Pendleton’s Politics of Promiscuity: Men vs. Women (Yes That Old Argument)

Hello my lovely readers!! I know it has been forever and a day since my last blog post. For those of you who actually look forward to these posts, other than suggesting you get checked out at your local mental health facility, I offer my most profound apologies. It turns out Oxford actually keeps you pretty busy, and I honestly didn’t think constant reiterations of how stressed I was over my course would make for the most scintillating of entries.

To offer a brief recap before getting to the heart of what I want to talk about today, I survived my first term at Oxford!!!!

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I know I can’t believe it either. Between adjusting to the workload and style of grad school and my constant health problems (basically I’ve had some version of the flu for months now adjusting to the UK climate), I actually made it through. Big thanks to my friends, here and abroad, and my family for going through this with me and listening to my constant complaining :)

Anyways, I went back to the U.S. for a few weeks over the holidays to see my family and decompress from the somewhat claustrophobic and insanity-inducing bubble Oxford can become. But after some time back, I really started to miss the place as it really is like home to me now. So I’m back now, and luckily, I have a couple of weeks before the next term starts to finish up work and rant as I’m doing to you now in real time.

As you can see from the title of this entry, my topic of discussion today will focus on sex, or more specifically the gendered stereotypes that emerge after having a fair amount of it. Let me be clear, as I was in my last post that focused on one-night stands, that what is to follow is not intended to titillate or act as an extended brag of my sexual history and/or proclivities. It’s just my rambling thoughts based on my experiences.

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The drastically different standards and labels attached to women who engage in casual sex or what some may deem a “promiscuous” lifestyle is a subject that has been touched on time and again across various mediums, from an infinite amount of perspectives, by bloggers and academics alike. And you know what, it needs to keep being talked about, because unfortunately these negative stereotypes toward sexually active women persist, and as one of them, I feel it’s necessary to offer my opinion. Once again, it’s not because I hold my opinion to be superior to anyone else’s or because I feel my life should act as an instruction manual to others on how to lead theirs; it’s simply my truth and my figuring it out everyday as I go along.

So in the words of the eternally badass Salt-N-Pepa, I will now be “putting [my] cheap 2 cents in” and talking about what it means to be a single, sexually active, 20-something woman in today’s world.

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First of all, let’s just state the obvious: I enjoy sex. I enjoy everything about it, from the visceral sensations to the intense connection one feels to the other person, however brief or momentary. I enjoy going out with the intention of finding someone to have sex with. It’s not the goal every single time I go out, but sometimes it is.

All of what I just said is, with the exception of some of those who identify as asexual, universal to the human experience. And yet, I was so nervous to make what seems like such a radical declaration regarding the pleasure I take in sex.

It’s not that I’m anti-relationship or anti-love. Quite the contrary: I believe when the time is right for me, I’ll meet someone that will make me want to pass beyond the stages of casual sex and enjoy something more. But for now, I am focused on getting my degree and hanging with my amazing friends which doesn’t leave time for much else. Also, I’m 26, and I still feel way too young to think about that big, looming end-game some people refer to as marriage. If I’m going to be committed to someone, I don’t want to half-ass it, because that’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to me.

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And before I get too far into my ranting mode, let me be clear about something: I’ve made good choices when it comes to finding someone for the night, and I’ve definitely made bad ones. I’ve slept with people who were on the same wavelength as I am in terms of casual sex and respect for the other person not being mutually exclusive concepts; and I’ve been with people who have treated me like absolute shit.

This is the first aspect of the double standard women face when engaging in non-committal sex. It is an unwritten rule in our society that if a woman is going to engage in casual sexual behavior, she is automatically no longer entitled to being treated like a human being. Any expectations of respect or dignity can be kissed goodbye as we are no longer viewed as people but basically pieces of flesh with various holes for primarily male pleasure.

This of course directly contributes to the issue of consent to sexual activity and another sadly unrelenting attitude that if a woman makes it clear that she is comfortable with just having sex, she then forfeits her right to say no to any sexual activity. Her body becomes public property, carte blanche for anything and everything. The yes to sex is seen as a point of no return; if she says no, she really means yes, because she said yes before, therefore it can’t possibly be assault or rape. Wrong, wrong, every single time, WRONG!

Now to be fair, I do not want to indict the entire male species for this viewpoint. As I said, I’ve had some experiences that have been wonderful and respectful, so it certainly does not persist in 100% of those possessing a Y chromosome. And of course men can be victims of slut-shaming too. However, this tends to be the opinion that prevails. And it is certainly not only men who hold this opinion; women tend to be the experts on tearing down other women, as sadly we are still taught that our primary role in this heteronormative society is to be competition for men.

Call me crazy (it’s not exactly untrue), but I don’t think it should be such a lofty aspiration for a woman to still expect to be treated like an actual person once her intentions to have sex are made clear.

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This brings me to my next point: the defensible mindset a woman must have if she intends to engage in so-called promiscuous behavior. Before I address this, I would like to talk about the term “promiscuous” itself. Other than being a sub-standard Nelly Furtado song (sorry I’m still in love with the “I’m Like a Bird” years), the word “promiscuous”, according to, is defined as “characterized by or involving indiscriminate mingling or association, especially having sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis.”

Thus the criteria for determining whether or not someone is “promiscuous” is purely subjective and based on no standardized quantitative data. What might be considered an excessive number of sexual partners for one person may seem average or even paltry to another. Hence, the conclusion that one is indeed promiscuous is purely indicative not of the morals or values of the one being judged but rather the one doing the judging.

But back to the defensible mindset that women, or at least that I feel I have to have, when going out and looking for sex. It feels like you have to constantly be on guard, ready to defend your position at any moment. There is so much pressure on women to constantly reassess and reexamine why exactly they feel the need to just have sex. While self-awareness is not necessarily a bad thing, in this arena it is often done to excess.

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“Am I doing this because I’m lonely? Am I just trying to get back at my parents? Am I rebelling? Am I just sad or depressed? Am I a bad person for just wanting sex? Did something happen to me as a child that’s causing this?” etc.

These are just some of the thoughts that run through our heads when gearing up to do something as revolutionary as having sex just for pleasure. I know they’ve run through mine. These questions are also indicative of the assumptions a lot of people make when they see a woman having sex for fun. They wonder, was she molested or raped in the past, does she have daddy issues, she must be a sad, lonely, pathetic person who can’t keep a man, or simply, she’s just a stupid slut.

Now of course, people have sex for many reasons, both good and bad, and I certainly do not want to try to invalidate any here or say that some reasons are better than others. Regardless of the reasons, the point is that they are your own, and whether they are good or bad is no one’s business.

But women find themselves being constantly put in the position of explaining their behavior. They have to continually reassure the world as well as themselves that what they are doing is not reflective of any flaw in their morality. Because once people find an excuse that you’re less than perfect, that you’re parents are divorced or you never knew your dad, basically anything that does not fit into the heteronormative, 2-parent, white, upper-middle class narrative, you’ve lost all credibility, and it’s game over.

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But this is not a game. These are our lives, and we are just trying to live them, and, if at all possible, enjoy them while doing so. Yet, when it comes to enjoying sex, women are still only deemed acceptable while doing so within a very narrow construct. And if we stray from this construct, well, then anything that happens to us afterwards is just tough luck and our fault. While we get the “walk of shame”, men get high-fives. While we get labeled sluts, men get labeled studs. And while we were “just asking for it”, men were just giving us what we really wanted.

Look, the world isn’t fair. So we’re told from the time we were kids until yesterday. And I’m certainly not refuting that; if anything, I’m confirming it with what I’ve just written. But what is often confused with this statement is that it’s pointless to try and make the world fair so just keep your head down, accept, and try to make the best of it.

And to that I call BULLSHIT. ABSOLUTE 100% FUCKING BULLSHIT. If ever there was a time for swearing excessively it’s now, because there is no better, more articulate way to describe such a mindset than FUCKING BULLSHIT.

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I do not accept that as I woman who enjoys sex that I am entitled to anything less than the respect, dignity, and love that every human being on this earth deserves. I get it: everyone is so afraid of getting hurt that they hurt others before they can be hurt themselves. I am certainly guilty of this behavior. In an increasingly impersonal, cynical world, the urge to self-protect and run from pain is heightened more than ever.

But that is not what this is. No, this is a society, a world, which despite being supposedly modern, still teaches women that they are inferior to men. We have made great strides in the past century, 50 years, 10 years, and it is on the backs of those women, far braver than I, that I stand and am able to say what I want and think freely. But that does not mean the world is any less hostile to women who live their lives without apology and in fulfillment of this expectation of equality.

However, before I get too high and mighty on my soapbox, not that that’s a bad thing, I just want to end this article by sharing something personal. A couple of months ago, I experienced what I describe as “sex without consent.” I went out with a few friends, we got drunk, I especially in a way that I usually don’t, I met a guy who was at least sober enough to drive to my place, and after that I passed out and don’t remember much. All I remember is waking up the next morning, next to someone I did not recognize, and realizing that we’d had sex that I did not remember at all.

It was scary. It was awful. It was embarrassing. But, and it took me awhile to realize this, it was not my fault. It was obvious that I was in no shape to consent to any sexual activity, but in this day and age, a drunk girl is often seen as an opportunity and nothing more.

Luckily, I have good friends around me who’ve helped me through this as well as a spectacular therapist who has been invaluable in helping me understand and come to terms with what happened. And while what happened will stay with me forever, it will not hold me back.

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I do not regret the decisions I’ve made, both the good and the bad, because they were mine. I will not stop living my life exactly the way I want to live it for fear of judgment or public perception. And above all, I will not apologize for living exactly as who I am, because in this short life, there is no other way to live.

So I say to you, as I say to myself when I start getting depressed or overanalyzing which I’m VERY good at, just love yourself. Much easier said than done, but just try: try to live, try to love, try not to hurt anyone or yourself along the way, be safe and don’t worry about fucking up. We’re humans. It’s what we’re good at.

I promise you I’ll try to do the same. <3

And so I leave you with a gift from those immortal goddesses I quoted earlier, Salt-N-Pepa. It is my favorite song of theirs, and whenever I doubt my right as a woman to be sexually free, it reminds me that above all what I do is “None of Your Business.”

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