Neo-Victorianism and Sex Education
A few days ago I was uncomfortable reading about sex in Erica Jong’s What Do Women Want? (1999) and could not put my finger on why. At first I thought that I was just being a big prude, sex is not a subject that I spend a lot of time thinking about (unless I am having it, I am usually thinking about it then). But I have never considered sex an essential part of personal growth. However, it was all there, spread across the pages and I felt unusual about opening a reader-dialogue with another woman about sex. Why?
Because the every day woman’s sexuality has become a warped chastity belt in society; in the media, women’s part in sex is reduced to a fleshy vessel to be poked at over and over. Our desires have been drowned out by the grunting male and when we engage with it, as Erica Jong has, it is almost alien to think women could have a platform to explore themselves. In the 21st Century, Neo-Victorianism took hold of our style, family life structures and morality and has now made its eerie move into the bedroom.
Back in the actual Victorian era, sexuality was brushed under the carpet of middle class ideology. When newly weds had sex for the first time it was an ordeal. The great social thinker and philanthropist John Ruskin fled the room at the sight of his new wife, Effie Grey’s pubic hair and consequently their marriage was never consummated. New brides often fainted, vomited and lay there motionless, unable to contribute or say no. Towards the end of the century, gentlemen’s clubs became ever more popular as couples found they had no connection, no shared desires or goals, the ‘ghastly business’ of homosexuality became a secret class of male interaction and child abuse was ripe in the seedy underbelly of the Industrial society. This lack of sexual education damaged a whole generation who’s repression manifested into madness (Henry James explored women’s repressed desire in The Turn of the Screw (1898). Women endured however and enjoyed some triumphs in the 20th Century and now, post-2000 and its promise of progression, we have sunk back into denial, happy to brush over the ‘gorey details’ of female pleasure.
From my own education I was nineteen when I experienced my first orgasm and it was a complete surprise to me. I did not know that women could even have that feeling, nobody explained it to me and I was always too afraid to ask. Everything I learnt about sex, I learnt from having multiple and experienced sexual partners and pornography. (I have also had a string of inexperienced partners, some older than me, who draw their knowledge from pornographic scenarios and think that I, the woman, enjoys being relentlessly pounded and told over ‘this feels so good’. Mmm. It does, doesn’t it?) In school our sexual education consisted of a wooden penis and a condom, a long discussion about pregnancy and the male genitals. I went to a girls’ school. Why was I not learning about my own genitals? How they worked and WHAT was this mythical female ejaculation? As seen in new media such as Orange Is The New Black, women don’t even understand their own anatomy so how do we expect men to?! The lack of education is damaging to ALL gender and ALL sexual orientation. Boys learn from pornography made for them, a wide range even more accessible thanks to the internet. Girls grow up watching unattainable versions of themselves pleasure those boys on the front cover of every magazine, national newspapers, adverts, music videos, pop-ups. Female nudity is everywhere so why and how are we being denied sexual identities?
The new UK porn restrictions were clearly produced by those who have never had good sex and probably, never pleasured a woman. They are also upholding the emblazoned glory of the Double Standard which, it seems, will haunt our dreams of equality for many more years to come. Women are being denied a place in not only their own fantasies, but their potential partners as well. The damage of telling to our future generations that sex is dangerous foredooms their wants as good and fun and something to be respected. Why should young women have to find out about the height of their sexual pleasure from their partners? These laws are stripping us of sexual independence, identity and education. How are we ever going to teach young women to not fear sex? By blurring the line even further on their part? No. Women need educating, not censoring. We have already witnessed the extent of female sexual censorship as articles and reports flooded the internet last year that its not actually supposed to hurt when you lose your virginity and half the population are going ‘Whaaaat?!’ Well, thank you, governing bodies, for for making that clear, we understand why you did it though, women of course all need to remain virgins as long as possible to keep their integrity…
Neo-Victorian idealism has gone too far, the porn industry is not to blame, at least it has provided a place to explore sexuality, pleasure and importantly, consensual intercourse; these acts will not go quietly. They will scream and moan and disturb your sleep all night long. But I feel for those girls who will grow up and perhaps, if they’re lucky, find a partner who knows what they’re doing and I hope that we do not revert back into motionless bodies on a mattress, waiting for it to be all over.