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A New Spin On An Old Dance

After World War II in the United States, gender roles were rigid. Men worked, women stayed home and took care of the house and children. There was a backlash after the war that sent women out of the factories - where they had been called to serve their country while the men were away - back to the home to once again step down and take their place in society (Buszek, 2006) . Further, women were considered completely non-sexual, only engaging in sexual intercourse for the purpose of having babies. Women today breathe a sigh of relief that we no longer have to live under such rigid gender roles and have more freedom to do as we please. However, are we as free with our sexuality as we think we are? Some would say yes. Television, radio, magazines, and internet sources tell us that women can wear what they want, do what they want, and be as sexual as they want to be. Is that the truth? Is this really the same old story from the 1950's that has been revamped, repackaged, and re-shelved, waiting for us to buy into it?

The purpose of this paper is to examine different aspects of sexuality as they pertain to women and to ask the question: Are women truly sexually free? These aspects include sexual freedom, pseudo-bisexuality, and the sexual double standard.


Within every society, there is an unspoken code of conduct that members are expected to adhere to. When discussing sexuality, this code of conduct is called the sexual script. Sexual scripts provide a model for appropriate sexual behaviors, expressions, and roles. They are learned through messages in culture about what is and is not appropriate (Markle, 2008) . As with any codes of conduct, individuals get their social cues from a variety of sources: families, friends, religious denominations, school, and the media - what information is given through television, radio, internet, newspapers, magazines, etc.

Women today continually get mixed messages regarding their sexuality. The most obvious contradiction in our society is between the media and the government. In recent years, the government has been promoting abstinence-only Sex education, which is detrimental to teenage boys and girls[C1] . Further, the government has been slowly chipping away at reproductive rights of women over the years. At the same time, we receive media messages sending the message that virtually everything revolves around Sex.

However, in conducting my research, I found that not only does this contradiction in our society exist, but media messages by themselves display contradictory messages. I will provide two examples to prove my point. The first example is regarding the hit television series Sex and the City. In this series, the main characters were four thirty-something single women living in New York City that spent a majority of their time having Sex, talking about Sex, or contemplating Sex. One of the characters even had a newspaper column that discussed her sex life and the sex lives of her friends. The premise of the show was that women were now on a level playing field as men - both in the business world and in the bedroom. The first episode discussed how the characters could "have sex like men." This idea was further described as having sex without emotion or commitment (Markle, 2008) . Even though the women certainly achieved this on some level given that the number of sex partners each of them had was unrealistically high, the entire series revolved around relationships, how to find love, and how to fix problems that come up in relationships. In the end of the series, all four women were in relationships - two were married and the other two were in long-term relationships (Markle, 2008) . It is clear to see that there were opposing messages throughout the entire series.

For my second example, I will discuss a pop culture icon that younger girls relate to. Pop singer Jessica Simpson announced her decision to remain a virgin until marriage in the late 90's. At the same time, she had a very sexual image (Valenti, 2009) . She frequently wore clothing that allowed her to show her midriff and looked provocatively into the camera when shooting her music videos. In her first music video, "I Wanna Love You Forever" she wore white, but her clothing accentuated her figure, making her look "sexy." Further, the lyrics of the song "I Wanna Love You Forever" are questionable given that Jessica was a self-proclaimed virgin at the time. In her song she sings, "Pour yourself all over me, and I'll cherish every drop here on my knees" (I Wanna Love You Forever, 1999) . One interpretation of these lyrics could be that she is singing about performing oral sex on her boyfriend. It could be argued that those lyrics were not supposed to be taken literally, but if that is the case, exactly what is the metaphor? What are these lyrics pertaining to? Actually, the lyrics are not reminiscent of engaging in a type of sex that would lead to the loss of her virginity, but that does bring up two intriguing points. First, when one is performing a sexual act for the sole pleasure of their partner while receiving no pleasure themselves, does this not make the person performing the act merely a sexual object? The role they have in the scenario is simply to provide pleasure to their partner. In opposition to this idea, some might say that the woman might enjoy performing oral sex on her partner and received pleasure in that way. While this may be true, the act of performing oral sex does center on the pleasure of the person receiving oral sex. The pleasure of the other person tends to be irrelevant at the moment. The second point that the lyrics in Jessica Simpson's song brings about is the idea that the only "true" sex is penal-vaginal intercourse. Technically, Jessica singing about performing oral sex on her boyfriend does not make her a hypocrite. As I mentioned before, she is referring to a sex act that will provide pleasure for her partner and sustain her virginity. The subject of teenagers engaging in oral and anal sex to keep their virginity intact has been a topic of discussion on many news shows and publications for a few years now. Some say that oral sex is much more prevalent now, while others say that it is not. Leora Tanenbaum referenced an article in The New York Times that discussed the rise in oral sex practices among teenagers (Tanenbaum, 2000) . The entire discussion leads to many questions. What is sex? What is virginity? These questions have yet to have true, definitive answers.


The definitions of sex and virginity seem to be mostly individually defined. Some say that sex is only penal-vaginal penetration. Others say oral, anal, and digital sex should be under the definition of sex. From our society's confusion on exactly what sex is, it is understandable that we also do not know exactly how to define virginity. If we do not know what constitutes of sex, how can we define the state of not having sex? Author Jessica Valenti discusses this issue in her book, The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. She discusses that as she was doing her research, she was unable to find a biological definition of virginity. Further, when she asked other people, they all had different answers. Some said it was not having sex with someone else. One person in particular said they define sex as when the person involved has an orgasm. However, Valenti herself believes that virginity is a "sham being perpetuated against women" (Valenti, 2009, p. 20) . Some say a girl is no longer a virgin when her hymen has been broken. While this seems simple and straightforward, it brings up two problems. First, it is possible that the hymen can break through activities other than sex. Further, it is possible that the hymen may not break when she has sex for the first time. Simply put, a gynecologist cannot definitively look at a woman's hymen and tell whether or not she has had sex with one-hundred percent certainty. The second problem is regarding loss of virginity in men. There is no permanent, physical change that occurs in men that indicates they are no longer virgins. Perhaps this is one of the reasons women's sexuality is so often put under such scrutiny. Further, women tend to always get the negative associations with having sex. Women are the ones that get pregnant from just one sexual encounter while men can theoretically sleep with numerous women without repercussion. Our society has laws in place that force men to take responsibility for their sex act in the form of paternity tests and child support, but those are laws imposed by our society. These laws are not definite like pregnancy. This brings about another point. Even though there are medical procedures that allow a pregnant woman the right to choose whether or not she wants to have a baby, there are many barriers in place that might prevent her from choosing to have her pregnancy terminated. Some of these are strict laws that might not specifically outlaw her choice, but might restrict her resources. Having brought about this point, how can men and women have equal sexual freedom?


According to Gail Markle in her analysis of Sex and the City, she made the point that women enjoyed the show so much because it provided a fantasy world in which women could freely have sex with whomever they chose without repercussion (Markle, 2008) . This is a very good point. The only physical repercussions I can remember happened to the same character. In one episode, the character Miranda contracted Chlamydia from one of her sex partners. Later on in the series, she had an unplanned pregnancy.

Further, Markle discusses the fact that the women on the show never felt guilty for refusing to have sex with a man, they never had sex with men even though they did not really want to, and they were never forced into having sex by their partners (Markle, 2008) . In comparison, when discussing their sex lives, real women often talk about having adverse experiences like going along with having sex even though they did not want to or even the experience of being forced or coerced to have sex when they protested. The producers of the show had real opportunity to depict a situation such as this happening to one of the characters. According to Jessica Valenti's research, women who are seen as more promiscuous are often blamed for rapes and other sexual assaults (Valenti, 2009) . However, the producers chose not to paint a negative picture of sex and depicting a sexual assault would have been damaging to that depiction. The series tended to focus on the light-hearted parts of sex. If anything that could have been perceived as negative happened during sex, most of the time it was presented in a comical fashion. Because Sex and the City presented itself as a sexual utopia, it does not depict the negative connotations that go along with being "sexually free."

A common social punishment for being a sexual woman is being labeled a derogatory term. In Leora Tanenbaum's book, Slut: Growing up with a Bad Reputation, she lists negative and positive terms for sexually active men and women. There were two positive expressions for sexually active women - hot and sexy. There were twelve positive terms for sexually active men. This list included stud, player, ladies' man, Romeo, and Casanova. Further, for men, there were only three negative descriptions for sexually active men - womanizer, wolf, and "can't keep it in his pants". For women, there were twenty-eight derogatory terms listed. These included: slut, whore, tramp, ho, wench, loose woman, and Jezebel (Tanenbaum, 2000) . It is clear that this is extremely unbalanced. Unfortunately, most women have encountered a situation of some kind in their life where they were labeled one of these derogatory terms. Even worse, if they were not labeled as a "slut" or a "whore" they were probably labeled a "prude" or a "tease." This is the double-edged sword that women have to deal with regarding their sexuality. Either they have sex freely and are considered a slut, or they abstain from sex and are considered a prude. This is commonly known as the sexual double standard. Some say that the sexual double standard no longer exists. There have even been studies done on this topic.

For example, r e searchers Marks and Fraley conducted a study on whether or not people were more likely to remember negative comments about women's sexuality or men's sexuality. They hypothesized that they would be able to remember negative comments regarding the woman's sexuality. To them, this would indicate that perhaps there really is not a sexual double standard, but that it was just an issue of what sticks out more in individual memories. They conducted their study on a group of men and women by giving two "journal entries", one written by a male, and the other by a female, discussing their sexual histories. Both entries had negative and positive reactions from friends within them. As they had hypothesized, t he study showed that the participants were more likely to remember the negative reactions for the female than they were for the male (Marks & Fraley, 2006) . From what I could tell, their research is questionable. First of all, they provided the sample journal entry for the male in their research. The hypothetical male discussed sleeping with a girl he was not in a relationship with and a couple of comments two of his friends had made. One friend made a "Way to go, buddy" type comment, and another friend told him he should not be sleeping with someone he was not in a relationship with. These types of comments seem mild compared to the stories revealed in Tanenbaum's book. The researchers themselves admitted that their study lacked realism and that there were limitations when conducting an experiment in a laboratory setting. Further, they said that they were careful to write the journal entries so as not to lead the participants in any particular way, so I can only assume that the female entry was similar to the male entry (Marks & Fraley, 2006) .

In her book, Tanenbaum interviewed girls that had been labeled a "slut" at some point. She notes that this label may or may not have anything to do with their actual sexual experiences. Further, she mentions that her interviewees said that their labels mostly originated from girls or that the girls' comments were worse than the boys' comments (Tanenbaum, 2000) . Sadly, not only do women call other women these derogatory names to be insulting, recently, there has been a trend among groups of girlfriends to call each other "sluts" and "whores." I am ashamed to say that in my group of friends, we would frequently call each other "whore, " "bitch, " "hoochie, " and other terms and laugh about them. Even though I did not realize this at the time, I understand now that calling ourselves those names made the name-calling more culturally acceptable.

In our society, it seems like every time women make any advances at all, society is quick to say, "See, look, women are equal now." After applying a little bit of logic to this idea, it is obvious that this statement makes no sense. This is like a little boy eating a box of cookies when his sister walks in and asks him to share the cookies, so he hands her one cookie and says, "I shared, you should be happy." Even though this is an obvious example, somehow, our society has been able to trick women into believing that there is an equal playing field


For the past few years, The Pussycat Dolls have been considered "empowering" role models for women. However, upon examining the messages surrounding this group, I wonder if they are truly good role models. For starters, the Pussycat Dolls started out as burlesque dancers performing stripper-type dancing and occasionally a celebrity or two would join them. Then, the women entered the music business with songs like, "Don't Cha, " "Buttons, " and the song I am going to be discussing, "I Don't Need a Man." The Pussycat Dolls are frequently cited as being "empowering" for women and they release songs like "I Don't Need a Man" with lyrics like: "I don't need a man to make it happen/ I get off being free/ I don't need a man to make me feel good/ I get off doing my thing/ I don't need a ring around my finger /To make me feel complete" (I Don't Need a Man, 2005) . At the same time they are singing these "empowering" lyrics, they are dressed in very little clothing and dancing designed to be sexually arousing for men. This is another contradiction within the media itself. I think the message here is clear, women can be independent and make their own choices as long as their choices still benefit men. Besides being physically arousing, the lyrics of this song actually benefit men more than is noticed at first glance. These lyrics are basically saying something about the level of commitment these women want. In a real life situation, if a woman said they were independent and did not want a ring while at the same time performing a stripper routine, a man might be inclined to think he gets to sleep with her without worrying about having to date her. From this point, it is clear to see how these scenarios still benefit men.

Often, examples of women's empowerment and sexual freedom include being able to dress in tight, revealing clothing without repercussion. I do not know where this particular idea came from, but women are still looked down upon for wearing revealing clothing. This is shown in the ABC news show, What Would You Do. In this particular episode, there were two scenarios. In the first, a woman was sitting alone at a bar wearing a simple blouse when a man approached her and was extremely persistent in his advances even though she was showing no interest in him. The purpose of the show is to see how many people will come to the woman's aid. In this scenario, people did come to her aid and tried to get the man to leave her alone. In the second scenario, the same scenario ensued, but this time the woman was wearing a low-cut halter top and a lot more makeup. In this scenario, fewer people came to her aid when it was clear she did not the attention she was receiving from the man (ABC, 2009) . Further, Leona Tanenbaum made a comment in her book that often women dress provocatively to gain power in a world where men dominate and hold all the truly meaningful power (Tanenbaum, 2000) . In our culture, this is one of those acceptable ways women gain power.

A recent study measured the correlation between women's self-sexualizing behavior and the media. They found that there was a positive correlation between viewing sexually objectifying media choices and sexualizing behaviors (Nowatzki & Morry, 2009) . This shows that the two phenomenons occur together. Even more troubling, viewing sexually objectifying media choices resulted in a negative correlation with acceptance of other women's sexualizing behaviors (Nowatzki & Morry, 2009) . This is a fascinating finding because it shows that not only are media messages shaping activities of women, they are also simultaneously reinforcing the sexual double standard.

Recently, studies have shown an increase in women watching pornography as well. Author Pamela Paul mentions in her book, Pornified, says that there have been more and more websites, magazines, and the like that have that specialize in providing women with erotic entertainment as well (Paul, 2005) . In this case, I think that women feel like they have to play along in the boy's club to get anywhere. Even though more women are watching porn, they might not get as much out of it because women experience sex in a different way than men.

All of the above examples work together to give women the illusion that they are sexually free, but are we really?


I was talking to a friend of mine recently and somehow; the topic of sex came up. She confessed to me that recently she and her boyfriend had recently been having threesomes with other women. I asked her if she did anything with the women and she admitted that she had. I was surprised at this because she had never expressed an interest in same-sex relationships before. As I discussed this with her further, I found out that she did not really enjoy having sex with another woman, but her boyfriend thought it was really hot, and she was secure enough in her sexuality that she was going to go along with it.

This situation is clearly describing when someone is engaging in pseudo-bisexuality. Pseudo-bisexuality is defined as the recent phenomenon where women and sometimes men, engage in same sex activity even though they do not have any sexual urges to do so. I would like to point out that there is a difference in pseudo-bisexuality, bisexuality, and bi-curiosity. Bisexuality is being attracted to both men and women and bi-curiosity is being attracted to the opposite sex, but having an urge to engage in same-sex sexual activity.

There are not a lot of sources that discuss this topic, given that it is a relatively new phenomenon. To the best of my knowledge, one of the first instances of this phenomenon in pop culture was the infamous Britney Spears-Madonna kiss on the MTV Video Music Awards in 2003. Inadvertently, it seems as though Britney and Madonna opened the flood gates of bi-curiosity. While that is not the problem, pseudo-bisexuality has developed. I would like to provide an example of the way same-sex attraction has shifted over the past fifteen years.

When I first heard about the song, "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry, I thought it was a remake. I remember a song by the same name by another music artist, Jill Sobule. When I originally heard Katy Perry's song, I realized they were far from the same. Katy's song discusses kissing a girl "just to try it, " having a boyfriend, and not really falling in love with the girl (I Kissed a Girl, 2008) . In contrast, Jill Sobule's song, "I Kissed a Girl" talked about having a close friend and both of them not being very interested in the men they were with, so they kissed each other (I Kissed a Girl, 1995) . Jill Sobule's song seems to indicate a possible romantic relationship between the two characters in the song, while Katy Perry's song indicated that she did not even know the girl she kissed and that before she could get up the nerve to do it, she had to get a little drunk. This idea is reminiscent of pseudo-bisexuality because of the alcohol element. In my friend's case, she was always drunk when she and her boyfriend brought home another woman.

Even though I think there is a possibility that men engage in this practice, I think it is mostly women, so I will focus on them. The problem I see with pseudo-bisexuality is that it seems as though women are engaging in same-sex sexual activities to impress, turn on, or please their boyfriends or husbands. This does two things. First, the women are once again turned into sexual objects, only present for the man's pleasure. Second, this pseudo-bisexuality is making a mockery of lesbian and bisexual culture. In a way, it is a setback for the homosexual community. It is possible that as we see countless drunken girls make out with their best girl-friends in bars to impress some men, we might begin to think these women are the same as lesbians and that lesbians just want to impress men by being in relationships with other women.


Given all of this information, I will venture an answer to my question. Are women truly sexually free? My answer to that question is unfortunately, no. In reviewing my research, I think there are a number of things that could help make women more sexually free. The first huge step that needs to be taken to level the sexual playing field between men and women is to provide more reproductive rights for women. Second, there needs to be more accurate information involving the true sexuality of women. In her book, Women Who Love Sex Gina Ogden discusses the lack of research involving women and sexuality (Ogden, 2007) . This includes better sex education in schools for teenagers. It seems as though most people are more comfortable talking about sexual fallacies within the media and pop culture than actually discussing true women's sexuality. Even though there are so many detrimental messages in the media, individuals could use these images as starting points for real conversations about sexuality. Unfortunately, these tasks are not simple and it would take major change to begin to implement them. Perhaps having the knowledge that the structure of our society is not yet equal is the first step in gaining our sexual freedom.


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Sobule, J. (Performer). (1995). I Kissed a Girl. USA.

Perry, K. (Performer). (2008). I Kissed a Girl. USA.

Simpson, J. (Performer). (1999). I Wanna Love You Forever. USA.

Markle, G. (2008). ''Can Women Have Sex Like a Man?'': Sexual Scripts in Sex and the City. _____Sexuality & Culture , 45-57.

Marks, M. J., & Fraley, R. C. (2006). Confirmation bias and the sexual double standard. Sex _____ Roles, 54 (1/2), 19-25.

Nowatzki, J., & Morry, M. M. (2009). Women's Intentions Regarding and Acceptance of Self-Sexualizing Behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly , 95-107.

Ogden, G. (2007). Women Who Love Sex. Boston: Trumpeter.

Paul, P. (2005). Pornified: How Pornography is Damaging Our Lives, Our Relationships, and _____ Our Families. New York: Holt Paperbacks.

Tanenbaum, L. (2000). Slut!: Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation. New York: Perennial.

Valenti, J. (2009). The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young _____ Women. Berkeley: Seal Press.

By Christina Sanderson - I am a twenty-eight year old paralegal with a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in women's studies. My passions are women's issues, music, writing, psychological analyzing, sociological analyzing...  

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