Ever been called a slut? Ever been made fun of for being a virgin? These days we face either being judged for having too much sex, or not having enough of it. We are all part of the problem. We are expected to either be chaste or to be sexual heroes, and while we are all victims of these expectations we are also enforcing them. Not to mention, each of us at one time or another has altered our behaviour, publicly, to suit what we think people want to see and hear.
Some boys in high school, and in early university years, will talk up how much sexual activity they participate in. They'll show their friends nude photos sent to them by girls and be cheered on for it, clapped on the back, laughed along with, others will chime in with their own stories. But really, who knows how much, if any of it, is true. Because this social expectation, that as a teenage male you must be touching boobs, fingering girls, getting blow jobs, losing your virginity, is a lot of pressure for a young men - who may not be ready, or have encountered any chance for sex yet - to be under.
I know guys who hide the 'shame' of not having lost their virginity until their 20s like a deep dark criminal secret. I can only imagine how they felt carrying the information around while still virgins, like their friends would know, just by looking them in the eye. I thought when I lost my virginity my boyfriend had kept it just between us, looking back now I’m sure a mass text (or given the year, it was probably an email) was sent as soon as my back was turned.
On the flip side as teenage girls, it's hardly news to anyone we were judged mercilessly if we were anything other than chaste. I started having sex in my last year of high school after waiting for more than 12 months with my boyfriend. It didn't matter that we'd waited or loved each other though. He was lauded for having banged me, where as I was mocked to no end for no longer being "The Virgin Mary". We shared the same group of friends and I remember this one night when we were all at someone's house drinking. There were maybe 15 of us. Someone got a hold of my boyfriend’s phone and went through our texts. Now there were numerous texts from both of us of a sexual nature, but it was one text in particular from me that made reference to anal sex which they took and showed to everyone at the party. I don't remember ever being quite so humiliated in my life, as I watched all my guy friends high five my boyfriend as he awkwardly looked over at me unsure of what to do and everyone told me how disgusting I was.
The double standard had never been so obvious to me.
This is fuelled by the media we consume too. Sid's whole storyline in the first season of Skins is about losing the baggage that is his virginity. The entire plots of Superbad and American Pie where the characters make pacts to have sex for the first time. In all three of these examples girls are used as lesser characters who are simply ‘slutty’ enough to be manipulated into having sex with the protagonists. Then there's Easy A where the main character is mocked and shamed for having sex with guys who are paying her to pretend they're having sex so they can be more respected at school.
It's even prevalent in music. Countless rappers have sexually graphic lyrics. Lil Wayne will rap things like "Almost drowned in her pussy so I swam to her butt" no worries - but Nicki Minaj says "Um, let me think, what could I do to kick it off? How bout I cum all on your dick and then I lick it off" and becomes a lightning rod for judgement everywhere. And let's not get me started on the international band wagon of slut shaming Taylor Swift suffered for singing about relationships while we all dated our way through high school and university. I once had a friend come home from his third date of the day into the lounge room where I was listening to her album and say "Ugh is this bitch whinging about another bad date?” We all find it far too easy to push sexual expectations onto others.
When you get a bit older though, things change a little. You're perceived as living life to the fullest only if you're having lots of sex. The more the better. The crazier the better. So you go from trying to keep your sex life as private as possible to embellishing it as much as you can without making it obvious you're just trying to keep up with everyone else.
I found the best way to do this was to tell a story without any detail. Adding detail would give me away, it would make people realise my sex life didn’t actually look like it came from a romantic comedy. We've all played games like 'Never Have I Ever' - which, no matter what anyone says, is just a stupid way for everyone to show off. Those games always end up in story time. Well my story to fall back on was always about having sex on my drama teacher's desk. Which is true, I did do that. The story always goes down a treat because it has all the right elements - no one else has ever done it, it fits into a school girl fantasy people tend to carry around with them, and most people wish they could claim it. I loved telling that story. It immediately made me seem like I was living the fullest life of anyone at the party. I was doing it right, cause I'd had really cool sex that one time. Now what I don't tell people is how we'd spent the whole time scared shitless we'd get caught, we were so incredibly nervous that the sex was fucking terrible. Neither of us finished and it went for all of three minutes, and that's being generous. It was also in a demountable classroom a good five minutes walk away from the main school.
You have to remember that behind every good sex story, is the truth. No one is having the best sex of their life.
No, no that's not true. Some people are. But I doubt it's Brad who has downed six badly mixed Jim Beam and Cokes and is swearing blind that a girl made him cum six times in a row in the bathroom at work. Everyone wants everyone else to think they're having great sex.
My girlfriends and I might've once bought into that narrative but these days we're pretty blunt with each other. While sitting around watching Eurovision a couple of weeks ago we were eating pad thai and talking about our different issues with giving blow jobs and how soul crushing it is when you can't get a guy off. Two years ago we probably would have claimed we got them off with the flick of a tongue. Don't even get me started on the conversation we had on pussy farting. Now there's a topic no one brags about when you're 19-years-old and playing 'Never Have I Ever'.
But a circle of girlfriends chatting to each other honestly about real sex isn't really reflective of the real world, is it?
Because ultimately we are all now being judged for not being sexual enough. We risk being called boring. What, you haven't had a threesome? You don't have a vibrator, what kind of feminist are you? Omg you've never had a one night stand? Aren't you bored of having sex with the same person for five years? Oh and God forbid you only have sex in the missionary position, even if that's what works for you and your partner.
The media fuels these fears as well. Think Barney Stinson getting laid in every episode of How I Met Your Mother in increasingly crazy ways or Amy Schumer's character in Train Wreck. The media also has a way of portraying the sex being had in long term relationships as boring or non existent (Steve and Miranda in Sex and the City for example).
So we all start telling people about our own playbooks - I once had a guy tell me his trick was to pretend to fall over while a “hot chick” was watching. "It only failed once,” he boasted, "When I landed face first into her tits. But I count that as a win.” We also tell people about the sheer number of people we've had sex with - I've heard the rule is to third every number you hear? And of course, we feel insurmountable pressure to keep our relationship sex 'exciting' by signing up to whatever everyone tells us we should be doing between the sheets.
Less than a few months ago I would have said there were few negative aspects to people being more open to talking about sex. It wasn't too long ago that sex and nudity was the subject of huge scandal when shared or expressed publicly in any way. But when we stripped away those restrictions we placed new ones on ourselves. Now there's a 'new normal'. We've replaced the anxiety of keeping our image clean and chaste with the need to fit into huge metaphorical sexual boots. I can't tell you how fucking scared I am any time I have sex with someone new that I won't measure up to what is expected. That I won't be exciting or knowledgable enough in the bedroom for them. I always find myself thinking about that scene in The OC where Seth compares his first time with Summer to two fish flopping against each other and tell myself as long as I don't look like a sea creature, I'll pull through okay.
So the question that plagues me is, how have we become slaves to our own sexuality? If we are to be truly sexually liberated (#freethenipple - no really though, stop fucking sexualising my milk makers) we need not only to be able to embrace sex and openly express ourselves, but also have enough independence not to let it dictate how we engage with the world.