By Hannah Grossman
Published: November 22nd, 2017
Sex positivity, as portrayed in movies and TV shows, will present an idealized superwoman who has men chasing her as she shrugs them away. She doesn’t want a relationship and she doesn’t need validation, and she will sleep around with men without feeling guilty. However, I am skeptical that the male-dominated Hollywood, which is currently plagued with sexual harassment allegations, has accurately shown how women really are. Instead, Hollywood may be revealing how men prefer women to be.
Just walk through any high school in NYC and you will quickly become aware of this Hollywood fallacy. Girls on the phone will commonly converse about how to get guys to like them. If you are unlucky enough to be sitting next to a lengthy conversation on a bus or train, it doesn’t take long before you hear young girls expressing a need for something more than boys their age can provide.
Perhaps academia would have a better answer. Observe this definition of sex positivity by Colorado State University: “Sex positivity [encourages] folks of all genders to seek to understand their own sexuality and to engage in relationships that honor and affirm their desires.” The definition concludes: “As long as its consensual, there is no judgment.” But what about the judgment that emerges from within?
I believe guilt is largely a female experience. I have witnessed my strongest friends break down during vicious morning-after regret. Statements like “what did I just do?” pour from their mouths, and tears from their eyes. They only followed a supposedly universal feminist ideal of female sexuality, yet they became ill, wondering, “how is this possible?”
Perhaps these women are stuck within a social construct that causes guilt for sexual expression, and then afterwards, guilt for wanting something more in hookup culture. Yet, explanations like these do not offer solutions to sorrow, and therefore, are not relevant to a woman’s immediate needs.
It is quite out of touch to suggest, as CSU and others have done, that consent is the only barrier between psychological repercussions. Just like there are functional users of marijuana as well as those who become zombies, there are women who can live sexually free without being broken down, and those who feel worthless because of it. This is why it is common practice amongst women to warn their female friends: “Think about how you will feel the next day.”
Conservative columnist Ross Douthat for The Times argues, “female emotional well-being seems to be tightly bound to sexual stability.” He cited research which found, “significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well-being […] and between promiscuity and depression.” Unfortunately, sex positivity mainly addresses consent in terms of desire rather than promoting thoughtful decisions that look to the future. The resultant guilt may contribute to depression in women.
I will listen to expressions of guilt without saying, “be sexually free, “you don’t need a man,” or “guys can do this, so why not us?” Just like we should not judge women for their lifestyle, we should also understand and be compassionate when they feel guilty about it.” Feminism needs to be more transparent about the potential effects of sexual liberation on women. Facing our society’s current limitation as is, instead of how we would like it to be, is a crucial first step to address the needs of individual women on the road to equality.