going braless

Perfectly Imperfect: Deconstructing the Fantasy Around Sex

Sex. It’s a word that invokes different connotations. A term that makes people uncomfortable. Three letters that pose a threat to our society, even though the act itself is literally vital for life. It's a natural act that's seen as something perverse and dirty, not as an outburst of pure emotions between two people. The demonstration of love or lust (or both) between people that want to feel a connection is bigger than themselves. The necessity of human contact, which is also a key part of keeping some sort of sanity in the society that despises sex, yet exploits it to gain something.

Society’s perception of sex is a contradiction—either it gains something from it, or despises it. It cannot have it both ways, and yet, this seems to be the norm. There is a famous saying attributed to Oscar Wilde that goes like this: “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” It still rings true in our present, where everything is sexualized, but whoever consumes a sexualized product is deemed immoral by society. There is power in using what you hate to your advantage, transforming it into something with which you can belittle and criticize others. Needless to say, what society wants to gain from its dual perception of sex is power.  

The resulting sexualized product is composed of an unrealistic idea of sex that has the power to manipulate how people should perceive sex and how they should feel during the act. Society has two principal ways of distributing this ideal: 1) through the media and 2) through pornography. These two outlets reinforce the notion that there is a singular correct way to have sex, setting some type of “norm” that is wired into people’s brains as early as pre-adolescence. The effects it has on individuals, in the long run, could be damaging, both physically and emotionally. However, this usually happens when people cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. 

 

Sexual Discourse in Our Society

There is a massive difference in how society approaches the topic of sex with women and men. While men are encouraged from a young age to embrace “masculinity” and their sexuality, women are taught to repress their own to be reserved, modest, and “pure.” Why is it that this distinction exists between two sexual beings? The answer, although complex, is gender. Not gender in itself, but the “roles” that are attributed to each gender in our society. For a society that encourages inclusion and diversity, it is archaic in the way in which it reinforces the roles that are assigned to each gender. 

Since sex, within our society, is black or white with no possibility of gray areas in between, this is how the roles are assigned: men are, by nature, sex-driven, while women are not. Women are taught that sex is only for procreation, while men enjoy the luxury of knowing that there is no shame in the pleasure that comes with the act, and that it doesn’t necessarily need to have childbearing purposes. These notions alienate those who exist in gray areas, in which certain women have higher sex drives than some men, and certain men simply have low sex drives.

Another discourse is born out of this: men only want to “pop your cherry” and use your body for their own pleasure. Although there are men that only want that, it should not be taught as the norm. Why are we teaching young girls to be afraid of sex? Why are we telling them that all men just want them for sex? Why are we objectifying their bodies with the use of our words? 

Yet another contradiction arises: society objectifies women’s bodies by using words aimed to make them fear sex. This is yet another power dynamic in which you need to degrade something or someone (in this case, the female body) in order to obtain something (fear, censorship, power).   

It is no secret that there is censorship in sexual discourse toward women. Parental figures are afraid to confront their daughters when they’re old enough for “the talk,” but they’re even more frightened when their pure, little girls begin to ask questions like: “What’s oral sex?,” or “What’s the clitoris?,” or even “What’s sexual pleasure?” These, it seems, are forbidden questions, along with anything that has to do with sexual doubts and inquisitions. 

More often than not, the typical answers are: “Why do you want to know?,” or “That’s grown-up stuff,” or “¡Que te coja yo en esas!,” or “Callaíta te ves más bonita,” or “A lady shouldn’t ask those types of questions!”. These answers are really passive-aggressive comments, and they only serve to transmit only one (unspoken) message: you’re not allowed to be curious, to speak, or develop any personal feelings about sex. As a result, women are left both misinformed and uninformed. 

This discourse of censorship is discussed perfectly by Michel Foucault in The History of Sexuality

“As if in order to gain mastery over it [sex] in reality, it had first been necessary to subjugate it at the level of language, control its free circulation in speech, expunge it from the things that were said, and extinguish the words that rendered it too visibly present. [...] Without even having to pronounce the word, modern prudishness was able to ensure that one did not speak of sex, merely through the interplay of prohibitions that referred back to one another: instances of muteness which, by dint of saying nothing, imposed silence. Censorship.” 

Notice how Foucault’s talking about the seventeenth century in the twentieth century and how it’s still relevant in the twenty-first century. 

Needless to say, women do have sex drives and are allowed to explore their sexuality. The need to emphasize this seems ridiculous and downright degrading, but it is a topic that no one is willing to talk about. 

 

The Problem with the Media

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve consumed a specific notion of what sex is supposed to be like. The telenovelas and romantic Hollywood movies showed me that sex equated to rose petals on a white bed, candles scattered across the room as the only means of visibility, soft music playing in the background to set the mood, and slow kisses accompanied by even slower caresses.

Their romanticized portrayal of sex told me that, with the right man, the act itself would be effortless. It told me there would be no pain the first time. It made me believe that it was this perfect act that had no room for errors. It simplified something as complex and beautiful as sex. In turn, I consumed a fantasy and was confused with reality, even though the latter was more natural and much more satisfying. 

This isn’t to say that you cannot have the petals, the music, or soft kisses. The problem relies on how these portrayals of sex are transmitting a message that only has one interpretation. There is no room for individual thinking, just for fantasizing. While there is no harm in fantasizing once in a while, there is damage when the fantasy becomes your reality. 

Sex is limited to a specific image. Sex is stripped away from its complexity. Sex becomes an unnatural “you should…” and “this is how…” and “you’re not doing it right, this is the way…”. Just like there is no room for interpretation in its presented image, there is no possibility of individual thinking before, during, and after the act. Sex becomes clichéd—between male and female, always ever-lasting, only when you’re in love, perfect (society’s notion of perfection,) dot, dot, dot.

The possibilities are endless, yet all the same at the end of the day. 

When it comes to magazines, the narrative changes in its approach but not in its content. I remember going to Walgreens with my friends or my sister to buy teen magazines—J-14, Tú, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Tiger Beat, Popstar! and Bop. I was a preteen back then, somewhere between eleven and twelve, and lived for those magazines. My body was changing at that age, and so were my interests. Besides the acne and my period, I started to notice boys in a different way and experience all kinds of weird hormone-driven emotions. Dolls were suddenly for little girls, while makeup became the symbol of womanhood. I wholeheartedly believed that I was a woman, no longer a child, and wanted to prove my maturity in any way I could. 

Magazines became my outlet for that. We used to go to the local drugstore every week to get the latest scoop and somehow thought that made us grown-ups. As we flicked through the magazines, we would swoon over headlines like, “Would Justin Date A Fan? He tells Tiger Beat the truth!,” and swoon even more over posters of Zac Efron, the Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber. However, it wasn’t just Justin Bieber’s positive reply to the possibility of dating a fan or some shirtless poster of Zac Efron that grabbed our attention. It was also the part where the magazine told us how to interact with boys. 

There were quizzes (“Does Your Crush Like You as More Than a Friend?”), tips (“7 cosas que harán que espantes a tu galán” or “Los tipos de novias que ellos adoran”), horoscope (“What Does Your Zodiac Sign Say About Your Future?”), and confession section (“Historias reales sobre mi primera vez”). The magazine’s narrative told me to be direct but not too direct, loud but not too loud, emotional but not too emotional, courageous but not too courageous; insert some empowering quality and add ‘but not too much’. 

This narrative also encouraged me to think, stand up for myself, laugh, feel, and show some of my personality, but never too much. All these directions fall into contradiction. What this narrative is really saying is: you’re either too much or not enough. This is not good because, according to these magazines, guys don’t like too much or not enough. If you fall outside this box, you’re considered a threat to society. You’re dangerous. 

Isn’t it ironic how women have to measure their worth based on what this narrative makes them believe is appealing to men? It’s exhausting. Somewhere between following all these restrictive rules and pleasing society, they lose parts of themselves. Women go through a metamorphosis, only to realize, as adults that it's all absurd. 

The narrative presented by these types of magazines promotes obedience and servitude no matter how fun those quizzes and reads may have been during preteen and teenage years. There's no damage when the reader is conscious about this narrative—it might even be fun to read those once out of the teen years—but they can be damaging for teenage girls who do not know better. The danger is not only in reading these frequently, but it’s also in how these teenage girls are internalizing and interpreting this information. 

Although not directly related to sex, this is where the fantasy around it is constructed. This is where the restrictions start: “you should be like this and this…,” and “it’s not ladylike to…,” and “you should focus on the guy more than yourself because…,” and “there’s only one way to…”. Girls are conditioned to think and act in a specific way to preserve their obedience and “chastity.” These magazines target teenage girls. They rely on this narrative and the images it invokes to form a concept of sex that’s not given to them by society. We can only describe this interaction between the magazine and the teenage girl in one way: a mechanism of control. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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This is not to say that you can’t enjoy telenovelas, romantic movies or magazines. I’m still a sucker for telenovelas! Currently, I’m seeing La fea más bella. I still swoon over the male protagonist (it’s Don Fernando right now) and squeal when romantic scenes come up. However, I know where fiction ends and reality starts. I didn’t always know the difference, and sometimes the fantasy consumes me, but I eventually find my way back to reality.

 

The Problem with Porn

The problem is not porn itself, rather the unrealistic ideal of sex it can impose on its spectators. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, pornography is “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement.” We can add the fact that this “depiction of erotic behavior” serves to please a specific fantasy that the spectator may have. Men and women alike enjoy watching their fantasies come to life in a video, and there is nothing wrong with that! It can be a very intimate and pleasurable moment shared with oneself or a partner. 

The problem begins when the viewer is unable to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Men, for the most part, spend their adolescence surrounded by all kinds of pornography. They start their sexual experiences by consuming sex as a fantasy they want to fulfill, sex as an act they are detached from, sex as an outpour of stimulating images, and sex as a narrative. This narrative takes all types of forms—it has a story and characters. The story leads the characters to sexual relations are often unreal circumstances—stepmom screwing her stepson, pizza guy with a surprise in the pizza box, the secretary being naughty with her boss, male teacher “disciplining” some badly behaved student during detention… You name it, and it’s there.   

As mentioned before, there’s nothing wrong with having sexual fantasies or the desire to consensually enact them. If porn is just an occasional outlet that an individual uses for sexual pleasure, an outlet that does not substitute sex itself, then there is nothing to worry about. However, if sex seems dull in comparison, there is a huge problem. This problem may originate from the experience of watching porn: you’re an outsider who is watching two (or more) people having sex in an explicit manner through a screen. You’re obviously not part of the action. This may create a detachment to real-life sex. The person can become accustomed to seeing sexual relations in angles that are impossible to see during sex when he or she is part of the act. 

The titular character from the movie Don Jon illustrates my point perfectly:

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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This quote demonstrates how porn goes from being an outlet used to pleasure oneself once in a while to an actual addiction. It does not happen all the time, but when it does, it can turn into a severe problem. More often than not, women are objectified in these videos, and as a result, like Don Jon clearly states in this movie, they become just tits, ass, holes, and sexual positions… “and that’s it”. It strips them away from their individual sensuality. It leaves no space for either intimacy or personality. Sex can be just sex, but isn’t it great when you’re appreciating each other’s bodies (even if not in love)? Isn’t it great to receive equal pleasure? Isn’t it great to be satisfied in the end? Isn’t it great to feel as though you’re more than just a body? Isn’t it great to feel human while having sex?    

Porn can be great when treated as what it is—a product with a target audience that gets edited, over and over and over again. 

The Aftereffects of the Fantasy 

 

There are aftereffects that reflect themselves during sex. Both men and women can suffer from the withdrawal left behind by the fantasy around it. Imagine that this fantasy is a bubble that surrounds the affected person, and that reality is everything that’s outside of it. This bubble has an ideology, a narrative, a way to perceive sex that has been implanted in the affected person by society and its different means for approaching sex. When the bubble bursts, all the repressed feelings and emotions come out, these emotions and feelings manifest themselves during sexual relations. 

The voices that echo “you should do this and this…”, “you should be like…”, “you’re not doing it right, this is the way…” always trigger the question “why?,” in young girls’ minds. This “why?” is loaded with insecurities, discomforts and doubts. During sex, these voices can make a reappearance. They can be overwhelming and loud, preventing women from both experiencing the act in its purest form and intervening with their arousal. Thoughts like “I’m not doing this right…” and “I’m so fat…” and “I’m too skinny,” “is it supposed to feel like that?”, “What is he thinking?”, and “what will he think of me after we’re done?” are mood killers. They induce anxiety and make sex less pleasurable. 

The voices that whisper “be sexy, but also reserved”, “act slutty, but not too much”, “be innocent, but also dirty,” and “be bold, but not too much” are the most vicious and wicked. They are a contradiction in themselves. How can a woman be two opposite things at the same time without being judged by others? That is a trick question because the answer is: it’s impossible. If you don’t put out, you’re a prude. If you put out too fast, you’re a slut. How can society possess complete control over women? The answer is simple: by making women doubt themselves. Doubt leads to fear, and fear leads to the intolerance of any woman who does not follow the ‘too little, too much’ mechanism of control. It also leads to avoiding sexual activities that please them. 

When it comes to media such as telenovelas, romantic movies, and porn, the mental process of an affected person is different during sex. A woman may become discouraged if it hurts too much the first time and will start to compare it to the romantic movies she’s seen, where the protagonist’s first time was simply amazing and pain-free. While this is not the case for some women, it’s normal to feel pain during the first time. Be it a pain that lasts the whole two minutes if they’re both virgins or one that lowers in intensity the more it lasts if one of them is experienced, the pain will be there. However, this should not be discouraging. Like with everything that is new, it needs practice (this is always fun!) until you discover what turns you on and what makes you feel comfortable. 

The same thing happens when sex isn’t what women expect. There’s nothing wrong with expectations, but they can also be mood killers. A woman might’ve had mind-blowing sex, but if it isn’t like she pictured or expected it to be, she will be disappointed. The process of comparison begins between some media sources and real life. “Why isn’t it as effortless as in the telenovelas?”, “why am I taking too long to orgasm?”, “why do I orgasm too fast?” and “why is he doing it like that?” start to detach a person from the real-life experience; the freedom from the fantasy. Instead of comparing, there needs to be communication between the two partners. The questions should be: “What do you like?” and “what turns you on?” and “what’s off-limits?” and “what can I do to make you feel comfortable?”. 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Sarah Gidick (@pornforwomen) on

When it comes to men and porn, the experience is slightly different. From being outside viewers, men (or women, or people affected) become the protagonists in real life. The fantasy is broken because they have to actively participate. It can be nerve-wracking to engage in sexual relations and expect to perform like in the videos. When things do not go along like in porn, they become disappointed, insecure, and confused. Porn should never be compared to the real thing. Otherwise, a person will expect things that are either impossible or dissatisfying. With porn, there is a detachment. With sex, there is a corporal communication that is both sensual and intimate. 

 

The Truth About Sex 

I’m not about to tell you what sex should be for you or how it should make you feel because the point of this article is to embrace the multiplicity of definitions and emotions that sex evokes. We’re all different, after all. 

However, I will tell you what sex is for me and how it makes me feel.  Sex is when I feel comfortable with my body and my partner’s body. It should be fun between the two of us in the sense that we’re able to laugh and goof around. There should be no space for shame. I need to be confident enough to make expressions of pleasure, to try new things with my partner, and to express my desire with my body. It shouldn’t matter if I’m an expert or not. I should have the liberty to move and grind and bounce in whatever way feels right. There should not be any room for fear—of getting too wet or not enough, of losing the moment’s peace, of losing a hard-on (for men) midway, of anything that is human. Fluids and queefs should be viewed as normal occurrences. It’s about being myself. 

 

Don’t let anyone tell you how to view your body or how to perceive something as intimate and personal as sex. Don’t let anyone censor you in any way. Sex is whatever brings you happiness, pleasure, and orgasms! Embrace your sexuality without shame or fear.