Ok. So I’m a Sociologist, we know that. I’m also a feminist, and massively interested in issues of sex and sexuality. And Medical Sociology/ Sociology of Health. And everything. Because I’m a Sociologist, and we look into everything.
You know that one of my personal
bugbears hatreds, is the narrow way in which western medicine, society and media defines sex. I wrote about the problem with hormonal contraception here. The way it is frequently forced upon women, and the horrendous side effects many of us suffer. I wrote about medical clitoridectomies, medical masturbations and admissions to mental asylums for being sexually interested, here. Yes medicine is great, but we need to constantly apply our sociological knowledge to expand it. We need to critique and to privilege lived experience.
And how women who fall short of this are pathologised. A G.P can prescribe anti depressants or anxiety medication so a woman can partake in penetrative sex. A common side effect of these strong and highly-addictive drugs? An inability to orgasm. It would make you laugh if it wasn’t so horrific. For women suffering from various vaginal or vulval pains, online medical sites helpfully recommend they apply anaesthetic gel so that they can “tolerate” intercourse. If a woman wants to engage in penetration but cannot, that’s one thing. But our construction of sex as intercourse, is problematic. It means that women are presented with a very narrow view of what sex is, and can be. It also ignores the fluidity of our sexuality and preferences; that at different times in our life course we will have different needs.
The male gaze is ever present in discussions of female sex. Magazines, websites and even medical practitioners will talk about the man’s needs. This is a social construction. When my husband was in a coma, and for the months afterwards, nobody spoke about my needs. I would be considered a vile human being for mentioning them. A good woman is nurturing caring and selfless. A good woman can turn her libido off. Yet when a woman is ill, or unable to partake in sexual activity, it is presumed the men has a right to it. Men have needs don’t you know. I have a massive problem with this male entitlement and the way in which it spills out into female understanding of our own bodies.
If only 7 to 30 percent (and hey, stats lie) women can orgasm from penetration alone, why are we stil stating penetration as the default setting for sex?
I want you to watch this: oral sex versus penetration. I think it is very interesting. From both conversations with friends, colleagues and wider talks, I do think that for every woman who does prefer penetration (and again, this is fluid, we all want different things at different times) often women say they prefer it, because we are led to believe that is what genuine sex is. And that everything else is secondary, an add on, an additional extra.
Azealia Bank’s singing 212, and mentioning cunninglus, seemed to be a big deal, with lyrics “I guess that c*nt getting’ eaten”.
Kate Smith commenting on The F Word blog says:
“So many will admit in private, to their friends, that they prefer the fingering, fondling, caressing, stroking and cunnilingus that they are supposed to see as ‘foreplay’ to the ‘main event’.Yet still penetrative sex is viewed as ‘full’ sex, ‘real’ sex, ‘proper’ sex. I’m not saying that this can’t be an enjoyable and fulfilling part of sex, but it’s high time that more women become open about the fact that a penis thrusting inside a vagina is an act that is often more culturally symbolic than it is physically pleasurable”.
“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”.
We are increasingly disengaged and disjointed form our own bodies as women. We are told they smell, are ugly, too fat, too old, are too much. We can buy an array of products to make our vaginas more acceptable, more hygienic. Interesting the male version of Fem Fresh isn’t available.
Yet our ever-increasing visual society means our bodies are used against us.
A world where mannequins are banned for ‘inciting’ rape. I gave a paper at Youth Sexualities, Durham University ‘Slut-shaming and the anxiety of excess’. How can any women, but specifically young women, be confident in themselves and play with their discovering of their own sexuality is they are labelled aggressive, vulgar, excessive, dirty, slutty? Even Glee joined in, disciplining ‘slutty’ Rachel Berry.
Professor Danielle Egan argues: “…it soon becomes clear that within the popular literature the sexualized girl is a monster- the end point of defiled middle-class heterosexual femininity… a legacy of deeply problematic assumptions regarding race, class, gender and sexuality inform this construction” (2013, p.8).
As women we are encouraged to constantly regulate our own bodies, to shrink, to regulate the bodies of other women too. The beauty myth that saturates our culture and leads us to a MAC covered gilded cage. As more women engage with feminism, and more spheres open up via social networking, as we are put back in our place just as quickly.
If our films, magazines, music, sex education, medicine frame sex as one certain act, is it any wonder that women are scared to speak out if their preferences differ? We need a much broader and more complex understanding of what sex is, and its fluidity.