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Monday, 4 June 2012

Let's Talk About Sex

By: Liberate Zealot
Content Warning: Rape culture

Or more accurately let's talk about how we talk about sex.  The narratives surrounding sex and the words and expressions used when we do talk about sex. Specifically let's talk about how these things are often major contributors to rape culture.

By the nature of what I'm discussing and Kyriarchal culture this will be somewhat heterosexist and trans/genderqueer erasing.  When possible I will be gender/sex neutral.  So while the language/narratives discussed are not inclusive I will try to be so. 

Now different groups and countries will have somewhat different words used when discussing sex. But there's a general theme of the idea of it being a zero-sum exchange, or where there is only one active agent instead of two (or more) people having sex with each other.  Fuck you/me, I got some, ze gave it up, took/gave virginity, gave myself to you, take me, I nailed hir, I got lucky, I banged hir, I got banged, loosing/lost the v-card, getting ass, take it, ze lot hir cherry, got hir cherry popped, get his/my wick/dick wet*. All of these, and many others, are very framed around the language of one active partner taking/getting something (pleasure/sex) from a partner who is being acted upon.  These are popular expressions that frame sex as something that is done by one person to another.  It ignores mutuality and the communication that goes on during sex.  In a way it dehumanizes the inactive partner because it makes them an object to be acted upon instead of a participant.  And this is how we speak of consensual sex.

Talking about consensual sex as a zero-sum exchange with an active partner who gets or takes sex from an inactive partner is a major part of rape culture.  It makes it very easy for rapists to cloak their rape as consensual and/or gives them the idea that everyone rapes.  It confuses victims and makes them question or even doubt their experiences/emotions/reactions.  It teaches young people that sex is zero-sum, it dehumanizes sexual partners, it normalizes rape, and this is a part of what creates rapists in the first place.

And then there are the narratives about sex, specifically heteronormative sex, though these narratives can still be followed by queer people/partners.  The cultural narratives of how people have sex, either in relationships or out of them, generally follow the trope of man as active/aggressor and woman as inactive/submissive and the one who has to say no or is responsible for stopping the action before it becomes sex`.  It's there in the 50s stories of necking, pinning, and the "loss" of virginity at prom or the back seat of a car.  They guys been asking and pushing the boundaries or weeks or months, he's waged a slow war against his girlfriend and her reluctant sexuality.  After they've been together for long enough, he's given enough gifts or done enough to cement the relationship then she "gives in".  It's there in the more current ideas of pick-up artists and negging.  The idea that women dress up to attract men and then wait for the men approach.  The idea of the 3 date rule is firmly grounded in the idea that women need to put off sex before relationships hit a certain point.  The expression of  "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free", the idea of college freshmen (especially women) as fresh meat. These all enhance the idea of sex as zero-sum, as one (male) partner as active and sexual while the other is inactive (unless they're turning down sex) and less/non-sexual.

And as said this is a major part of rape culture.  When sex is so tied to the idea of there needing to be an aggressor (or in some cases manly, like even in some queer couples where one person plays the man/top) than it's closely conflated to rape where there actually is an aggressor pushing past the consent and boundaries of another person.  And this leads to issues around consensual sex and people being pressured and also hides and normalizes the actions of rapists!

Now I would never conflate these cultural sex narratives and language to the actions of all individuals or sex partners ever, but it's easy to see the radical feminist perspective that ties (most) penetrative sex (especially between men and women) with rape. The cultural narratives certainly conflate these two to such an extent and finding the difference is like splitting hairs.  It's a serious effort to decolonize the influence from these narratives and language within ourselves, never mind the larger culture.  But examining the language/narratives and how these influence ourselves, society, and their connection to rape culture is a vital step in our attempts to address the issue.  Unless we change the conversation around consensual sex and clearly separate the language and narratives from rape than we will fail in our attempts to dismantle rape culture.

* While this language is very tied into penetration, with the person doing the penetrating as the active partner it is so prevalent that is it used by queer people, or the individual casting themselves as the active and their partner as the inactive.  In fact, it was a lesbian roommate who consistently spoke of sex in this manner that clued me into the problematic language around sex in the first place. 
`While there are certainly exceptions to this, where women are actively sexual and/or the interaction is equal/mutual without a more active/submissive partner, these things are exceptions.  And even these exceptions rarely manage to stay clear of every narrative/trope. Sex in the City is often used as a example when discussing active woman sexuality, but even this generally has men asking the women out, and when the women are more sexually active then their male partners this is often treated in a more comedic tone than other parts of the series.  Likewise Samantha is consistently the most actively sexual of the main characters, she's also the only one who had a queer relationship and many of her story-lines are more comedic, or about her getting in trouble for being so actively sexual, or learning to find joy in more "traditional" relationships. 

1 comment:

  1. It wasn't always Samantha of SATC getting into trouble for sexuality: Charlotte got crabs.


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