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Female Sexuality And The Stigma Around It

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

If you have yet to see or hear the famous Tik Tok video, here is the transcript of it: 

“You better wear your clothes properly. I’m warning you! This is not proper dressing, is that clear?” 

Shaming women, as seen in the aforementioned video, is commonplace, and perpetrators can be both men and women. There seems to be a constant need to remind women to follow conservative clothing rules, and that showing too much skin is “inappropriate”. In America, where students do not have a uniform and are supposedly given free rein over their clothing choices, girls wearing crop tops or short skirts are often dress-coded because it ‘distracts’ the boys. On the other hand, it is deemed socially acceptable if a topless man walks around the neighborhood, at the beach or along the corridors of your hall. In fact, pointing it out as seen in the Tik Tok would be considered abnormal.

If you were to think about it, name-calling terminology like “slut”, “whore”, “bitch”, “slag” etc, have connotations of sexual inappropriateness where the subject is always a woman. On the other hand, there seems to be no male equivalent to such degrading terms, Even words such as “manslut”, “manwhore” etc, come from the root word “slut” and “whore” respectively. Moreover words like “playboy”, which is a title given to a man who enjoys numerous casual sexual relationships, has positive connotations to it such as sexual prowess. Any time the idea of “sex” and “woman” are remotely near each other, it becomes inappropriate and morally incorrect. It makes you scratch your head and wonder why.

Stigmatising women for being promiscuous and sexually provocative is a social and societal phenomenon commonly known as slut shaming. Often, what is considered promiscuous and sexual is relative and a grey area. For example, showing off ankles in the Victorian era was considered sexually promiscous. This phenomena of society constantly repressing women’s sexuality stems from the issue of gendered hegemony. 

Gendered hegemony is the dominance of the patriarchy in society, where narratives of the different gender roles are written and guarded by the dominant group (men). In the gender role narrative written for women, women are like moral torchbearers in society. In a heteronormative nuclear household, the woman’s role is be the mother, the housewife and the moral cornerstone of the family; the person who ensures the correct upbringing of children. Any deviation from this would cause backlash, as seen in the Tik Tok video. The danger of such narratives is that women absorb this as part of their identity. This is why the criticism of the camerawoman’s clothing was by another older woman. The older woman probably felt that by correcting the camerawoman’s clothing, she was fulfilling her responsibility in safeguarding the morality of society. 

Since women are seen as moral torchbearers of society, they are expected to be pure and clean, and since sex is considered dirty for women, being sexually promiscuous would mean they no longer fit that mold. On the other hand, men are seen as the sex icons, and have an elevated status in the realm of sex. For example, masturbation for men is considered entirely acceptable and healthy. Having an orgasm for men is often considered the end point for sex. Whereas for women, female self-pleasure is a taboo that is rarely talked about. Female orgasms are also mystified as something rare, something that shouldn’t be even asked for. When a society considers being sexy or having sex as morally defiling, it is reflective of that society holding harmful moral standards regarding gender and gendered norms. In short, society commodifies women. When the commodity is damaged in any sort of way, it becomes less valuable or even useless. This is how dressing or being sexually active become justifable premises for degradation and criticism; a form of discipline for women to keep themselves pure for maximum value. 

Knowing this, as the next generation of women, we need to break this cycle and embrace our own sexuality. This means exploring our own bodies, how they work, our sexual anatomies and more. Sexuality need not just be about sex, it is also about your gender identity and how you relate to it. It is about how you connect with your body and the way you express your inner being. For example, clothes can be a way of exploring our sexuality, style and can be a way to boost body confidence. Experimenting with makeup styles and colors can be another way of expressing your sexuality and creativity. 

Of course, sexuality is also about discovering your sexual desires and preferences. This includes exploring your body through masturbation, figuring out what turns you on (or off), your kinks, preferences etc. All of them are crucial parts of understanding yourself holistically. Additionally, it would be incredibly helpful if you become sexually active. Exploring masturbation with toys is another option in unearthing your sexuality. Although it definitely requires some experience, practice and patience with your own body! If you have a partner, it is important to communicate with them your desires, needs and wants. There is no need to be shy or ashamed about it; in fact exploring your sexuality with your partner can be incredibly fun, fulfilling and enlightening! Sex has always been portrayed as something dirty, dark and corruptive. This is only the narrative that has been constantly fed to us. Looking through a different lens or perspective, and seeing sex as something fun, a place to explore and experiment with makes sex more accessible and less scary. 

At the end of the day, sexuality is a personal thing. Sexuality is often made synonymous with sexual activity or one’s sex life, however, this is not the case. In fact, sexuality is less about the act of sex and more about our relationship with it as a concept. Do we have a healthy relationship with sex? Do we understand our stance on it and why? Sexuality is such an important, beautiful and artistic expression of life, if only we open our minds to it!

Emmy Kwan

Nanyang Tech '25

The embodiment of a "material gworl" but with no money, if she isn't complaining about capitalism, the economy or the patriarchy, you can find Emmy in the aisles of a clothing store, ironically selling her soul to the corporations she often critiques.