If you’re a woman, wild sexual behavior is downright fucking dangerous. Not only can you “get yourself” raped, but you’re also damn likely to find yourself blamed for it. After all, you should have known better. I’m over the whole thing. Start to finish. And I hereby declare my right to be wild and maintain my bodily autonomy… There are risks inherent in any behavior. Even if you never leave your house, you risk depression due to lack of sun and social interaction (never mind the risk of fire, gas explosion, electric shock, earthquake, falling down stairs, cutting yourself on a kitchen knife, or getting a splinter). But rape is not a risk inherent in partying or in “wild sexual behavior. I’ll repeat that: Rape is not a risk inherent in unregulated partying or sexual behavior. Need proof? Consider this: It’s not a risk for nearly half the population. I’ve never met a straight man who worried about being raped as he contemplated a night of debauchery. Vomiting in public? Yes. Getting rejected by sexual prospects? Sure. Getting in a fight? Maybe. Getting raped? Come on. It’s a risk for women because, to put it bluntly, simply being female is a risk factor for rape. Partying wouldn’t have anything to do with it if vast swaths of the social order weren’t constructed on the foundation of control over women’s sexuality.
Sex education should focus not just on the mechanics of heterosexual sex and how to keep it safe – important as these are – but on varieties of sex. Sex between girls, sex between boys; the importance of enthusiastic consent – in effect, discussion of how to have good sex rather than just safe sex. The fact that girls as well as boys enjoy sexual activity is important to emphasise. I’ll never forget overhearing a conversation on a bus where a boy was asking a female friend of mine, both around 18, why girls masturbated. That alone demonstrates to me the need for better education.
It’s highly flawed to talk about the impact of “pornography” on young people as if it were a monolithic entity. Of course there is some porn which contributes to the general objectification of women in visual media. Some porn is misogynistic, tasteless and dehumanising. But to tar all sexually explicit content with the same brush shows a woeful ignorance of what’s out there. A lot of porn is pro-woman; even more is pro-human, quite simply a celebration of real human sexual expression without any strong bias either way.
I often feel that, in so many areas of what we might call progressive politics or ideologies, we leave ourselves last. We retain that distorting lens of what we’ve been taught, not what we actually think. So – we celebrate a diverse range of body shapes, but tell ourselves we’re too fat to be attractive. We think gender fabulousness is a great thing – and then worry we’re too different to be accepted. We know that kyriarchal lies are, well, lies…and then listen to them, echoing around us, making us feel ashamed/unworthy/less than.
I see a lot of arguments, from progressive feminists and right-wing prudes alike, which assume that any sexualisation of children is de facto wrong; that any sexual expression featuring female bodies is de facto objectification. Of course objectification exists in our society – it’s a huge problem, and it’s impossible to separate from the wider rape culture. But not all sexual representation is objectifying; not all sex work is non-consensual; not all porn is misogynistic.
Despite the massive advances in women’s equality, young women’s sexuality is stuck in a surprising paradox. Young women are sold provocative clothes but aren’t taught where to find their own clitoris. Many girls give their boyfriends oral sex, but are too uncomfortable with their own bodies to allow the guys to return the favor. It’s still a radical act to say that women need and deserve access to information about their own sexual pleasure—not just about the risks and negative consequences of sex.
Yes, we live in a sexist culture, in which women have no good choices when it comes to our bodies. We live in a sexist culture in which women are valued primarily as sexual objects, and at the same time are shamed for our sexuality. It seems to me that we have two choices as to how to respond to this. We can try to navigate the narrow, essentially impossible shoals of these contradictory expectations, and try to find that perfect, socially acceptable line between slut and prude.
Or we can say, “Fuck it. There is no way I can win — so I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want. I’m going to wear overalls, or I’m going to wear high heels. I’m going to have sex with twenty strangers in a night, or I’m not going to have sex with anyone. I’m going to dress conservatively and professionally in public at all times, or I’m going to sell naked pictures of myself on the Internet if I bloody well feel like it.”
And in saying, “I can’t win, so I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want to do,” we can create the beginnings of a victory. We can create the beginnings of a world where we really can win. We can create the beginnings of a world where we’re a little more free than the women who came before us… and where the women who come after us are a little more free than we are. We probably can’t create a perfect world, where women’s bodies aren’t commodified in the slightest (not in this generation, anyway). But we can create a better world: a world where women’s bodies and minds belong less to the patriarchy, and more to ourselves.