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Why Do Feminists Find Abstinence Intolerable?

abstinence_header

“Instead of fulfilling the promise of infinite orgasmic bliss, sex in the America of the feminine mystique is becoming a strangely joyless national compulsion, if not a contemptuous mockery.”

Betty Friedan

US feminist (1921 – 2006)

Many young women feel guilty and unsuccessful when they are unable to embrace a steady diet of casual sex. Perceiving hooking up as the norm, as well as the only viable path to a relationship, they try repeatedly to enjoy themselves in a sexual encounter with someone they barely know. Instead they are often left feeling emotionally (not to mention sexually) frustrated and rejected. Unfortunately, they tend to blame themselves when hookups fizzle. They feel that they have fallen short in some way, that a different girl would have achieved a better result. As parents and friends, we encourage young women to hang in there—“You are beautiful, smart, special. You will meet someone who is right for you.”  Understandably, though, most women don’t want to go on an extended hiatus. They don’t want to suspend their sexuality. They are caught in a vicious cycle of attraction, sex, and disappointment.

So I was quite surprised when Carmel de Amicis, the sex columnist at UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian, wrote a piece called Atheists and Abstinence defending her decision to abstain from sex. Some excerpts:

“In America, much of our debate about sexuality stems from two poles: the ethical, conservative side that condemns premarital exploration, and the liberal, rational side that considers premarital sex to be a God-given right! …As a result, the decision to abstain or pursue sex becomes less about the sex and more about an individual’s identity….I’ve found myself thinking about this lately because I’ve been grappling with a relevant conflict: I haven’t wanted to have sex. Disconcerting, especially considering the fact that I’m supposed to be the campus symbol for free love and sex all around. After the abrupt ending of a serious relationship, I was thrust into the hook-up culture on campus, where casual sexual encounters are frequent and exalted. For the first time since I started having sex, I was forced to make the decision on a regular basis: yes or no? Overwhelmingly, my emotions were against it and they would annoyingly shout at me as I eyed the boy at the bar (Stop! No! Don’t do it!).

But my rational thoughts begged to differ, whispering in my other ear, “As a woman, you SHOULD be allowed to have sex whenever/wherever/with whomever!” This led to a few dry, hollow encounters that made me realize something key: even if I should feel comfortable having sex, that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to.

I know. Shocking. It’s total blasphemy to admit this in a column that’s only supposed to titillate you. But it’s true, I am not so sex-crazed that casual sex appeals to me. It took me a while to realize this because I was caught in the implications that accompany the choice to abstain. I was confused by my general sense that people only abstain because they think sex is wrong or dirty, God will judge them, or they’re prudish. Otherwise, the general thinking goes that sex is so fucking awesome, of COURSE you will want to have it as much as possible. It’s a vicious feedback loop with little way out for the rational mind.

Which brings me to my big point. Why is it that we need a reason to justify our sexual choices? We have built up a whole army of ideology and belief systems to solidify and support either end of our yes/no sex decision. Instead of listening to our intuitions, we rely on outside affiliations and ethical/logical explanations to make our decisions.

Especially in the college hook-up culture, ‘yes’ has become the default setting for us and any other decision would require a justification. It’s supported by such ingrained beliefs about freedom, progress and rights that people fall into bed together left and right without actively making the choice. Sex is expected and when you consider not having it you are fighting a whole host of other factors. Somehow, we have swung the pendulum back the other way, such that sex is a bit like the new abstinence: it feels like a betrayal to our values and ideals to say no.”

Ms. de Amicis is a brave young woman. The progress, values and ideals that she speaks of relate to feminism, of course. She may not realize it, but she’s just taken on a potent army of sex-positive feminists. Sex-positive feminism, which dominates the feminist agenda today, arose as a response against the previous generation of feminists who campaigned against pornography and the sexual objectification of women. The new population of feminists has little tolerance for abstinence as a choice. If you’re not into a whole extensive menu of sexual practices, you’ve been oppressed by the patriarchy. You’re not legit.

Feminists are dismissive of hookup culture, frequently claiming that it doesn’t exist, that it’s just the overreactive imagining of old fogies and right wing nuts who don’t want young people having sex before marriage. Jessica Valenti of Feministing.com writes:

“I actually don’t believe that hook [sic] culture exists. What I do think is cause for worry is the way that conservative and anti-women organizations, writers, and media makers are using this myth of a hook up culture to promote regressive values surrounding gender and to roll back women’s rights.”

Abstinence is vilified, the dirtiest word in the English language. Referring to recently published books exploring and documenting the hookup culture, Tracy Clark-Flory writes in Salon.com:

“These books are just the latest result of the mounting abstinence movement, which, despite its religious roots, has recast its attack on “hookup” culture as secular, even feminist. Perhaps young women are putting feminist ideals of equality into sex by refusing shame and claiming the traditionally male side of the stud/slut double standard.”

It’s ironic, then, that young women today feel shame for NOT having casual sex. They’ve tried on the male side of sex, and have found it a poor fit. Feminists seem incapable of considering the choice to abstain from sex separately from abstinence-only sex education. They are infuriated by women who identify themselves as abstinent, and often cast suspicion on their sanity by portraying them as crazy evangelicals. I believe that a woman’s choice about whether to have sex is no one’s business but her own. And if she chooses to associate with other women making the same choice at a particular point in their lives, that is not subversive. That is community. Why should groups of abstinence-minded students at universities be ridiculed for fraternizing, while publicly funded week-long Sex Worker Shows are celebrated?

Tracy Clark-Flory voices strenuous objections to the student abstinence group at Harvard called True Love Revolution. Janie Fredell, who was co-President of the group, asserts that by refusing to have sex, she is asserting control of her own body. She argues that her stand is a feminist one: “It takes a strong woman to be abstinent, and that is the sort of woman I want to be.”

Clark-Flory isn’t buying it:

“But Fredell doesn’t care about women making their own decisions about whether or not to have sex before marriage, she simply wants them to make the same decision she has made. She defines female empowerment along her own very personal and religious terms. Fredell can call herself a feminist all she wants, but the only woman she’s truly defending is herself.”

Who are sex-positive feminists standing up for? Who do they represent and defend other than themselves?

Here are a few of the choices wholeheartedly embraced by sex-positive feminists:

Rape fantasies

BDSM (sadomasochism)

Swinging

Polyamory, including triads, vees, double vees, etc.

Fisting

Bukkake (usually involves a group of standing men ejaculating on a seated woman)

Careers in prostitution and stripping

Careers in porn, both acting and creating

In other words, the liberated modern woman is sexually omnivorous. While these practices are portrayed as “normal”, abstinence is considered a freak show. If you define normal as lying within the bell curve, I would argue that none of these acts qualify.

Penny Red is a self-described blogger of the young feminist left. Here are some of her rules for  “Fucking Like a Feminist”:

  • In bondage/kink/role-play situations, respect my desires and I’ll respect yours. Get me off and I’ll get you off.
  • The mainstream model of heteronormative sex is limited and outdated. Challenging received gender roles in the bedroom means more experimentation, more emotional risk-taking, and more fun for everyone.
  • Feminists sleep with men, women, or both. Feminists have sex both within and outside of long-term relationships. Some feminists are kinky, or polyamorous, or have rare fetishes. Some don’t, and that’s OK too.
  • Any sexual proclivity is feminist if it is approached with equal respect for both partners’ needs and desires.
  • Feminists are gay, straight, bisexual, transsexual, genderqueer, kinky, vanilla, radically romantic, in myriad changing combinations. Feminists are fun, in and out of bed, period.

Rachel Kramer Bussel, a sex writer and leader in the sex-positive movement, believes that casual sex is “under attack”:

“There’s a world of difference between being branded a sex object and choosing to be one…I may like to get spanked until I scream, but I still deserve to be treated as an intelligent human being… Feminists are just like any other women, and it’d be a shame for us to hold back in a misguided attempt to live up to the legacies of Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem.”

Ms. Bussel goes on to say:

“We can choose to be celibate, or to have someone come on our face. Having a full range of sexual options should be a high-priority feminist goal…Thankfully, many of us are exploring our kinks in all their flavors.”

How does what you do in the privacy of your own sex life have anything to do with the goals of feminism? If you do choose to be celibate, then how do you qualify as a sex-positive feminist? In reality, I believe we are talking about a miniscule but extremely vocal part of the adult female population when we consider women who are seeking group sex, not to mention sex that flirts with violence, domination and subjugation. These women are several standard deviations from the mean. They are so far outside the mainstream as to render their views interesting perhaps, but largely irrelevant to most of us.

No one has the right to make you feel guilty for having and enjoying sex. And no one has the right to make you feel guilty if you discover that you’re not cut out for casual sex. You are not alone. In fact, the overwhelming majority of women feel exactly the way that you do.

In 1969, at the height of the Sexual Revolution, the mantra at Woodstock was: “If it feels good, do it.” Amen. And if it starts feeling like crap, you have every right to stop without feeling like a pariah. That is equality for women.

2 Pingbacks/Trackbacks

  • http://singlutionary.com/ Singlutionary

    The thing I love about feminism is that there is a camp for everyone. There is so much diversity in feminism that you can get a whole freaking PHD in it. I appreciate the conversations that each camp brings to the table.

    I think that part of the problem here is that feminist ideologies are still fighting old foes. Ones we've conquered long ago. There was a day when a woman would feel guilty about wanting to have sex or about having sexual desire much less doing the deed itself. Honestly, there are still many women who feel this way. So feminists were fighting the shame of either wanting sex or wanting sex that isn't considered the norm. Everyone should feel comfortable with what they want.

    The problem is that when fighting something super hard sometimes we loose sight of the original goal.

    If everyone should feel comfortable with what they want, people should also feel comfortable with what they don't want. So if you want Bukkake (hey, depending on the environment, I might try it) more power to you. If you don't want Bukkake, the same power to you.

    And if you don't want sex at all, equal power to that!

    The important part is to not feel ashamed of yourself or shamed by your culture for wanting what you want. And I think that is at the core of feminism but sometimes we get lost in the battle. All activists do.

  • http://FT.com/ VJ

    Once more into the breech.

    “These women are several standard deviations from the mean. They are so far outside the mainstream as to render their views interesting perhaps, but largely irrelevant to most of us”.

    Perhaps. Then perhaps not in NYC and any of our larger cities. And in point of fact? It's hazardous to venture a guess here, but one way of doing it is to find your fav 'sex advice' websites and look to see where the questions might be coming from. There's plenty of questions from small towns in the Midwest & Mountain West & Deep South. That may be some 'selection bias', but it does indicate that these 'squishy nasty things' & practices & behaviors are actually becoming fairly common. Which is what Masters & Johnson were telling us oh, more than 50 years ago too. So enthusiastic followers of kink though they may be, most of the writers are probably well within the 'mainstream' of their audience. They'd need to be too.

    “No one has the right to make you feel guilty for having and enjoying sex. And no one has the right to make you feel guilty if you discover that you’re not cut out for casual sex. You are not alone. In fact, the overwhelming majority of women feel exactly the way that you do”.

    Sure. Then we've got to consider what 'casual sex' is, when it might be 'appropriate', and when can many females (& males) actually desire it & pursue it. Because I know of a whole 'subculture' of married & divorced women who've got little problems with it. Beyond & apart from the 'teens' we might worry more about too. (Given traditional morality concerns, nath'). So most of us male & female probably do not prefer casual sex as our 'best' or even 'better' sex. We like & desire 'relational sex'. But there's huge gradations of that, and statistically? Most of it is 'unmarried' currently. Hence 'illicit' & 'wrong' according to many strict moralists.

    And please for the sake of continuity and more accuracy, just go with Wiki's simple definition on Bukkake. Seated? They've regularly got chairs in there someplace? Um, what kind?

    And yes, sadly you can be married and still have some of these issues too: “They are caught in a vicious cycle of attraction, sex, and disappointment”. I know, tragic though it may seem. That's where some get into the 'swinging scene'. Even in MO & other distant & strange places. The 'agony aunt' & advice columnists are constantly beset by people sexually unhappy in their LTR's & marriages. It's been a perennial favorite for as long as they've been in the papers.

    And yes, economists have tacked this issue too: “How does what you do in the privacy of your own sex life have anything to do with the goals of feminism?” In many different forms. Yes the pill & subsequent decriminalizing abortion was 'liberating' and led directly to women finally being able to complete college at greater rates than guys for the first time in history. That does mean something, and has a significant impact on almost every aspect of the future life for women. So aspects of 'sexual liberation' have been fairly good & favorable to & for women's economic advancement, here & abroad. (Citations available on request).

    So while abstinence for Adults is perfectly respectable and understandable in many instances, it's just infrequently practiced by the majority of people much of the time. For a variety of decent, natural & expected reasons too. Advocating it as a universal balm for escaping the rigors of adult sexual relationships, friendships & negotiations is still pretty standard MO for most of the more 'conservative' anti-sex outfits still out there & very active in the land. Hence the very natural 'push back' from 'sex-positive' feminists' on the issue. It's still an active & ongoing battlefield in the ongoing 'culture wars', where the cruelest epithet one can hurl at a young or old gal is 'whore'. It's also still the most common as well. To this day.

    So just say no or yes to sex whenever you want to. That's what human & personal liberty should be all about. For whatever reasons you feel comfortable with. But please don't pretend that they're not huge ongoing investments & campaigns by powerful conservative RW organizations, interests & forces that are repeatedly trying to enforce largely outdated more conservative social norms onto everyone, regardless of their personal situations, needs, desires or inclinations. The 'anti-sex' lobby is large, well organized, and always has a seat at the table when they're handing out money from the government, industry or charities. Abstinence and 'just say no' campaigns have garnered in excess of a billion dollars a year with no measurable effects on either the pregnancy/abortion rates, or the rate of sexual involvement by anyone receiving these programs. That's a few decades worth of intolerable waste, considering the miserably misbegotten misinformation contained in many of them.

    Again, always interesting stuff & sorry for the length. Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'

  • susanawalsh

    That's so true. And right now I think the Female Chauvinist Pig (great book by Ariel Levy) branch of feminism dominates. They dominate in the media, and contribute to a hypersexualized environment for girls and teens. Instead of fighting the battle against slut shaming, now we're shaming virgins. Part of this is generational – there are many Third Wave feminists who are very disappointed with the state of feminism today. It's also true that the percentage of women in the U.S. who consider themselves feminist is declining steadily every single year. Something's broken.

  • susanawalsh

    Hey, VJ. I'm not pretending that abstinence-only funding isn't real and detrimental to young people. But that is not what I'm writing about here. The personal is not political. Carmel de Amicis feels guilty for not going with the casual sex agenda. She knows that her mother's generation worked hard to liberate women, and she feels the need to defend her choice to abstain from sex. She worries that it's regressive.

    She's my audience, along with the many other young women who feel the way she does. My readers, for the most part, are not going to swingers clubs. They are not interested in role-playing rape. Yes, there are large numbers of people who are. But women as a percentage? I maintain it's tiny, though as you say, the opportunities in NYC (as well as LA) are abundant.

    As for the cruelest epithet, many women between the ages of 16 and 25 would far prefer being called a whore or slut to being suspected of virginity. It's common practice for girls to ask friends or hookups to help them get it over with, so that they need not feel ashamed of never having had sex.

  • http://megslifeisgreat.blogspot.com/ Megan

    I'm going to pipe up on this one. I have actually been struggling with this for a while. I am lucky to have wonderful friends who think it is great that I still have my virginity, but at 26 it is becoming a stigma. I have thought of approaching some friends and seeing if they would help get me over this, but honestly I have abstained from sex for a reason. I'm not waiting for marriage. I'm not even waiting for Mr. Perfect, but with sex comes so much else and I think that this is the part that sex education and feminism and all that other stuff out there about sex don't even talk about.

    I watched the special last night on ABC and I think that there is a happy medium between abstinence only education and complete sex education. Rarely in sex ed class did we talk about the emotions behind sex or the consequences. It was stated so mater-of-factly that I don't really think the kids in my class took it seriously. I have not had sex for many reason. Part of it was body image which I am happily almost over. I think I believe that there are people out there who want to have sex with me who I would want to have sex with. The bigger reason why really is that I am not ready for a kid. I know that there are lots of ways to prevent this from happening. However, as a product of casual sex that lead to an awful marriage and an even more awful divorce and so much therapy for me I just can't get over this. Sex is not something that should be taken lightly.

    I know it is fun. I have done everything but the act. I get it and I know how hard it is to say no. It is so hard for me to stick with this choice and living in NYC it has also lost me a few guys (many people point out that these are guys I probably don't want to be with anyways). Which is true. Honestly I'm sick of having this V-card and I am ready for a relationship so I can get it over with. Which is so not the way I ever wanted to think about it. I know that I will never ever be a person who can have causal sex and often in this day and age I do feel that makes me a prude.

    It is rather awful the stigma that is cast on us out there that decided to stay “pure”. It is so frustrating that I am such an anomaly and it is something that I have been struggling with these last few months. I could write on and on about this. It is something that wether I like it or not defines me as a person and something I don't share with really anyone, but I guess the cats out of the bag now. This was an excellent article and I wish more people would talk about how the decision to abstain is a valid and respectable choice.

    • Michael

      Rarely in sex ed class did we talk about the emotions behind sex or the consequences.

      Sex-ed should avoid the emotional consequences of sex (or lack thereof).

      It should focus strictly on STD’s and pregnancy.

  • susanawalsh

    Megan, your sharing this really, really moved me. Thank you for feeling that HUS is a safe place to say what's in your heart. I wholeheartedly admire and respect your decision. Yes, you have some personal baggage (don't we all), and that has played a huge role in your choice. But it also sounds like you have worked hard to get to the place where you feel ready. Now all you need is one guy who is worthy of you. That is asking a lot, because you are GREAT! Seriously, you are smart, beautiful and you have a great lust for life. Hang in, live your life, keep meeting new people, be yourself, and love yourself. And if you ever do get desperate to just get it the hell over with, you will. It's not the best, or worst, thing that can happen.

  • http://megslifeisgreat.blogspot.com/ Megan

    Thanks. I just think I am realizing that it really is something that I don't need to be ashamed of. I don't have religious reason or anything. It is interesting that anytime I share this with someone they act shocked and when I say I just want to get it over with they want me to guard it with my life. I know it is because most of them have been so hurt because they have casual sex. It is just so hard to be the only one in the group that decided to wait till she was actually emotionally ready to take that step.

  • http://singlutionary.com/ singlutionary

    Megan, you are so cool. I know some other people who were virgins well into their 20s. Most of them had religious reasons but at the same time many of their reasons were also secular ones like the ones you mention. And they are all very interesting, well rounded, capable people who now enjoy very strong lasting relationships. I think there is something to be said for you and your bravery and your patience and your self commitment. I don't regret anything in my life but I can say that a choice like yours may have saved me a ton of grief. But, of course, I also needed that greif to land me where I now stand!

    People do tend to freak out when you're a virgin and not religious but the right people will just accept that as a thing that makes you unique and intelligent and interesting.

  • susanawalsh

    I think it is very interesting that your friends are honest enough to advise you to wait. I have heard some real first-time horror stories, and I would never wish that for you. It is also clear that you have made a thoughtful decision about this. You are being true to yourself, and I think when you're 80 you'll look back and feel good about waiting.

  • http://FT.com/ VJ

    Again always interesting conversation. I will say that I've rarely heard from anyone that they've been actively mocked or ridiculed for being a virgin, especially women. I really do think even those dark & hairy feminists of fantasy & yore will agree about this. You do what your conscience dictates. If you don't think you're ready, you probably aren't, and you should just trust your instincts. And you'll be & do fine when you are. There's no stigma or shame in this either. And most rational caring people will understand. If not? They're probably not the ones to be in an adult LTR or marriage.

    And no the schools don't teach the emotional side to these things as they can barely agree to teach the accurate Biology here. That's still an uphill struggle. They'd not be getting the emotional landscape accurately described here either. So they go minimalist, and that's probably the safest & most 'parsimonious' avenue here.

    And yes, oral sex does go a long way, and can and does still make grown men titter. Even on TV:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/24/mornin

    So not to worry. All this glory awaits you when you find that someone special to share it with. Privately we hope! Cheers & Good Luck! 'VJ'

    • Michael

      And no the schools don’t teach the emotional side to these things as they can barely agree to teach the accurate Biology here.

      What is the emotional side to having sex?

      I know the emotional side to not having sex-feelings of shame, rage, frustration, resentment, despair, depression, and suicide. I know for I am 32 years old, a virgin, and I know every single woman my age is not.

  • susanawalsh

    Oh Lord, VJ, you always add to the conversation! That clip on huffpo is hilarious. Thanks for sharing.

  • Megan

    I don't think that many people who have made it past 23 with their V-card feel judged. It is more like you feel like you are left out of some sort of club. I can only speak for my experience and since I'm not doing this for a religious reason I just feel like I'm not a grown up yet. I don't know if that makes sense.

    It is also something I hide from guys. I am under this impression that if a guy finds out I've never gone all the way I am too much of a challenge or they don't want to be the guy. I probably am wrong about this, but I know that many of us virgins feel this way when we reach a certain age. I blame Cosmo. At least the ones that aren't hanging out with guys who have also saved themselves.

  • susanawalsh

    It does make sense. Curtis Sittenfeld's novel right after Prep was called The Man of My Dreams, and the main character contends with this situation. She finally decides to do it, but tells the guy and he balks. He feels it is too much responsibility on him at that point. So I can see where it can become larger than life, in a sense. I have to believe that when the time is right you will know. You may choose to share that information, and you may not, that is your choice.

    And BTW, Cosmo has a whole lot to answer for!

  • Megan

    I've never read that book before, but it sounds like one I would love. I have actually googled this to tell or not to tell. There are lots of mixed views out there, but most lean towards the don't tell. I think it is interesting really because unless you bring up sex you never talk about it you are just in someone's bed. Then I'm always like oh shit… I didn't mean to end up here again and then I'm like um yeah we aren't having sex and I don't really recommend this. Honestly, I don't know why I'm still a virgin and it isn't something I'm proud of or not proud of it is just a fact about me. It is frustrating to feel like the only person in the world who hasn't had sex yet.

  • susanawalsh

    Well, you said that you have done everything but….and I'm sure you know that 75% of women don't orgasm from intercourse. So, honestly, it may be more of a blip than an explosion when it happens. There is so much lore around virginity, and I think that's silly! If you are not bound by religious conviction, then it's really about just crossing a line. It's like running 6.1 miles instead of 6 miles. Do you know what I mean? I think it's counterproductive to make it a HUGE thing. Having said that, I don't mean to imply that it is not important to you, or that you don't get to decide when and where. For the record, I know that many young women don't tell the guy if it's not a very serious relationship. They're just more comfortable not making a big deal about it.

  • Morning_glory

    I found this whole discussion very interesting. In my country we don't really have the hook-up culture. But once a girl makes it through her early teens without any premature experiences, we have a vast array of options. There are still lots of nice guys who want serious relationships, which may or may not include sex; and they would never hook up. And we also have guys who just want to hook up and may or may not include a serious girlfriend that you eventually see or meet somewhere (it's a very small country).
    There's really not a lot of external pressure on women to “get it over with”. I can even say I never heard about any girl asking a male friend for help in that department. Either you wait for a husband, the right guy or the first opportunity; its pretty much up to you.
    And when you tell another girl that you have NSA sex with someone, her reaction can be:
    a) she thinks its OK, but that's quite a minority or
    b) she thinks having sex is a big deal so she thinks…
    b1)”you're a slut!”
    b2) “I wonder how you can away that? because I would never do such a thing… but I won't judge you”
    b3) she kindly expresses her concern that you're gonna get hurt
    So I guess the sexual revolution of the 60s didn't made much of an impact here, and just 20 years ago having premarital sex was quite a bad thing to do if you wanted to be good wife material. And the old double standard for men and women ain't dead at all. Those feminist you quoted would cause a heart attack to many young people in my country, since we are still kind of in between new values that come mostly from American television and the old values that come in soap operas (where the good girl only has sex to get pregnant with the good guy's baby and they marry in the end, once he finds out that the baby is his and that he isn't actually related in the first degree with the heroine).
    And the bottomline to all this is: lots and lots of people in my country have lots and lots of sex… but many of them won't admit it. And is very unusual to find a woman bragging to her friends about having slept with a lot of guys.
    So, despite all the differences, people in my country and yours seem to be equally lost when it comes to feminism, sex, relationships and such.

  • susanawalsh

    Morning glory, that is so interesting, that American TV is reshaping the sexual landscape in your country. I'm sure the same is true of American films. For better or worse, our culture is beamed into homes all over the world, at least where the government doesn't censor.

    My brother and his family live in Italy, where young people really don't hook up in the same way they do here. They have two children, and my sister-in-law finds the American “way” absolutely terrifying. It's been hard for her to wrap her head around the idea that hooking up is enough of a topic that I could write a blog about it!

    In the end, though, I'm sure what you say is true. Lots and lots of people everywhere having lots and lots of sex!

  • Screwtape

    I was a virgin until I was 32, and I am a guy. As much pressure as you have felt, I think it is worse for men. Male virgins are derided as less than men, possibly gay, and generally pathetic. The woman who took my virginity never found out about it; I was afraid she would be turned off by it. Or that I was a liar. I was not able to orgasm because I spent the entire time trying to act like I knew what I was doing. What made matters worse for me is she blamed herself for my lack and inability to orgasm, as despite my fumbling I was able to get her off a few times (and that was a freak out for me… I never thought a woman's orgasm involved a drenching…). I think her self-recrimination drove us apart. I had thought to mention that I was a virgin afterwards, but then I thought to myself it would probably make her feel even worse: that she could not get a guy off in his first sexual experience. And what is bad is I really did want her…

    As far as virgin women go: There have been successful auctions of women putting their virginity up for bids. I think one of the latest ones recieved a few million dollars. Men often want a virgin as they know she will never forget them… or just for the priviledge (and challenge) of making her first time a good time. The women I know who had been with virgin men did not feel the same way as they figured they would get little pleasure out of it.

    Well sorry if I come off a little bad there. This has always been an uncomfortable subject for me, but reading the article gave me an overwhelming urge to respond. As all the above is my own personal experience and opinion, take it with a grain of salt.

  • susanawalsh

    Screwtape, thank you for sharing that – it's awesome of you. Yeah, I totally get that it is worse for guys. Men are under CONSTANT pressure to score. I've also heard lots of stories where guys are so nervous about lasting long enough, they lose their erections. There's way more performance anxiety for men. But you're also right about the self-recrimination. When I've been in situations where the guy got soft or didn't come, I've been mortified, convinced I'm not sexy enough. And when I've been with a guy who prematurely ejaculated, he told me it was because I was TOO sexy. It's no wonder we're all confused, fumbling around in the dark half the time.

  • hambydammit

    I'm going to come at this from a strange angle. I propose that we need to be talking about two different kinds of abstinence. The first is what I'll call “Abstinence on Principle.” This is what Abstinence Only Education, religious teaching, and many of our culturally inherited “sex-negative” beliefs hinge upon. For the woman who is Abstinent on Principle, sex is only permissible when it falls within an external set of imposed moral values.. For many Christians, this means that regardless of what a woman might want, she should not have sex unless she is married. No matter how much a woman might want to rip the clothes off the guy who's been chatting her up all night at the bar, she is not permitted to do so without being immoral.

    The second kind of abstinence is what I will call “Abstinence by Preference.” That is, a woman chooses not to have sex at this time because she doesn't want to have sex at this time. There's a trick to this classification, though. In this context, one can only be Abstinent by Preference if she believes that IF she wanted to rip the guy's clothes off, she could, and there would be nothing wrong with it. In other words, moralists don't get to claim this category. It is only available to women who genuinely believe that sex would be perfectly fine, healthy, and natural if they happened to want it.

    Now that I've established the difference, I'd like to destroy one of the categories. It may sound like a tautology, but it must be true that any woman who believes that sex is natural, healthy, and perfectly acceptable whenever she wants to have it doesn't really “practice abstinence.” She practices not having sex when she doesn't want to have sex. At any given moment, if she is not having sex, it just means she doesn't have any options she wants. Presumably, if she meets someone tomorrow who makes her want to have sex ten times a day, she'll be having sex ten times a day.

    For Carmel de Amicis, I get the distinct impression that if she meets someone tomorrow that gets her juices flowing — literally — she'll feel perfectly fine getting back on the horse. She's not sex-negative. She's sex-choosy, and why shouldn't she be? I may be a guy, but I have no trouble understanding what it's like to feel poorly about choosing bad sex over no sex. I've done it enough times. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of men who would choose no sex over bad sex or sex with someone they're not attracted to.

    Maybe we're barking up the wrong tree here. Maybe we shouldn't talk about women like Ms Amicis as “abstinent.” They don't “believe in abstinence” in the same way as the religious. They just believe in only having sex when they want to have sex. That's what we all believe in, right?

  • susanawalsh

    Wow, hambydammit, that may be the best comment I have ever read on my blog! Thank you so much for weighing in. I agree with every single thing you said. I would never advocate Abstinence on Principle – life is too short! But even there I respect the choice of a repressed Christian woman to refrain from pleasurable sex. Who am I to judge her belief system? I'm glad I'm not her, but what she doesn't do in her bedroom is her own business, as long as she's not scaring the horses.

    I also agree that being sex-negative is not the opposite of being sex-positive. Carmel is indeed, sex-choosy. Promoting sex-choosiness is one of my primary blogging goals, because I am aware of the emotional fallout that often occurs when women stop being thoughtful about those decisions.

    I do experience pushback from sex-positive feminists, however. When sex-positivity becomes a political agenda, at the expense of other feminist objectives, I believe that women suffer. The problem is that Carmel feels that she has to justify her sex-choosiness. That's what I'm rebelling against.

  • hambydammit

    Well, at the risk of being pedantic, you are YOU to judge a repressed Christian woman's belief system. You HAVE judged it, and found it to be unsuitable. You just said so!

    You've read at least a little of my blog, and you're aware that I have no problem with publicly denouncing Christian morality. I know that's not what your blog is about, but I think if we're talking honestly and openly about something, we shouldn't be afraid of calling a thing what it is, even if it pisses a few people off.

    Sex is very good for you when practiced in a healthy way, and regardless of whether or not we want to put an umbrella over a whole belief system, we can go ahead and say the truth about this aspect of it. There are a lot of negative effects from choosing Abstinence on Principle, and any system of belief that advocates it is missing some very important things about human nature. We can respect people's right to believe things, but we're under no obligation to protect them from hearing that their beliefs are potentially wrong or harmful, or that they might be happier if their beliefs changed.

    But anyway… that's not actually what I intended to comment on…

    Sometimes I catch flack from my blog because people perceive me as promoting sexual irresponsibility or promiscuity. It's true that I tell people that they can be polyamorous or nonmonogamous if they want, and that they can have casual sex (hookups). I also tell them that sex doesn't have to lead to a long term relationship to be meaningful. However, I don't actually advocate any sexual practice in particular, other than complete honesty with ourselves about what we really want. In a bizarre sort of way, I think you're catching flack from the opposite direction for doing exactly the same thing.

    I think the pushback you're getting from some feminists is an example of moving so far left that you're back on the right again. It's easy for some people to get a little lost in their own success with sex. They forget, or perhaps they never knew, that just as heterosexuality/homosexuality is a graded scale, not an on/off switch, so libido and sexual adventurousness is a scale. There are many people in the world who are very sex-positive and have very ordinary sex lives. They have vanilla, missionary sex twice a week, and that's all they want. We can't just throw a blanket over the whole lot and declare that they're secretly still repressed, or that they're somehow “hurting the cause” of sex-positive living. (That's getting dangerously close to some kind of neo-Freudian nonsense.) So, when you tell people that it's ok to NOT be nonmonogamous or NOT have hookup sex, you're really doing the same thing as me, but you catch shit from the other side of the spectrum.

    In reality, most people are probably middle ground folks, regardless of whether they're repressed sexually or not. The swingers, fetishists, gangbang sluts (Their word, not mine! I don't believe in sluts.) BDSM, open relationships, etc… those are on the far end of the sexual scale, and though they're not wrong, they're also not for most people except for those occasional crazy nights on vacation in Jamaica. I'm with you that I'd like to see the day when the only thing any woman needs to answer is whether she's honest with herself about what she wants.

  • susanawalsh

    This is full of interesting points. A few thoughts:

    1. I'm basically libertarian in my views of what's OK in one's private life. You want to take a virginity pledge? Be my guest. Just don't expect me or anyone else to accept your definition of morality. I find polyamory abhorrent and selfish, to be honest, and I'm not looking to mix it up with swingers at a dinner party. But if that's your thing, and your partner is game, go for it. Just don't imply that I'm “uncool” or “repressed by the patriarchy” if I don't want to join in your fun and games. So: left, right, I don't care. Do your own thing, and keep it to yourself.

    2. I love your description of my dilemma vs. feminists – I've gone so far left that I'm back on the right again. THAT'S IT! It feels very odd to define myself as a feminist, but not in sync with the feminist movement in America today. I know I'm viewed as a Friedan-era relic, but honestly, when it comes to sex, I think women (and men) should be able to make any choice that works for them. Here at HUS, I focus on supporting women who are struggling with feeling OK about their choices. I feel equally supportive of the woman who wants casual sex without being called a slut, and the woman who only wants sex within a relationship but can't find a guy who will even commit to be exclusive.

    Thanks, as always, for thought-provoking and insightful commentary. Your own blog is awesome – very different from mine, and very interesting!

  • susanawalsh

    This is full of interesting points. A few thoughts:

    1. I'm basically libertarian in my views of what's OK in one's private life. You want to take a virginity pledge? Be my guest. Just don't expect me or anyone else to accept your definition of morality. I find polyamory abhorrent and selfish, to be honest, and I'm not looking to mix it up with swingers at a dinner party. But if that's your thing, and your partner is game, go for it. Just don't imply that I'm “uncool” or “repressed by the patriarchy” if I don't want to join in your fun and games. So: left, right, I don't care. Do your own thing, and keep it to yourself.

    2. I love your description of my dilemma vs. feminists – I've gone so far left that I'm back on the right again. THAT'S IT! It feels very odd to define myself as a feminist, but not in sync with the feminist movement in America today. I know I'm viewed as a Friedan-era relic, but honestly, when it comes to sex, I think women (and men) should be able to make any choice that works for them. Here at HUS, I focus on supporting women who are struggling with feeling OK about their choices. I feel equally supportive of the woman who wants casual sex without being called a slut, and the woman who only wants sex within a relationship but can't find a guy who will even commit to be exclusive.

    Thanks, as always, for thought-provoking and insightful commentary. Your own blog is awesome – very different from mine, and very interesting!

  • Veronica

    I wanted to respond to this one since I also come from a small country where hook ups are not really a major part of the dating scene. And as an outsider to the American culture I noticed that American media propagates care free sex and presents abstinence as deviant behavior. In many sitcoms and comedies this is a typical conversation. Friend: “oh, you are so nervous/depressed/lost/anything_else, how long since you had sex?” Hero/Heroine: “oh it's been 1 year/3 months/forever”. Friend: “what are you waiting for? This is the source of all your problems, you need to get some!!!” So no wonder that both men and women feel they need to defend themselves if they are not having sex. The problem is not that they are lonely, no, their problem is that they are not getting any.

  • susanawalsh

    Veronica, thanks for commenting! Yes, it's so true. American culture may not be changing things rapidly in other countries, that does take some time. But it's planting these ideas in other cultures. American women who travel or study abroad regularly report that the local guys are absolutely stunned if they turn down casual sex. They feel they've been misled! Way too many movies are giving American women a bad reputation all over the world!

  • nothingbutthetruth

    I thought that shaming language (http://exposingfeminism.wordpress.com/shaming-tactics/) was only applied to men. But now I see that it also has been applied to you, Susan (“scary”, “prude”, “fearful of losing her husband for a sluttier woman”, etc.

    • http://www.hookingupsmart.com Susan Walsh

      @nothingbutthetruth
      LOL! Women are good at shaming one another from the age of 2 onwards. Many of us wield power as “mean girls” in adolescence.

  • tj

    “virgin-shaming”…the sex-positive fems and feministing have alot to answer for. gr8 site.

  • Remorhaz

    Megan – a few thoughts. You are better than most women and any good man will regard you as such. in this culture you are rarer and more valuable than rubies. Want the bitter truth? Take your looks on a scale of 1-10. For each sex partner you’ve had who isn’t going to be your husband (i.e. the guys your husband gets to think about being intimate with you and he *will* think about this) take your looks and take the square root. 1 before him and you’re a nine? Square root of 9 (becomes three). Twelve? Take the twelfth root.

    You’re typical college slut hits a one pretty fast and stays there. Men have an army of ones to choose from, some look better than others.

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  • casey

    i will proudly say i’m not a feminist. as a recent college grad and poli sci major, i’ve read more than my fair share of books on the subject, attended lectures and have written papers. one of the books i read actually said that all hetero sex is rape because the penetration “degrades women”…wtf?

    it sickens me that i go into my local target and see little girls shirts that say “i make the boys cry” or “girls rule, boys drool” or any other man-bashing sentiments and these things are seen as “Cute” or even worse empowering. i don’t have to put down an entire gender to feel empowered. if those same shirts were sold in the little boys section with quotes like “girls are dumb” or “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” everyone would be deeply offended and up in arms.

    it seems to me that the feminist agenda is not one of equality, but the actual humiliation and degradation of men.

    as someone who is in my early 20s and abstains from sex, i agree that i’m a social pariah by some standards. my friends all dont care but according to the mainstream media, im a freak, ugly, leper, weirdo etc… (btw im none of the above lol). sex is just that…sex. people make a big deal out of it. either you do it or you dont, who cares?

  • Jenn

    As a young adult in my early twenties, I decided I wanted to take a chance on hook up’s and to have sex with guys that I find attractive. It happened and I scored guys that I would of never thought. But it did not work for me. The guys turned weird on me, maybe for the fact that we work together. I think though that if it had been different types of guys that I do not know from my work place, it might of been different. But it remains the same that I couldn’t no longer be their friend and hold meaningful and fun conversations with them that left me hurt. I love that I came across these website. It has truly opened my eyes to a lot of what I’m experiencing and it helps to know that I’m not alone!