Socially constructed “appropriate” sex

February 4, 2009 at 9:36 PM (Uncategorized)

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            What is socially constructed “appropriate” sex? Think of the normative in American society. What does history tell us about American ideologies of sex, gender roles, and sexual activity? If we examine social artifacts (magazines, music, advertisements, movies, internet, books, etc) we come to understand that women are sexual objects, martial sex is portrayed less on television and film than pre-marital, models on women’s magazines are gazing at men (not women), normative sex occurs between a man and a women (striving for long term and monogamy), and that women’s pleasure in the bed is irrelevant. Artifacts tells us that women need to focus on pleasing their men and giving “good” sex, while men need to focus on finding sex and having explosive climaxes. These images and messages somehow transpire down to teenagers and tell them that oral sex is safer because it prevents pregnancy. If we consider sexual history and how it has been taught in the schools and religious institutions we come to find that the biggest message taught to teenagers is that sex is an act for reproduction only, and anything else is recreational and “inappropriate.”  

            In the article “Twenty one moves guaranteed to make his thighs go up in flames: Depictions of “great sex” in popular magazines” authors Menard and Kleinplatz write “women tend to be portrayed as sexual objects, whose goals should be to attract and please male partners, both sexually and otherwise. There is a strong emphasis on female readers being sexually active in the service of men” (p.3). The research tells us that there is no room for sexual exploration of a women’s own body, or that of another woman. Popular magazines also leave out the possibility of same sex male relations. Society today, even in 2009, still tells editors that masturbation and homosexuality is too taboo to have photos or editorial content. Unfortunately there is also a lack of racial and ethnic representations of sex and partners.

            If you look at the photo of the man and woman in the kitchen portraying sexual acts (Cosmopolitan.com) what do you see? Man, women, hetero, white, middle to upper class apartment or kitchen, wine, and some photo of a sexy women eating dessert hanging on the wall in the background. Oddly enough, food was mentioned in the Sex and Love (love coming second, of course) section of Cosmopolitan’s website under an article entitled “Seductive Meals.” As Professor Freeman has pointed out in lectures, The Food Network has drawn a thin line between the production elements of pornography and cooking shows. The way a female draws food in to her luscious lip glossed lips, and sucks on it for a moment before swallowing (suggesting fellatio), and the way food that normally takes three hours of preparation suddenly is “oh finished” (suggesting the “money-shot” in pornography). This photo on the website not only furthers the ideologies of “appropriate” sex, but it points out that sensual foods and wine can probably lead to male fantasy of food and sex in the kitchen (somehow this couple manages to awkwardly rub on each other without falling off the counter). Perhaps the latent messages are those that bridge the gap between the sex and food industries. I would say so.

            Other artifacts presented in this weeks blog include Cosmopolitan’s sex games book which as the title tells us is exclusive for hetero “lovers,” a diamond ad that tells us marriage is for monogamous hetero couples, a magazine model whose gaze is directed at men and not it’s female consumer, and a Ralph Lauren Romance perfume advertisement that reinforces romance as hetero, but look at her ring finger. The model for Romance is wearing a wedding ring. Is she married? Is this her fiancé? We are left with these two questions. She is either engaged and this is “pre-martial” or she is married to someone else because the male model is without the band claiming commitment (male fantasy).

            While the language and paradigms in popular culture is changing, still much is left without discussion in depth. We must consider that sex advice manuals in the eighteenth century referred to women as servants both sexually and domestically to their husbands. Magazines before the Great Depression often referred to pleasing husbands, or cooking for husbands. Today we still see heterosexual language, but almost never the mention of husband and wives. The major problems with this “appropriate” sex ideology are the under representation of sexual minorities and interracial sex, the effects on women’s understanding of their position in the bedroom, strange ideas about how sex is supposed to look (hey Hollywood, guess what, sometimes people fall off the bed) and the effects on young people during their sexual exploration stage. What do these images tell teenage girls? If they lay their eyes on women’s magazines they will come to believe that it is their duty to perform amazing oral sex on their peers to gain status and some sort of reputation. These images are conflicting with the information teenagers receive in the “abstinence only” teachings in sex education courses implemented by the Bush Administration. Not only did teenage pregnancies rise, but so did STDs thanks to this teaching philosophy. While the media (and yes, President Clinton) are telling young girls that fellatio is just foreplay and not sex (because it is not vaginal), health teachers are teaching that anything sex leads to pregnancy, diseases, and possibly death (teaching on fear). Health centers in high schools are not allowed to prescribe birth control, or hand out condoms because of the abstinence only teaching laws making for a lot of unsafe sex and unwanted pregnancies. Because sex is taboo among teenagers it becomes more appealing, giving them a sort of adult, free way to express themselves in a rebellious manner, only leading to unsafe practices. This is a world where sex still requires one servant (female) and sexual teachings only repress teenagers and do not assume that ‘Hey! Teenagers will have sex regardless!’ Shocking, I know. Oh they drink underage and do drugs too! Let’s teach them the harmful effects so they can make safe decisions instead of judging them and telling them they are burnouts that will either rot on the street or rot in jail.

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