these simple guidelines, and maybe we can create a culture that encourages pleasure, joy, and true romance between empowered, lusty, passionate, life-loving beings adoring and pleasing one another in a world where all of life can thrive.

2 comments to Auntie Starhawk’s Sex Advice for Troubled Times

  • Paul Beswick

    Wise and encouraging words! Wouldn’t expect anything less, but thanks for being so enlightening…

    Blessings, as ever x

  • Sulyn Cedar

    Great advice Auntie Star,,,,thank you for always speaking from ‘da heart and soul…may we dance and sing together again in a circle on Vancouver Island……one of these good days }}}}}}}}}}}}}

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