Social bondage constrains sexuality

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April 13, 2007

4:43 PM

It seems like everyone outside our generation wants to talk about our “hook-up culture.” New books are coming out about how young women are damaging themselves by thinking that they can be as casual about sex as boys are. The message is that we don’t know the damage we’re doing by having sex without attachment, choosing casual over commitment. The general conclusion: we need to be rescued from the mistakes we’re making.

p. What’s wrong with hooking up? What’s the big deal with the buzzword? Are we really doing anything different as young, sexual people then the generations before us? If anything, we have less intercourse and more oral sex and other activities that fall into the health class “heavy petting” category. But all anyone can talk about is how casual we’ve become with our sexuality. And, despite the overwhelming role of sex in our popular culture, casual sexuality is one big lasting taboo.

p. For example, when I first started writing this column, I was in a long-term relationship. Whenever anyone criticized me for this writing — being a “slut” — to my friends, they defended me by talking about how long I had been with my boyfriend. This almost always changes people’s impressions of my sexuality for the better.

p. Why? They might not know it, but they are biased, not against sexual activity, but casual sexual activity. It was okay if I was writing about experimenting with bondage with my boyfriend, but not if it was a guy I met that night at a party. It doesn’t seem fair that sexual choices are only legitimized by a socially recognized relationship when the same actions outside the relationship are an excuse to label someone with a negative sexual stigma.

p. The cultural stigma against casual sex is everywhere. Having sex just for fun, not as an expression of love or at least of “like” is still looked down upon. This stigma is especially directed at women since society still accepts men wanting sex merely for pleasure as normal, although it can be directed at men as well. This double standard for promiscuity is only the beginning of the problem. As long as men are expected to want sex for fun and women are expected to want sex for love, we’re going to keep reinforcing those stereotypes in our own perceptions and expectations.

p. Sex as a means for a good time or as an expression of love are both valid reasons for sexual activity. Causal sex definitely isn’t right for some people who only feel truly comfortable expressing themselves with someone they know, they trust and they love. Don’t interpret this defense of casual sex as a criticism of loving sex. Nothing beats sex that is both an expression of powerful passion and pleasure, if that’s what you’re looking for. The point is that society should be accepting of letting people choose to have one or the other or both.

p. The prejudice against people who choose casual sex is damaging because it may push people to make more dangerous choices. For example, many college students use the effects of alcohol as an excuse to have casual sex. Then, they can defend their actions with the “I didn’t know what I was doing, I was wasted” defense. It’s easier then admitting to the cultural sin of enjoying sex for the sake of sex. It’s also easier to do something that one knows has a stigma against it under the influence. Choices made while drunk have an unfortunate habit of being regrettable choices and it’s dangerous that for many people.

p. Also, when people know the negative stigmas that follow choosing casual sex, many people find themselves simply not choosing. For women especially, because they can be a much more passive sexual partner, they can end up having sex without having really said “yes” or “no.” They can’t say “yes” because that makes them the kind of bad person “who” wants casual sex, but they don’t really want to say no, so they make no choice. This grey area is dangerous for men and women in terms of rape laws and personal sexual health. You can’t choose to be safe if you feel like you can’t make a true choice.

p. Everyone should feel that they have the right to make their sexual choices. When people don’t have safe, respected choices, that’s a problem for everyone. We need to make our choices for ourselves, always. No one should ever make any of your decisions for you. Sometimes, we make the wrong choices. We learn from them. Women fall into the trap of thinking that having sex will make men like them. This assumption needs to be wiped out of existence as soon as possible. Women everywhere will be a lot better off when they live in a society that respects that we can and will make our own decisions to please ourselves. We have sex because we want to, casual or committed.

p. __Kate Prengaman is the Flat Hat sex columnist. Whatever, she does what she wants.__

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