The Unbearable Lightness Of Fucking

When I was 15, I thought that I had a honeytrap between my thighs. They don't teach you how to wield that one – to the more perceptive of maidens within our culture, the overt sexualization of the body we have suddenly developed without quite growing into is impossible to avoid. Like tottering around in that first pair of high heel shoes, we haven’t yet learned how to wear what has been thrust upon us. But unlike a pair of high heels, which are beyond a twisted ankle, the parallel is more akin to being given a bazooka disguised as a bouquet of roses that one does not know how to use.

Individuals who consider themselves to be tolerant, open minded and progressive still fall prey to the desire to burn witches. Shame is not, and should never be, held in close connection with sexuality. This is damning and dangerous to us all. Shame shouldn’t be used as a weapon to fight against a sexuality which we find threatening on the basis of its open expression or its divergence. And yet this still happens.

A friend fixes me with a steadfast gaze. “Boys,” she says, although we’re talking in this instance about men in their mid-30s, “do not like that sort of thing.”

My mind flashes back to a special, one off class we had to attend, aged 15, in the all-girls school I attended during my adolescence. We sat there and listened to varying degrees giggling and solemn, as two older female nurses wheeled in specially for the purpose explained to us the facts of life. “..And besides,” said one of the women, as she finished explaining to us why we should not feel pressured to start indulging in sexual congress due to shame about our inexperience or a desire to grow up faster, “Most good men will prefer to be with a woman who has not been with other men before.” I, ever enquiring, raised my 15 year old hand. “But isn't it just as bad to stay a virgin just to please your boyfriend as it is to have sex just to please him?”

The lady looked disgruntled. Her comrade looked at her and said, “She's right..” and they shared a frown before any further discussion was curtailed at the behest of avoiding conflict and difference of opinion between authority figures within a classroom environment.

Another hazy memory of this time; a snippet from a magazine – CosmoGraziaGlamourTrashWhatever - “The average British woman will have 8 sexual partners in her lifetime.” Who the fuck wants to be the average British woman? Why are we holding up a benchmark for something which is entirely personal? I was stronger, more firmly defined, and perhaps a lot more naïve in my sexuality then.

“I feel ashamed,” says the friend, and there is a silence on the other end of the line, “because they will think that I am like that as well.”

Our society, in the 21st century, should have moved far beyond the ritual of tarring and feathering of the scarlet letter. But we haven't. Regardless of how emancipated women are, of how successfully we have thrown off the oppressive norms of the religious society in favour of the tolerance of neo-liberalism and secular 'freedom', the knee-jerk reaction of judging how others conduct their sexual business still kicks into gear when we are faced with something that we do not understand something which we are afraid of, or that we envy.

To call this “slut shaming” is to miss the bigger picture. This isn’t slut shaming this is human shaming. This is convincing a person that their sexuality, something which is a fundamental part of all of us in one way or another, is something to be ashamed of. It’s about power and it’s about fear and it’s about envy and it’s about control. It’s about neutering an aspect of a person which should be a matter of joy and pride and all of the strength which goes with that, by forcing them to hang their head in acknowledgment of the dominance by an external force – lover, society, God – held over her body.

“..But,” I reply to my friend bluntly, breaking the chain of this spiral of thought, “I’m not. I don't know where this has come from – it's not the case that I’m defending a controversial and wildly prolific set of sexual choices. I'm genuinely not having that much sex.”

“Everyone”, says the friend, scarlet in tone, “Thinks that you are.”

Why exactly is this? Is it because I am female, or is it because I’m young? Maybe it’s because the young feminized body is communal property in our society – she is splayed across billboard advertisements and throughout popular culture, whether in bikini or burqa a vehicle for the values and ideologies of everyone other than her rightful owner. She’s a mutually created construct; she’s a blackboard upon which the equations of power relations between genders and generations are chalked out in black and white – an equation in which her own autonomy is left to the end, irrelevant.

In all honesty, I’m flabbergasted at all of this sex I’m apparently having everywhere in the minds of everyone else apart from in my own bed where, 7 nights a week, I sleep alone. Is the image of my sexuality, as a single woman in her mid 20s, so prevalent and unconstrained, so wild and untamed? Has it become such a vast and uncontrollable entity that it no longer even requires my direct participation?

Sometimes I feel myself, in the eyes of others, burstingly fertile. Ripe with fecundity – a beautiful word which sounds somehow disgusting. What should be a thing of beauty makes me feel grossly corpusculent, like an overripe fruit, sweetness to the point of turning sour, begging to be eaten just to stop the rot. And this is a fucking shame. I feel a sadness and a deep and bitter anger that something so beautiful, so wonderful and special should be colonized – with loving grace – by the values of others, forced in uninvited; masquerading as well meaning, casting a floodlight on that most private and sacred of spaces.

I’m not arguing for the right of people to fuck around irresponsibly, without heed or respect of the power with which they’re playing. I’m arguing for the right of people to develop individually as sexual agents, with a self-awareness and knowledge of their desires, their responsibilities and their depths. For people to be able to negotiate their sexual identities alongside others with who the choice is made to share this part of their journey. And for the right to develop this in spaces free from judgement, where it can be cherished, and protected from the pervasive destruction of those most scarlet of letters – S H A M and E.

Sex should be about respect, consent, responsibility and overall pleasure. Anything other than this is a matter of personal taste and is frankly, nobody else's fucking business.

Postscript: And, “friend” this one's for you. You should be fucking ashamed of yourself.

Words by Pippa Dee