Piece | On the Policing of Female Sexuality

Originally published in For Harriet.  

I live in a world that tries to police both my body and my sexuality. Different people, during different and unrelated conversations, feel the need to tell me how long I should wait to have sex with a new partner. My father thinks I should wait until I get married again. My friend and coworker thinks I should wait six months. My brother says 4 months, and the movie “Think Like a Man, Act Like a Lady” says 90 days. And of course, most of the men I go on dates with try to get into my skirts as quickly as possible.

But what doesn’t seem to count, what doesn’t seem to matter, is how long I want to wait (or not). My desires, or needs, and how and when I choose to express or explore my body and sexuality don’t matter in the face of how long I can hold on to the “cookie”. Because if I like the guy, and decide to have sex with him when the mood strikes me, I’m easy. Never mind the fact that he waited just as long to have sex with me. Yet he is never judged by these same standards.

My morals are judged by the length of my skirt, and how tight my clothes are. Because if I wear mini-skirts and form fitting clothes it has to be for the benefit and attention of men, rather than because I like my body, and I like how the clothes fit my body.

In the now infamous speech by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that Beyonce sampled in “***Flawless”, Adichie says that “we teach girls that they can not be sexual beings, in the way that boys are”. Which is true, because the minute a woman dares to be as sexual as a man, she can expect instant criticism and judgement from both men and women.

Let’s use public figures as an example. Men have been singing sexual songs since… always. Since before I can remember there were sexually explicit songs like 112’s “Peaches and Cream” and Trey Songz’s… well, Trey Songz’s full albums. These male artists not only sing sexual songs, but also put on sexual shows where they have their shirt opens and such, in order to show off their bodies.
But let a woman try that, and let the aforementioned criticism begin. Back when Rihanna turned from “good” girl to “bad,” everybody judged her. She was too sexual, they said. But quite frankly, that’s when I truly started liking her. Here was a woman my age who expressed herself in a sexual manner without caring about what anyone else thought. It was liberating to see.

People criticized her, saying she was a bad role model, which is a criticism you don’t hear about male artists. I actually have a 10 year old little sister. She’s my princess. A smarter, prettier, sassier version of me at that age. She looks up to me, and I work my butt off to show her that as amazing as she is, she can achieve even more than her big sister is achieving.

And yes, I am glad that there is someone like Rihanna for her to possibly eventually look up to. Because years from now, when my little princess becomes a woman, I want her to know she can be as sexual (or not) as she wants to be, without being ashamed of it. I want her to know that as long as it is safe and consensual, she can explore her sexuality however she sees fit.

Some people say that sexual (female) artists such as Rihanna teach little girls that they need sex to get ahead in life. I don’t agree for numerous reasons, but one of them is that in the same breath people don’t criticize male artists who use half naked women in their videos for no other reason than the viewing pleasure of men. Yes, we have to teach little girls that they don’t have to use their bodies to get ahead, but it is hypocritical to expect young women to be that teaching tool, when we don’t expect the same of men. And at the end of the day, the lesson should be that women don’t have to be sexual, but can if they want to.

On the other side of the coin is Beyonce, and her latest album. Numerous people have mentioned that this album is different from her previous ones. I agree that it’s different. While I do believe that in the past she has used sex to sell (“Tonight, I’ll be your naughty girl”), in this album she seems to be singing more about her own personal sexuality. She has a full song about cunnilingus. She also sings about getting on her knees, and about sex is like for her. It’s about her personal enjoyment. About giving and receiving pleasure.

The biggest and most repetitive argument I’ve heard about this is “She’s a married woman and a mother. What is she doing acting like that?” Oh, so I guess after women get married and have children they are supposed to turn off their sexuality. Her husband and the father of her child can rap about whatever he wants, but she has to censor herself. Apparently wives and mothers are supposed to let the sexual and sensual part of them die. If that’s the case, then I almost prefer to stay single and barren. If men are allowed to conserve the different parts of their personality, but women have to chose between that or having a family, then I’ll always chose conserving who I am. I will always chose to live my life in my own terms. But I’d like to think that the opposite is true. That the day I find the man with whom I’ll build a family, the sexual aspects of my life will be even more fulfilling than they are now.

This paradigm, that women are supposed to be beacons of purity throughout the span of their lives, while “boys will be boys” is tiresome and outdated. Women are sexual beings too, and should be able to explore and enjoy their sexuality as much as they want to without being judged or chastised for it. It’s 2014. It’s about time we stop policing women’s bodies and what we chose to do with them. Because what happens between two consenting adults is nobody’s business, but that of the two adults.

Originally published in For Harriet


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