Comment: The Sexual Revolution Will Be Digitised – How the Internet is Expanding Our View of Sex

 

Image courtesy of Digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

While some may say the sexual revolution is over, claiming ‘sexualisation’ of society proves that things have gone too far, in reality, few of us are sexually free in today’s society. There are still many important rights that are being challenged daily. However, the internet is playing a huge part in raising awareness of the issues – and helping people do something about it.

The Right to Define Sex in a Way That Fits Our Experience

Contraceptive developments may have technically led to a separation of sex from procreation, but our current definition of sex still tends to implicitly assume that sex means ‘penis in vagina’ sex (something many women complained about when I was doing the research for my new book, Garden of Desires: The Evolution of Women’s Sexual Fantasies (Black Lace) This marginalises many people’s sexual experience (and sexuality), and medicalises sex allowing people to have solutions sold to them (75 percent of women find it hard to climax through penetrative sex alone – and are labelled sexually dysfunctional, rather than anyone stopping to consider that we might be defining sex incorrectly).

Shere Hite called for us to reject the procreation-alone definition of sex back in 1974, in her groundbreaking book, The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality saying that the pill had given women the freedom to separate sex from motherhood. She suggested that we could embrace a more pleasure-led view of sex, taking in a wider array of acts outside penis-in-vagina sex alone. Sadly, few people listened (though Hite was also the woman to report that most women needed clitoral stimulation in order to climax so we have a lot to be grateful to her for.)

The Right to Control Our Own Contraception Choices

Though many women have become more sexually free as a result of hormonal contraception, these developments have also led to forced sterilisation worldwide, of poor women, immigrants, child soldiers, disabled women, prisoners and numerous different minority women  in a worryingly dystopian way (though this is nothing new). Contraception is a far more complex issue than ‘what pill is right for you’, and real sexual freedom includes everyone being able to control their own biological destiny. Availability of contraceptive choice is certainly an important issue – but so is ensuring no woman has her fertility removed from her against her will.

The Right to Express Your Sexuality Without Being Judged

Contraceptive freedom is just one part of sexual freedom. Media representation of women tends to present a uniform vision of white, young, heterosexual, thin, able-bodied and conventionally ‘attractive’ women (with all the cultural/social problems that definitions of attractiveness bring) as ‘sexy’, excluding all other women. This puts anyone who falls outside this box into the category of ‘abnormal’ – and many people feel pressured to keep up with ever more demanding standards of beauty. As Meg Barker explores in Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships, the last decade or so have seen the invention of cellulite, muffin tops and the designer vagina. We are sold an image of female desirability and told we can buy our way to ‘normality’ if we happen to be different from the media image of ‘sexy’.

Many women are still stigmatised by people with outdated and unscientific views of gender; and the pressure to conform to a ‘normal’ sexual and gender expression is high. Fetishists and polyamorists are shamed for having desires that lie outside the heteronormative framework; asexuals are prude-shamed and sexually active women are slut shamed (with minorities again being vilified particularly harshly). True freedom of sexual expression is currently only available to those who happen to fit current definitions of ‘normal’.

The Responsibility to Do Something About It

Many people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the current sexual framework. However, rather than being silenced by the mainstream, Twitter and other social media platforms are increasingly providing a voice for people who have previously been ignored. Over the last few months, it seems more and more people are taking matters into their own hands and fighting for issues that matter to them.

Emily Lindin started the Unslut Project – an amazing initiative against slut shaming in schools – and raised $18,000 to make a documentary to help fight the stigma.

Rehtaeh Parsons’ mother wrote a heart-rending piece about her daughter’s image being used to advertise a dating site – 16 months after she was gang raped and committed suicide as a result of slut shaming – calling for an end to sexual stigmatisation.

Feminists Fighting Transphobia created a statement of trans-inclusive feminism that has attracted over 500 signatories within 48 hours.

Psychology Tomorrow regularly features an alternative – and informed- view on the latest sexual research, questioning our definitions of normal and the controls placed on sex.

Researchers,writers and activists including The Negress, Brooke Magnanti, Sister Outsider, Petra Boynton, Ronete Cohen, Gemma Ahearne, Maggie McNeill, Tiffany Sostar, Feminista Jones, Laurie Penny and Janet Mock are just a few of the people who are challenging sexual stereotypes and myths,tweeting and writing fantastic articles about diverse and intersectional sexual politics, adding a new voice to an old debate.

The rise in sex bloggers such as DrunkenSlutMumCheekyMinx and BlackSilk is helping to show that sexual experience is diverse – and that there’s no such thing as ‘normal’.

Every day, in tiny but significant ways, the sexual revolution is happening, whether through a sex worker learning from other sex workers how she can protect herself (for example, by signing up to UglyMugs) to a transwoman finding support after suffering transphobic abuse . Teenagers are deciding against suicide due to the support of LLGBT networks, women of colour are talking about the ways in which they are sexualised, marginalised or otherwise rendered invisible as people through insidious and pervasive racist stereotypes – and how this leads to increased rape and abuse. Sex educators such as Scarleteen and Bish Training are talking about consent, the effects of porn and the truth about virginity. Men are pointing out the injustice of a legal system that refuses to define being forced to penetrate someone against your will as rape; talking about the pressures they face to conform to certain roles of masculinity, often intensified by issues of class, race, ability, body image and the media ideal of manhood. Academics are fighting back against a media led by moral panics rather than hard evidence. Porn academics now have their own journal though resistance has been vocal from the non-evidence-based feminists. The sexual revolution is finally managing to conquer stigma, with things changing in small but significant ways every day.

And all of these sites are liable to be blocked if the UK porn ban is allowed to remain.

If you are concerned about sex education material being blocked and sexual freedom being stifled, there is a London meeting  against the porn ban on 23rd September

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