Girls and Women and Sex and Pleasure: Are We Forgetting Something?
By Alexa Day
Last week, I was reminded of just how small a world ours really is.
I read this article about Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape. To research the book, Orenstein spoke to 70 girls and young women, between the ages of 15 and 20, to learn about their attitudes and perceptions about sex.
I’m not sure what I expected to hear about this, but the truth saddened me a little.
Orenstein’s research turned up a lot of young women who are very comfortable with the idea of sex and sexual attitudes as communication, and the notion of sex as currency. They just don’t seem to place a great deal of importance on their own pleasure. A blowjob, for instance, may or may not actually be sex, but it’s a near foolproof way to get a guy to stop hassling you about what you will or will not do for him. The notion that reciprocal oral seems to disgust these guys … well, Orenstein’s subjects didn’t think to be offended by that.
Orenstein goes on to observe that if young women do not prioritize their own pleasure, it might be because they come from households that make their sexual selves invisible. How many girls know nothing of their own sex organs? How many are discouraged from questioning or exploring sexuality in general? How many are being taught — sincerely or otherwise — that sexual things are naughty or dirty or morally deficient?
When was the last time you saw or heard someone refer to erotic romance as naughty? A dirty little read? Something for bad girls, about bad girls, or both?
Was it you?
I know that if you’re here on Lady Smut, you probably don’t think there’s a thing wrong with sexual pleasure. Hey, I get it. But this notion that sex exists in a context dictated by male partners … that idea came from someplace. This concept that a blowjob is just a way to get him to leave you alone, that of course he won’t go down on you, that our own sexual pleasure as women is an afterthought at best, that something is wrong with us if we demand that pleasure … all that came from somewhere. Shouldn’t we try harder to mitigate it?
Last week, I also attended a screening of Makers: Once and for All, a documentary about the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. You can actually watch the documentary in its entirety online. Women from all over the world converged on China for the conference, endlessly curious about each other and the roles women played in various cultures worldwide. As I listened to the participants share stories about the conference and the Platform for Action that emerged from it, I realized that the world is not such a huge place after all.
Consider this: somewhere in the world, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself. Try that on for a minute.
Now try this: somewhere in the United States, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself.
How does that feel? Obvious? Uncomfortable? Both?
How about this one: somewhere within half an hour’s drive, a woman doesn’t know that sex is something she can choose for herself.
How are you going to live with the truth of that? How will the generations of women that follow us live with it?
And what role do our pleasure-infused stories play in this new world?
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