In all honesty, I talk about sex a lot. With my friends, with my family, with anyone who reads my blogs. It’s not that I’m addicted to sex, or am just desperately lonely and horny all the time, it’s just that I’ve been one to let taboo subjects stay untouched, and talking about it can be just so entertaining and/or educational for everyone. And no-one wants an Orange is the New Black situation where you get halfway through your life and realise you need someone to draw a diagram of the female anatomy for you. Knowledge is power after all.
But it is during such conversations that the different semantics used by men and women to discuss sex become pronounced. For men, sex is narrated in a way which shows them to be the active, powerful ones; phrases such as ‘She’d get it’, ‘I’ve had her’ or ‘I gave her a quick poke’ (as helpfully suggested by my brother), which are more generally used by men clearly show them to be the ones in control. Regardless of whether this actually reflects the dynamics of the couple, it’s worryingly hard to think of masculine language which doesn’t seem to suggest that the man is the giver, the doer, the one with the power.
Women, on the other hand, are unsurprisingly painted as the more passive member of the relationship. For them, the semantics of sex are based around ancient ideas of the sanctity of the virgin, of giving yourself over to someone, of sex being a type of sacrifice, only justifiable when you feel you can give yourself over entirely to that person.
Now clearly I am making massive generalisations here, and I’m not saying that all men of sex as some huge act of power play, whilst all women are virgins waiting around to be ‘deflowered’. I’ve done my sex ed lessons too, and obviously the sheer mechanics of sex means that men are, in general, the active ones, and so it does make sense that the language used to describe sex for them should reflect this. Moreover, women historically have ‘given away’ their virginity to whatever suitor makes the best offer.
What is interesting is how these concepts still seem to be innately part of how we view sex, with the language we use to describe it directly reflecting our subconscious opinions on it. These thoughts also impact how we view those who have sex, and how the media and popular culture present it to us. The very things which teach us and influence how we view sex seem to follow on from the gendered rules of the semantics we use to discuss it.
To take an incredibly basic example, being about two years behind the rest of he world, I recently finished Gossip Girl, a show which, whilst following a group elite American teenagers as they journey into adulthood, also manages to capture society’s views on sex and gender. Though I’m pretty sure the writers of the show would like to think they’ve created quite strong, independent female characters, especially in the cases of Blair and Serena, the way their sexual experiences are narrated in contrast to the male characters paints a different story.
Serena is portrayed at the beginning of the show as a ‘slut’ for having had a large amount of sexual partners throughout her teenage years, with this kind of sexual frivolity being associated with drugs, alcohol and teenage rebellion. The only thing which saves her from her inevitable arrest, pregnancy and death by STD is the fact she meets Dan Humphrey, the classic good guy who rides in to her rescue. So, in short, the only thing which saves her from her disruptive sex, is having more sex, but with a nice virgin.
Chuck, on the other hand, who is notorious for his playboy antics, is shown as a sort of lovable Hugh Hefner character, with his large amount of sexual experience being shown as an incredibly sexy trait, and his love of prostitutes being shown as completely normal. Moreover, when Blair and Jenny ‘give away’ their virginity to Chuck, it is shown as an act which victimises them, as something which can be used to embarrass and blackmail them, and is ultimately what causes Jenny to leave them. How Chuck lost his virginity was irrelevant.
Furthermore, Blair’s love of sex games is seen by her mother as a reason for herself to inherit her family business, despite her ample intelligence and forceful leadership style. On the rare occasion that she does indulge in a sexual fantasy about Chuck, she is warned by her housemaid Darota that ‘God is always watching’.
This contrast clearly shows how, even in a twenty-first century show about powerful and successful women, the dated ways in which we treat sex differently according to genders are still present.
My issue is not ultimately that males and females talk about sex differently, for this seems natural given how different sexual experiences can be for both genders. The problem I have in that the language used for women to describe sex needs modernising. Girls shouldn’t be made to always feel like they are ‘giving’ or sacrificing something when they have sex, thereby completely removing any idea of empowerment or ownership over their own bodies. It also causes women to associate sex with guilt and shame, and undermines the idea of women enjoying casual sex or actually going out and seeking sexual experiences themselves, instead of just passively waiting for a man to come to her.
Though clearly the stakes are often higher for females engaging in sex than males- need I say more than pregnancy- we need to move the semantics of sex away from the Victorian era and into the times of birth control, where women are not all sitting around in their pearls waiting to be wooed by their knight in shining armour, and consensual sex isn’t something women should feel guilty or victimised about.