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Sexually liberated or slut shamed?

‘The fear of being called a slut influences the way you act’, says one of the makers of a new Dutch documentary on female sexuality. Half a decade after the sexual revolution, Lotte Kamphuis questions  if women feel sexually liberated or restricted by society’s judgments.

From the 1960s to the 1980s a sexual revolution took place throughout the Western world. This was a turning point for female sexuality. With the introduction of the birth-control pill in 1964, it seemed that sexuality became separated from procreation and women were allowed to experience pleasure in sex. There was more emphasis on the individual experience, sex with more than one partner flourished, and sex and marriage could be viewed separately from each other. This all contributed to the sexual emancipation of women. Though  in general since the sexual revolution the emancipation of women has increased, women today have to contend with judgments of immorality when they behave  in a way that is ‘sexually free’.

The recently released Dutch documentary ‘sletvrees’, translated as ‘whorophobia’, touches upon this subject. Dutch student paper Folia interviewed one of the makers of the film. The documentary focuses on the status of  sexual liberation, and in particular female sexuality. The title is based upon the fear of being called a slut, which is still held by a lot of women. Find the courage to assert that your number of bed partners cannot be counted on the fingers of two hands, or that you are fairly well between the sheets and you derive sexual pleasure.

It might sound clichéd, but men with similar behaviour are considered differently. People from all over the world were interviewed for the documentary: from scientists to porn stars and from sexologists to people on the streets. The outcome shows that female sexuality is often confused with being beautiful and willing, that female lust is still not considered of importance and that women that act loosely around men are viewed as ‘looking for sex’. Finally, the film shows that it is not only men judging women, but that women themselves that hold double standards by constantly putting themselves in a certain position in comparison with one another.

Twerk your way

An interesting example is the performance of ‘Blurred Lines’ by Miley Cyrus and Robin Thick at the MTV VMA’s 2013, which has been discussed worldwide. In Univers a student gives her frank opinion about Miley’s acting:  the twerk dancing is compared to ‘releasing the hooker in yourself’, ‘use your hips suggestively’, ‘shameless’ and ‘depicting sex’. In addition, she judges that you need a great lack of self-respect when you want to be good at twerking and that men will ‘not respect you when you dance like that’.

That taken aside, her controversial performance can also bring up interesting themes on femininity and sexuality. Is it the case that whenever a girl behaves and dresses sexy, she is a slut? Is it that a woman cannot dance provocatively and still be empowered by her femininity?

It can be also questioned that Miley was negatively judged and directly accused of immodest behavior, whereas Robin Thick played along in the performance and the lyrics of his song are equivocal. Recently, The Guardian reported that different students unions in the United Kingdom banned ‘Blurred Lines’, as the song ‘promoted a worrying attitude towards sex and consent.’ This refers to the ‘I know you want to’, stripping women from their sexual agency.

Kinky style

It is not even so much the judgment of women by men, but also by women to women. Another hot topic is the hype around the Fifity Shades of Grey trilogy. There is a range of different opinions on these erotic romance novels. Where some find it not that shocking in the current era’, others have a more firm opinion on the story. This is not to refer to the writing skills of the author, but more on the explicit BDSM scenes of a male business magnet and a female collage graduate. In a reaction to the book, a student writes in ANS that the illusion seems to exist that successful and intelligent women actually share a deep desire to nevertheless be dominant by the superior man. ‘Preferably by a young and good looking man, who is ridiculously rich and will turn into a completely different person just for you.’ Where this at first sight seems like a man’s fantasy, sales of the book show that women enjoy the though of being dominated by a man in the bedroom and the ability to change a man. ‘This is throwing away 40 years of emancipation’, is the harsh judgment in ANS.

Looking for a solution, the makers of the Dutch documentary argue that we do not have to get rid of the different thinking about male and female sexuality. Just as long as we loose the double standards in which the sexual needs of men are assessed differently than those of women. We should change the way we think about female sexuality and therefore continue the liberation of women. We have to ponder how women can strike a balance between being sexual and sexualized, and prevent whorophobia from intruding our sex lives.

Image by Eric.Parker 

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