Sex for Fun

On the politics of control and why people are so bothered by female sexual pleasure

Elizabeth Spiers

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Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

I am not a child psychologist, but being the mother of a precocious seven year old has taught me one immutable fact about children: it’s axiomatic that the child with the most forbidden knowledge will inevitably distribute it to all of their classmates. I remember this from my own childhood because this is more or less how I learned about sex, from the time a local minister’s daughter taught me what “the f-word” meant in second grade, to more granular descriptions of technique all the way through high school.

I did not learn about it from traditional sex ed, or even my parents. When my best friend started menstruating at the age of ten, my mom handed me a book about mating hamsters and asked if I had any questions, and that was that. This was not unusual in the part of conservative rural Alabama where I grew up, or in the largely Southern Baptist community we inhabited. Sex was discussed primarily as an activity that was only appropriate in the context of pro-creation, within the confines of a heterosexual marriage. Sexual education consisted solely of abstinence programs (which of course resulted in higher-than-the-national-average rates of teen preganancy). And never was it acknowledged that having sex solely because it was enjoyable was healthy and normal–at least not for women.

These may seem like predictable contours for a culture steeped in conservative mores, but now I live in super-liberal supposedly open-minded Brooklyn, and the idea of women enjoying sexual pleasure for its own sake often terrifies people here, too. Even among people who should know better, female desire is treated as aberrant while male desire is simply the norm. It contributes to the pernicious myth that women do not really like sex, or do not like it as much as men do–and if they demonstrably undeniably do, there’s obviously something wrong with them. They’re “sluts”, a word that has no male equivalent. And if women have the temerity to be open about their desires, especially as they age, it’s considered crass or inappropriate.

These things are all products of systemic forces that seek to monopolize female pleasure on behalf of men. When women have agency over their own sexual experiences, the implication is…

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Elizabeth Spiers

Writer, NYU j-school prof, political commentator, digital strategist, ex-editor in chief of The New York Observer, founding editor of Gawker