Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have raised the spectre of Sex-Positive Feminists in my post yesterday. It was a jinx, and this morning I woke up to an ABC news feature: Sexual Hook Ups Damned By Chastity Groups, Hailed By New Feminists It’s about how students at Harvard are once again hotly debating the issue. Do I have to align myself with one of these two groups? Because that’s like asking if I prefer vomit or poop.
I don’t think it matters what chastity groups or feminists think about hooking up. It only matters what you think about it, and whether it’s workin’ for ya. The whole clash between these constituencies can be summed up as follows:
Chastity Groups: Don’t hook up! You’re objectifying and degrading women!
New Feminists: Hook up! You owe it to yourselves and women everywhere to claim the male role in the stud/slut sexual double standard!
Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I believe the following about hooking up:
1. It’s the primary path to relationships, especially in college. Like it or not, it’s the culture, and it’s not changing anytime soon. The best thing you can do is be smart about how, where, when, why and with whom.
2. Men have a low threshold for seeking sex. Translation: They don’t need to know a partner well or for long to enjoy sex; even a stranger is usually fine. In practical terms, this means that men would be happy hooking up with no strings forever, or at least for a very long time.
3. Women throughout history have nearly invariably refused anonymous encounters, preferring some degree of commitment. Until now. However, it remains true that most women are not cut out for sustained casual sexual relationships. Our hormones ensure that we bond with sexual partners.
True Love Revolution is a pro-abstinence club at Harvard. A couple of years ago, the New York Times ran a profile of the group, which had royally pissed off some students when they sent out 800 valentines with the slogan Why wait? Because you’re worth it. Some claimed the valentines were specifically anti-feminist. The co-founders of the group were a couple who met at a Catholic retreat, and though they intended to marry, they decided to abstain from sex until then. The two say their choice was not a religious one:
To make their argument more palatable, they never mention God when describing their reasons for waiting; instead, they rely on words like “dignity,” “self-respect” and “empowerment.”
Empowerment? How is not having sex empowering?
Rachel Wagley is the current co-President of TLR:
A popular thing to say among this intellectual crowd, in the ivies and in feminism in general, is that sex is empowering and a real woman uses her sexuality in any way she pleases. It’s blatantly false and a lie that this culture tells to girls for their own benefit.
Silpa Kovvali, a computer-science major, spoke to ABC News after publishing an opposing editorial in the Harvard Crimson:
To say that a consensual sexual act is degrading to you is the complete opposite of feminism. For women to take control of the sex act can be an incredibly empowering experience.
Again with the empowerment!
Stanford sociology professor Paula England weighs in:
There’s a lot of degrading treatment of some women and it is empoweringly free for other women.
“Empoweringly free.” Oy.
England goes on to say that “equal opportunity” thinking by feminists came to the workplace but never to sex:
First, men initiate more of the interaction, especially the sexual action,” she wrote. “Second, men have orgasms more frequently than women. Men’s sexual pleasure seems to be prioritized. Third, a sexual double standard persists in which women are more at risk than men of getting a bad reputation for hooking up with multiple partners.
If taking control of the sex act is empowering, wouldn’t refusing the sex act then be part of that? By that logic, abstaining from sex should be as empowering as any other sexual choice, no?
What does it mean to be empowered by sex?
The word empower originated in the 1600s and meant: to enable or permit. The word was first politicized during the Civil Rights movement, then by the Women’s Movement. It was essentially a marketing tool for change, designed to convince constituents that they would gain greater control over their destinies if they bought in. Language usage experts dislike the pop psychology application of the word, feeling that it is notoriously innacurate when politicized.
Interestingly, synonyms include:
In this case, then, True Love Revolution is saying that not having sex validates not having sex. Not having sex encourages not having sex. In other words, it is empowering to abstain from sex because it makes you more entrenched in your own decision to abstain from sex.
In the case of the New Feminists, we might say that any form of consensual sex recommends consensual sex. Or that hooking up indulges young people in hooking up. Again, being empowered to do things “my way” further proves the justice of my cause.
An individual’s decisions around sex will reflect his or her family and cultural background, gender, past sexual experiences and many other factors. There is no absolute right or wrong. You should do whatever feels right (not necessarily what feels good) for you.
Whatever choice you make at any given point in time, it is a valid choice.
I recommend that you give all of your sexual experiences careful thought, and
I encourage you to explore your sexuality with a person who respects and cares for you.
However, we will all be tempted to indulge from time to time, and that can be fun too.
(I think I just invented the blogging pun, sorry.)