According to many women, Robin* is a catch. Athletic, attractive, poised for a First… Hell, he even knows grammar! Or, at least, that’s how it seems to Robin, sitting proudly at his kitchen table one morning: sweaty-clothed, greasy-haired, fresh from the lair of a one night stand.
How was it? “It was… She was…” He shrugs, smiling sheepishly. Does he like her? “She’s… I dunno…” He pauses for a moment. “Like, she’d be attractive if she had a bit more self-respect.” What’s that supposed to mean? He hesitates for a moment, the words poised on the very rim of his tongue, before a friend of his jeers, “You mean she’s a slut?” Robin pauses for a moment, stares down, then smirks: “Well, yeah. She’s just a bit of a whore.”
‘Slut’, ‘slag’, ‘whore’… For many young women, the sexual rhetoric is simple. “A slut is someone, usually a woman, who’s stepped outside of the very narrow lane that good girls are supposed to stay within,” deﬁnes feminist activist, Jaclyn Friedman. In short, she’s a woman who’s strayed into the sexual sphere; a woman who’s dared to brandish the assertion previously attributed to men.
20-year-old student, Miranda*, recalls one encounter she had with a one night stand: “He kept asking me, ‘what’s your number? What’s your magic number?’ So eventually, I said to him, ‘OK, I’ll tell you if you tell me.’ He told me he’d slept with 12 people, and I said, ‘oh, that’s the same as me’. Then, he looked at me, and he said in these exact words, ‘That’s absolutely disgusting!’ We had slept with exactly the same number of people, yet he judged me purely because I was a woman.”
Since the oestrogen-spangled dawn of the battle for gender equality, discussion of female sexuality has lurked at the heart of feminist thought. For pre-Suffragette Victorian audiences, the sexually passive ‘Angel in the House’ was only further idealised by the promiscuous alternative: the ‘Fallen Woman’. For feminists of the 1960s-1980s, abortion and contraception were sought as integral components of women’s emancipation. Meanwhile, for
millennials, the prominence of porn, social media, and hook-up culture have ensured that “it’s rare for a woman of our generation to meet a man who treats her like a priority instead of an option” (Elite Daily.)
Female sexuality is definitely still shackled by labels such as ‘slut’
Yet, what of Generation Z? The so-called ‘post millennials’, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, for whom technology and lad culture are, arguably, even more inherent composites.
“I think that female sexuality is deﬁnitely still shackled by the constraints of labels such as ‘slut’ or ‘fuckgirl’”, says second year English student, Kimberly*. “However, nowadays she appears as a counterpart (rather than a subordinate) to that mystical creature, the fuckboy.”
Certainly, if critics have attributed anything to the contemporary fourth wave of feminism, it’s the explosion (vagina-first) of the sexually-empowered female: a figure who has dominated modern celebrity culture.
“I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women not to be scared of anything,” proclaimed Miley Cyrus in 2013, shortly after that VMA performance, gyrating on Robin Thicke to the oh-so-empowering anthem, ‘Blurred Lines.’
Nicole Scherzinger, Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian have all followed suit, proudly ﬂaunting their naked selﬁes and scantily-clad performances as milestones in the ﬁght for female empowerment. “[Certainly] female sexuality needs to be normalised, but I do think that comes at the risk of perpetuating the fetishisation of the female body,” says Miranda. “Talking about sex, laughing about it, experimenting and owning it are different to ‘performing’ sexuality, which equally both elevates and commoditises it.”
Falmouth student, Emma, is in agreement: “Women are still stuck, often deﬁned by how they are sexualised over
and above any other traits. This is why apps such as Tinder are so highly used as it allows people to judge on looks and their appeal as a sexual object.”
As the very pinnacle of 21st century ‘hook up culture’, Tinder has – time and again – been dragged into the very heart of modern sexual identity. Where Jane Austen once dreamed of catching eyes across a sweaty Viennese waltz, post-millennials seek for that hopelessly romantic swipe right, ever star-crossed by the other 510 matched suitors.
“I use Tinder because it means I can ﬂirt and be irresistibly charming, whilst wearing no make-up, in bed, with a pizza,” laughs 19-year-old student, Annabelle*.
Derby student, Katie, meanwhile has accredited the success of such apps – especially among men – to an ever-expanding ‘lad culture’: “I think the development of feminism has encouraged women to use Tinder more as they care less about traditional opinions of them, but lad culture has certainly caused more men to use it.”
Deﬁned by the NUS as “a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which is often sexist, misogynist and homophobic,” lad culture is – for many women – the underlying motive behind the sexual double standard.
“Sex for women is seen as ﬁne dining – indulged, considered, taking your time, rare. Sex for men is like a bodrum kebab after a night out… The only thing to remember in the morning is the greasy carton,” says Miranda. “I think it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of blaming things such as porn, but there’s more going on here. It’s so ingrained that women should be passive in sex that even our language ensures that men are the dominant sexual: there are no female equivalents for ‘penetration’. The clitoris and g-spot are not taught about in sex education. Face sitting is censored from porn in the UK. Female pleasure is invisible and rare, mythical and uncelebrated.”
Sex for men is like a bodrum kebab after a night out
“The female sexual experience in the public eye is still quite male-focused and subsequently quite hetero-centric,” says second year Drama student, Violet*. “Particularly as a lesbian, I feel there’s a pressure [to be sexually active] as it’s almost like there’s a need for me to be with someone to legitimise my sexuality, for example, when people assume I’m straight or going through a ‘phase’.”
Yet, although the double standard is relentlessly ﬁctionalised in ﬁlms such as Easy A, for many members of Generation Z, such conservative notions are – although present – irrelevant to their sexual experience. A recent survey, for example, found that Americans between the ages of 13 and 20 are more open-minded than their millennial counterparts when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality: a liberalism that certainly translates to modern female sexuality.
“Yes, there are still shackles in many respects,” concedes 21-year-old Maria*. “But I think there’s more freedom for us to tell men what we want from sex. Literally, you just need to talk, otherwise life becomes insatiably complicated.”
“At a younger age I deﬁnitely believed there was a sexual double standard,” agrees 16-year old Ellie. “But ultimately women can do whatever they want. It’s their choice.” *
Names changed for anonymity
(S)Exeter by Numbers…
In the spirit of Sexeposé, Features carried out a little survey into the sexual habits (and histories!) of Exeter students. Almost 200 of you responded – and the results were pretty interesting! Here’s what we found out…
- 30 per cent of you lost your virginity aged 16 or under
- 27 per cent have sex more than once a week
- 18 per cent have had 8+ sexual partners
- 25 per cent feel pressure to be sexually active from their friends
- 64 per cent view friends as the biggest sexual influence
- 81 per cent think there is a stigma against sexual promiscuity
- 92 per cent think there is a sexual double standard between men and women
- 100 per cent of male students first watched porn aged 16 or under
…and here’s what you had to say on the topic:
“Sex is a double edged sword. If you’ve never done it you’re a prude; if you sleep around people say you’re a whore.”
“I’m not saying that people at uni are sexually driven and cannot be stopped but people focus on sex so much it ends up losing its worth”
“Before I lost my virginity… I felt like there were so many expectations from other people about what I should and shouldn’t be doing in my love life”