With sex an undeniable facet of contemporary society, Leanne Waters investigates just what the issue means today and how it can allegedly make or break the modern woman
Marilyn Monroe once said: “Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is tired, hurt and bewildered.” Okay, granted that not all of us can be sex symbols and certainly most of us aren’t your everyday Marilyn Monroe. However, symbolism aside, we can relate to this statement in many ways.
Sex by its own nature can be a complicated thing; especially when one adds to the equation the many arduous idiosyncrasies of modern life. And yes, by this we mean the trivial “he said, she said, nobody understands me!” complex. This noted, we can thus come to the conclusion that sex, an apparently heavy cross to bear, can leave one feeling tired, hurt and totally bewildered, in the words of an expert.
And with what seems like so much stress derived from this natural occurrence, one could potentially lose sight of the very purpose of sex. Okay, we’re not talking about reproduction; maybe the second purpose of sex.
A recent sensation hitting cinemas across the US and soon to filter to our own Emerald Isle comes in the form of Will Gluck’s Easy A. The film, which will be released in Irish cinemas later this month, follows the misfortunes of a high school teen who pretends to lose her virginity, only to find herself caught in the nightmare of many young women today; the slut-shaming game.
Taking the issue light-heartedly, the movie inevitably draws to our attention not only the meaning of sex in contemporary society, but the many stereotypes and stigmas that can haunt the sexually active woman of the twenty-first century. And so, with the traditional concept of “saving ourselves” coming into practical contention more and more, one does beg to wonder, are we attaining greater levels of sexual exploration or, quite simply, are we just sluts?
“A key that opens loads of locks is a master key; a lock that gets opened by loads of keys is a shit lock. Women seem to get a lot more abusive stereotypes than lads”
To begin, it certainly seems very obtuse to say that sexually-active women today differ by any standard to the average sexually-active male. And yet, even with our Carrie Bradshaws and Olive Penderghasts, it still seems a shocking thing to ascertain that women enjoy sex just as much as men. But surely it is not our thoughts that cause controversy, but our actions.
A woman is rarely at issue, for example, for simply thinking about sex. God bless never having to experience the ordeal of an erection in lectures and classes. But a woman who openly engages herself in more than a few rendezvous, as opposed to the same sexual endeavours of a man, is a different story. I carry a condom with me everywhere I go. Yes, tucked in a dark crevice of my purse, there lives a classic Durex reliable.
With this, comes the argument as to whether this purse-dwelling resident is simply an incentive to be promiscuous or, alternatively, nothing more than a token of responsibility in light of a potential urgency. If a condom-carrying woman such as myself and many who frequent our UCD campus, happen to find themselves caught up in a once-off (probably later to be regretted) night of passion, what does this say of us? And could the same be said of a man executing similar actions?
On the topic of male and female sexuality, The University Observer spoke to one of the leading lecturers in UCD Women’s Studies, Dr. Mary McAuliffe, who was able to share her informed opinion on the matter.
“Connected with second-wave feminism is this whole idea of individual choice and sex as pleasure. And the idea that women had control of their own bodies, their own reproductive rights, their own sexuality, make their own decisions around their own morality.
“So it became a matter of choice rather than something dictated to women by the church or by the state or by society. I know that was a very good thing. However, things have transformed in that, now, women are supposed to be available. Women are expected to be sexually available because of course now there’s no issue really of unwanted children [with the contraceptive pill]. So, why not be available?”
But it seems that even what has become an anticipated sexual availability still does not meet ever-changing standards. With it, comes a profound contradiction; the modern woman should be sexually available. And yet the woman who sleeps around is little more than a slut.
Second-year Arts student Tony Clery had this to say on the topic: “There are definitely double standards for men and women. If a guy has multiple sexual partners, he’s a ledge, but if a girl does, she’s a whore. A key that opens loads of locks is a master key; a lock that gets opened by loads of keys is a shit lock. Women seem to get a lot more abusive stereotypes than lads.”
But how very primitive for us to think with such a narrow scope. Sex is not a modern invention. We’ve been practising it, after all, since humans first graced the earth. Surely, it is just the purpose of sex that has transformed.
For most of us UCD students – men and women alike – sex encompasses pleasure and exploration. Be it for love, lust, curiosity or just plain hormones, sex is a means of facilitating just one very small aspect of who we are. Clearly, there is certainly a vast difference today between “making love” and having sex. Which one to choose, however, is the decision of only the individual. But this isn’t an easy choice to make with such a vast influx of ideas and beliefs coming from all corners; the media, men and even other women.
“If you look at women’s magazines, it’s about how to dress in a sexy fashion, how to dress to attract men, how to be fully sexual in your own lives, how to be the best you can in bed, how to have multiple-orgasms”
Dr. McAuliffe talks us through sexual availability, the media and, in a sense, what men want. “There is kind of a derision about virginity or perhaps a certain principled take on your own sexuality. A lot of the young women also say that there’s a double standard operating. Women are supposed to be available at all times and dress in that sense and I think the media have a lot to play into that as well.
“If you look at women’s magazines, it’s about how to dress in a sexy fashion, how to dress to attract men, how to be fully sexual in your own lives, how to be the best you can in bed, how to have multiple-orgasms – all that sort of thing. And it’s all about sexualising the female body; but sexualising it mainly for the looker, the male gaze.
“And also, I think at the same time you’ve double-standards that women are supposed to be sexually available; but the woman that you want to, say, have a partnership with or marry, for men, is not that woman. You want to have fun with that woman. The woman you want to marry is actually probably the woman you were jeering at.”
With such heavy talk of these things and all the repercussions that sex can bring, it becomes all too easy to lose the fun in the very act itself. Far be it from me to endorse promiscuity and, yes, I mean this in terms of both men and women. But whether it is for love or for one’s own physical pleasure, people today need not be under restrictions in what is an entirely private and personal decision.
One like-minded UCD student is third-year geography student Fearghal Murphy who commented: “I believe that women and men have equal freedom when it comes to sex. However, there definitely exists a stereotype for women who can be criticised for “sleeping around” and I don’t totally agree with it. It also works both ways for men and women, after all it takes two to do it
“I think sex is a totally natural thing and great craic really! However, I think if people [who] have been unfairly pushed into sex or have engaged in sex while heavily under the influence, it may change their own opinions of why we have sex. Of course it feels physically great either with someone you love or connect with, but I don’t believe that emotional connection is needed for good sex. Once both parties are happy and understand what they are doing, it’s fine.”
Indeed, sex is a curious thing. It is natural and, on many levels humble, by nature and yet weighty in its properties. Though the very embodiment of all things earthly, this seemingly sensationalised entity does not lack the possibility of bona fide greatness.
We can thus establish that emotions derived from sex have the power to form the strongest marrow of self, soul and spirit. It is a curious thing that sex, so dubious in its very being, remains arguably the most instinctive specialities of nature.
And perhaps Jim Morrison of The Doors summed it up best: “Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.’ When sex involves all the senses intensely, it can be like a mystical experience.”
Easy A is reviewed in this fortnight’s issue of o-two.