Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sex in America: our readers respond

We asked you whether America was in the midst of a sexual counter-revolution. Ten Guardian readers share their thoughts

Sex shop
Should Americans be concerned about the recent sexual controversy?

From "Slutgate" to Susan Komen, Proposition 8 and the birth control debate – it seems like a new sexual controversy pops up each week. We asked you: are these unrelated incidents or are they part of an overall trend? Is America in the midst of a sexual counter-revolution? Or is this debate nothing but the mouthing-off of a few old white guys?

'It's as if women's liberation never happened' – Jessica Mack

avatar red  This isn't the United States. This is Back to the Future, starring the women of America instead of Michael J Fox. We've been packed unwittingly into the De Lorean and, poof, it's 1955. Griswold v Connecticut, the landmark decision protecting an individual's right to contraception hasn't been handed down, the birth control pill hasn't hit the market, and it's almost as if the women's liberation movement that our mothers and grandmothers pushed so hard for never happened at all. It's baffling and disturbing.

Yet while scads of anti-women policies have already been passed (or are waiting in the wings) in legislatures across the US, there are some oases. One of those is Seattle, Washington. Residing on the very north-west edge of the United States, we are literally and (for the most part) politically outside the fray. Last month our governor signed legislation to allow same-sex marriage. Our senate is considering a bill that would mandate abortion coverage for insurance providers – a first in the country. We have had some hiccups, but compared to our sister states, we are doing well. 

It's not that we haven't noticed what is happening elsewhere, or that we don't care. It is that we are trying to hold the line. We are known for grunge music, grey days, and, I would venture, progress. Pioneers pushing westward in search of new frontiers settled in Washington, and that spirit remains today, manifest in our largely progressive politics. Hopefully we can serve as a support to women's rights advocates in other states. 

'Manhood does not involve sleeping around' – David V Cruz-Uribe

avatar blue  As an American father of three teenage boys, I find myself trapped in the middle of an increasingly divisive war that does not address the very serious problems facing America. The right is, of course, well known for its opposition to abortion and gay marriage, and for its sporadic attempts to reintroduce "traditional" gender roles that seem to owe more to re-runs of "Leave it to Beaver" than to any historical reality.

On the left, however, we have a strident defense of more liberal sexual mores but, for the most part, no attempt to address some of the real problems in American sexual culture, like the hook-up culture and the sexualization of pre-teen girls. More disturbing is the fact that so many women (up to one in four) experience violence as part of an intimate relationship. These are social problems that cannot be fixed by universal access to reproductive health care and birth control. 

In the face of this, my wife and I have the difficult task of teaching our sons that manhood does not involve sleeping around or treating women like sex objects. Will they sow their wild oats when they are older? Perhaps. But we hope that despite the cultural pressures on them, they will have learned that the best expression of their sexual identities will be in marriage. 

'I really worry about the reproductive health of my kids' – Boo Hardie

avatar purple  I am a Brit, living in Denver, Colorado, and I have one teenage son and two teenage daughters. What I see and hear in the US makes me really worry about the reproductive health of my kids, especially my daughters, as what I took for granted in the UK is becoming increasingly difficult to access.

In the UK in the late 1970s, I considered myself a liberated young woman. I visited my local family planning clinic frequently for all of my reproductive health needs, be they free contraception, breast examinations or smears. I went on to have three kids, and took for granted my free antenatal checks and eventual free childbirth. Here there is barely an equivalent to be seen. Maybe one Planned Parenthood I know of, but not anywhere near us. No free access to anything remotely similar. 

Yet I frequently encounter people who are extremely willing to articulate their views over the current debates and who to my face have called abortion "murder". I have had to explain to my children that the billboard-sized posters of bloodied fingers and toes in glorious technicolor thrust at our car window is a termination of pregnancy. I have had to justify to friends my reason for allowing my kids to have the HPV vaccine, and that it is not, in actual fact, giving them licence to have sexual intercourse. 

I wish that religion and politics did not enter the arena of what I consider to be access to my basic human rights – my ability to limit my family size by using contraception, my right to prenatal checks, my right to smears and breast examinations, my right to have an abortion. This is my private business. To all politicians: please get off your religious pedestal and focus on the political health of your country and not the reproductive health of females. 

'Republicans want more money, not theocracy' – Brian Giuffre

Avatar green  From the OC, it looks more a bunch of unrelated reactionaries with their backs against the wall.

Co-ordinated Republican action to strip women of their rights? Unlikely. But then maybe I'm seeing things through an orange haze. There are a lot of rich Republicans out here. Most vote in their own economic interest, not from concern with social issues. They want more money, not theocracy. 

Maybe California is an anomaly. Then again, maybe it's the national vanguard. Could be that the Republican party and religious fundamentalism will divorce soon, and the moral majority will become increasingly irrelevant. This might explain the hysterical bellowing of the likes of Limbaugh. An animal screams loudest when it is dying. 

'My mother raised me to be a feminist' – Susan Matthews

avatar yellow It's winter term of my senior year of college, and I'm starting to think nothing can surprise me any more. As I walk into the basement of one of the many fraternities on campus, my eyes roll over the large bits of graffiti on the wall. One catches my eye, likely because of the aggressive statement it makes, in two short words, about my generation's hook-up culture (yes, this phrase is courtesy of my mother).

"Sex?" it asks in bright pink paint. 


On first glance I half-heartedly laugh, because I'm pretty disillusioned about love or sex, or that those two concepts having much to do with each other. It's really only the second or third time I pass it when my memory suddenly makes my body jolt. 

I am the author of half that conversation. 

No, I didn't paint it on the wall (painting the wall is a brothers-only event). But this is a text message conversation I had with a brother here. Last spring? Two summers ago? I can't remember, we've been hooking up for far too long without being in anything resembling a relationship, but I said it. Well, I said "Probably," when he inquired "Sex?" 

My mother is a feminist, and she raised me to be one, too. Unfortunately, my generation's definition of a strong woman is one that has sex without being bothered with the emotions that come along. There is no sexual counter-revolution at universities today, but perhaps what is there is a greater tragedy. 

'We are moving toward a more progressive society' РDaniel Els̩us

Avatar brown  As a Swedish journalism student in Washington, DC, I have found these recent discussions and debates quite interesting. I am sure some people who read this make the connection that Swedes are sexually liberated pervs.

Maybe that was true in the 1960s and the 1970s, but not really any more. Lately it seems like I just stepped out of the movie Caligula and into … whatever the opposite of that would be. 

Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh and all the other middle-aged men seem to think they know what is best for women – leaving women out of discussions on contraception and whatnot. These men seem to be living in the past, a Mad Men-like era when men had all the power in society and women were secretaries and housewives. 

What I see now is a country coming together against this sexual puritanism, forcing the repeal of Proposition 8 and reversing the decision of Susan G Komen to cut Planned Parenthood's funding. 

If I were American, I would be immensely proud of how this country seems to be moving away from sexual puritanism toward a more liberated, progressive society. Keep making your voices heard, fight these grey-haired men deciding what is best for you. 

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