Clearly, there are some things that sexual confidence is not about. For starters, it's not about having a great body. Perhaps unexpectedly, older women describe themselves as much more sexually confident than younger ones. I say "unexpectedly" because younger women tend to be regarded as having more objective sex appeal. But older women have the extremely valuable benefit of experience.
Carla, 41, put it this way: "If I took the confidence I have now and the body I had in my 20s or 30s, I'd be hell on wheels. But would I trade what I now understand about myself, my body, and sex just to have the body back? No way, no how!" When she was younger, her fear of rejection and insecurity caused her to be a people pleaser. She knows better now: It's not selfish in a sexual situation to please yourself. Think about it—what greater gift could you give your partner than to have a really good time? If you're having fun, your partner is going to have fun. And that's not a license for selfishness; it's a recognition that you can't give away what you don't have yourself.
Sexual confidence isn't something you need a partner to give to you or validate in you. In fact, if you're focusing too much on him, that can be a big distraction and erode your sexual confidence. Virtually all the women I talked to agreed that when they were younger, they were more inclined to let other people define their sense of self. Women who know their bodies better—who know what turns them on—report enjoying sex more. They're more confident that their interactions will be successful. Rebecca, 29, though 12 years younger than Carla, endorsed her view. "If I had the confidence at 23 that I have now, I would have had a lot more fun," Rebecca says. "I'd have spent much less time worrying about what a guy was thinking and enjoyed myself more."
That's true of most of the women I've spoken to on this subject over the years. They tend to care much less as time goes by about what other people think. They certainly don't let men inhibit them. Older women, in particular, seem much more at ease with the prospect of being on their own, are more content with who they are, and feel far less desperation to be in a sexual relationship—which, in turn, allows them to relax and feel more secure in themselves. And that clearly boosts their sexual confidence.
This brings me to a point made over and over by the women in my little survey, a belief so widely shared that it's a core truth about sexual confidence: It is not all about sex. It is very much about power, the power that comes from liking and accepting yourself. A woman who is open-minded, wants to have fun, and isn't counting on getting an engagement ring within minutes of meeting a man has an ease about her that translates as power. By contrast, one who looks like she's on the prowl for Mr. Right and is deafened by the ticking of her biological clock sends a totally different message. And as any guy will tell you, that message is: Run! But if you're comfortable and genuinely happy, others sense it and want it. Women who like where they are in their lives exude an assurance that makes for some very positive vibes in the bedroom.
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