Red Light District. Women waving at you flirtatiously. Sex shops. Bright colours. Freedom of expression. Sexual empowerment. Or is it?
The first time I went to Amsterdam I was so surprised and excited when I walked through the Red Light District. At that moment I thought to myself Wow, this must be the sexual freedom we all urge for. I was hooked, and wondered why the hell haven’t we got one in London yet? A year later there I was again, but this time, something had changed. The colours didn’t seem as vibrant and the women I once found fascinating instigated a feeling of uneasiness inside me. Was all of this overt sexualization distorting our worldview? Sex shops advertising women with big boobs and slim figures or handsome hulky men seemed to set a standard of what was considered as attractive. Women at the windows trying to maximise their assets reinforced the idea that in order to be attractive you have to look perfect. Men shyly entering their rooms hoping for an experience of a lifetime.
You don’t need to take a trip to Amsterdam to realize that sexualization is taking over the developed societies, all you need is a little bit of media engagement. Research done by Gill Rosalind found one of its subjects, Lily, a young teenager with severe anxiety, which was all attributed to her close friend who was developing anorexia as a consequence of “repeated and relentless exposure to ‘film stars’ flat tummies.” The girl saw herself as a critical consumer of media constructions of femininity, yet stated that “the media influences absolutely everything”. We are constantly bombarded with images of ‘empowered’ female sexuality, but isn’t that exactly how sexual objectification is being done? I feel like our advanced media outlets fail to empower us and instead use empowerment as an excuse for sexual objectification, both for females and males alike. They set a high standard for what is attractive and women seem to be in a rush to be like the ‘stars’ and end up having countless surgeries trying to look like Kim K or end up with mental illnesses over it. On the other hand, heterosexual males grow to believe all women should look like the people portrayed in the media or advertisement industries.
This brings us to the need for porn and consequently, prostitution. Huschke and Schubotz’ study of men that pay for sex found that reasons for visiting a prostitute ranged from lack of self-confidence and shyness around women to marriages with no physical contact to having sex with a sex worker being seen as easier and more open. Bob, one of the interviewees was visiting sex workers as he could express his identity as a cross-dresser meanwhile reaching sexual satisfaction. A common ground for all the men interviewed in the study seemed to be the fact that they could become more experimental and more open, not just sexually, but verbally too. What does this suggest? Well, I feel like our culture created a flock of timid individuals that are too insecure to establish a rapport with someone we are interested in and, hence making it impossible to have a thriving sexual life.
Back in the 17th century sexual liberty tended to be strongly biased in favour of men, entitling them to freely ‘use’ and ‘enjoy’ women. With time, it seemed like we were taking baby steps to create an equal sphere where men and women could enjoy sex alike, but as a society we are still failing. Masters et al (2013) found that “young women felt that being female limited the relationship contexts in which they could engage in sexual behaviour, a finding consistent with social norms that place greater constraints on the contexts in which sexual behaviour can occur for women more than for men.” How can you expect a woman to be open to different sexual practices when society teaches you that those practices might bring with them feelings of shame and even embarrassment? But when it comes to men, they get praised for it.
Is it just me or our society seemed to have merged into a culture where sexuality is deemed as deviant whilst sexualization seems to populate everything? In this kind of society individuals can get easily lost in translation, and end up with an unfulfilling or nonexistent sex lives due to our social norms. Being normal is a concept and nothing more. It’s up to each and every one of us to take the power back into our hands, cherish our bodies and redefine sexuality, before we lose it to an over-sexualized and fake culture.
If you would like to read the studies mentioned, let me know.