“I wanna fuck someone”.
Can you honestly say that you would have the exact same initial response to this phrase if it was said by either a man or a woman. What about “I had great sex last night”. The shameful fact is, even today, when we are more equal than ever, a woman saying this like this will tend to elicit an incredulous call of “slut”, while a man will be met with a non-committal shrug, or encouragement.
The problem is that our patriarchal-whether you like this word or not, it’s an issue- society is still suppressing female desire. Like the majority of sexually repressive customs, limiting female desire to a ridiculous extent began in Victorian times, where any woman showing signs of expressing her sexuality was labelled “hysterical”, and even sent to mental asylums.
Although this, with staggering irony, actually led to the invention of the vibrator so doctors could “cure” their patients through what was essentially masturbation, this was the opposite of sexual liberation. Female desire was definitively labelled as negative, both medically and culturally, and although medically things have changed, female desire is still not seen in the same light as male desire.
One of the most obvious ways to show this is through the defining lens into our society that is pop culture. The tired trope of almost every “bro-comedy” style film or high school romance is a “hilarious” reference to or scene showing a significant male character masturbating. Yet the 2013 comedy “The To-do List” caused mild controversy when it-shock horror-showed a scene of a teenage girl pleasuring herself. Despite the fact that male masturbation is the most tired of teen jokes, there is a taboo around the topic of female pleasure, especially when self-generated. It is never a topic shown in mainstream media, giving it dark, almost fetishised connotations, when it is completely normal for people to want to explore their own sexual pleasure.
This warped view continues with almost every depiction of female sexual pleasure, often exacerbated by the bizarrely biased actions of film regulators everywhere, who seem determined to make sure any film showing female sexual pleasure is branded with a ridiculously high rating rating.
Just one example of many was in 2013 when the US film ratings body cut a scene featuring cunnilingus in Rachel Evan Wood’s film in order to make it fit the 15 bracket. Wood, correctly, labelled this as “censoring female sexuality”, and yet again people trying to “shame women for their sexuality”, especially hypocritical when blowjobs are of common nature even in films rated as 12.
If girls don’t see young women who understand and revel in their sexuality in the cultural spheres around them, how will they ever understand the power of their own sexuality, and the crucial knowledge that they are not simply receptive vessels, but individual sexual beings. At a time when it was recently reported that roughly one in ten women find sex painful, it is more important than ever to ensure that girls know what they want sexually, and how best to get it- not to just go along with their partners even if they’re not aroused.
This is exactly what society does to young girls repeatedly, insinuating it’s not attractive, not suitable, not ladylike to have desires, to be turned on, so often they just keep quiet, creating generation upon generation of women with dire sexual experiences and a lack of basic understanding of their bodies. None of this is helped by the fact that sex education for girls, especially in my experiences, focuses on two things: pregnancy and STIs-which are hardly the pairing to inspire sexual confidence.
One of my PSHE lessons, age 14, consisted of a slideshow of not even reasonably PG photos (in high definition) of the symptoms of a plethora of STIs, from chlamydia to herpes, followed by a warning that although condoms are the way to go, they’re never 100% safe, for avoiding STIs or pregnancy. The fact that sex can be one of the most enjoyable experiences one can reach was not mentioned, nor, in fact, was any other form of contraception apart from condoms and the pill.
This focus on only the negative aspects of sex not only creates anxiety over sex, which obviously limits pleasure, but puts the pleasure as an afterthought, with the consequences as the main topic. Although men experience this negative sex education as well, due to the unchangeable biological reality that women bear children, we are often at the brunt of well-meaning but overzealous efforts that “abstinence is the only way to be 100% safe”.
We are lucky: we have a plethora of different types of contraception, from IUDs to patches, yet our worst-case-scenario-minded education means many young adults will spend the majority of their sexual experiences worrying about pregnancy, with little information on how to have fun sexually without the risk of pregnancy- which isn’t too complicated. However all this can be changed reasonably easily, but the culture behind it cannot.
This has taken us to the point where we have to now spin some of the blame on women, for the bizarrely, mostly female-initiated issue of slut shaming. How many times have you, when insulting a woman you disliked, used any sexual promiscuity as the main starting point, bitching about how she’s a whore or a slut. It’s some kind of unbreakable habit, which despite having previously done myself, I don’t really understand.
Cliché calls it as supposed competition over men, but it’s probably just unbroken convention that the worst thing a woman can be is sexually active. From a young age, girls will hear the word slut uttered with venom from thousands of sources, eventually associating having active sexual desire with being unlikeable or worse, whilst the male equivalent of manwhore (or the more recent fuckboi) is always said with a laugh or a smile, society never really having issues with male promiscuity.
You may be reading this thinking: of all the issues in the world, she chooses to be angry over the word ‘slut’ and film ratings. Well yes actually, I am, because I think it is my right to express myself sexually however I so wish, and to be not condoned for it. However issues such as slut-shaming and poor sex education are actually lesser symptoms of a much greater cause. I am lucky that the repression of female desire may only affect people like me through insults and anxiety, when all over the world girls as young as 5 are physically and irreversibly maimed simply to prevent them from ever expressing the power of their sexuality.
FGM is still practiced in 28 countries, mostly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, despite the fact that it has been definitively labelled as child abuse and against the victim’s human rights. This is child abuse that is done for the sole reason of impeding female sexual desire- even type 1 FGM, which is considered one of the least harmful, involves entire or partial removal of the clitoris, the literal definition of repressing female sexual desire, which normally takes place as a way to control women through subjugating their desires.
8000 girls are cut per day, just so their sexual desire can be controlled. 8000 girls daily are permanently harmed, physically and psychologically, just because society cannot deal with women who wield their sexuality as an asset rather than something to be ashamed of.
3 million girls a year face a future of incontinence, pain, infertility, and even death, because we as a global society are still afraid of women being sexually active, whether we live in Mogadishu or in Oxford. Some people attempt to defend FGM by claiming it is a religious requirement, but it is not mentioned in the main books of either Christianity or Islam, so any justification for FGM really just boils down to sexism, plain and simple.
I am ashamed to think that I live in a world where cutting into the genitals of a 5 year old girl is still a cultural practice, and where the values we hold, in the supposedly more progressive West, regarding female sexuality, do little to show a more enlightened approach. Our society has to lead by example, and although recent developments such as compulsory sex education on relationships is a step, this attitude is not something that will be changed by governmental action alone. So next time the word slut trips off your tongue, just remember the values you’re espousing, and the fact that the sex lives of other women are in fact not yours to judge.
Words by Millie Lord
Info on FGM: