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5 Lessons Prince Taught Us About Sex, Because He Really Was The Love Symbol

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Pop icon Prince was found dead on Thursday at 57. In his decades as a musician, he created an impressive body of work that managed to be both wildly popular and powerfully subversive. Many elements of Prince's life and career are unforgettable: his bold fashion choices, his Minneapolis Sound, and, of course, the lessons Prince taught us about sex.

Police arrived at Prince's Paisley Park studios on Thursday morning in response to an emergency call, CNN reported. They found the musician in an elevator and were unable to revive him. Reports of Prince feeling unwell surfaced the week before his death when he canceled a performance in Atlanta. He appeared to be feeling better at a performance days later, but his condition deteriorated during a flight and his plane made an emergency landing so he could seek treatment in Moline, Illinois. His publicist initially said Prince was doing "fine" and recovering at home; no one was prepared for the news of his death this week.

Fans have paid tribute in every possible way: his Instagram page was nearly shut down from traffic, fans were rushing vinyl stores around the country to get copies of his most famous albums, and Twitter was overwhelmed with messages about the musician and his talent. It's clear that Prince will not be forgotten anytime soon, and neither will his messages about love or — especially — sex. Here are some of the things Prince taught fans about sex.

It's Okay To Be Yourself In Bed

Sex can be profoundly moving, but exploration isn't always encouraged. A sexual self-concept is often shaped by noted taboos, unspoken rules, and social expectations. In an article for The Artifice, Jesse Munoz wrote that Prince encouraged true freedom and individual expression in the bedroom, as exemplified by the lyrics of "Uptown" from his 1980 album, Dirty Mind:

Where I come from

We don’t let society

Tell us how it’s supposed to be …

Everybody’s going uptown.

It’s where I wanna be.

Uptown, set your mind free.

Munoz described the song as an anthem:

After all, sex is much more enjoyable when you're doing what you want with someone you really like; going "by the book" isn't required.

Women Can (And Should) Be Sexually Empowered

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LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 19: Recording artist Prince performs during the 2013 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 19, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

BuzzFeed contributor Nichole Perkins wrote a 2015 essay, "How Prince Taught Me About Female Sexuality." In it, she shared that her discovery of Prince's music as a kid taught her to own her sexuality:

It's not unusual for women to let men take the lead, but Prince showed that the opposite arrangement could actually be desirable.

Sex Is Meant To Be Mutually Satisfying

Sex can be disappointingly one-sided. Prince is often concerned just as much with a woman's pleasure as he is with his own; his own desire for sex is often matched by his desire to give his partner what they want. He sings about it on his 1989 single, "Scandalous":

Anything U've ever dreamed of

I'm willing 2 be

2 night it's gonna be scandalous

Cuz 2 night I'm gonna be your fantasy

Prince made it clear that it's important for individuals to be clear about what they hope to get out of a sexual encounter; it is possible for both people to leave happy.

Talking About Sex Ensures That Everyone Stays Safe

Unfortunately, the messages in Prince's music weren't always ideal. Perkins tackled the topic directly in her essay:

Perkins used "Xtraloveable" as an example:

"Xtraloveable" shows how one person can hold deeply conflicting views of what's OK and not OK in the bedroom. It's a reminder of how important it is to be on the same page with one's partner and to set clear boundaries, but it also reinforces the importance of sustaining a public conversation about consent. Allowing songs such as "Xtraloveable" to exist without scrutiny is dangerous.

You Are Not Your Sexuality

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LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 22: Singer Mary J. Blige (L) and recording artist Prince perform onstage during the 2012 iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 22, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel)

Celebrity culture often allows for narrow characterizations. When a woman is thought to be overly sexual, she is easily deemed a "slut"; all subsequent behavior, then, is viewed through that lens. Prince built his career on embracing sexuality, but he did not allow that sexuality to dictate his behavior. A 1984 article in People highlighted the dichotomy of Prince's public persona:

Prince's behavior served as a reminder that just as one should be encouraged to embrace sexuality, one doesn't have to embrace it all the time. Allowing public image or external expectations to dictate one's choices is a sacrifice of personal power. Prince was a practicing Jehovah's Witness, according to TIME; in his life and his music, liberation and conservatism coexisted. It's evidence that one can escape the pressures of a label and avoid being boxed in.

Prince's lyrics weren't perfect, but there's no doubt that he taught generations of fans how to be open to exploring their own sexuality. He showed the world that pleasure isn't something to fear, that sex can be freeing, and that vulnerability is genuinely empowering.