Why does casual sex still leave many women with a guilty aftertaste, that distinctive blend of red-wine vinegar, gefilte fish and self-loathing? How many women, mid-hookup, have reasoned, “I’d like to have sex, but I want him to respect me and call me tomorrow. A hand job is probably cool though.”
Sexual values were defined by men, offering women the rosy options of marriage, a convent or the fiery pits of hell. In our supposed era of equality, women should share the sexual freedom enjoyed by men, but alas, for so many women a sexist public dictates their private sex lives. The double standard has transformed women into the worst misogynists. With these values so internalized, we toss around the sexist epithets “slut” and “whore,” creating the guilt we in turn bear. The greatest achievement and tragedy of patriarchy was getting women to cooperate.
Men have historically idealized an intact hymen, but in recent decades women have donned fashions less restrained and more raunchy. Does this signal the death of sexist sexual attitudes? Are wonderbras and tube tops the flags of liberation? Yes, but only from one male-defined fantasy to another. So often, when women expose skin it is only to subscribe to a reductive and degrading stereotype of sexy. Take, for example, Sigma Nu’s sexy schoolgirl bash. A partygoer may pick out her pleated mini and bask in the glow of male attention; but this is not sexual empowerment. She has not ended her objectification; she is merely an agent in it. By dressing up as a schoolgirl, secretary or stripper, you become a self-styled sexual object: infantilized, acquiescent and submissive, exactly the stereotypes women have been fighting against for centuries. The fact that men have been conditioned to find that sexy is creepy; the fact that women enjoy and encourage it is downright depressing.
Inevitably, sexual objects often fail to be sexual actors. Fashioned to fulfill a male ideal, many women never achieve real sexual satisfaction. I venture that there is not a single Yale guy who has never orgasmed, but at least a few hundred Yale women who fall into this camp. Heck, porn stars, the social epitome of sexy, fake their orgasms. That’s their job. Women need to know how they want it, and many don’t, due to societal silencing and misinformation. Most men grow up with an exposure to pornography and considerable experience with masturbation, while for women the same practices are stigmatized. In “Superbad,” Seth and Evan debate the pros and cons of various porn sites. Could a Beth and Evelyn have had that same conversation?
In the race to complete sexual fulfillment, men have had a head start of a millennium, and women still have several hurdles to jump. The female orgasm is still shrouded in confusion; many common sex positions are not entirely conducive to mutual climax; and vibrators are banned in eight U.S. states. Women are not encouraged to have true sexual ownership. The appearance of sexual availability is attractive, but a wanton woman is unwanted goods. Women must be sexy, but not sexual.
America’s attitude towards female sexuality is disturbingly schizophrenic. See as evidence, the title of this popular porn clip: “Virgin slut loves sex as she cries in pain.” How is this possible? Seriously? Society demands that women have a layer of licentiousness around a chewy prudish center. But raisinets are grandpa candy with some very unpleasant side effects. Like shame.
The media tells us to dress sexy and reassures us that sex is okay, but an archaic, sexist morality has hindered women from defining their own sexual values. The “sexy” marketed to women is a male construct: conformist, destructive and ultimately unsatisfying. We are trapped between the Virgin and the Whore, suffering guilt and self-loathing in our failure to be either. True sexual ownership means having sex when you want, with whom you want and how you want, whether waiting until marriage or a this-afternoon delight. When this happens, every walk of shame will be a walk of pride. Or at the very least, just a walk.
Claire Gordon is a sophomore in Saybrook College.