While boys are taught that the things that make them men — good men — are universally accepted ethical ideals, women are led to believe that our moral compass lies somewhere between our legs.”Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth
America’s social and political cultures give an excessive and disproportionate amount of attention to women’s sexuality. While feminism has helped erode shame around women’s sexuality, society still utilizes this concept to measure value and worth.
Blame it on the patriarchy
From the social emphasis on women’s virginity and body count to political debates about women’s use of birth control. These occurrences are not coincidental. Instead, they are a series of conditioned beliefs that have manifested into modern-day society by the patriarchy.
Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold primary power in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege, and control of property.
Although there are various ways to express sexuality, societal constructs favor a particular way of expression. This standard fuses with patriarchal ideals and teaches women to express their sexuality as though it is of service to men.
“Whether it’s a teacher telling you not to, or a cameraman telling you how to, having sex that’s about making yourself happy is a big no-no”Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism
In other words, society has historically reserved the benefits of sex only for men, not women. Therefore, the level of worth and respect a woman is granted is based upon how well she can submissively fit into this norm.
However, any woman going beyond the norm to express her sexuality independently is then labeled as promiscuous, and immorally unchaste by those around her.
Luckily these are outdated beliefs – thank you, feminism! – society still plays a significant role in commodifying and controlling women’s sex lives.
The Purity Myth
“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but unfortunately, when he is done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker”Educator’s word of advice at sex abstinence conference, Full Frontal Feminism
One patriarchal ideal that continues to run rampant in our world is the connotations around virginity.
Virginity is not a medical term; it’s a societal construct to categorize people who are abstinent. This construct teaches girls to view their virginity as a prized possession that keeps them pure and worthy of respect. Women are encouraged to hold onto this part of their identity for as long as they can. For once they give it away, they lose value.
Feminist author, Jessica Valenti writes in her book titled The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women
Although women are no longer burned by the stake for their promiscuous behavior, sexually liberated women are still punished by society. In today’s modern world we call this some good ole slut-shaming. Defined as:
“The action or fact of stigmatizing a woman for engaging in behavior judged to be promiscuous or sexually provocative.”
Upon reviewing our modern-day culture, women are constantly shamed, ridiculed, and punished for expressing their sexuality. Beginning in elementary school, young girls are required to dress modestly so that their bodies won’t be a distraction to others…because shoulders are soo risqué.
Following into middle school and high school, teens learn a chain of newly offensive words to call a girl. All of which target her sexuality, even when it’s not always the context (wh*re, Sk*nk, c*nt, etc.).
Meanwhile, celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have also been met with scrutiny for their dating life by the public.
In a tweet from 2019, Cyrus addressed the slut-shaming she faced after she was spotted kissing Cody Simpson – following her split from Liam Hemsworth.
“Men (especially successful ones) are RARELY slut shamed.”
“They move on from one beautiful young woman to the next MOST times without consequence.”
“They are usually referred to as legends, heartthrobs, G, or ladies man etc, where women are called sluts/ ‘whores!”Miley Cyrus, Twitter.com
The double standard
A-ha! My final, and most important point of them all. The sexual double standard. A sexual double standard is a standard that judges sexual behavior differently for men and women. Despite showing the same sexual behaviors, men’s sex lives are more positively evaluated than women’s.
When it comes to sexuality, the double standard placed in society will always put women in a loose-loose situation. If you exercise abstinence and save yourself for marriage, a group of people will consider you a virgin-prude. However, if you do decide to embrace sexual liberation, a group of people will shame you for it.
Overall, it may take a few more lifetimes to fully erase the conditioned patriarchal belief systems set against women’s sexuality. At the end of the day, someone will always have judgments, opinions, and criticism on what we do. It is up to us, however, to determine how much weight we allow unrequited opinions to have on our happiness. Whatever choice you may make for sex, do it because it makes you happy and aligns with your belief systems. Not anyone else’s.