Jaclyn Friedman, sexpert extraordinaire and the keynote speaker for Date Week, shed light on the sex scene at Bowdoin that extends both beyond dating and beyond this week. Drawing from her new and acclaimed book What You Really Really Want: A Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Safety & Sex, she explored the duality of sexual messages (i.e. pressure to be sexy but shame in being slutty) and how to deal with the issues and personal values these effect. Responding to the “pearl-clutching” with regards to the hookup scene at Bowdoin and beyond, and she broke down in a most humorous and entertaining manner the key to getting what you really, really want from relationships. No matter what this is, it is essential to question harmful biases and judgments that pervade sexual society and fuel judgments that degrade sexual independence of women and encourage incredulous pardons of sexual harassment- and worse.
She rooted the current harm of sexual culture in the commodification of sex- particularly of women. Using an unopened bottle of “ladysex” (not to fear- it was actually Poland Spring) as an example, she debunked myths about chastity and virginity. Why exactly is the burden of chastity put on women? Why is purity idolized and commercialized? If this is what makes you happy—by all means, practice abstinence! The key to happy and healthy sex is accepting your true desires, not buying into a marketing scheme that shames women for wanting sex, ironic especially because of the simultaneous pressure to be sexy. This model sets up a market that assumes that women ultimately want marriage, and will exchange her sex to a man (who wants to buy it for as little as possible) only for this reason. Sex has become stigmatized as a transaction, removing it from the realm of desire and enjoyment that it ought to exist in.
Another of the many problems with the commodity model of sex is the heteronormative nature. Selling sex- or perhaps a lack thereof- sets up a transaction between a man and women. There is no room for homosexuality or transgendered individuals. The narrow view of the commodity model is unhealthy on many levels, in addition to being discriminatory to a huge population of equally sexual individuals.
Clearly the commodification of sex that pervades the media and many traditional values is harmful and puts pressure to both men and women to interact with sex in a specific way. When the “right” way to deal with sex- whether it be through maintaining virginity or pressuring someone against their will to have sex so you can brag about “getting it”- does not fall in line with your personal boundaries, this has profound problems.
Most obviously, violating your own boundaries and values is very detrimental. Why engage in behavior that makes you feel bad about yourself, especially one that is meant to make you feel good? Continually ignoring your own wants and needs can lead to grim consequences, like actually believing you don’t deserve your true wishes. The key maintaining a positive self-image and nurturing your own wants is communicating with your partner. If you make sure you are on the same page and have the same expectations, this is good, healthy sex (so long as it is also safe sex!)
Talking about sex may sound hard, especially in the heat of the moment, and Friedman sets up the components to communication: use your strengths, boost your confidence, and do it even if it feels uncomfortable. After all, communicating about what you want to get out of it is a sexy intention, and if your partner can’t respect that, then he or she isn’t a good partner at all.
Friedman brought in what is inevitably a large part of sexual culture on the college campus: alcohol. There is no need for a spiel on what drinking does to judgment, but she stressed to be wary of engaging in sex while more than buzzed. If you’re too drunk, or your partner is too drunk and either one of you doesn’t recognize the full extent of your actions, you could be violating boundaries. It’s hard to judge if a partner is drunk or not, and the most harmful thing is to risk compromising your own or your partners boundaries. Both parties must be aware of their actions to ensure enthusiastic consent and the best kind of sex.
The highlight of the message of the talk is the collaborative/creative model of sexuality. In this model, enthusiastic consent marks continual and complete willingness on both sides and an understanding of expectations explicitly communicated. In this view, sex is a collaborative effort, like playing music. There’s nothing to get from trying to play guitar with a keyboardist who has no interest. If you can rock out together, and that’s what you both want, it will be the best kind of music.
Friedman urges women and men alike to ban the “terrible trio” of shame, blame and fear instilled by the commodity model. Everyone should become the subject, not the object of sexual relationships. Like the title of another book she has co-authored states, only yes means yes! By acknowledging your own expectations, staying true to them and making sure you are with someone who respects and supports this, you can get what you really, really want.
Both of Friedman’s books, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape and What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex & Safety are available for purchase at the Bowdoin Bookstore.