"How Free Is She? A Discussion of Women’s Sexuality & Hook Up Culture" by Katherine Breeher
*Disclaimer: As a cis/het woman, I cannot speak to the experiences of sex and the culture around dating, relationships, and sex among the LGBTQ+ community. With this in mind, I fully recognize and want to explicitly state that sexual assault and dating violence can and does affect people of all gender identities and sexualities. I also realize that not all cis/het guys act this way. I know not all men do the things I describe below.*
Reclaiming something that has been previously used to oppress a group of people can be empowering. For example, some of the LGBTQ+ community have recently begun to reclaim the word queer as a label or adjective to describe themselves, twisting its historical purpose as a slur into a positive thing.
A woman’s sexuality has always been a taboo topic. Alleged ‘promiscuous behavior’ and masturbation used to get women hospitalized or diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. Sexual assault and dating violence are something women, especially college-aged women, must fear, think about, or deal with in some way.
Sexual liberation is meant to be the freedom a person can experience in a safe environment while exploring themselves without the fear of judgment. But this message has become twisted. Mainstream feminism has come to push a glorified narrative of hyper-sexuality and that casual sex equals sexual liberation. But this isn’t true for everybody. Abstaining from casual sex can be just as liberating.
Impressionable young girls growing up around the idea that casual sex equals empowerment may become traumatized, confused, or manipulated by this message. Suppose that a young girl growing up with this message equates casual sex to independence and maturity, therefore pushing herself into a situation she is potentially not ready for.
The term ‘body count’ is, in my opinion, pretty gross and another term needs to be created to replace it. Body count sounds like the number of people you’ve murdered. Anyways, it's also no secret that, in general, the higher a woman’s body count is the less desirable she is thought to be. It’s a strange paradox- college guys want you to be experienced enough to make them feel good but also as pure and innocent as a virgin.
It's acceptable for a guy to take a girl back to his room after a party or invite somebody to coffee after chatting on Tinder. He probably will not worry about telling his friends where he’s going or who he’s with. He probably will not worry about an exit strategy in case the woman he is with tries to make him do something he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. He wants to get laid and he can.
But if I, as a woman, wish to do the same, I will face a much greater risk. I’ll be telling more than one friend or roommate where I’m going and the guy I am meeting. I will be armed with pepper spray and an alarm attached to my keychain and I will meet him during the daytime. No matter how nice or charming he may be, there will probably be a voice in the back of my head pointing out the nearest exits. And if I do end up having sex with him, I risk the judgment of what will happen after. Another notch in my bedpost is not something a future partner might like. And while of course, I would defend myself against anybody trying to shame me for my past choices, I will question myself on the inside- is he right? And guys are not the only ones out here slut-shaming women- other women are (unfortunately) just as guilty of this.
So, is a woman engaging in casual sex reclaiming her sexuality, reclaiming control of her own body? Or is this just a lie she tells herself in the hope it will become true? Is this just a way for her to bury some unresolved past issues surrounding self-image, intimacy, or affection? Is this a fleeting way for her to feel better about herself, in a culture where a woman’s sex appeal is the most important thing about her?
Is the kind of feminism which encourages women to act in a way that pleases men under the disguise of ‘liberation’ problematic? While our culture is still so male-dominated, is engaging in casual sex just amusing the men we wish to liberate ourselves from? Or is this whole discussion just reducing a woman’s sexuality to something that can only be talked about in relation to men?
Some women feel empowered by having casual sex (otherwise known as hookups or ‘meaningless’ sex). Some women feel empowered by saving sex for marriage. Some women feel empowered by nudity, and some women feel empowered by wearing modest religious scarves or veils. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of this. If whatever you’re doing makes you feel good (and is safe), go for it. But ask yourself if what you’re doing is really for you. I’m not here to tell anybody what they should or shouldn’t do. I’m only posing questions, not answers.