Kara, I totally thought your posts made total sense and were great! And I agree that this is worth talking about:
Do you regret being slutty in the 90s? Just kidding! I know you don’t. Wait, maybe not kidding. Whether or not we–and other 90swomen–regret the kinds of experiences that Flanagan seems to think we do or we should actually seems like a good subject.
I regret a lot of things in my life, but only a few have anything to do with sex. When it comes to ’90s sluttiness, for example, sometimes I slept with a guy who a friend really wanted, which was a shitty thing to do.
If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have been so cavalier about those particular guys. (In one instance, my friend was doubly mad at me because I not only slept with the guy first, I also neglected to mention to her that he was terrible in bed. She had to find out on her own. Total ’90s sisterhood fail!)
But as far as whoring around? I wish now that I’d done it MORE. For me sex was tied up with adventure. I read a lot. I walked around the city. I traveled. Being enthusiastic about sex for me was part of being enthusiastic about new experiences of every kind. Not to be all Elizabeth Taylor-style dramatic, but having sex was about living LIFE.
And I don’t recalling ever feeling that shame that abstinence folks say is inevitable. Sex was on my own terms. I wasn’t “performing.” I don’t even recall having to work hard. I didn’t even wear heels and short skirts until the 90s were almost over. There was no stripper pole in the picture. It was super simple: I wanted to have sex and so I did. (Except when someone I wanted wasn’t into me, in which case I spent way too much time pathetically trying to talk them into it. Damn you, ’90s men who know who they are!)
As you mentioned, sex is fun and not necessarily emotionally or physically dangerous. Thanks to condoms and the Pill, I didn’t get pregnant until I wanted to, at age 29, and I didn’t get any diseases. I didn’t wind up drugged and sex-trafficked. I learned a lot about myself and the world, and by the time I got married a few years go I felt pretty confident in my sexuality.
You mentioned the Jessica Grose article. It begs the question, would I feel differently if some ex leaked sex pix of me? I’d be angry, probably, but I can’t imagine it would make me regret not having worn a purity ring. Plus, I would be in my teens or twenties in those photos, so in some ways, hell, it’s probably better to have those circulating on the internet than some of the photos of me running errands circa 2010 without mascara on.
I love your (and that reader’s) note to Caitlin Flanagan: “Speak for yourself, lady.” SERIOUSLY. I think you’re totally right that she’s in the Rainbow Party Club (adults who project their own anxieties and illusions onto Teen Culture and then freak out about it).
Jessica Valenti wrote a great book about Abstinence as this flag to rally around and how destructive that is for girls. It’s called The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women and everyone should read it. Basically, she argues, making virginity this Big Deal puts too much pressure on women to identify their selves with whether or not they put out. Ultimately, being a decent human being is not connected to whether or not you have a hymen. The focus on It (rather than on what girls want to do with their lives, etc.) is incredibly reductive and reactionary.
So, as far s I see it, teen girls should do whatever they want. Just double up on birth control. Avoid abusive types. As Taylor Swift and Beyoncé repeatedly tell their listeners, men should treat you well, and if they don’t you must take revenge (becoming famous and writing a song about them, say). And don’t deny yourself experience or pleasure in service to some ideal of womanhood that has nothing to do with what you actually want.