Thursday, March 6, 2008

Don't You Want Somebody To Love/Have Sex With?

Louisa Allen's Article, "Girls Want Sex, Boys Want Love: Resisting Dominant Discourses of (Hetero)sexuality" was an interesting and accessible exploration and study about young heterosexual youth in today's culture. Based off of a study done in New Zealand, she interviewed/researched 17-19 year olds of a variety of races, economic backgrounds, and social upbringings. Her research was an attempt to "explore Foucault's notion of the possibility of resistance in relation to the discursive construction of young people's sexual subjectivities (216.)" In layman this translates to: she wanted to explore how young people today approach societies discourses in terms of their own sexuality. Through her research she found that some youth still take on "stereotypical" female and male constructs in relationships but that some are also deviating from these constructs.

Allen stresses the strong presence of power in our discourses in sexuality but also emphasizes that, although these discourse may be strong they are not monolithic (216). As Foucault also said "where there is power, there is resistance" therefore there will always be those that choose not to live by our stereotypes of sexuality and gender. When I began reading this article, I automatically related to its content. In my own sexuality I often feel very conflicted on where I stand. At times I feel like I am the active one, making my own decisions about my sexuality but then there's the other side that I often resist. I try not to get emotionally attached, I try not to care about the other person because I don't want to complicate things but I fail almost always.

This article was refreshing for me, not because of the personal testimonies or interviews but with Allen's own critiques throughout. Her theorizing made me feel less crazy when it comes to my sexuality and "love" life.

Allen explains that discourses in our society are never fully recognized or realized therefore they can be resisted which I thought was very interesting. This makes complete sense because it's not like people are walking around thinking "Gee, I really feel like I need to dominate my girlfriend to assert my masculinity today!"
Well, maybe someone out there is thinking that but it's not common. Allen also emphasizes the importance of social location. The society we live in will regulate our actions, for example; whether or not one goes to a private or public school, lives in rural or urban areas, etc.

In the section, Traditional (hetero)sexualities, Allen sets up the basis of her argument by introducing the dominant sexual discourses. She also states that New Zealand is particularly conservative when it comes to sexuality or so they display publicly and socially. She describes the dichotomy which our discourses tend to form of the sexually ready, emotionally disconnected male and the romance yearning and emotional female. She explains that "these discourses have been historically shaped by fields such as religion, medicine, law, media and academic disciplines (218.) But just because they are strong discourses doesn't mean they are the only ones, they are at times resisted.

In the section "Young women and dominant discourses of female (hetero)sexuality" she explains that there are still many women that are still living in the traditional discourse. These women portrayed themselves as sexually vulnerable, not as interested in sex, and more interested in the loving relationship and commitment to another person. In this section I was intrigued by the first woman she talked about, Caitlin, who said she just wanted "to get it (sex) over and done with...(219) And thought that this was fine because they have been together for 3 years. This puzzled me for a couple reasons but I don't know the context of Caitlin's sexuality. I don't think sex should ever fizzle out of a relationship just because they have been together for so long that it gets boring but it happens very often, especially with married couples. Experimentation is good and I'm guessing Caitlin is missing an in depth education of sex and her own sexuality... Either that or she is no longer actually attracted to her boyfriend and is simply attached to him because she wants to be loved and given attention from a male figure (boyfriend.)

These women that show the characteristic romance, love, emotional seeking qualities also talked about their submission into sex after much talk with their boyfriends or lovers. Most of the women expressed fear of pregnancy, abandonment, pain from sex, etc and this is very sad to me. There is so much more pressure put upon women about having sex! Men are encouraged to have as much sex as possible because they have nothing to lose while women have EVERYTHING TO LOSE!!! (Or so they are told to believe.)

Most women are afraid that sex is really going to hurt because they are usually told that it is going to hurt. It is dangerous to bombard women with this idea of sheer pain during sex because women can actually psych themselves out and convince themselves that it will hurt even more than it actually will. We can convince ourselves so much that we are neither mentally OR physically ready for sex!!! I believe that if a woman is knowledgeable of her own sexual needs before she has sex, it can be a more pleasurable experience for her. It still may not be the best sex the first time but it can always get better! It is very sad to me that sex can be a negative experience for many women and this should end.

Then Allen gets into the other women, the women that are in touch with their sexuality; the sluts and the...slags? She explained how women are still considered sluts if they are sexually active with more then one partner but men are the studs in the very same situation. First of all, I think we should get rid of these names completely because, of course, the women get the negative and demeaning names and men get the double standard. We should just call it sexuality and drop this immature name calling because it's unproductive.

In this section I was intrigued by the woman, Anna, who said she was called a slut when she cheated on someone. Part of me, was judging her and calling her a slut, but not because she has "legitimate women's sexual desire (2220" but because she blatantly cheated. She has every right to be sexual but does not have the right to potentially hurt others because of her cheating. (Don't we always get mad at men that are "cheating pigs"? This goes both ways.

I found myself relating directly to the women on page 223 who described their own sexual pleasures and desires. I am more of an actor in my sexuality and I am not ashamed of it, I like it. I also found it interesting that many women expressed their complete control in sexual activity. Most women felt most of the control on the topic of contraception which is a very important aspect of sexuality to be in control of. At the same time, there was an emphasis of women's "empowerment at an intellectual level" rather than in relationship practice (224.) Therefore there is still a disconnect with women and there sexuality.

Allen then gets into the men's side of things and talks to men that seem to be reinforcing the stereotypes that men are crude, sexually aggressive, sex crazed and always horny. In this section I was concerned about the style which she collected her data because she was interviewing groups of guys at the same time. I didn't think that was a very good way to do it because of the influence they would have on each other. Then, of course, I realized that it was part of her research technique and this helped her understand both genders more. I thought it was interesting when she explained the hegemonic masculinity, and the fact that many men recognize it and actually want to be seen as hyper-masculine.

She then described the men that were attempting to resist the dominant discourses of (hetero)sexuality, the men that want love and companionship. In this section I found myself "oohing" and "awwing" every once in a while...and was kinda grossed out by my self. (This is where I am confused and conflicted by my own resistance of dominant discourses of (hetero) sexuality.) Allen found that men were more willing to talk about care and love if they knew it was a 'safe' research environment (227.) While women were more open when they knew they could trust the other women in the group. When people feel more comfortable they are more willing to open up about their sexual feelings, desires, and pleasures. This should be very helpful information for everyone, for sex educators, couples, individuals, etc. Creating a safe and comfortable environment in which to talk often softens the blow when talking about sex.

When Allen showed replies from people about qualities they looked for in relationships I was reminded of Hollway. Many people said they were looking for love and a close friendship, understanding, honesty, care, etc. Hollway explained that many people have fears of committing in relationships because it can make them feel very vulnerable. You show your partner that you love and care for them but also that you need them too. That is a scary thing to do sometimes, especially for men.

Overall, Louisa Allen discovered that our current dominant discourse of (hetero)sexuality is outdated (231.) We need to come up with new discourses that are all inclusive. We need new discourses that allow women to indulge in their sexuality without feeling shame. We need new discourses that allow men to feel free to commit themselves to one person, to love and care for another without feeling embarrassment. This article, as Allen stated, should offer "sexuality education insights into the ways in which some young people talk about their sexual selves (232.) We can have a new discourse on sexuality and we will erase negative associations of sex because sex is healthy and normal.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

I'm glad that you talked about specific examples Allen brought up because they also left me feeling conflicted/emotional/angry.

Caitlin's lack of interest in sex with her long-term boyfriend made me feel really sad. I feel like sex and sexual attraction are really important aspects of a relationship, and that that has disappeared over time for her really concerns me. We should give her a copy of CAKE.

One clip that really ticked me off was on page 220, the interview with Chris and Cam, where Chris said "I wanted to have sex with her and Cam said 'no' and then we talked for another two hours maybe (laugh) and uhm uhm and then Cam said 'yes'". THIS MADE ME SO MAD. I wish that he had respected her when she said no rather than coercing her into having sex with him. AHHH. I am so angry!

Anna's story also made me mad. I don't think that cheating is okay. I feel that if you have that strong of sexual feelings for someone besides your partner, and you intend to act on them, your partner deserves to know this.

It was interesting to see Allen's main argument and then the excerpts from the interviews to illustrate what we are trying to move away from, what we are seeking, and what would be too much change.