A while ago I posted a blog called Rape is Not the Same as Next-Day-Regrets. Or is it? I mentioned my discomfort with the idea of a person's value being tied to their virginity or the amount of sexual activity he/she has engaged in.
So now, maybe, before we talk about sex, we should talk about our bodies and what they have to do with sex. First off, let's get something clear: Sexual activity does not affect a person's value, purity, worthiness, etc. It does not make you dirty (well, I mean, depending on several factors, sexual activity may necessitate a shower, but you know what I mean) and it certainly doesn't make you "used merchandise" because guess what, YOU ARE NOT MECHANDISE.
You are a person and you deserve body autonomy. This culture can lead you to believe that your body dictates your value but really, the only reason your body has value in the first place is because you live in it.
Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's define
Sex: (chiefly with reference to people) sexual activity, including, specifically, sexual intercourse.
Okay, I feel like most of us get that right? Sex = penis in vagina. But is that all? I mean, that's what the definition implies, but we know there's a bit more too it right? Maybe we can find a better definition...
Sex: The consensual act, by two or more humans, of pleasuring each other with their bodies, specifically their genitals. The act can be physically fulfilling, through orgasm. It can also be fulfilling emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
This is a definition I put together from pieces of other definitions I found. I hope we can all mostly agree on this definition because we need to talk about what that means in terms of what sex IS:
1. Sex is consensual
2. Sex is about pleasure
3. Sex is fulfilling
1. Sex isn't forced on someone else
2. Sex isn't about power, control, or manipulation
3. Sex isn't harmful
Knowing what SEX is and isn't makes it a bit easier to see through the blinders of our rape culture to understand what RAPE is.
Basically, rape is what sex isn't. When sexual activity is forced on someone, when it seems to take the power away from one of the people involved, when a person has to be manipulated, coerced, or otherwise "convinced" to participate, when it's harmful - physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually - to one party, that ISN'T sex. It IS rape.
The thing is that if you feel ready, if you're safe and responsible (concerning STIs and pregnancy), and you are with someone(s) else who is also ready, there isn't anything wrong with sex.
*Note: I'm not saying that if you want to wait for personal or religious reasons that your choice is invalid. It's perfectly valid. If marriage is something you require to feel ready for sexual activity, that's fine.
However, this society tells us, particularly women, that sex is bad and gross and that if we participate in it we are subsequently dirty, stained, spotted, used, broken, changed... pick your descriptor... I've heard all of these and many more, while simultaneously telling us that we have to do it. Your "virginity" (btw, what the hell IS virginity anyway?) guards your intrinsic value as a person while your value as woman and your chance at love and happiness is dependent upon losing said virginity. Because a "virgin's" value, while culturally recognized, is not interesting or valuable to her male peers who have been told that women are, primarily, sex objects.
This concept creates a lot of confusion for victims of sexual violence. For someone like me, who's first experience with "penis in vagina" was when I was raped, the feelings of dirtiness, the feeling that something was horribly, horribly wrong, seemed... appropriate for any kind of first sexual experience. I had always assumed that sex would kind of feel... uhm... well, awful the first time because I would be able to feel my virtue and purity slip away, although, I did plan for that time to be with my husband who's love and commitment, I assumed, would be worth it. I just knew that sex would be, ultimately, devaluing but I didn't think it would hurt SO MUCH. Still, I barely questioned my pain for months. I thought my intense feelings of shame, worthlessness, and guilt were normal. Because of the myths of rape culture I didn't even know I had been raped.
Is there a better way to make sure sexual violence remains a low-risk, high-reward crime?
Imagine my surprise when I realized that sex was supposed to feel good for women too... No, I really didn't know that. My experiences, in conjunction with rape myths I believed, had led me to the conclusion that sex was for men. A close friend and I decided that men had made up the concept of the female orgasm in order to get more sex (interesting how we never considered that the concept of blue balls might be a lie). We concluded that sex was a thing women did for men when they loved them. They made the ultimate sacrifice - a sacrifice of self - to prove that love and they did it again and again and again throughout a relationship or marriage or whatever.
Our conclusions were the only thing that made sense to us without seeing and understanding the "purity myth," without understanding that value is not tied to sexual activity.
Sure, sex is really useful for our species, since it's the primary way we reproduce. In fact, that's WHY it feels so good, we needed to like it so we'd keep having children right? But reproduction isn't the only reason we engage in sex, especially since we can all but guarantee that sex doesn't lead to children now, if we don't want them. Sex can be connecting, stress relieving, good exercise, and just plain fun. If we, as a society, as a culture, don't start recognizing that sex is meant to be a fully positive expression we can't recognize the fully negative implications of rape.