Let’s talk about sex. The unspeakable thing in English society especially. The thing that as teenagers, our hormone’s drive us. As adults, it’s the thing that drives marriages and long term relationships. The thing that defines us by our genders. Men and the ‘locker room talk’, women and intimate ‘making love’ definitions. Men, who are socially expected to ‘get some’ and women to just take it. No one told me as a child, in sex education, starting puberty, about consent just the safety of the act itself.
Having been in controlling sexual dependant long term relationships in the past it never occurred to me to treasure my body and even virginity. I lost it at sixteen to keep a relationship above water. To keep him happy. Talking to friends I realised that I was not the only one under this illusion. The deception of expectation. Especially for women.
‘Consent’ (as described in the Oxford English Dictionary) is “permission or agreement to do something…no change may be made without consent of all partners.” “All partners”, however, is where sexual assault and rape cross a fine line due to society expectations. Rape is where there is no consent from one or both partners. Sexual assault is where consent doesn’t really come into question for something like relationships and one nighters.
As someone who suffers with guilt easily, I often feel I have to follow through in order to not feel like I’m letting them down in the bedroom department by flirty comments and thinking I wanted it, until in the moment, or during, I don’t. How bad is that? That there are other girls out there with similar mindset to myself, and boys for that matter, feeling they have to please someone else than treasure themselves. I am not saying everyone feels like this but I know a lot do. For example, on Facebook my favourite author (Louise O’Niell, author of Asking For It) shared an article on rape victims. One story that particularly struck me was where a girl woke up to find her boyfriend inside her. She neither protested or refused because she felt she had to, and most likely, like me, felt this way because she was with him.
But why do we feel we have to perform to please? Does it go as far back as the first whore house? Or is it present day media like page 3 of The Sun? Maybe it’s both? Or is there more? As a child I grew up wanting to find my very own Prince Charming. At the age of 14 I thought I had found him. Turns out he was a player and I was trapped in a toxic relationship. It was him I gave up my virginity to at the age of 16 as mentioned earlier. Because I had to please him. To win him over another girl. This shows that not only I was naïve for thinking I had found my Prince Charming and felt I could keep him because of sex because from a young age, like many young girls, I wasn’t taught the fine line between abusive and romantic behaviour. As girls we grow up in a culture where we’re told to wear heels, short dresses, make up and act a certain way in order to attract the opposite sex. I only have to think about Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) and the fairies fighting over the colour of Princess Aurora’s dress in order to win over Prince Phillip. Having worked in the beauty industry, there has become a noticeably high rise in girls 14 and below buying large ranges of makeup, not cheap either, in order to impress the opposite sex, or friends at how ‘older’ they are because of social pressures like beauty vloggers on Youtube becoming the new gossip magazines.
But it isn’t just exposed in the social media. In our films and TV programmes also soubtly present rape and sexual assault in a romantic nature. Who is the target audience? Girls and women. The examples I thought of were films like The Duchess where sex is explicitly keeps their relationship alive despite the lack of her consent. Additionally ,the Netflix TV programme ‘Reign’ where Mary and her ladies maids do anything to keep a man, no matter how manipulative or dominating, even if it means giving up their own dignity. I am under no illusion these examples happen to be historical dramas but it is terrifying to notice how much these expectations (though adapted over time) have not changed.
It’s because of reasons like this I am writing this article today, and likewise Louise O’Niell as mentioned before, published her own book on exposing rape and sexual assault culture in western society in an Irish setting where the main character gets drugged and gang-raped yet is shamed as the slut. It is clear from this scenario; it is clear that women never have a clear voice when it comes to sex. So what can we do about it?
On Twitter there is a trending hashtag #notaskingforit in light of O’Niell’s publication and her later TV documentary, allowing victims to speak out. Additionally, I believe schools should incorporate consent in sexual education. And finally, despite many movements behind it, the attitudes about girl’s clothing or lack of and the perception of ‘asking for it.’ Ironically, on tour, O’Niell still got penalised about her sleeveless top. The ultimate question, therefore is, will times ever change? How far have we actually come concerning women and sexual perception? Will it ever change?