What is it about SEX?

The big question - what it is about sex that makes us treat men and women different?

by Naval Langa via Flickr

All too many men fear that their sisters, daughters and other female family members will have sex outside of wedlock. What is it about female sex that scares so many men, as well as other women? Honor killings are predicated on the anxiety around women having sex outside of marriage (and often based on much less). Traditional families often do not want their daughters to live independently and on their own because of the worry that she will be tempted to have sex. Most women in traditional families would not be able to tell their families that they have had sex with more than one male (their husband) in their life without risking having them think she is a slut. What is it about sex?

by final gather via Flickr

They key issue here seems to be that this fear of sex is predominantly focused on women. Male sexuality does not seem to be a big concern of parents and family members. Usually the only worry associated with male sex is that a boy or man may get a girl or woman pregnant outside of wedlock. There is not a fear of the sexual act itself associated with men the way there is with women. Why is this the case? Sometimes the female-specific fear is based on women becoming “impure” — family honor and pride are often dependent on women’s purity. Other times, families think women need to be protected from male sexuality, while men do not require protection the other way. And I am sure there are many other reasons given as justification as well.

Traditional views regarding female sexuality are present even in many of today’s more modern thinkers. Many people present the argument that women perceive sex differently. Obviously, men and women are built differently. Thus, the argument is often made that women emotionally internalize sex, while it is easier for men not to. Of course we cannot discount the physical differences between the two genders. Men and women’s differing sex organs and differing levels of estrogen and testosterone do affect us physically and emotionally. But it is not clear how much of a role these physical differences play in varied perceptions of sex between the two genders, versus the role society has played in shaping such perceptions.

by final gather via Flickr

Society and the media perpetuate the mentality that women are more emotional in their sexuality than men. In addition, they have repeatedly portrayed male sexuality as something to praise. Men that have a lot of sex are portrayed as cool, and something to look up to. Women that have a lot of sex are portrayed as sluts. Traditional men often consider women that will have sex with them as promiscuous, and find other “pure” women to bring home to their parents. Also in traditional societies, the thought of women being openly sexual is completely unacceptable. In more modern societies, while women’s sexual choices are better received, women’s sexuality can only go so far before women are negatively judged. Traditional or modern, the gendered double standard is ever-present.

Either way, regardless of the differences in how men and women feel and perceive sex, the decision to have sex should still lie with women themselves. Internalization or not, a woman has the right to choose her own experiences.

Society has also helped construct a mentality around sex that renders a woman vulnerable in sexual situations and portrays men as predatory. While in many cases these roles are a reality, this should not be the only lens through which we view male and female sexual relations. Rather, we should use healthy and equal relationships as examples of how women can be equal partners with men in all decisions, including sex. Instead of portraying women as the sexual victims of men, we should be teaching the next generation that they have a right to make their own sexual decisions; allowing women to take control over their sexuality will be empowering, and lower the likelihood of them being sexually victimized.

Lastly, if a society must condemn sexuality, such condemnation should be for both men and women. They are both part of the act. If sexuality is looked down upon and oppressed in women, a blind eye should not be turned towards men. And men should definitely not be praised for their sexuality while women are oppressed in theirs. However, I believe that both men and women should have a right to their own sexuality, as long as their actions are not causing harm to anyone else.

Obviously, my point is not to say that women (or men) should be sleeping around with everyone they meet. But women have as much of a right as men to act on their sexuality as they see fit. Whether society approves or not, we are all sexual creatures.