It is no groundbreaking revelation that we live in a society and culture where sex is heavily integrated. Through films, books, TV, magazines, games and personal conversations – there are few platforms today that shy away from the topic.
Whether you indulge in the topic or have become tiresome of it, the general consensus seems to place it somewhere between an excitable subject and an overhyped tool for grabbing attention.
As a young female, I bitterly resented and feared the subject of sex.
So how does this subject, one so often hyped by many as being the best thing to experience, become so feared, and in effect, harmful towards young women and girls?
Women and young girls are often placed under an immense amount of pressure to engage in sex they don’t want.
When you’re surrounded by highly popular films and shows such as American Pie and The Inbetweeners, where young adults are depicted on a constant mission to lose their virginity and land as many sexual conquests as humanly possible, it isn’t hard to believe that this false ideology is absorbed by its young consumers and the hypersexualized society it unequivocally creates.
It made the world of relationships almost unbearable to me as a young girl.
Relationships consisted of scrunching my eyes up as I allowed dates and boyfriends to grope me wherever they pleased, not because I wanted them to but because I was scared of being considered too ‘frigid’.
They consisted of hearing sighs of let-down and disappointment from boyfriends as I timidly told them I still hadn’t changed my mind about sleeping with them so soon into a relationship.
They consisted of being dumped time and time again because of this.
I was told that no boyfriend would ever ‘put up with me longer than two months’ if I didn’t have sex with him.
I remember bursting into floods of tears of self-disappointment and guilt in front of a boyfriend when I refused his advances. I would tell him how sorry I was; how there was something seriously wrong with me.
This painted a false picture of my worth. I felt like I was nothing more than a sexual opportunity for men. Instead of proudly and assertively stating what I wanted and didn’t want, I would be ‘sorry’ and call myself a problem. It all seemed very one-sided to me, and not desperately wanting to engage in very pressurized and overhyped sex made me somewhat boring, unattractive and undateable.
And when they’re not being pressured to consent, girls are often dealing with completely non-consensual encounters.
Let’s just start this by having a look at some facts:
- 1 in 3 girls aged 16-18 has experienced unwanted sexual touching at school (YouGov, 2010).
- 33% of girls aged 13-17 have experienced some form of sexual abuse (Ibid).
- 1 in 7 female university respondents had ‘experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student’ (National Union of Students, 2010).
- 68% of female university students had ‘been a victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student’ (Ibid).
Of course, I am no exception to this. From the age of 11, I was experiencing unwanted hands of male school peers slide down my chair and over my bum and thighs. A greeting in the school corridor would often consist of either a grab of my breasts from behind or a slap on the bum. This was a daily occurrence.
It was little use going to school authority about it either, as I once learned when I bravely reported ongoing harassment. Instead of having the perpetrator properly dealt with, I was told that boys ‘are highly hormonal’ and ‘will just be boys’, while being advised that my best course of action was to ensure that I kept well away from the harassers.
The message, therefore, was that it was MY responsibility to ensure I didn’t get harassed and violated. It’s a message young girls and women know all too well. The kind of message that forces girls to silently endure unwanted touching, comments, and more serious offenses, for fear of causing a scene or not being taken seriously.
Feeling degraded by sexual comments/actions.
The type of attitude towards women represented in the media is one to be questioned. One notable example is The Inbetweeners, which often has one of its title characters referring to girls as ‘clunge’ (wording popularised by the show basically referring to a woman’s genitals), amongst multiple other names and supplementing comments. While the nature of this show is one of mockery and showcasing young boys’ less noble encounters, it is still the type of entertainment to be consumed with light-heartedness and laughter. It therefore simultaneously paints the low-level harassment and sexual derogatory language directed at its female characters as nothing more serious than suitable content for a light-hearted comedy.
Steering this into a slightly darker part of media, but still easily accessible, is porn and all of its glorious descriptions of women:
- ‘Struggling Slut Fights Rough Anal Abuse’
- ‘UK Dogging Whore Gets Rammed and Cummed On’
- ‘Fat Bitch Gets Dominated’
- ‘Slut Being Used And Gangbanged Like A Piece Of Meat’
We could go on forever, but these are just a couple of examples I extracted when clicking on the homepage of Pornhub.com. There is a multitude of things wrong with these titles, and I haven’t even dared see what their videos entailed.
This is the kind of language and depictions aimed at women that people are being exposed to every day. How can we expect this kind of attitude to NOT be normalized? According to statistics, it unequivocally is:
- 71% of girls aged 16-18 said they had heard sexual name-calling (such as ‘slag’ and ‘slut’) towards girls at least several times a week (YouGov, 2010).
From being catcalled, wolf-whistled, beeped at by cars, told to show more cleavage, followed and groped in the streets, called a selection of degrading names and being asked for my ‘cost’ and ‘what services I offer’, the normalization of sexual objectification is felt and experienced by myself and virtually every existing female.
Feeling bitter and fearful about the subject of sex.
This is a pretty obvious effect if you have experienced, or envisioned the experience of all the issues discussed above. When sex and misogyny are so deeply clasped between each other’s hands, it becomes an incredibly difficult task to untangle them.
In an ideal world, both men and women would view sex in a positive, respectful and empowering way.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have felt utterly terrified of entering relationships and the unbearable sexual pressure that accompanied them.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t have felt afraid or guilty to say no to sex.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be sexually commented on or touched without my invitation.
In an ideal world, I wouldn’t be made to feel like a sexual object or have to speak out against misogynist depictions and name-calling.
But we don’t live in that world.
We need to create it.