(Content warning: mention of sexual assault)
I’m sure you’ve all noticed the Valentine’s Day gifts and cards that seem to be everywhere at the moment. Like Christmas, it’s almost impossible to avoid. When I got outside I can barely move for all the soppy rom-coms, chocolates and flowers that are being bandied about. And all of them carry connotations of sex.
Sex sells. Perhaps it does make sense for sexy selling to be so common around Valentine’s, as it is the romance holiday – or is it? The original Pagan tradition was actually an opportunity for women to end their relationships with men. The Romans turned it into a rather barbaric fertility ritual involving animal sacrifices that ended with splattering women and crops with the blood. It was the Catholic Church that took over the festival, with several Saint Valentines who were martyred in many horrific ways. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day was thought to be associated with love, and Valentine’s notes didn’t appear until after 1400. The day only became popular amongst the masses in the 17th century.
Can we call it love, though, with this heavy emphasis on sex? We all know that sex sells, but I don’t think love is being sold at the same time. I have to ask: why do we desire sex over love? I’d like to just say now that I’m not a prude and I take no issue with anyone’s sexual freedom. I encourage and fight for that freedom. I do feel, however, that the concept of long-term, committed and loving relationships has been lost in all the noise of sex. With the invention of dating sites like Tinder, it seems that dating has turned Capitalistic. We’re now able to window shop for the “better” model of partner, while never committing. We’re too busy trying to have sex, we’ve forgotten how to make love. A cringe-worthy term, I know, but without a long-term relationship it can be hard to attain the communication and intimacy that can, if anything, make sex even better for all partners.
We’re all being encouraged to turn ourselves into “better” models. We need to be thinner, firmer, young, fitter, and more beautiful than we currently are. The pressure for us to conform to an impossible ideal of beauty is immense – and God forbid if we’re in a relationship where we “let ourselves go”. If only the “better” version of ourselves was one that involved kindness, compassion, understanding of education.
While both men and women experience this pressure, the greater weight of it falls on women. A prime example of this uneven weighting can be found in the new leader of the free world, who is known for valuing supermodels plasticised for the industry as well as for bad-mouthing and shaming any realistic idea of female body image. This is a man who boasts about non-consensually grabbing a woman’s “pussy”, and he now rules and represents the values of an entire nation. Equity may have made great progress over the last century – at least for white and cisgender women it has – but it seems that respect for women is still in the gutter, to the point where a narcissistic man like Trump has been elected president over Hillary Clinton.
the idea that women could freely have sex without stigma has never really caught on.
It was the US Sexual Revolution of the 1960s that galvanised the sexual freedom for women. At its core was the idea that women do enjoy, and should be allowed to enjoy, sex as much as men do. It took us Brits a little longer to catch up with this revolution. It wasn’t until the ’70s and ’80s that we really got involved. The Joy of Sex by Dr Alex Comfort brought this idea into people’s homes, providing illustrations and techniques to inspire. To date the book has sold over eight million copies. The project OMGYes is the 21st century equivalent to this book; having spent years researching and interviewing cisgender women about their sexual experiences and techniques that increase pleasure. The emphasis is on a cisgender woman’s pleasure, as to this day we can still be left out in the bedroom.
With the introduction of the pill cisgender women were finally able to make a choice with their body, allowing them to “freely” have sex in and out of relationships without getting pregnant. However, the idea that women could freely have sex without stigma has never really caught on. A woman behaving sexually is deemed un-lady-like. The introduction of the contraceptive pill was blamed for female “promiscuity” and “sexual anarchy”. To this day women are under pressure to have some sexual experience, but to not have had too much sex. How much is too much sex I ask? It’s not just men, but women also, who cast such aspersions on female sexuality. We should be celebrating our sexuality, not objectifying ourselves. And we should be celebrating loving, compassionate, committed relationships; not window shopping for the unattainable version of a person.
Featured image credit: NewtonAndTheApple