As a longtime feminist and someone who supports sexual equality AND sexual pleasure for men and women (and everyone in between), you might think I wouldn’t like this recent New York Times Op-Ed about the backlash against ‘sex-positive feminism.’ (Sex-positive feminism is all about empowering women to feel confident and unashamed about their sexuality, and to freely engage in promiscuous sex/casual sex with the same pride and cavalier attitude as men do).
But I actually found myself heartily agreeing with Michelle Goldberg’s piece. For many years, I have noted with some alarm how violent porn has become more mainstream, and how dangerous sex acts like choking have become very popular among young people. I fear that we’ve gone from a time when women were shamed for having sexual desires to a time when women are shamed if they have sexual boundaries.
Sadly, it seems that many women and girls have been led to believe that sexual equality and women’s liberation means women being able to have sex ‘like a man.’ We have entire generations of women who have grown up in a hook-up centric culture, in a time when shows like ‘Sex and the City’ have normalized and promoted the idea of casual sex, in a time when ubiquitous internet porn means that creators have had to make increasingly violent and rough porn in order to get clicks and make money.
All of this amounts to women who believe that if they’re truly feminist and progressive and unashamed of their sexuality, they need to have numerous partners and try all kinds of kinky or rough sex acts in order to prove their equality or their freedom. We are ashamed to be seen as needy, or too emotional, or too feminine, or too vanilla.
In my opinion, we have really missed the mark here. For me, feminism isn’t about being exactly like a man, but rather being treated with the same respect and being offered the same opportunities as a man. Seeking equality shouldn’t mean seeking to have sex like a man or mean replacing our own natural needs and desires with masculine needs and desires.
Because, here’s the thing, even though most women I know really, really enjoy and desire sex, the majority of women do NOT reach satisfaction from one-night-stands and casual sex. Research has shown this to be true, and from my own professional experience, I can say that most women tell me that they do not orgasm when they take a guy home from the bar. HE does, generally speaking, but her? Nope, not usually.
And, here’s the real kicker: Not only do women tend to not reach orgasm from casual sex, but they also carry the lion’s share of the risk when it comes to sexual activity. Not only are we the ones who might get pregnant and have to bear the reproductive risk, but women are also more likely than men to contract STIs and to suffer more severe consequences of STIs.
Due to our female anatomy and being the ‘receptive’ partner during vaginal and/or anal sex (which is also dramatically on the rise among young heterosexual women), our chances of infection are higher, and when that infection occurs, it can move more quickly through our bodies and do more damage to our reproductive organs. (And, that doesn’t even include things like yeast infections and urinary infections which also more commonly plague women and can be triggered by sexual activity).
And lastly, and most horribly, when women bring men home who they don’t know that well, or when they meet guys on Tinder, they could be exposing themselves to very dangerous men. Not all men are predators or seek to harm women, but for those that do, hookup culture makes it that much easier to access vulnerable women who may live alone or have enjoyed too many cocktails or who may not be able to fight off an attacker.
I know these are dark thoughts, and a far cry from the way shows like “Sex and the City” portrayed casual sex, hookups, and friends with benefits. And the thing is, causal sex CAN be fun for women. Even if you don’t reach orgasm, it can be exciting and arousing to have sex with an attractive stranger. But oftentimes, I find that women use promiscuous sex in a vain attempt to get their OTHER needs met—their need for affection, attention, cuddling, and connection. And, they’re willing to engage in promiscuous sex in the hopes that the payoff is worth the risk.
But realistically…this just isn’t the case. Casual sex so rarely is going to fill up that emotional well inside of you. So not only are women not reaching orgasm, not only are we taking sexual risks which may impact our health (because, yes, even if you use condoms, sex is never risk-free), BUT we are still probably going to miss out on that emotional connection and affection we desire. Because, 9 times out of 10, that random hookup isn’t going to care enough to remember your birthday, or snuggle you, or treat you with the tenderness and respect you deserve.
And here's the thing: Even if you go into a hookup planning not to get attached, sometimes you do. It's not your fault: It's how our brains are wired. During sex, our brains release oxytocin, also known as the cuddle chemical, which can make you feel close and bonded to your sexual partner even if you don't want to have those feelings. That's why I always urge women, "Don't have sex with someone you don't want to fall in love with, because you just might!"
Our bodies and our sexuality are precious gifts, gifts that we can use to help unlock and deepen our soul-work here. But we deserve to feel safe, empowered, and respected each and every time we have sex, and hookup culture sadly doesn't often allow for this to happen.
So why do women keep submitting to hookup culture? I think it’s because a lot of us a) really love sex b) think promiscuous sex is the same as sexual liberation and c) think being sex-positive means positively saying yes to sex every chance you get.
But I propose a new kind of sex-positive feminism: A sex-positive feminism that tells women, YES it’s okay to love sex, and to desire sex often, and to love to masturbate, and try kinky things, and be unabashed about seeking your own sexual satisfaction—BUT also to remember that women aren’t the same as men. Our sexual needs are not met in the same way. Our sexual risks and physical risks from casual sex are not the same. So why would we equate our sexual liberation with having sex ‘like a man’? We need to liberate ourselves not only from sexual shame and sexual control, but also from the belief that masculinity and male sexuality is superior to female sexuality.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to take it slow. With not liking emotionless hookups. With not wanting to be choked or spanked during sex. With being ‘vanilla’ or not into anything too kinky. (By the way, why do people use ‘vanilla’ in a disparaging way? It’s a classic, delicious flavor that speaks for itself). There is nothing wrong with going home and using your vibrator instead of taking a man home (or a woman!), because that toy is probably going to please you better and has no risks associated with it.
Let me close by saying this: I am not against hookups or casual sex for women. If you truly enjoy it and are doing so in a healthy way, then have fun and enjoy to your heart’s content. But be willing to explore whether or not hookups actually serve you and fulfill your true needs. Because you deserve to take your time. To listen to your heart. And to ask for complete respect and dignity in the bedroom, on your terms, on your time table. That to me is feminism in a nutshell: And any man worth your time should be willing to invest you and wait until you are ready, so this is also a good litmus test to find out what guys are actually just seeking only one thing.
What do you think? Have you been burned by hookup culture? Or do you think casual sex is equally fun for men and women?