I’ve often felt that this world is run by sex. This isn’t to say that sex is in any way a bad thing. Personally, I find it admirable when someone is confident in their sexual identity and should be free to express it however they wish. That being said, I’ve also found the constant and overwhelming societal pressure to fit into a specific sexual category exhausting. As a woman, being sexually promiscuous isn’t acceptable, but then again, neither is being anywhere on the other side of the spectrum involving “prudish.” Personally, I’ve never been hugely motivated by sexual ideals and tend to find the constant barrage of expectations overwhelming. I never did get the very delicate balance of being “sexy” while also avoiding any behavior associated with “whorish.” Quite honestly, trying to keep up with this while also not being very invested in the whole subject myself has proven to be frustrating at best, and I was thinking some other people may feel similarly.
Societal pressures have always affected us, but I don’t think I became hugely aware of until my junior year of high school when I got my first solid boyfriend. Don’t get me wrong, he was a legitimately good guy, but we were both inexperienced in dealing with either romance or attraction, and our mutual awkwardness and fear of confrontation was a good recipe for disaster. Like many teenage boys, he seemed to be under the strange expectation that sex was immediately part of the deal. I’ve never really understood why. From the beginning, I noticed myself very against letting him buy me anything or spend any kind of money on me. I specifically remember a frenzied grab for the bill after a sushi date, both of us refusing to give it up until the server uneasily asked if we wanted to split it. I realize now that I most likely did this so I didn’t feel like I owed him. Specifically, I didn’t want to feel or give off the impression that him buying me food or getting me gifts should or would result in any sexual favors. It wasn’t unreasonable for sex to be on the table, of course. We were dating. However, I find it slightly disturbing that this was always my thought process on dates rather than “wow, he’s the greatest” or even “that was really damned good sushi.”
This was also around the time that I realized “Netflix and Chill” truly couldn’t actually involve watching the movie. I was aware of the suggestive nature of the term but it soon became very clear that no matter how much I legitimately wanted to pirate the newest Marvel movie with another person, me asking for that immediately translated to weirdly Marvel filled “sexy times.” I remember something along these lines happening with my boyfriend. He was respectful about the whole thing, and although I wasn’t necessarily bothered, I couldn’t understand why he was so surprised when I was actually more invested in the plot than whatever he had on his mind. It seemed difficult for him to understand that our hanging didn’t have to be fueled by teenage hormones. I’ve noticed this being a repeated theme with my and my friends’ relationships, and although I wouldn’t say it’s always been a source of tension, I tend to get bored with the whole thing. In my mind, there’s just so much more to do in life.
All this being said, I don’t dislike sex. It’s honestly less about the action and more about the assumptions that tend to come along with it. When going out on dates with a new person, there’s almost always this overarching idea and consideration of when you may sleep with the other person. Is the first date too early? Perhaps the second? And if one person in the relationship wants to wait, they may, for some horrible reason, feel the need to apologize as if this is in some way unacceptable. Instead of sex (or related physical activities) simply being something fun that brings two people who care/are just attracted to each other closer together, I feel society has made it so this is either the ultimate goal or end game of the relationship. In my mind, it should also be able to be viewed as another activity to add to the list of prior bonding events, similar to a dinner date. If we want to get really technical, I would compare it to a good game of tennis. They both get your heart rate up and generally require quality teamwork with your partner.
Media also has a lot to do with it. The constant barrage of car and perfume commercials are bad enough, but when they both seem to include entirely unnecessary sexual components, it can get ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I find toned, and bedroom eyed young men trying to sell me paper towels through the TV as entertaining as the next person, but there’s a limit. Sex and bodies and how they should and are related is almost always being pushed on us in some way. If I’m trying to buy a new pair of shoes, why is the advertisement I end up looking at more focused on the curve of the woman’s calf rather than the footwear itself? I appreciate that she has nice legs, but that really wasn’t the point of my looking at all. Other forms of media, such as movies and television, are also guilty of this. When “Fifty Shades of Grey” came out, I admit that I was part of the guilty crowd spending money to go into the theater and giggle our way through the first film. But at least that film is honest in its silly and sexual nature. It’s the more subtle and pointed sexual roles that I find much more damaging. Although it is getting better, the portrayal of women in TV, movies and video games leans more towards them as sexual beings rather than actual characters. As cool as it is to fight against Orcs and Goblins in nothing more than scraps to serve as armor, I wouldn’t say it’s very practical and pushes the idea of women as sexual objects.
I suppose that it really just ends up being the small things that bother me. As damaging and blatantly obvious as the portrayal of sexuality in the media can be, it’s the things that we barely even notice that get to me more. It’s in the ad for heels posted on a billboard; the picture presented less about the heels and more about the suggestive curve of the woman’s thighs. It’s in the idea that “friend-zoning” is, in some way, hurtful to the other person as if you owed them something from the start. It’s in my sad hesitation to ask someone to come over and watch a movie due to a possible misunderstanding. It’s in the suggestive eyes and sex life-related questions from friends as you may begin to see a new person (as if this were in some way a good and only measure of the quality of the relationship). As long and dramatic as this list sounds, I still feel it encapsulates my frustrations with the conflict between how society works and my brain seems to operate.
Sometimes, I feel as though there is something wrong with me for not being as sex-driven as the rest of the world seems to be, but then I remember: just as there is nothing wrong with being confident and expressive of your sexuality, it’s completely fine to be the opposite. I appreciate romance and sex just like any other person would, while still being able to acknowledge it not being the most important part of my life. If this means it will be a bit more difficult to find someone who agrees or accepts my views on it, then so be it. Perhaps I won’t even find that specific person and will be perfectly content watching Netflix on my own. Regardless, I hope this serves as a reminder that as important and beautiful as it can be, there is so much more to this world than sex.