Informal Feminism

{March 6, 2011}   Reclaim Female Sexuality Positively

My mother always said that she would rather have her kids watch sex scenes in movies then violence because it was far more likely that her children were going to grow up and have sex. Sex is a fact of life; it has always been around and will always be around as long as there are living creatures on our planet. However, as long as there have been people having sex on our planet there have been people telling them how they should do it. Women’s broad experience of sex is one that is fraught with issues because of exactly that reason. As long as women have been having sex there has been someone telling them what they should or should not enjoy about it. This is a problem because the people who are regulating female ideas of sexuality are not usually women but men who think women should fall into certain categories.

            Women have the unfortunate problem of being labelled one of two categories: virgin/Madonna or whore, slut etc… We are supposed to fall easily into one of these categories. If you are a virgin/Madonna then you are virtuous and clean, you wait until marriage to have sex and then you experience sex with only one man in your life: your husband. This group of women is generally thought to never have impure thoughts and to be an object that men wish to have desperately. If you are considered a whore you get the other side of the stick. You are too loose with your sexuality and have had sex with more then one man. These women are seen as more available sexually but not the type women that you should marry because they are bad, morally bankrupt women. They are objects that men take advantage of, someone to have sex with until the women who is going to be your wife comes along. Women in both categories are considered objects more than people because to categorize someone by these ideologies makes them an incomplete person. These are not women who are real three dimensional people with thoughts and feelings outside of these categorizations, they are the standards that women are supposed to uphold. Women get defined by their sexuality and what they do with it, without looking deeper into the woman herself. Men don’t experience this categorization though. When they have sex with more then one person they are considered a stallion, sowing their wild oats.

Because of this categorization the messages that women receive about their sexuality is usually negative. As a woman you are not supposed to have sexual thoughts or feelings and if you do, never act upon them because you will be considered a slut. If you are sexually drawn to women instead of men then repress it because only deviant women are lesbians and they fall squarely into the whore column. These messages are very harmful to women growing up in our society and also contradictory with the popular media. The representations of young women on television or in the music industry are sexualized images but they are sexualized images backed with moral standards. The women/girls appear provocatively but are not sexually active, in the press they are slammed if they decide to become sexually active. The teenage girls in the media are made to appear sexual without an understanding of their own sexuality. It is a strange mix of the two categories because the girls are supposed to appear as if they are sexually available but must remain chaste at the same time. How are girls and women supposed to negotiate this territory, what is it that the are supposed to be? One of the other mediums that women are represented in sexually is porn; the majority of porn is designed with the male gaze in mind. Men are the focus of these films and the women that are pictured in them are pictured being solely focused on male pleasure. There is very little imagery of women being positive about their own sexuality; it is more about how to get a man off and less about how to get yourself off if you are a woman. Both of these mediums represent women who are unable to understand and express their own sexuality properly because they are being restricted by the images that men carry of women. The are a real example of the objectification of women through their sexuality. Women are not taught to understand their own sexuality in a positive light, they are taught to be afraid of it.

I think our inability to talk about female sexuality in a positive light is stunting the growth of our young women. They are not taught to understand their feelings and instead are bombarded with mixed messages about what is right and wrong sexually. Having been a teenage girl not that long ago, I can tell you these messages are confusing. The first thing most girls are taught is that you are not supposed to have sex until you are married but they are not taught that regardless of this they are going to have sexual feelings. Nor is that ideology one that applies to everyone in our society anymore, most people will not wait until marriage to have sex or even to start a family. Some people, like myself, will opt against marriage because that is not something that they want. Girls need to be taught about their own bodies and have an understanding of sexuality outside of their reproductive function. When I was in my sex education classes in late elementary school and early high school, there were a lot of pictures of the reproductive organs and their function. There was a lot of talking about refraining from sex and a lot of talk about repercussions of sex, such as STI’s. There was little to no talk about sex in a positive light, though I did go to a school that promoted safe sex thankfully. The school’s made sex into something that was meant to be scary and terrify us into not having sex until we were older but it didn’t give any positive tools to deal with the immediate situation of budding sexuality.

Growing up with these contradicting images of sex makes sex seem interesting, terrifying and confusing all at once. This is at the same time where sexual feelings are coming to the forefront. I once had a male friend who told me that in the section of sex education class where they separate the boys from the girls the boys were taught about masturbation. Being in the girls section I never heard about masturbation. This is telling about the separation between the perceived images of male sexuality and female sexuality. Males grow up learning that they are sexual creatures and that their sexuality is something that is inherently a part of them. Females are taught that they are in control of their sexuality and that it is not something that they should an issue for them, essentially females can control it and males can not. Once again I look back at my personal experience and remember masturbating constantly as a teenager, feeling shame about it almost every time. It wasn’t until I went to college and began to get my footing in women’s issues that I learned that masturbation is normal and healthy, as well I learned that many of my friends did it and had experienced the same feelings that I had of shame. By not teaching our young women about masturbation or teaching them that masturbation is a bad thing they are forced into a world of repression and shame. They are taught that sexuality is bad and unsafe, that it can have many various repercussions. They are not taught that masturbation is a healthy and normal way to learn how to deal with sexuality. It is also a great tool for learning your own body because without knowing your own body and what you like, how are you supposed to have someone else understand it.

Women are faced with the same struggles around their body and its sexual needs. Many women and girls will jump into sex with someone because they haven’t been taught another way to deal with the issues. Our society is so afraid of teaching women about how to understand their own sexuality that many women will go through their whole lives having never experienced a positive sexual experience. During my time at Trent I threw a Fantasia Party, for those of you who don’t know a fantasia party is where someone comes to your house and sells sex toys, after having the party I asked a classmate of mine why she hadn’t come. She told me that she was unsure about sex toys, which is fair enough some people just aren’t into them, but then she added that when she and her boyfriend had sex she just laid there and waited until it was over. It was then that I realized that this must be the way many women still experience their own sexuality, just wait for him to do his thing and then move on with your day. This repression of something so natural I considered to be harmful because I think if women were given sexuality in a positive light that taught them how to understand their own bodies that this repression wouldn’t be an issue for a lot of women and there would be less guilt and shame involved in sexual encounters for a lot of women. Whether this is an issue for parent or teacher is not the question here but that it is an issue of teaching. By allowing women to go through life without a proper concept of healthy sexuality it leaves them open to so many other issues that can go so far as justifying sexual attacks. I would just like to add as a closing point that an alternative way of learning about sexuality is not just something that would affect women positively but also men who could be given tools to deal with their own sexuality and taught to be respectful of women in their sexual encounters, instead of learning how to have sex from porn.


Beth says:

I absolutely agree that women are not ingrained with the same sense of entitlement to a healthy and satisfying sex life. It’s so frustrating that young women are not taught to be confident and proud of their sexuality in the same way as men. I don’t think enough women feel that they too are entitled to the experience of sexual pleasure or else they end up feeling that something is wrong with them if their bodies don’t respond in the right way to what they are “supposed” to find sexually pleasing. This leads to male centered sexual experiences instead of experiences which allow for the freedom and feeling of safety to truly explore the many ways women (as well as men) can find satisfaction in the bedroom (or outside the bedroom depending on what you’re into lol) and that is no fun at all!!

Daria says:

I also agree. I remember that as I younger, talking about sex was something that could only be done among close friends, in hushed voices, locked away in a room. Even then, there was always the constant fear that an adult might overhear us and know how “wrong” and “dirty” we were.

Thanks for the responses ladies. You both make great points and I appriciate the lived experience. I agree with you both, I remember the same things about my childhood Daria. Sex is definately something that young women need to be taught about in a positive way or it becomes something that they completely fear as adults.

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