Sex Positivity: Can We Stop Ignoring Women’s Sexual Experience Already?

When you hear the term “women’s health,” you might automatically think “contraceptives” or “abortion.” While reproductive rights certainly do play a huge role in a woman’s health, I would argue that reproductive health may even fall under the larger umbrella of sexual health.

According to the World Health Association, sexual health can be defined as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality.” It goes on to state that achieving this requires a “positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.”

Unfortunately, in my experience as a woman, and in many other people’s experience, sex has not been talked about or taught to us in a way that actually promotes sex-positivity (the general idea that all healthy and explicitly consensual sex is a positive thing).

It was my sophomore year of high school and, according to the state, time that my peers and I were given “the talk.” My school had adopted a policy of abstinence. While they briefly explained other forms of contraceptives, all I really remember hearing is that “abstinence is the only 100% effective form of birth control.” But just in case the message hadn’t permeated deeply enough, they really drove home the abstinence thing by showing a “helpful” video.

In the video, a woman dressed as a bride approached a man in a tux. He was excited to see her holding a shoebox.

“Oh boy,” he said, “I’m so happy you’ve saved this nice pair of shoes for me to open and wear for the first time.”

The woman looked nervous.

“Well…” she began hesitantly, “you see, they might not exactly be new..”

The man was confused and asked what she meant. She mentioned that other men had worn the shoes before him.. Maybe even the entire football team.

The man was utterly distraught and no longer wanted the smelly old shoes.

The kids in my class all rolled our eyes at the stupidity and poor quality of the video, but no one really questioned the content and how it could be shaping our view of sex and virginity. What I realize now that I didn’t then was that, this framing pins the burden of virginity completely on the woman and not at all on the man, equates a woman’s worth to the status of her virginity (and to what her husband thinks of her), and literally compares a woman’s sexual activity to a pair of used, worn-down old shoes. It makes it okay for a man to judge a woman for her past sexual history.

Furthermore, not only does this presentation of a woman’s sexuality focus only on pleasing some male expectation of virginity, it is completely marginalizing to members of the LGBTQIA community who may have a completely different experience of what virginity means. On top of this, it perpetuates the notion that the female sexual experience is somehow inherently wrong or dirty – it buys into this idea of sexually active females as temptresses and sluts.

Yet we wonder why women still don’t have proper access to healthcare, why our reproductive rights are constantly dismissed, why our periods and female nipples remain society’s big secrets, why trans women can’t get access to medication, why men still don’t know where the clitoris is. From a very young age, we are taught in school and in society that men are expected to be sexual beings, but that women are meant to be chaste and non-sexual. We are taught that once a woman has been penetrated by a man (a super exclusive, cis, binary definition of loss of virginity), she is now somehow less worthy or pure.

Our society frames sex around male pleasure and women’s obedience. Society refuses to get real that women of all colors and sexual identities are human beings with differing sexual needs and desires just like men, and until it does, women’s sexual health and women’s health in general will continue to be suppressed and trivialized. It’s simple: we are teaching sex wrong and the consequences are apparent in our approach to women’s health. Everyone’s sexual experience is personal and unique to him/her/them. If one wishes to remain abstinent for personal or religious reasons, they have every right to do so (I, myself, fall into this camp). But let’s not treat people who choose otherwise like they are somehow subhuman. All experiences matter. All people matter. It’s time to stop seeing sex and sexual health from an exclusively white, male, Christian, cisgendered lense. 

One thought on “Sex Positivity: Can We Stop Ignoring Women’s Sexual Experience Already?

  1. YASSSSSSSS. Thank you for bringing this up. It’s shocking to find out how the public education system has been failing to teach honest and equal sex education, and serving to further patriarchal values by focusing on male orgasms and ignoring female orgasms altogether.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s