Are We Sluts Or Prudes?

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The other day I watched the iconic movie Mean Girls and one of the scenes (pictured above) got me thinking.

Usually the opposite of a negative is a positive– dark vs. light, evil vs. good, sad vs. happy, you get the picture. But where female sexuality is concerned, the opposite of a negative is another negative. If you’re not considered a slut, you’re a prude. Both terms have negative connotations and force girls to constantly walk the blurry line between experience and inexperience.

Women are extremely over sexualized in our culture, but often they don’t know what to do when faced with an actual sexual situation. The media places unrealistic expectations on them as if they’re normal. Their partners in turn place these expectations on them or they place them on themselves. Talk about mixed messages! I’ve heard girls my age say, “I’m proud of my body and will show off as much of it as I want to!” But that confidence soon comes off with their clothes. It’s not more than skin deep.

I recently read the article, “On Girls and Sex: The Importance of Talking to Girls about Pleasure” by Peggy Orenstein. She has spent the last 25 years interviewing girls on their sex lives and gained some interesting insights. She says girls are not having intercourse at a younger age, but they are engaging in other sexual behaviors such as oral sex earlier. Many girls saw giving oral sex as a way to postpone actual intercourse or maintain power and control. A particularly interesting finding was that while most men tend to measure their own pleasure based on their own pleasure, most women tend to measure their own pleasure based on their partner’s pleasure. Girls do not receive oral sex nearly as often as they give it, and end up largely ignoring their own wants and needs in the process. Maybe that’s why Orenstein reports that women in homosexual relationships orgasm more regularly than women in heterosexual relationships.

Like many things in life, children start learning these lessons at an early age. Orenstein says:

Parents don’t tend to name their infant baby’s genitals if they’re girls. For boys, they’ll say, “Here’s your nose, here’s your shoulders, here’s your waist, here’s your pee pee,” whatever. But with girls, there’s this sort of blank space — it’s right from navel to knees, and not naming something makes it quite literally unspeakable. Then they go into puberty education class, and girls have periods and unwanted pregnancy, and you see only the inside anatomy — that thing that looks like a steer head, with the ovaries and everything — and then it grays out between the legs, so we never talk about the vulva, we never talk about the clitoris. Very few girls explore, there’s no self-knowledge, and then they go into their sexual experiences and we expect them to be able to have some sense of entitlement, some sense of knowledge, to be able to assert themselves, to have some sense of equality, and it’s just not realistic that that’s going to happen.

If girls don’t even understand their own anatomy, what makes us think they are going to be able to tell their partner what they enjoy or don’t enjoy?! Interestingly enough, the idea of one’s ‘loss of virginity’ still carries weight in our culture. It is a symbol of maturation and one of the entry points into adulthood. But several of the girls Orenstein interviewed said they viewed it as ‘something to get over with,’ not necessarily to enjoy. Many of them didn’t lose it with someone they loved or even mildly cared about, and it wasn’t a physically pleasurable experience.

So my question is, what if we redefined the idea of ‘loss of virginity’ to include multiple virginities? What if we placed just as much emphasis on oral sex, or anything that produces the same physical response (i.e. certain hormone release), as we do on intercourse? Or what if we broadened it to include the first time you orgasm with a partner? The traditional, narrow definition is not doing young people any favors.

As someone who grew up in the church, I believe I bring a unique perspective to this conversation. I do believe sex should be saved until marriage. But I also believe it should be talked about more within the church before marriage. It’s clear the church doesn’t like saying the S-E-X word, so they just preach abstinence and move on with their sermon. But the Bible never says explicitly don’t have sex, it says avoid sexual immorality. Now that’s a much vaguer and broader concept that needs to be explored.

It’s so easy to justify your behavior by saying, “I didn’t have actual sex, I just gave him head, so I’m good.” Are you really good? Do you know what that act means for your body and your relationship? I know it’s a hard topic and there are no clear cut answers to these questions, but can’t we at least talk about it like adults?  The church needs to stop throwing around antiquated terms like ‘purity’ and ‘wholeness’ and get down to the nitty gritty details.

So parents, talk to your children about sex. And women in particular, talk to the young women in your life about their own pleasure. Fight the social taboos and tell them they are neither a victim nor an object nor a slut nor a prude and never will be, no matter what. Chances are the conversation will bring you two closer in the end and she will feel less confused and alone. And isn’t that worth a little initial awkwardness?

I believe wholeheartedly that it is.


2 thoughts on “Are We Sluts Or Prudes?

  1. YES to all of this! It makes me so angry that women and girls are socialized to value their partners pleasure over their own, but despite the fact that I realize now that this happens, I was no exception and lived it out in my own life for several years. I saw my “first time” as something that I just had to get out of the way because I was “too old” to still be a “virgin,” and for the first several years of sexual activity I never asked my partners for anything that would be truly pleasurable for me because I didn’t know what to ask for or even that it was ok to ask for something more. It wasn’t until I started a serious relationship with a more experienced partner that I began to realize that there was so much more to sex that I was missing out on and that it doesn’t have to just be all about him. The sexual socialization that we have in our current society is so harmful but it’s hard to figure out even where to begin to change it.

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