The myth of sexual liberation


I read Jessica Valenti’s piece ‘Of course the French have better sex if our idea of sex is limited to men’s ideals’ and then the original interview ‘Are the French Better at Sex? A Discussion’. I think what they are both missing is that women can increasingly be as sexually active as they choose in the west, but increasingly they cannot choose to be sexually inactive. Or to only be sexually active when and as they wish to. This is grave problem for our young females who feel as if their bodies are public property.

And whilst ‘sex columnist’ always makes me throw up in my own mouth it does also spark a genuine outrage in me
whenever I see women being patronised. Of course monogamy isn’t for everyone this is a fact. But it is for many people. Likewise cohabitation or marriage are not compulsory but many desire them. It isn’t because they are naïve or simplistic or just hideously passé it is because that is what works for themselves.

We run the risk of compounding the interests of the patriarchy by ignoring that most women aren’t fulfilled sexually (or otherwise) by sex with a lover they met the same night. Women as a whole are too ashamed of their own bodies and needs to express what they want coherently to a husband/ long-term lover/ close friend, never mind someone they have just met. Interestingly the shame is delivered by the same glossy mags telling them how to have sex and advertising the feminine hygiene products that will erase our fishy smells. The free and easy ‘liberated’ sexuality suggested in the French article is a fallacy for the majority of women, not least because the clitoris doesn’t operate as an instant gratification button in the majority of females. Female sexuality arousal and orgasm are a complicated web, impacted not only by our curious anatomy but also of course cultural adaptions of women as either whore or frigid. Women can never win. Though of course we don’t need to orgasm, it’s the taking part the counts…

Look at the amount of women opting for designer vagina surgery, whilst the Great Wall of Vagina remains shocking and controversial. We are taught our vaginas need to be disinfected with a helpful and ever-increasing range of ‘feminine hygiene’ products. In 2014 sanitary towels for adult women are being sold with a free tin. Why? They conceal your menstruation products and ideally your menstruation too. I had once of these tins when I was 11 years old. They still exist. Women actually use them. Because our monthly bleed is so shocking and vile. A penis T shirt? Funny. A vagina purse? Repulsive.

The male gaze means women often examine themselves in a sexual encounter rather than experience it. They act sexual rather than feel it for themselves. They take the helpful advice of these sex columnists rather than learn about themselves and begin their own sexual odyssey. They can talk about Fifty Shades of Grey but not masturbation. They can be a performer but never the executive producer.

I have spoken with women from teenagers to suddenly-single-after-divorce-in-their-forties and few are empowered (or impressed) by the idea that monogamy is for losers and they should be having sex after 30 minutes. They feel imprisoned by it. They feel that the fast-food-sex generation is suffocating them of any true expressions or desires. Also the hideous pressure for those who are asexual, or sometimes-sexual, or celibate, or only wanting an exclusive long term relationship or shock horror, marriage. A war on monogamy is as dangerous for women as a war on relationship-free. It tells a woman what she must do. It says she is demanding, bossy, backward or defective for wanting the intimacy of sex with commitment.

It also ignores the structural inequalities that mean whilst many men have the financial and social capital to meet lovers outside of a relationship, women are often at home child-rearing or performing care-work in another capacity. Samantha Jones was a fictional wealthy middle-class woman from the Upper East Side of New York. I imagine meeting the latest Hollister model in a gallery opening in the Meat Packing district is rather different than going on the pull in your local in between putting a load of washing on and tucking the children in bed.

Whilst women should never be slut-shamed for enjoying multiple lovers or only no-strings-fun neither must their desires be shoehorned into the fast-food-sex category. I am incredulous at how many of these ‘sex columnists’ are trying to live out the persona of Samantha Jones a fictional character and frank it onto the blueprint for all women’s sexual needs.

I blogged about Authentic Sexual Pleasure for Women here. Young people need to be taught about consent and their own bodies. Sex education needs to address the many forms of sexuality including asexuality, and should stress that they must assert and negotiate what it is they want whilst always respecting others. I first wrote about these here in Stop The Panics of Porn Culture.

Too often the ‘porn culture’ or ‘sexualisation’ (and you know I hate that term) comes from women’s magazines spewing their cookie cutter bile from whatever standpoint, all over their audience as a point scoring exercise. The frequent ‘academic studies’ cited by the Daily Mail as a measure of ‘normality’ which make readers feel insecure and bad about their sex lives. Sexuality desire and pleasure cannot be measured. It is that which is immeasurable which is the most mystifying and intimate.

Instead of telling women what they should want sexually, we need to open up spaces to listen. Emily Dubberley’s Garden Of Desires, in which she mentions Plasticdollheads several times is indicative of the kind of fantasies women are having. The original, Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden would be as ground-breaking today as it was when published in 1973.

When men’s bodies are medicalised problematized and penalised to the extent women’s bodies are, I will listen to talk of liberation.

Oral sex versus penetration