I’ve had sex. Have you heard of sex? It’s this thing you can have with other people where you touch and probe your tongues around and hope you’ll have something “like a sneeze, but better,” although you probably won’t. I quite like it. Sometimes it tires me out a bit because I’m horrendously unfit, and after a few minutes of bobbing up and down I can find myself thinking about how a Babybel would really give me a much-needed energy boost right about now. But that’s okay, because no one cares if you have a nap right afterwards, or a cigarette, or indeed a Babybel. Yeah, sex, wow. What a thing.
Oh, what’s that? You’re a woman and you haven’t had sex? And you don’t even want to? What on earth are you on a feminist blog for? You’re certainly no feminist. You’re a backwards, judgemental prude who damages the cause of feminism. You’re too anal for anal, babe. Not cool.
Disclaimer: this is not true. Of course it’s not bloody true. Klaxons for satire. But it alarms me to see this prevailing trend in some strands of feminism: the idea that it is inexorably linked with a varied, dedicated and open sex life. To be a feminist, you have to be willing to walk around topless most of the time, shag all manner of partners in all manner of ways, and go into painstaking detail about your rimming techniques at restaurants (“Say, ladies, tell you what this onion ring reminds me of... and that's to say NOTHING of the vinaigrette dressing...")
Take the girls (women?) of Lena Dunham’s Girls. I love the girls of Lena Dunham’s Girls. Hannah: highly sexualised, openly declares she’ll experiment with pretty much anything sexually. Marnie: steady consummated relationship with a boyfriend for four years, quick to comment when he eats her out like never before. Jessa: unsmotable. And then we have Shoshanna. What’s Shoshanna’s big story arc of season one, exactly? She begins the series as a virgin, a fact revealed in a confession which provokes shock and, seemingly, pity from the other girls. Her big defining moment of the season in the closing episode when she – phew! – gets laid.
Admittedly, Shoshanna expresses frustration at not having had sex and a strong desire to do so, meaning sleeping with someone is an achievement for her. All fine and dandy, because she got what she wanted. But then, of course she wanted it, because it is so rare we see a modern female character who may, lo and behold, simply choose not to have sex - especially if that's just going to be one small facet of her overall personality, rather than some defining attribute.
Needless to say, I’m in my early twenties and I know women of the same age who are virgins. I just don't see them in the media very often. And what is more, they want to be virgins, for many different reasons. For instance:
- Because of religion. I have had discussions with friends of various faiths who have expressed their deep, unwavering belief that sex before marriage is wrong – for them. They’ve never once judged me for feeling differently. They sure as shit wouldn’t be my friends if they had.
- Because they haven’t found someone they feel comfortable with. Some people don’t wanna fuck, they wanna make love (“Make love, not whore”…? I’ll work on it). Fair play to them, I say.
- Because of fear. This is, of course, not something I advocate, and a lot of us would, I hope, agree that mutually consensual sex is nothing to be afraid of. But then again, I have no idea what their prior experiences are. I’m not about to order these guys to grit their teeth and face their demons before they’re ready - why would I? For one thing, I don't have the inclination - and for another, I don’t have the right.
- Because of any number of personal, subjective reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with me or you. And this is probably the one that we all find hardest to accept. But it’s not always oppression, shyness or the inability to find it, guys. Sometimes it’s pure, unadulterated choice.
I’m your average Sex and the City kind of woman. Not that I spend utterly asinine amounts of money I don’t possess on shiny footwear, but I do go out and fuck and then gloat and/or gripe about it to my gal pals the next day. A lot of my gal pals don’t do this, though. Some of them (as aforementioned) haven’t had sex. They are intelligent, witty, compassionate women who have a lot to say, and they usually say it far more coherently than I can ever muster. They have never once criticised my behaviour, or that of any sexually active woman; instead they’re always exceedingly supportive. Why aren’t they considered a prevalent part of the feminist revolution too? Why does feminism necessarily have to be about open, deliberate and emphatic sexual empowerment?
Don’t get me wrong – sexual empowerment is imperative if we are to reside in a fair world. Slut-shaming is a tendency society ought to be dismally ashamed of. Any woman has the right to choose to have sex with ten, twenty, thirty partners a day/week/month/whatever, if that is indeed the choice of all involved. She does not deserve comment or diminished respect for this. No one gives a flying fuck if a man sleeps around and it damn well ought to work both ways. This is, essentially, Feminism 101.
But equally, any woman (not to mention any man, any human at all) has the right to choose to have sex with zero partners. These feminists never seem to show up on TV; they’re never given a high-profile platform through which to speak or write. The female virgin character is always striving to release her inner wanton woman-of-the-world. If it's set in the 21st century, you can bet that her virginity is never a choice, always a burden. To be a real woman, you supposedly have to do a little dance, make a little love and, preferably, get all the way down tonight. Yeah, all the way down.
The tacit implication that feminism requires erotic openness suggests any woman who doesn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason, can’t be a proper feminist. It’s virgin-shaming, abstinence-shaming, and it’s as bad as slut-shaming because both suggest that who a woman chooses to have or not have sex with is open for scrutiny and judgement by the world. Who a woman screws does not build or reduce her worth, and precisely the same is true of whether a woman screws.
Feminists: if you have sex and enjoy discussing your intimate night-time activities, good on you. No need to be ashamed of it.
Feminists: if you don’t have sex and don’t particularly want to, good on you. No need to be ashamed of it.
Now, that’s done – Babybels for all and sundry.