We’ve been sending a lot of mixed signals when it comes to sexuality.
It’s a challenging time to be young — not only are Millennials and Gen Zers faced with student loan debt, an uncertain housing market, and difficulty securing a well-paying job on top of a global pandemic, but our dating culture is constantly shifting, with dating apps and a string of commitment-free, impersonal relationships becoming the norm.
But more than just a dating culture that’s ever-changing and lonely, it seems we’re getting and sending exceptionally mixed messages about dating and sex — specifically, what women’s sexual liberation really entails, the significance of sex, and how we want the female body to be viewed and treated by men.
Our Contradicting Views on Sexuality
With the rise of dating apps and unlabeled relationships, young women are consistently encouraged, even somewhat pressured, to treat their sexuality as an accessory or a commodity. Women around the world celebrated what they saw as sexually liberating when Cardi B’s “W.A.P.” came out last month, even though its lyrics reduce women to a collection of sexually appealing body parts and its music video uses women’s bodies as hypersexualized props for set decoration. We see engaging in casual sex as owning our sexuality and consider ourselves empowered.
How can we reconcile “W.A.P.” culture and #MeToo culture?
And yet, we simultaneously live in a post-#MeToo world, our culture finally taking sexual assault and harassment more seriously, attempting to hold predatory men accountable for their awful treatment of women, with women openly speaking about their harrowing experiences, calling attention to rape culture and the objectification of their bodies.
But with all our effort to treat sexual assault with the weight it deserves, we might be setting ourselves back by otherwise handling sex so carelessly.
How Are Men Supposed To Interpret This?
We all seem to agree that clear-cut sexual assault and harassment, such as in Harvey Weinstein’s case, is unacceptable. But how do we reconcile a culture that on one hand, glorifies casual, meaningless sex and the appalling objectification of women in the “W.A.P.” music video, but, on the other hand, admits that sex is weighty and asks that women be seen as human beings rather than props to be used for pleasure?
Our cavalier treatment of sexuality only makes the misuse of it easier to get away with.
Casual Sex Allows Men To Continue Predatory Behavior
Predatory behavior in men looks like more than a piggish, influential Hollywood producer pressuring a young actress into sex for a leading role in his next movie. We see it in the guy who hangs out at the bar, offering to buy a girl a drink, assuming that earns him the right to a night with her body. We see it in the seemingly sweet guy on Bumble, who invites us over for a late-night Netflix binge, offering us alcohol and affection as a salve to our loneliness, hoping we’ll end up agreeing to spend the night and he’ll get lucky.
This less obvious predatory behavior thrives on women utilizing their sexuality to achieve “liberation.”
This less obvious predatory behavior thrives on our obsession with utilizing our bodies and sexuality in order to achieve “liberation.” It teaches men that sex, as long as it’s somehow being used for women’s “empowerment,” is inconsequential. But isn’t this exactly what we should be avoiding?
Sex Isn’t Inconsequential
Despite the mixed messages we send and receive from our culture, sex isn’t meaningless. In fact, it holds a significant weight. We’re biologically hardwired to bond through it, which is precisely why having it misused against us affects us so deeply, making something as horrendous as sexual assault extremely serious and damaging, and sexual harassment the thing we dread our daughters one day experiencing. Ultimately, sex means much more than we’re willing to acknowledge, as much as we want to pretend it doesn’t.
It’s unpopular to admit that sex has meaning, but it’s also essential that we call attention to it. Our cavalier treatment of sexuality only makes the misuse of it easier to get away with, leaving scars for those who experience such a hurt.
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