Being Sexual vs. Being Sexualized

Ladies, due to the patriarchal principles our society has been built upon, our bodies and self-expression are bound by the fine line between being sexual and being sexualized. We have evolved from a world in which a woman’s only purpose in life was to give up her body as a vessel for the continuation of man. Our bodies are idealized and scrutinized. We are more than just a mere means of pleasure and production; nevertheless, we are still burdened by the male gaze and sexual appetite. The hegemony men hold over women allows them to place standards on our sexuality; thus, creating the double standard of being sexual or being sexualized, or in other diction, being able to express your sexuality freely and unabashedly or being viewed as only an expression of sexual desire. “Sexual” and “sexualized” may have the same root word, but do not be fooled. The subtle addition of “-ized” makes all the difference, creating the connotation of being used or exploited; a suffix also used in “colonized,” “commercialized” and “advertised.”

I was inspired to write an article on this topic when I scrolled my way onto a feminist author’s Instagram. Farida D.’s Instagram page, @farida.d.author, is filled with posts of feminist poems written by her. Topics range from sexuality, equality, privilege to patriarchy. The phrase in her bio, “I write what we’re afraid to feel,” says it all. Farida has also authored a series of books titled “THE LIST OF SH*T THAT MADE ME A FEMINIST.” I chose to focus specifically on Farida’s post giving an overview of the differentiation between being sexual and being sexualized. I passionately find this issue to be of utmost importance during this revolutionary age of feminism marked by women taking back control of their bodies and sexuality. 

Farida begins with identifying the premises that constitute what it means to be sexual and the premises that constitute what it means to be sexualized. The sinister difference between the two terms is immediately evident, as expected. If a woman is being sexual, she embodies her own self-expression of her individually defined sexuality. Sexuality is one of the many forms of self-expression we can practice; there are endless ways in which we can express it, such as through our clothes, behaviors and relationships. If a woman is being sexualized, her self-expression is disregarded as she is only seen for her sexual appeal. A sexualized woman is sexual in all manners; all other forms of self-expression hold no value or recognition. A sexualized woman is merely an object catered to the preferences of the patriarchy. 

Photo by Valentina Conde from Unsplash

Farida continues with distinguishing being sexual as empowering and being sexualized as harmful. A woman who is being sexual is confidently practicing her sole ownership of her body and sexuality. She frees herself from the grasp of societal shame; thus, unlocking the door to “positive sexual experiences and pleasure.” Being sexual is empowering because it allows women to express themselves as truly themselves, free from the pressure or influence of the patriarchy. A woman who is being sexualized is reduced to unrealistic beauty standards and becomes an object of sex who possesses no other human expressions of ‘value.’ Farida explains that this sexual objectification is immensely harmful as it creates the “narrow virgin/whore dichotomy” that plagues the vulnerable expressions of unempowered and insecure young women. Sexualized female beauty standards can be detrimental to the physical and mental health and stability of young women. Viewing and treating women as solely sexual beings dangerously promotes rape culture and victim-blaming; in the eyes of the sexualizing patriarchy, a sexual woman is “asking for it” no matter what she does or how she acts.

Farida concludes by highlighting why distinguishing being sexual from being sexualized is significant in diminishing the power of the patriarchy and freeing women from the strain of their bodies being unwillingly exploited. The patriarchy maintains its control over female sexuality by shaming us for expressing such sexuality as we independently choose. We are slut-shamed, victim-blamed and if we are not a virgin, we are a whore. The only acceptable circumstance in which a woman can be sexual is when a man is doing the sexualizing. To shun sexist sexualization, we must embrace our sexuality shamelessly and courageously. We have the right to reject being sexualized and reclaim ownership of our sexual bodies. Our body, our choice, ladies; no one can deny you that. So, with that… get in ladies, we’re going to end the patriarchy!

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