In Defence Of Being A Prude
The Debrief: Because we don't all want to discuss anal over lunch. Is that OK?
I knew the Victorian-style hedgehog covered nightshirt would come in handy. Persuaded by friends that the only way to really fall for the guy I’d been seeing for a few weeks was to sleep with him, I’d invited him back one night - only to find myself instantly regretting it the minute we got in the room. Buttoned up to my chin in my knee-length nightshirt, I pulled pyjama bottoms on underneath, climbed into bed, and hoped to God he wouldn't try anything on. He, bemused but mercifully respectful, got the message. Yet what bothered me after this utter nonevent was not his behavior, but my own.
With the UK premiere of Girls Season Three comes the inevitable surge in people discussing sex as frankly - and, if anything, more realistically - than the advent of Sex And The City. But not all of us are Jessas or Samanthas (depending on what end of your 20s you're currently sitting in), we don't all like discussing it and, amid billboards, magazines, and sexually liberating TV shows, those among us who are a bit more conservative are made to feel like freaks.
Why did I let some friends pressurize me into doing something I didn’t feel comfortable with? Why did I feel the need to conform to their approach to sex, rather than mine? I can't fault their methods: sleeping with various men in various positions and places regardless of how well you know them is liberating for some girls, and I'm not one to judge their behaviour in or outside the bedroom. Yet I would ask, in turn, not to be judged for taking a more conservative approach.
I don’t see my sex life as public thing, and as a consequence, I don’t like talking about it with people. I don’t feel that being penetrated by anyone – or anything, for that matter – is 'a pastime, like jazz or skateboarding' as one friend repeatedly tries to tell me. I don’t get grief for opting out of chats about Strictly or MIC – why is this different, so long as I feel like I can talk about with close friends, if there is a problem? Due largely to SATC and Girls, debating doggy style has become the norm at the table, and it leaves me feeling a bit down: both for the cheesy melt I can no longer bring myself to finish, and for conversations about anything other than who’s done what, where, with whom.
Don’t get me wrong. Sex is nice, and it's great that in this day and age, articles and books about it are available. I’m glad that, according to surveys carried about by National Survey of Sexual Attitudes (Natsal), we are increasingly liberal in our approach to talking about – and doing – sex things. I can’t pretend that I want to know how to transform household goods into dildos, but if I did, I’d know who to ask. Yet with this newfound openness has come a demand for disclosure that leaves the Charlotte Yorks and Shoshannas of this world types feel increasingly on edge.
Fortunately, among friends, I know several who feel as I do: single, married and in long term relationships. All feel they can talk about it with partners, often 'having their own language for it' – but none enjoy how sex generally is discussed outside the bedroom. Mainly due to the consequent pressure it plies on you to be the perfect girlfriend/sexually active single girl. 'It makes me feel like I am not really a girl/woman, like I'm doing something wrong because I'd rather wear plaid PJs to bed than a silk negligee,' said one.
I asked an expert: the head of analysis for the National sexual lifestyles and attitudes survey in Britain, Cath Mercer. She maintained that 'People can be both ‘open and liberal’ – about others / society in general but also ‘prudish’ – about themselves. There remains a clear divide between what people say in public and what they think, say and do in private. clear divide between what people say in public and what they think, say and do in private.'
All my prudish pals confess to having fibbed at school to fit in, and I’m certainly not the only one to have needlessly drunk in I Have Never. Still, that doesn’t’t stop the sexual oversharing trend from having an impact on those whose idea of 'fantasies', like Charlotte’s in season one of SATC, are their own art gallery and a nice house in Maine.
Over a century on from the nasty repression of the Victorian era, we find ourselves in an age where the pressure is to have the body and supposed sex life of a Victoria Secret model. Not knowing what the latest maneuver is, is the equivalent of not knowing who Britney was at school. Sex sells, we’re told, and not buying into it is a laughing matter. 'I am regularly teased for not being able to say the word 'sex' out loud,' says one friend. 'I end up saying it a bit like Miranda Hart, and going bright red.' Writing this I am, of course, beetroot. Yet to interpret reluctance to talk about what is, as another points out 'a very basic - and personal - physical act' as a reflection on a girl’s sex life is as stupid as judging a girl’s libido from the length of skirt she chooses to wear. Who cares if we can't say it, if we're happy enough doing it?
According to the World Health Organisation, the definition of sexual health is 'having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence'. You'll notice it doesn't specify positions, locations, lingerie, garden utensils or the ability to bare all with friends. Personally I feel like return of prudism in some quarters is, like the rise of knitting, a reaction – to society's obsession with sex in the former case, to its rampant consumerism in the latter. 'Possibly,' agrees Cath Mercer, 'although I also wonder if it’s a backlash to our experience – either our own or someone close to us - of the adverse consequences of some components of sexual liberalism, for example, the hurt often caused by non-exclusivity in relationships, such that there is an increasing recognition of the importance of mutual respect and trust in relationships.'
Which is why I wore that nightshirt. Having momentarily stumbled in the face of peer pressure, I regained my balance – and my dignity with it. Sex was happening when, how and with whom I chose, regardless of social norms. I'm embarrassed I almost succumbed, though I know I'm not the only one: as another mate pointed out, 'there are too many expectations out there and it’s so easy to feel like you have to live up to them, which can be really dangerous.' The most surprising revelation to come out of this national survey, Cath said, was quite simply that 'most people in Britain are content with their sex lives, and most people who don’t have sex aren’t dissatisfied or distressed about it' – regardless of whether they’re wearing suspenders, plaid pyjamas or Victorian nightshirts covered with hedgehogs. It’s from White Stuff, by the way – and it’s ace.
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