There Is No One True Way

Rachel Kramer Bussel is a very smart woman. She’s one of my favorite commentators and I think she often has so much of importance to say on issues of sex and sexuality and in a far more coherent and cogent fashion than most people. (Also, she loves cupcakes as much as I do, what’s not to like?) To wit – she wrote a piece that appeared on Alternet yesterday deconstructing Carol Platt Liebau’s book, Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America, Too!)

I say deconstructing because it’s more than a review, Kramer Bussel takes the huge wad of hyperbole and pulls it apart, addressing it bit by bit. Sadly, this sort of journalistic exploration of ideas is rare. Far rarer than the consistent conflation of several concepts into one terribly skewed point.

I think what bothers me so much is the idea from those like Platt Liebau, that sexuality is a one size fits all concept. When in fact, it is not. What I as an adult feel is appropriate for myself is not what I’d consider appropriate for my children.

This statement, which Liebau endorses and goes running with, is exactly where most such books and pundits fail. Instead of simply advocating for chastity and/or abstinence, they must cross the line to insist that their way is the Only Way. The rest of us are just coarse and vulgar sluts who are ruining it for those who want to wait (not an exact quote, but, I believe, an accurate paraphrasing).

What’s especially sad about this polarization is that plenty of feminists, even of the “do-me” variety, also care passionately about young women’s futures. We want women to succeed and gain access to all the educational, political, and workplace opportunities they can. However, I don’t think any of us should have to sacrifice our sexuality in order to do so.

Liebau pits those of us who are sex-positive against those who favor abstinence until marriage, and I’m still not sure why we should have to pick a side. I’m not anti-abstinence or anti-abstinence education. I’m against abstinence-only education, which leaves those who are already exploring sex, or are simply curious about it, at a complete loss. But reading Prude, you’d think we have armies of sex-positive feminists like me recruiting teenage gurks to forget their homework, whip off their clothes, and get busy with their boyfriends. If anything, I’d rather give them vibrators so they can learn about pleasuring themselves first.

It’s precisely this sort of “One True Way” perspective I find so distressing from those who seek to censor and condemn sexuality and those of us who use it as a medium.

I write sex. I love to write sex and I speak with women every day who enjoy reading the material I and my fellow authors create. Women who come from a huge cross section of cultures, ideals, economic strata and educational background. Women who are devoutly religious, women who aren’t. Women like me with kids and a husband, single women, gay, straight, bi. College students, college professors, secretaries, clerks at convenience stores, stay at home moms. My point being, all kinds of women like to read about sex. And good for them.

As for those women who don’t want to read about sex? Well, good for them too. No one should have to read erotic fiction, or inspirationals, or sci fi, or fantasy, or anything else they don’t like.

Adult women should read what pleases them without guilt, without shame and the idea of returning to a point in our history where women who embraced the beauty of their sexuality were thought of as whores while those who embraced guilt were the “good women” is one that scares me.

I consider myself to be sex positive. I also consider myself to be a good mother and a good member of my community. There are things I don’t include in the culture of my family. My books are not for children, my children understand mom writes and what she writes is for adults. It’s not a difficult concept really and if my six year old can grasp it, I’m sure adults can too.

In other words, I’m not thrilled about the commercialization of sex and how young people are prodded by media culture to be mini-adults at 7. So, um, as a mom I make sure my daughter doesn’t wear hot pants with “slut” on the butt. At the same time, she plays with barbies and adores pricesses. She’s a kid, she’s got it hard enough when mom reads Bust magazine and won’t let them play with Bratz.

However, the standards one applies to children are not those we should apply to adults. And also? The standards I apply to MY children aren’t necessarily what you’d apply to yours so please do me the same favor.

But I don’t pull any punches when I’ll say up front that I believe erotic romance and spicier sex scenes in romance to be revolutionary for women. I don’t apologize for that because I believe sex should be something women enjoy without shame. That doesn’t mean I think teenagers should be blowing every boy who comes along and the suggestion is insultingly preposterous.

The truth of the matter is, these issues are not black and white. There is no “one true way” and that’s not coming from an “anything goes” perspective either.

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