Reversing Sexual Liberation

By the time I reached adolescence in the mid-1970s, women’s sexual liberation, in the West at least, had supposedly been accomplished. No longer were women divided into “good girls” and “sluts” as they had been in the 1950s and early 60s – the sluts being sought after because they would “put out,” but then despised for doing so, while every man wanted to marry a virgin. That virgin-whore dichotomy died in 1968 – didn’t it? The Pill removed the risk of pregnancy, so women were free to have sex as, when, and with whom they pleased, simply because they enjoyed it.

Well, that last was never entirely true. Even Western culture assumes that women want sex only or mostly within the context of “a loving relationship,” and feel betrayed by men who “use love to get sex.” Few people were ever really comfortable with the idea of women having sex on the “male pattern” – that is: often, casually, with many different partners, just because they liked it. Outside of pornography, one of the few fictional characters who personifies and enjoys this lifestyle (and is not ultimately punished for it) is Samantha in Sex & the City.

Even Buffy (the Vampire Slayer) couldn’t have sex just because she liked sex; a very passionate sexual relationship was presented as degrading to her because she wasn’t in love with the guy. Sex just for fun, or for comfort, was unacceptable. This is one of the few points on which I’ve ever disagreed with the Buffy writers.

It appears that we have now moved on to the service model of female sexuality, where sex is something that women do, and do often, but primarily for the benefit of men. Some girls of my daughter’s generation are using sex as a way to get male attention – not a new phenomenon, I know. A recent article in Seventeen magazine (a long-running US monthly for adolescent girls) told of girls who gave blowjobs to multiple boys at parties, then were shocked that everyone in school heard about it. Some girls Ross knows here in Italy have done much the same (or claim to have), at discos or parties. In both places, these girls are labeled “sluts,” and they do get noticed by the boys – many of whom take it for granted that these girls will perform oral sex on them as well, just for the asking. And the idiots do!

I don’t see what the girls are getting out of it, except perhaps some fleeting sense of power – the ability to give pleasure is a form of power, and some people find that in itself pleasurable. But this surely should not be the sum total of the pleasure a girl gets from sex.

The boys demanding blowjobs seem not to have any notion that they are obliged to do anything for the girls in return – nor have the girls. These boys are receiving service, not making love. I don’t know where they will learn the skills they need to uphold the long-standing reputation of Italian men as the world’s greatest lovers.

I am not anti-porn, but I can’t escape the conclusion that this attitude is leaking into the wider culture from that part of the porn industry that caters to straight men – which is the major part of the industry, right now. I got worried a few years ago when I saw girls wearing t-shirts saying “Porn Star.” The  majority of porn panders to male fantasies, offering a distorted picture of women’s sexuality.

My feminist antennae are quivering. Is this just another way to control female sexuality? Make girls believe that sex is something you do for the boys, not for your own pleasure, and they will then have sex on command, or not have sex on command, with equal indifference.

The solution to this commoditization of sex, I believe, is to teach girls, not that sex is bad or dirty, but that it should be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect, if not love. Girls should respect themselves and their sexuality, and demand respect from their partners. The question is not whether he will “respect you in the morning,” but whether he respects you NOW, enough to give as good as he gets – at least

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