Are We Sex Positive or Positive We Like Sex?

In recent years, the idea of sexuality has been brought up more than ever. Sex alone has somewhat been the center of our media in terms of consent, sexual identity, sexual prowess and sexual encounters. For a nation that seems to be talking about sex more than ever, there is a looming sense of shame that tends to follow. In a time where gender inequality is more rampant than ever and the rights of minority groups are regularly threatened, sex still is one of the bigger concerns. As a nation fighting for progression, are we considered to be sex positive or positive that we like sex?

2018, was a groundbreaking year for women. With the birth of two massive movements, #MeToo and Time’s Up, you would think that the overall image of sex would have shifted. I mean with groups like these backed by some of the world’s most famous women, the feminist movement should seemingly be rolling smoother than ever. Yet, we are still stuck on sex. These organizations have freed women from silence and exposed the misogyny that has occurred for years behind closed doors, but these groundbreaking actions still seem to be overshadowed by the idea that a woman should still refrain from overt sexuality. This idea has become normal in our society all thanks to the patriarchal presence that enforces the idea that women cannot simply dress for themselves.

“They are dressing for a man’s attention.”

“She was asking for it.”

“Only a whore would wear something that short.”

It’s phrases like these that further push the idea that self-expression is somehow linked to sex. The old adage that “when you assume, it only makes an ass out of you and me” tends to be ignored in terms of men guessing what a woman wants solely based on the way shes dress. The idea of assumption followed by “slut shaming” has always been prevalent, but seemed to really rear its ugly head in 2011.

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The now famous Slut Walk, founded by Amber Rose, was birthed from a misogynistic and sexist comment vocalized by a Toronto police officer. In 2011, the Toronto officer addressed a crowd of college women stating that if they wanted to avoid sexual assault, they should “stop dressing like sluts.” This ignorant and uneducated statement sparked outrage on a global level due to the notoriety the assembly received. Rose, a former exotic dancer turned celebrity, loudly vocalized her opinions on the incident.

 "The idea that there is some aesthetic that attracts sexual assault or even keeps you safe from sexual assault is inaccurate, ineffective, and even dangerous.”

Her voice for women’s rights rang loud and clear and led to the creation of The Amber Rose Slut Walk. Today, the Slut Walk has taken roots in over 200 countries with the mission to “deliver a flawlessly executed event geared toward raising awareness about sexual injustice, domestic violence and gender inequality.”

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Today, Rose has become one of the loudest voices for women’s rights and female empowerment. As a woman who experiences slut shaming on a daily basis for her unapologetically authentic behavior, she has been more than motivated to spark change on a global level. From her personal experience with slut shaming, Rose is an active voice for stopping the toxic masculinity that leads to rape culture.

Due to Rose’s influence and social media presence, her activism has inspired women across the globe, encouraging them to never be ashamed of their sexuality and to fully understand the correlation that sex has to self-identification. Because she used to be a professional dancer, Rose’s sexual positivity and identity is louder than most and ultimately motivates women to embrace the things that society deems taboo.

I sat down with an exotic dancer who feels that there is still a long way to go in terms of sexual positivity. Drowsy Babe, a 19-year-old Texas native, dances as a second job to fund her future education expenses. As an exotic dancer, Babe is often subject to immediate judgment and exploitation on a nightly basis. When asked about the societal standpoint on sex, Babe believes that our society functions on the principle of hating what we secretly endorse.

 “Society simultaneously supports what they hate: strip clubs, pornography, and prostitution in the sense that they are always down to enjoy the fun until it directly affects them. They watch porn but call porn stars whores. They’ll dance at the clubs but shake their head if someone they know ends up on a pole. This judgment wouldn’t happen if we were actually sex positive.”

When asked about the progression for sexual positivity over the last decade, Babe believes that growth has definitely taken place, but tends to be a “two steps forward, one step back” pattern.

“The growth seems to fluctuate in my eyes. With movements like Free the Nipple and Slut Walk, society is able to be educated about the importance of sexual positivity. However, the media will then get hung up on a scandalous selfie from Kim Kardashian because she is a mother and completely ignore the things these organizations are educating us about.”

As our conversation progressed, Babe opened up about the particular struggles she experiences and the shame that surrounds her job.

“It feels as if someone always has something to say about my line of work, particularly in regards to what my mother thinks which I find so odd. The stigma that ‘what would your mom think’ is so ignorant. My mother’s opinion about my line of work won’t keep me from working.”

As our conversation came to a close, Babe had a hopeful outlook on the future of society’s opinions particularly due to the rising power in millennial voices.

“I hope our opinions evolve, but I find that people’s thoughts on sexual positivity are just like racism—conditioned and institutionalized. It will take a break in this cycle to really shift the opinion on sex. I can only hope that the younger generations continue to use their voices to cause change.”

Babe’s closing words opened Pandora’s box. If society wants to evolve into a sex positive culture the institutionalized opinions and behaviors have to be stopped. One of the biggest threats to society’s progress is the big business tactic that sex sells.

From an early age, we are conditioned to believe in the forms of femininity and masculinity presented to us by the media and our elders. Luckily, this stereotype has slowly dwindled and the evolution of gender roles is moving in a positive direction. However, there are still issues with misrepresentation and sexualization in the media today. A woman’s role is still exemplified as a homemaker rather than being independent, further stifling our society’s progression. Whether it’s a Swiffer commercial or a print ad for Bounty, it’s rare to see a man cleaning. The idea that women cannot be more than a housewife further empowers the misogynist, patriarchal behavior that so many movements are fighting against. Similarly, the media often depicts successful women as single, sexless objects who ultimately need a man’s presence or approval to find ultimate fulfillment. These types of stereotypes further imply male superiority, which only fuels the fire for rape culture. When the media conditions viewers like this, it lays the foundation that our society is patriarchal and male dominant.

Because of the media and older generations conditioned opinions, the progression for women’s rights and sexual positivity becomes stagnant. For example, it seems be a societal norm that a man can sleep with whoever he wants to whenever he wants to, while a woman should save sex for someone special. A man is often built up by his friends and welcomed with a pat on the back from dad when he loses his virginity; while a woman is often considered a ‘slut’ for giving herself away so easily. Sex comes with strings attached when you’re a woman, but a man can roam freely.

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 This double standard is further complicated by sexual identity. A homosexual man or woman already deals with the societal insubordination that their lifestyle is not normal or “just a phase.” So, when sex is thrown into the equation, the LGBTQ community experiences a different form of shame that stems from the way they live their life. Society chooses to over-sexualize lesbians and make them the fantasy of straight men. Meanwhile, gay men are perceived as feminine, weak, and surrounded by the threat of aids. Two women kissing is hot but two men kissing is gross. In a strange sense, lesbian women have more freedom from judgement than straight women due to the fact that lesbians are either glorified for their sexuality or perceived as masculine. In contrast, gay men suffer from the similar judgments that straight women do since society considers them to be just as feminine.

While I cannot speak on the actual feeling of other minorities groups or genders, I can speak on my own experience as a gay man. In 2018, there exists fine line between ignorance and tolerance. The concept of acceptance is present, but is still isn’t the norm. The “gay lifestyle” still feels taboo despite the rights and laws that have been put into place. I find that my sexual orientation is either the butt of someone’s joke, the goal for the straight white women, or its being appropriated by mass media. While it’s nice to feel represented in the media, it also feels like an impersonation of the lifestyle rather than a factual representation. Because of this, I can’t even begin to wrap my head around what it must feel like to be a woman.

Sexual identification aside, the actual foundation of the modern-day relationship has completely changed. Because of the societal conditioning that tends to influence the way modern relationships function, there has been a rising increase in the concept of open relationships. There is really no true definition of an open relationship. It is not concrete or singular, but rather situationally tailored specifically to what the couple finds comfortable. The concept of a polyamorous or open relationship is appealing to most because it allows for freedom from societal expectations. While it innately goes against the norms of society, it almost serves as a revolt from the judgement of others because there is no culturally established rule book. The concept for an open relationship allows for sexual exploration and self-realization.

Vogue’s sex columnist Karley Sciortino (pictured below) talks about her personal experience with an open relationship. While her experience was unsuccessful, she fully understands that “sexual fidelity is not necessarily a prerequisite for a committed relationship.” Sciortino even talks about the rule bending behavior that comes from a polyamorous relationship.

“We wanted to be together, but we didn’t want to feel tied down. We were the type of people who wanted to challenge societal standards. Personally, I wanted to deconstruct the common idea of what a romantic relationship should be, and for our relationship to stand on its own.” 

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The polyamorous relationship is like the punk-rock revolt of modern day dating. This new trend in the dating world does not come without its hardships, like juggling the value of trust compared to assumed jealousy. But despite any downsides, at its core it truly shatters the rules that have been set up by society, thus alleviating any type of pressure from outside influences.

The drive towards women’s rights is ever evolving, advancing through the ebbs and flows of controversy. It seems that there is no distinct pattern in the way sexual positivity and women’s rights are advancing but it is evident that they are interrelated. While sexual positivity still remains as a concept instead of reality, there are hopeful signs for progression. It is truly in our hands and in the generations beneath us and it is our duty to make our culture as equal as possible. We must push for progress.