Sex and Feminism. Where Do We Fit?

married sex  

Erica Jong -- a leading proponent of women's sexual liberation -- wrote an op-ed in The New York Times saying that today's young women are "over" sex. The novelty of sexual freedom (in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and even in the 90s) has worn off, and we're now reverting back to the 1950s housewife lifestyle of "motherhood and monogamy." Rather than craving open marriages, free love and unapologetic promiscuity, today's young women are apathetic when it comes to sexual liberation and this, according to Erica, threatens to "destroy women's equality" -- everything that our mothers and grandmothers fought for.

The Huffington Post rounded up a bunch of responses, all basically saying that Erica is completely out of touch with what real young women are actually doing. Erica is focusing on 30-something women who are bored of their 20-something dating lives and want to settle down and become mothers. Young women are still having plenty of liberated sex, they just aren't talking about it as much.

But then there's me, a 24-year-old married mother, meekly raising my hand. "Where do I fit in?"

I absolutely, unequivocally know that young 20-something women (women that I know and love) are still having what Erica calls "liberated sex." They're still dating and drinking and having one-night stands. But I also know more young women who would rather find someone to settle down with. Erica acts like the media now paints sex as being dangerous (see even SATC's Samantha got breast cancer! Proof!) in the same way that the The Scarlet Letter-era oppressed women's sexuality. But we're not punishing women for being overly sexual, it's just that we've come to find that those free-love-hippies contracted a slew of STDs, had unwanted pregnancies and died from AIDs. Erica even goes on to say that this "apathy" to sex threatens birth control and abortion rights, but that's assuming birth control and abortions are a means to have as much sex as we want without the consequences. Except that there are consequences -- emotionally as well as physically. But just because more young women are over the idea of sexual promiscuity doesn't mean that we don't want birth control or the option of safe abortions. And it certainly doesn't mean that we're over sex. Irresponsible sex? Maybe. But passion-driven sex? Never.

Yet according to Erica, it's the children in our beds who drive away sexual passion. "Better to give up men and sleep with one's children," she writes. "Better to wear one's baby in a man-distancing sling and breast-feed at all hours so your mate knows your breasts don't belong to him." But when the commenters shoot back that, Hey, this is 30-something women! Not us in our 20s! I wonder, again, where does that put the young women who have given up their decade of liberation and sexual freedom to wear "man-distancing" slings and give our breasts over to our babies? What about the young women who devote their lives to monogamy and child-rearing? Does that make us lesser feminists? Less sexual? A disappointment to our foremothers?

I refuse to apologize for not wanting to sleep around. Maybe it's because women started dating and having sex younger than ever, maybe it's because sex bombards our culture in every corner, or maybe it's because we're more educated now -- but, yes, the idea of being promiscuous bores me. And open marriage does not necessarily make a happy marriage -- we learned that from your generation, Erica. Maybe jumping from bed to bed would be more exciting if I was told I had to get married young and be sexually conservative. No one wants to be socially confined. But I think we've come to realize that we can still feel sexually liberated and choose to do so with only one partner. While raising a family. And breastfeeding. Just because we're not flaunting it doesn't mean there isn't passion behind our locked doors.

Do I think women have the right to be sexually free? Absolutely. But I also believe we should have a choice about how we want to use our bodies and live our lives without being attacked. And that choice is what feminism is really about.

What do you think? Are more young women "over" sex? Does young motherhood strip away our sexuality too soon? Or does Erica have it all wrong?

Photo: Flickr/Lite Speed Photography