We all grow up with one image of sexual confidence: someone hot, someone bold, someone who knows how to make a move and who has a lot of NSA sex (bole toh James Bond bhaya). But, like most stereotypes, it is true for barely a few. We asked people what sexual confidence meant to them and her is our top learning: if your sexual confidence tends to fluctuate, changing with time and with partners, if it doesn’t look anything like that stereotype but manifests in quite different ways, then, agents, you are not alone!(Some names are changed, for privacy).PUTTING THE “I” IN CONFIDENCEMaria, 27 – Female, Heterosexual – I think my first encounter with sexual confidence was when I was seeing this guy and he was a lot more experienced than I was. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and whatever I was doing was not really effective or turning him on. I felt really awkward and nervous, and obviously, I think I couldn’t perform very well. But I remember that after I had this experience, I texted a previous fling and told him I felt like I didn’t know anything and that I really needed more experience. He just laughed it off and said if you’re feeling bad about something that is happening sexually, then the onus of that might partly be on you, but mostly on your partner, because your partner is supposed to make you feel good and confident. That’s what helps you explore your body better. Before, I would look to my partner for validation of whether I was good or not, whether I was doing well or not. I wanted to make my partner feel good, and learn how they like it. But sex also became about me, what I like and what I am willing to explore within my body. It was only then that I became comfortable asking for something I want, or even feeling comfortable being naked in front of my partner. I really think that apart from your partner, you have to bring about that confidence from within yourself, otherwise sex won’t be fun for you, and sex should be fun.DRESSED FOR SUCCESSMia Wallace, 23 – Female, Bisexual – Sometimes I feel very confident, sometimes I don't. One of the ways I feel confident is in the way I dress up. I am an enby (a person who identifies their gender as non-binary), so there are times when I dress up like a girl and I feel sexy and beautiful. Similarly, when I dress up like a guy, I feel the same way. I also feel confident when someone appreciates any side of mine – feminine or masculine. There are times when I find it difficult to even get out of bed and do basic chores. It is either depression or anxiety or past trauma that make me hate my sexuality (and feel less sexually confident).SWEET SPOT OF SENSITIVITYAnkita, 24 – Female, Heterosexual – First of all I'm still a virgin, so the question is difficult to answer. However, I believe that a sexually confident person would be someone who knows what they want or don't want in their sexual lives, is positive about their bodies but at the same time understanding and sensitive about the needs of their partners too. When it comes to me, sexual confidence will arrive when I start to love and accept my body as it is. When factors like extra flab, dark areas and body hair will stop bothering me. If I am comfortable with the person, then I would definitely feel sexually confident with them.NOT AN EXAMINATION, AN EXPLORATIONMidnight, 26 – Genderqueer, Fluid sexual orientation – When I think of sexual confidence, I think of my most extroverted and flirtatious friends. I feel like I am quite a private person, and I go through phases of feeling comfortable and uncomfortable with intimacy and my own body. The first few times I explored sexually intimacy, it felt like I was writing an exam in my head to qualify as sexually competent or normal and smooth. It felt like a really public affair (even though not literally). A few years later, when I met a partner who introduced me to kinky sex, I found that what I enjoyed in sex was being weird, awkward and abnormal when I am intimate with someone else. I think this discovery made me more sexually confident than before, and I could actually enjoy sex without any public definition in mind. My sexual confidence does vary with the many phases my body and mind go through, but sexual confidence isn’t one last end goal. For me, it is many small realisations. TERE MERE BEECH MEINAnicca, 35 – Mostly straight, sometimes queer. He/Him – I like to talk about sex with possible partners and also friends. Being disabled and chronically ill, my idea of sex sometimes differs from the normative, the usual definitions. For me, talking about sex is part of accepting my own body. So, yes, in that way I am sexually confident person. When I don't know the person well and if they seem to carry very normative ideas and expectations of sex, I don’t feel confident. With them, I find it difficult to open up. This may be due to rejections of the past and also the fear of not being able to fit into normative sexual imagination and ideas of attraction because of chronic illness.FULL MEALS SEXUAL CONFIDENCE KISamar, 44 – Male, Gay – I am a sexually confident person. Many things contribute to this. One is knowing that many boys and women get sexually attracted to me. Another situation is when I actually date some of these boys. Both, in an outside environment as a social date and inside a closed room in a sexual encounter. When the chemistry is felt, if I see a reciprocal expression in the other person's eyes, if I observe a certain physical proximity with a bit of tension, or if there is an overt verbal expression or flirting, I feel confident. My own personal hygiene also enhances my confidence. During the act, if I am able to perform to my own and my partner’s satisfaction, I feel sexually confident. Finally, if the person keeps in touch and shows an inclination to meet again, I feel confident. I don't feel sexually confident when I get rejected. If the sexual act gets boring or I lose interest midway for any reason or if the other person insists on something which I already clarified I am uncomfortable with, my confidence drops. But I feel sexually not-confident only when I am invested in the person or the moment.SPACE OF ACEValarie, 26 – Genderqueer, Grayace – Right now, I don’t feel I'm sexually confident. I think one part of sexual confidence is definitely feeling like I'm somewhat comfortable in my own body. And maybe a lot of that will come through and develop from having the space to actually explore/experiment even with oneself, let alone being partnered, without the feeling of drowning in shame. I would feel sexually confident, when I’m able to be and do what I want without shame. It obviously doesn't happen overnight, especially in our society. But I also think sometimes the question of sexual confidence is filled with - “Please have sex! Have all the sex! ”etc. As someone on the ace spectrum, I feel like there's no space to be like, “Hey, for me sexual confidence is saying that I'm not always interested in doing it.” FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT?Noi, 25 – She/her, Heterosexual, Cis-woman – I don’t feel very confident sexually, although I may have come across as confident to others at times. That's only because the other person couldn't hear the loud screaming inside my head that kept going - "Confidence is sexy so fake it!!" Despite denouncing the beauty standards set for women, especially about body hair, I have internalised it to an extent. I have to shave my legs and arms before even considering a sexual encounter. This is probably why a spontaneous hook-up seems unlikely for me.MY BODY, MY BUDDYSam, 24 – Cis-female, Heterosexual – Growing up, listening to the girls in my class ridicule other girls and lust over boys, my more voluptuous female classmates made me (in equal parts) be glad for and dislike my skinny self. As a teen, this made me believe that I had to be a lot more sexually suggestive, compared to other girls, to get any male attention. I'm gradually coming around to love my body. This process has made being with and enjoying myself with a partner so much better. To me, being sexually confident equals being comfortable in your own body and with oneself.YOU & ME, WITHOUT KABAB MEIN JUDGEMENT-HADDIAryan, 34 – Queer, Transman – I think I have a lot of answers to that (sexual confidence), because there are different meanings to sex. So, I feel I am confident in making out with people who understand what trans-ness is. When I went through dysphoria (feeling a discomfort because of the gap between the gender you identify with and the sex that gets assigned at birth) sexual confidence was difficult for me, but after dysphoria it was better. But otherwise, with flirting and all, I am super confident. Now I can say what I want to.I think sexual confidence could actually mean how comfortable you can be and how comfortable you can make the other person feel. All of this with consent, of course. It is not just internal. There is so much more, you know. Good non-verbal communication, knowing that not everything is about being sexual in a physical way. All of this makes me feel more healthy and safer. I think this is good confidence for me.There are a lot of moments when I am not sexually confident. While talking about desires, you know, when it comes to trans bodies, people tend to judge you a lot. When we say judging, people think about transmen’s sexuality like they imagine heterosexual working women. That’s not true. So, I feel people assume what your desire would be, what your sexuality would be. It makes me feel extremely judged and more unconfident to have a conversation about who I am and what I like, what my pleasure points are, what is erotic for me. Many times, when this awareness is missing, it becomes very difficult for me, that is one thing.Another thing I feel is that besides the other person’s awareness or their understanding of me, I think I also internalise this feeling of being judged. When it comes to kink, BDSM or other stuff, some people describe sexual acts that they want to be part of. Earlier, I used to find it harder to explain to them that being trans does not automatically translate to also being kinky. But now I’m lucky that I don’t have that much difficulty in speaking my mind.COMFORT + CONSENT = CONFIDENCEMalini, 27 – Bi, She/her, Cis-woman – I think what defines my sexual confidence is ultimately honesty and comfort. I’m communicative in bed, and I try to enjoy myself while negotiating my partner’s desires. I’m also very willing to try new things, provided they’re safe, and after some research. Informed consent is very important to me, especially when exploring my or my partner’s preferences and kinks. I do like pushing my own boundaries occasionally, but only after a mutually comfortable environment has been created.When I started being sexually active, I used to define my desires very much according to my partner. But over the years, I’ve grown to embrace what my own body is telling me or asking for. I’ve come to embrace that I’m bisexual, and I talk about it openly with my friends. I have a very supportive network of people, particularly women, with whom I can share my doubts and questions. I feel like we’ve all learnt a lot from each other. I’ve also grown to like my own body more. I take pleasure in the small things that provide me pleasure, even when I’m not around a partner.My experiences of assault and sexual violation have made me wary of situations. I have been in certain sexual situations where usually effective non-verbal modes of communication have failed to communicate my discomfort. So, anyone being forceful with me, or someone trying to gain their enjoyment from putting me down while we are both vulnerable in a sexual situation make me feel less sexually confident than usual. CONVERSATION KI BAAT HAINivedita, 27 – Female, Hetero – I don’t think sexual confidence was ever a thing taught to us. I am fat, and it felt like something that was always in my way. On the one hand, fat women aren’t perceived as sexual or romantic, and in porn, the sex always looked rough and lacking stories. It felt like a reflection of real life: you’re willing to fuck fat women, but not love them. What I went through is building a personality for myself, being funny and quirky to get the attention of those I wouldn’t have got otherwise. But even though I have got every guy I wanted, sexual confidence was still a journey for me. My most initial two partners would kiss me privately, but not in public. I began meeting more mature partners after them, but it’s not only about you and your thoughts in isolation, it’s also about outside factors like the environment and how your partner makes you feel in the moment. If they don’t make you feel comfortable, you don’t feel confident. Now I have a boyfriend who is much more mature, less self-centred and who truly loves me. It was still hard to make myself vulnerable with him, and it was only recently I became comfortable with being naked in front of him with the lights on. I still don’t feel like I’m sexually confident, but it is a journey. In this way, as you get more mature with age, you also meet people who are more mature. Sexual confidence to me is being able to tell my partner what I like and what pace I'd like to take things at; being comfortable enough to ask him what he likes as well. I think confidence comes with comfort and trust.ASLI HEROPANTIBunty Duggal, 25 – Male, Heterosexual, He/him – When I think of what sexual confidence means to me, I think of all the 90s Bollywood heroes, trying to woo the girl, be it by fighting the college goons, saving her from a cliff, grabbing her by the waist, and then the flowers take over. That did not translate very well to the real world scenarios. I was looking at all these ideas of how I should be and what I should do, but saw myself being nothing like it. I would try to pretend to exude this aura of confidence when in reality, I didn't have the slightest clue.With time I've come to realise confidence (especially the sexual wala) is different for everyone. For me, I feel good when I have sex and it's actually fucking beautiful. If my partner is also feeling good about the sex, my confidence soars. So, for me the objective is to make the other person happy and comfortable and also wanting to have sex with me. When these powers combine, I feel like Captain Planet, ready to take on the whole damn world just to get one smile.OLD WINE FEELS FINEKabir, 38 – Male, Gay – When I think about sexual confidence, the first thing that comes to mind is performance anxiety, how good am I in bed. But sexual confidence is really so much more. I feel I am a fairly sexually confident person. This comes from the self-awareness about what makes me feel attractive, my desires and to a large extent from external validation of the same. Age – the years spent figuring this out for myself, gaining confidence and the ability to separate someone’s rejection from my self-worth, has a lot to do with it too. I can't say I feel confident all the time…but recovering from a blow is easier now, avoiding hurtful situations is more intuitive. Being in totally uncontrolled situations, self-image issues which are a combination of how I feel that day, comparing myself to others, feedback I get from a room, can take away from my sexual confidence. Thinking of romance, sex, etc. familiarity with the person brings confidence because otherwise I don't know the other person’s expectations or interest at the start. So, communication definitely helps confidence and the lack of it takes it away. BREAKUP WITH THE HOOKUP STEREOTYPELalli, 25 – Lesbian – Nowadays the hook-up is presented as the ultimate manifestation of sexual confidence but for me, my confidence comes from having realized something about myself and being sure this is what I like (without feeling bad about it seeming old-fashioned) and that is: when it comes to sex, I have a low threshold for discomfort. Sex with people that I've been in love with or emotionally attached to, makes the sex more urgent and electric for me, and lets me be not nervous and go with the flow. It’s the only thing that lets me be playful in sex. Without romance, I’d be faltu at sex – 100% guaranteed. Within sex, I can be under-confident about many things but you’re allowed to improve within a relationship, so I’m not nervous.READY, STEADY…ONE SECOND!Priya, 24 – Female, Heterosexual – When it comes to sex, I think I feel confident when I initiate sex. When I am the first one to touch, kiss, etc, which I think has something to do with how comfortable I feel in my own body. But a little later, a moment comes where I begin to doubt myself – What next? Am I doing this properly? Why am I here with him? A deep fear comes pouring in and I just zone out. Maybe that’s why I am still not confident about having sex with anyone. My sexual confidence fluctuates. It is different with different people and situations.TO TRY OR NOT TO TRYBegum Zarina, 52 – Cis-woman, Heterosexual – I don’t think I am sexually confident. I would say that sometimes I am able to sort of creatively articulate what I want in an interaction. So, maybe I am confident in those moments. But I feel that in the overall picture, I am not very experimental. I don’t know if I push myself enough, you know. Like I am not on a dating app, for example. I feel these are all signs of sexual unconfidence, maybe. What would make me feel that I am sexually confident? I guess if I did all of these things which I am saying I don’t do. If ever, you know, I am able to be more experimental to, you know just think of sexual relationships as just that and not build a big narrative around that.EKDUM TOPPERFarah, 26 – Female, Heterosexual – I feel talking to people who have more experience and aren’t awkward makes me more sexually confident. Being able to talk frankly and freely about sex. One day, I approached my older sister with the topic. Even though she was initially feeling awkward about it, I broached the topic and asked her - Do you like being on top? And she told me - “I love being on top! I love the powerplay, I feel so sexy when I’m on top.” I had never really tried being on top, and I wanted to learn from someone but not porn. I asked her to dumb it down for me and tell me how it’s done. So, she told me, neatly breaking it down, and it helped me a lot.LOVE, SEX AUR CONFUSIONGunmasterG9!, 24 – Male, Straight – I find myself caught between the terms love and sex. As much as I desire pleasure, I’m also afraid about who I actually have sex with. I may seem confident, at first, to have a sexual experience with someone I’m not emotionally attached to, but somehow, I can’t get through the act. I don't see myself expressing my desires or articulating them to the other person. So, I feel like while I aspire to be confident, I fall short because of my own insecurities and the nature of that particular relationship. I feel like sexual confidence is the absolute certainty of what kind of sex you want and with who you want it. Right now, I feel far away from it. My current level of sexual confidence is like a leaf trembling on a breezy night.PUCHO MAGAR PYAAR SEG, 28 – Male, Straight, He/Him – I don't feel like I am a sexually confident person because I am still trying to process my issues of body image. As a teenager, I realised I had a skin condition and I would try to hide it from people. I still sometimes try to hide it. I especially don’t feel confident when people try to inquire about my skin or ask me to talk about my condition.HAULE HAULE HO JAAYEGARose, 21 – Female, Straight – I find it admirable that people can open up to sex confidently. I was sexually molested as a kid and the bystander, despite being an adult, didn't acknowledge it or help me understand what was wrong. So, I take time getting comfortable with physical contact and touch. I don't trust people with my body easily. I take my time and build a proper relationship before indulging in any physical intimacy. I can flirt easily and I feel confident approaching people, but the fear of my trauma catches up and I begin feeling anxious inside. I think it will take some time for me to reach a place of sexual confidence but I hope to get there one day.DARR KE AAGE SEXUAL CONFIDENCE HAISunsun, 68 – She, Open, Female – Sexual confidence comes after one is sexually active. Before that, there is a fear of the unknown. Women have the additional fear of getting pregnant besides the stigma attached to sex in our society. Sexually active males are considered studs and females sluts! There is a fear of contracting HIV-AIDS from sexual encounters. Having said that, I became sexually confident a few years after getting married. Then over the years, I realised that our society gave too much importance to sex. In a one on one with anybody, it did not matter to me whether we talked, held hands or had sex. That may sound crass, but all three activities can be very intimate! Therefore, I consider myself as sexually confident as I have dropped the fears associated with sex and like Agents of Ishq, I want to give sex a good name.
What Is Sexual Confidence Anyway? 20 People Tell Us
Beyond the stereotypes of wham, bam, thank you ma'am, what does it really mean?
Illustrated by Debasmita Das and Anshumaan Sathe
AOI guide body positivity sexual confidence zaroori funde pleasure fun sexual etiquette consent sex postivity
Could I Feel Sexual Pleasure Again After Sexual Assault? After sexual violence conflates sex with violence, is there…
‘Not because I have wisdom, but because I care’: An Interview with Suniti Namjoshi Poet, fabulist, lesbian - She tells AOI about her journey as…
Things Young Men Say to Me During Sex-Ed Workshops From ‘What is a clitoris?’ to sharing stories of heartbr…