In the era of Love Island and Naked Attraction, women are slowly being allowed to start embracing their bodies and their sexuality. However, those who define as female are still fighting endless inequality when it comes to their bodies. Sex and sexual freedom is arguably just as important to the modern feminist as equal pay. Both the right to say yes, and the right to say no, when it comes to sex are privileges that many feminists are still fighting for. In modern society, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality when it comes to sexual freedom and choice.
The double standard is very real when it comes to male and female experiences of sexuality. A young person growing up in British society today is so often plagued by judgements made on the basis of how many people they have slept with, judgements that seem to hit the female sex hardest. It seems that women are facing a catch-22 situation when it comes to sex. There is a stigma against being a virgin but also stigma against having sexual relations with a great number of people. To put it crudely, if you sleep with too many people you are a ‘slag’ but if you don’t sleep with enough you are a ‘prude’ or ‘frigid’ - you cannot win.
Naturally, these pressures also apply to males, but the double standard is obvious. In a recent episode of Love Island, the contestants revealed the number of sexual partners they had had. One of male contestants revealed they had slept with ‘200 ish’ individuals, which was met with admiration from the other male contestants and seen as impressive. It was a different story for the females. This is nothing new, however. There has always been a belief that men are biologically different in their sexual urges and that it is the job of women to ‘fulfil’ the needs of their male counterparts. It will take a great shift in the opinion of society to rectify this inequality.
Women are taught from a young age to be sexually conservative. We laugh at the infamous quote from the film Mean Girls: ‘don’t have sex, or you will get pregnant and die’, but this really encapsulates an underlying problem with society. With many schools often preaching abstinence as the best form of contraception, it is no wonder that children grow up with a warped view of sex.
Sex education in the United Kingdom is often very basic and focussed around the relationships between a heterosexual couple. It is this lack of education that leads to the portrayal of lesbian sexuality as exotic and exciting to heterosexual males.
So why is this a feminist concern? The feminist movement is rooted in striving for equality for all, including those of all sexualities and genders. Poor sexual education affects all young people, regardless of their sexuality. After all, if we don’t challenge inequality wherever it is found, how can we really call ourselves feminists?
Indeed, sexual education comes in many forms. Young people are increasingly learning more from what they see on television or social media than from what they are taught in the classroom. Children are growing up with increased access to sexual imagery, whether that be on specific porn sites, or in certain newspapers. Pornography has long been a contentious issue for feminists; just one google search for feminist views on porn will throw up a wealth of different views. For some, porn is a way for women to showcase their sexuality and the freedom for women to show off their bodies is certainly something to be celebrated. However, porn often ends up being exploitative.
Pornography itself is not wrong, and this is not the argument of feminists. The problem lies in the constant objectification of the female body. Studies have shown that as children have increased access to porn, their opinions towards the female sex become increasingly worrying. We should not be reliant on what we see and hear to define what is sexy or attractive. As feminists, it is vital to challenge this and ensure that empowerment is not just the reinvention of objectification.
Sexual freedom is not just confined to the bedroom. For someone identifying as female, it is vital to have the freedom of choice in all aspects of a relationship. The institution of marriage is riddled with inequality, with the marriage ceremony itself falling victim to sexist practices. From the bride being ‘given away’ as if they were a possession, to the changing of surnames, there is no escaping the sexist traditions. This is not to say that marriage is some horrible male conspiracy to put women down, far from it. From a religious point of view, marriage is a beautiful and sacred institution, but for it to remain as such, the inequalities within it must be challenged.
Much progress needs to be made to ensure all women are given sexual freedom, regardless of background or sexuality. Of course, it is not a completely bleak picture and it would be foolish to argue so, but real strides are needed before all those who identify as women are equal in and out of the bedroom. We all must be careful in the language we use to describe women and must push for a better quality of sexual education, whether that be in the classroom or on our screens. Only then can we truly have equality of the sexes.