Just when I have no intention of writing yet another article on sex and have turned my attention away, I’m reminded forcefully of why it’s still so important.
Despite all the open and informed discussions that I’ve come across, it seems there’s still a long way to go in our ability to get to a place where sex is simply a non-issue—just a normal and very enjoyable part of being human.
The trigger for my renewed decision to keep writing about sex has come, this time, from a series of comments that were left on a blog regarding female sexuality. As I read through them, I found myself winding my way through a variety of emotions. Annoyance that some of the attitudes still exist at all, and that it is still acceptable to publicly label and judge others’ sexuality. Sadness at the huge gap between how magnificent and beautiful sexuality can be and general experience of it. And wonder at the gap between ancient esoteric teachings of sex as a gateway to the divine and frequent media portrayals of it as dirty and vulgar. The comments on the blog were a sobering reminder that it can take generations to change beliefs in the absence of an individual’s own attempts, or a concerted attempt by society, to speed up that change.
But rather than speak generally about the blog itself, or about the need for respect when it comes to individual expression of sexuality, I’m going to take some of the labels and expressions that were used in the comments and attempt to tease out the underlying fears and assumptions that never fully get the attention they deserve.
It is this deeper level that needs to be addressed in any meaningful dialogue about sexuality as that’s where the continuing use of unhelpful labels and attitudes springs from in the first place. Perhaps by being more conscious of what’s behind them, we may start to move society generally in a direction that has a healthy expression of sexuality and away from one that still shows its discomfort through the inappropriate distribution of titillating photographs and images, through abuse, rape, pornography and a myriad of other less-than-positive expressions.
So, not for the faint-hearted or easily shocked, here are some samples from those blog comments and my own thoughts on the deeper truths that they, unconsciously perhaps, betray.
1. Sexually active women as ‘pawns of male desire.’
In and of itself, this comment is at times true and at times not true. With centuries of repression of female sexuality, it can be difficult for women to rediscover their own authentic relationship to their sexuality and this is really the issue here. We could argue until the cows come home about whether certain women are, or are not, pawns of male desire.
For me, though, the deeper issue here is the lack of healthy models of female sexuality for women to aspire to and insufficient open discussion around women’s sexuality. The temptation, therefore, is for women to step into the models that are created for them by men—men who themselves may not have a particularly healthy relationship to sex or women in the first place. What is needed is for women to create their own direct relationship to sexuality, finding out what works for them, what’s okay and not okay for them (and why), and then having the courage to act from their own place of understanding and personal knowledge. There is now a wealth of wonderful resources available through print and online media that support women in their own journey of self-discovery and sexual empowerment in a way that is healthy and natural.
2. ‘Slut,’ ‘whore,’ ‘trash,’ ‘ruined,’ ‘spoiled.’
Sometimes it seems that women can’t win. If we aren’t interested in sex, we’re frigid. If we are courageous enough to start to explore our sexuality openly, then these labels start to surface. Enough has been said already about the lack of similar terms existing about men, and about the fact that it is still regarded as an achievement for a man to have multiple sexual partners and wide experience.
I find it deeply disturbing that terms like this are still in common usage when they summon up images of the Spanish Inquisition, witch hunts and other periods when personal exploration and truth-seeking was oppressed. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I found myself watching ‘Dangerous Beauty’ the night before I wrote this—a film in which a woman’s ability to enchant men through her deliberate use of feminine sexuality eventually led to her being tried for witchcraft.
Underlying the use of terms like these usually lies a deep discomfort with feminine sexuality—among men and women. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help to create the supportive environment which women need in order to discover the healthy models of female sexuality which we so badly need in order to progress past the mainstream models that are currently displayed (referring back to the ‘pawns of male desire’ above).
3. ‘Taken advantage of,’ ‘exploitation,’ ‘boys can’t help it.’
Although the first two of these expressions were about women, I’ve put all three together because I feel they’re all about the same thing, basically—power and powerlessness. Power has always been a tricky and highly-charged subject—how we use, and abuse it; the difference between power over another and self-empowerment; fear of those that hold power (either through personal effort or through an external agent). It is widely debated that it was fear of the power of feminine sexuality that led to its repression in the first place. But that’s not the point I want to make here.
The relevant issue here is our own personal relationship with power. As individuals in a modern society we carry the potential for considerable self-empowerment, but don’t always develop it. It takes time and energy to develop the self-understanding and awareness needed to embrace our personal power—the power we have to make choices and to act in ways that are congruent with our inner truths and values. This is not time and energy spent in a way that is generally valued by our society and so the general approach to power is to allow the few to make decisions about what’s right or wrong and about how we should or shouldn’t live our lives—which, in turn, leads to a sense of disempowerment and fear.
While there is no debate about whether young women—and men—can be taken advantage of, exploited and abused—there needs to be a debate about how we encourage children and teenagers to develop healthy attitudes to personal power. A healthily empowered individual does not need to prove their power by exercising it over another—their ability to be self-disciplined in their use of power is evidence enough, using it in ways that supports their own positive journey through life and that of others. When it comes to sexuality (which is the rawest form of power), a healthy relationship with power manifests as someone who is comfortable with giving their sexuality full expression within the context of an equal partnership, but who may otherwise use self-discipline to hold back if they feel it is the wiser thing to do in the long run. It also manifests as a recognition of when they may be abdicating responsibility by allowing another to exercise inappropriate power in their lives.
4. And finally: ‘cum dump.‘
While this was used as a criticism of a woman, it stirred up a deep sadness in me that some men value their sexuality so little as to express their opinion of someone who has been the recipient of it in this way. It seems that female sexuality is not the only area that deserves more open, sensitive and intelligent discussion, but also male sexuality. Whatever about the difficulty in creating new models of female sexuality when they have been lacking, how difficult must it be for men to step away from the models that have been created for them by previous generations which excluded emotion and gentleness and emphasized aggression and high virility.
It is a shared a issue—this need for new models of healthy sexuality—as important to men as it is to women, and both can help each-other in developing a more wholesome relationship to it and in dealing with the fears, doubts and lack of understanding that exist around it.
Without a return to a natural, intuitive and educated connection with sexuality across the genders, neither can hope to progress alone. With a willingness to work together and to make the effort to speak with clarity and calm—individually, within existing relationships and more broadly in society—we can make swift progress.
Hopefully my words will add some support to the many others that are already allowing their voices to be heard as part of a growing swell of reason through the clamor of sensationalist media and knee-jerk reactions that abound. Coming to a healthy relationship with sexuality has immense consequences not only for ourselves as individuals, but also for humanity worldwide and for future generations. Speak up, be heard or, if my words disturb you, at least please listen and reflect.
(Originally published in Elephant Journal)