Tag Archives: sexuality

Virginity and Body Autonomy: Two Women’s Stories

Debbie says:

Virginity, as Hanne Blank so thoroughly convinced me years ago, is a concept so ambiguous that it is almost meaningless. But nonetheless, it’s of deep importance to millions of people, two of whom have written about it this week, and the two posts resonate beautifully with each other.

NOTE:  Both of these posts are exclusively heteronormative; I apologize, and I hope folks for whom the heterosexual aspects don’t work will appreciate the underlying message.

Anna Fitzpatrick wrote a letter to her younger self: “Dear Anxious Virgin, Your Time Will Cum.”

Your parents are cool with letting your older sister date. Your high school has a strong sex-ed program where you’re learning that it’s okay to want sex. Your health teachers educate you about contraceptive methods. The teen magazines you consume voraciously are all run by third-wavers who challenge the word “slut.” Your friends talk openly about their experiences. You agree with these things on a political level. You are sex positive, you budding feminist you. You believe people should do what they want with their bodies. And yet, this ironically makes you feel guiltier that you aren’t doing what you want with yours.

Ashley Simpo wrote a more generalized, but still very personal piece: The Thing About Your Daughter’s Virginity.

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

Instead we teach our daughters that despite having wet panties and perked nipples and all the necessary emotions and “equipment” needed to engage sexually, that they should hold off — not because perhaps she doesn’t have the time to deal with the physical realities of sexual activity (i.e. remembering to take a pill, having your naughty-bits rubbed raw on occasion, having to maintain a new standard of personal hygiene, keeping up with your menstrual cycles and knowing what questions to ask a potential sex partner) but because the boy won’t respect her, or Jesus won’t like it or she may end up pregnant or itchy or dead or sad.

The two pieces, one about a white girl growing up in Canada and one about an African-American girl growing up in East Oakland, can almost be read in counterpoint. Fitzpatrick’s experience of believing she should want sex but not being ready for it balances Simpo’s experience of wanting sex against the advice of people around her. Here’s Fitzpatrick:

You invite him over. You initiate the makeout. You bring him to the bedroom. You start undressing first. “This is it,” you think, “this is when you finally get it over with.” (The fact that you think of sex as “getting it over with” should tell you all you need to know.) And then you lie on your back and he starts to enter you and even though he is very nice and even though you thought you wanted this, you start to PANIC and hyperventilate and he gets up and gets you a glass of water before even getting dressed (bless him) and you are considerate enough to wait until he leaves before you start spewing your guts out while hunched over the toilet, feeling the opposite of sexy.

And here’s Simpo:

No one ever told me that my body belonged to me and that I could do with it what I pleased.

And so within the act of feeling liberated and stirred after my first few sexual encounters, I also felt dirty, disrespectful, deceitful and disappointing. No one tells young girls to do what they want with their bodies because they know that at some point young girls are going to want to have sex. And God forbid a girl should open her legs and explore her sexuality….

No one tells their daughters that sex is sex and love is love and each can be enjoyed without requiring the other. No one tells their daughter that when a boy wants to have sex with her, she should consider one thing and one thing only — if she wants to have sex with him.

What makes the connection between these two pieces so strong is that Simpo’s recommended advice works as well for girls like Fitzpatrick as it does for girls like herself. If both of them had taken the same advice–consider only whether you want to have sex with him–they would almost certainly have made different choices, but both of them could have made the choice with more confidence, less self-blame, and less baggage.

“Your body belongs to you and you can do what you please.”

Wouldn’t that message change the world?

Thanks to Lizzy for the pointer to the Simpo article.

Menstruation: Not a Fit Subject for Tender Male Eyes

Debbie says:

thinx_periods_1

Outfront Media, which places ads in the New York City subways for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, thinks this ad “seem[s] to have a bit too much skin.” As Christina Cauterucci points out at Slate, “The ads that plaster New York City’s subway system have shown women in the throes of passion, showing off most of their breasts, and wearing just a skimpy bikini—or nothing at all.”

I never gave a thought to blood-absorbing underwear until I saw Cauterucci’s article. Now I wish I had been able to try it when I needed it. If it works, it would be amazing. And if it doesn’t work, it’s probably the forerunner of something that will–if Thinx and their competitors can get enough exposure and customers to keep experimenting.

So if Outfront Media claims that woman is showing too much skin, what do they think of this ad?

thinx_periods_2

“Regardless of the context,” Outfront wrote about this ad and one with an egg dripping out of its shell, “they “[seem] inappropriate.” Sure they do. We all know Outfront wouldn’t have an issue with an image that looked like a penis, as long as it wasn’t an actual, human-skin penis.

“Regardless of context,” is a big lie. Cauterucci relays from Thinx CEO Miki Agrawal that

the rep also asked what a 9-year-old boy might think if he saw the ads and how his mother could explain them to him. One imagines that a 9-year-old boy who rides the New York City subway has seen more objectionable images and heard crasser language, both in ads—such as one for the Museum of Sex that depicted fleshy, intertwined body parts inside the words “Hard Core”—and from fellow subway patrons.

Note that it’s a 9-year-old boy and his mother, which exposes some assumptions. And I bet the Outfront rep isn’t a parent, because parents quickly get good at dodging questions they don’t want to answer. Not to mention the huge benefit some parents might see in *gasp* answering the question.

Outfront Media, a company with predominantly male leadership and a completely male sales staff, isn’t reacting to the visuals of the ads, all of which they would accept without question for another product.  They say “regardless of context,” yet context is the only issue in play here. They just plain don’t want to imagine menstruation, and they don’t think subway riders do either. Of course, more than 50% of subway riders are women, and a very substantial proportion of those women don’t have to imagine menstruation; they think about the subject approximately four days out of every 28. But that doesn’t matter to the dudebros at Outfront.

Underlying the general (male/commodified/corporate) perception that sex is okay but menstruation is disgusting is this underlying dogma:

Women’s bodies are interesting and important when the context is looking and handling.  The same women’s bodies are not fit for public consumption when the context is lived experience. The power structure that can keep these ads out of the New York City subway  is dangerously close to the power structure that closes abortion clinics and tries to defund Planned Parenthood.

The same women’s bodies that adorn the sexiest posters, the most enticing porn videos, the most lust-inducing wet dreams are the bodies that drip blood once a month for forty years or so. And after thousands of years of letting men turn away from this information, maybe it’s centuries past time to have menstruation ads be at least as common as Viagra ads.