I hate the fact that sex is so predominant in our culture. Wait, that’s a lie. I hate the version of sex that is so present in modern American society. Advertisements, television, music, porn- every day, we are exposed to sex or sexuality in some way. The problem is the vast majority of these mediums portray sex and sexuality a certain way, creating overwhelming social norms regarding sex that are harmful for everyone. We primarily see young, straight, toned, and nondisabled people having sex or being portrayed as sexually appealing. Sex is awesome and always results in orgasms (unless something is wrong with the relationship), something that men should always want and try to get from women, and something that is earned or deserved. Sexual health and consent are rarely mentioned, except in clear-cut cases of pregnancy, STD’s, or rape. When issues with consent are actually addressed by the media, sexual assault usually revolves around a female who is a “good girl,” who doesn’t deserve it (as if someone else would deserve to be raped?) or put herself at risk in someway, placing some of the responsibility on the victim. All of this is, of course, only a sliver of how sex and sexuality truly exist in the real world. However, because these norms and stereotypes have become part of our culture, those with different experiences are alienated, with dangerous results.
Since only a small percentage of people are represented in the portrayal of what is sexy and what sex should be, the majority are desexualized to some degree. Thus, many are influenced to disbelieve that everyone is sexual and deserves to be able to find (consensual) sexual and romantic pleasure in the way they choose. This should not be affected by sexual orientation, sexual experience, physical appearance, or gender identity. The sexual ideal is enforced in the most widespread ways (there have been more romantic sexual scenes with aliens than with women who aren’t thin in romantic blockbusters) and in almost innocuous comments (referring to people as “sluts” or “just need to get some” based on their sexual choices).
Meanwhile, those who fit the sexual ideal are objectified and treated as if created purely for other’s sexual pleasure. Objectifying these people makes a healthy relationship incompatible with a sexual relationship, with one party being viewed as purely sexual and not a complete human being. In addition to restricting sex to a certain group of people, the limited sexual ideas presented create a culture in which sexual assault can thrive.
By showing only a certain type of person as sexually attractive, those who fit that description are basically put on display. It is considered a “waste” if they choose not to have sex, or choose not to have sex with the opposite sex. They are seen as a prize to be won through any means possible. Sexualizing turns people into objects, making their feelings and consent worth less and enforcing the idea that they owe others sex favors because this is all they are good for. On the flip side, presenting limited views of sex reinforces the idea that people who do not fit a sexual ideal should be happy for whatever sexual activity they get, discrediting the idea that they have been or can be sexually assaulted. Similarly, the vast majority of men as well as women judged to be “slutty” because of their appearance or sexual experiences are seen as obviously wanting sex at any time, delegitimizing the sexual assaults of a huge group of people.
This only skims the surface of our culture and especially the media’s treatment of sex, which also encourages sexism, body image and self-esteem problems, making non-informed sexual choices, and abuse towards those who do not follow sexual norms. So yes, the presence of sex in our society is disturbing. But this is because sex is presented in such a limited and harmful way. I believe that the best way to fix this is not by stopping discussion about sex, sexuality, and sexual assault, but to continue to frankly and openly explore these topics. One of the reasons I am a Sexpert and helped found the Humpday Gazette was to foster a discussion of sexuality that presents the voices of people that may not coincide with what is normally considered sexy in society. By opening the discussion about sex to the voices of Dartmouth students instead of passively accepting the sexualized images we see every day, we can help construct a paradigm of sex and sexuality that is open to all people and consensual practices, painting sexual interactions as valuable experiences with mutual excitement and enjoyment.