For years, it’s been widely held that women have been accorded far less freedom of sexual expression than men. If a woman is too sexually adventurous, too promiscuous, too “freaky” in the sack, she gets labeled a slut. In contrast, men have been lauded for their sexual prowess, “high-fived for wantonness,” accorded “player” status for acting like studs.
Now the tables have turned, the study claims, and it’s women who are granted more freedom to experiment sexually, and men who are expected to fulfill their sexual stereotype. God help the oversexed frat boy who wants to get freaky. Whether it’s homoerotic fantasies, cross-dressing, or sadomasochism, only women are socially “permitted” to partake in exploring sexuality, the study finds, whereas guys must adhere to what’s expected of them. But has this study got it right—or totally wrong?
Take a look at the young women who write openly about their sex lives online, and what you’ll find is that trailing along behind them is a line of rabid attackers looking to punish them for doing so.
Having spent the last decade writing about sex, I’ve talked to all kinds of people about their sex lives, from the professional dominatrix to the girl next door, the stud-for-hire to the married john, the college student to the adult-film star. Over the years, the mainstreaming of pornography, the rise of the Internet, and the single-handed crotch-flashing efforts of Britney Spears have brought sex to the forefront of public discourse like never before. Yet, despite all this “progress,” I’ve found that it’s women who remain subjected to the sexual double-standard. The evidence is written across the Internet.
Take a look at the young women who write openly about their sex lives online, and what you’ll find is that trailing along behind them is a line of rabid attackers looking to punish them for doing so. The more high-profile among them spawn lightning-rod debates as they reveal their sexual proclivities in provocative blog posts and graphic cellphone pics. When Lena Chen, a Harvard student and sex blogger, posted a shot of her face after oral sex, Gawker pronounced it the “Worst Overshare Anywhere Ever”—and republished the “horribly oversharey” photo (it was later cropped to a thumbnail). It’s as if when women choose to exercise their sexual freedoms, men can’t quite figure out whether to love them or hate them for it.
What, exactly, are these women being ostracized for—being sexual, experimenting sexually, or having the guts to put themselves out there as representatives of a generation of a women who don’t want to fit into preconceived boxes of “how they’re supposed to be” in bed? It’s a mix of all of the above, but the consequences remind everyone that if women go public with their sexuality, if they go “too far,” if they become sexual “players” whose “numbers” threaten to outdo the bedpost notches of their Don Juan peers, they’ll catch heat for it.
Sure, women are freer to explore their sexuality—as long as it doesn’t threaten the male status quo. Tucker Max’s sex-and-brews fratire biopic, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, will be released later this year, but don’t expect to find the chronicles of a sexually emancipated post-feminist coming to theaters near you anytime soon.
Susannah Breslin is a freelance journalist and blogger. Currently, she is at work on a novel set in the adult movie industry.