I recently finished reading Inga Muscio's Cunt. I'll start by saying that no matter who you are, you can learn something from this book. The first and most interesting thing I learned was this:
The word "vagina" comes from the Latin word for "sheath," as in, for a sword.
This was one of those, "how did I never learn that in four years of liberal arts education?" moments that I've been having since I graduated in May. Of course. Women's genitals are defined in terms of men's genitals. And that's a problem. A woman cannot take ownership of her sexuality when the word for her sexual pleasure center implies it is her job, first and foremost, to please men. This is one of the many reasons Muscio rejects the word "vagina" and replaces it with "cunt."
By my fourth year of college, I had finally managed let go of all our society's misogynistic, heteronormative ideas about sex. But I'm left wondering--why did it take me so long?
In Cunt, Muscio asks, bluntly, why we are taught how to read and write, how to swim, how to ride a bike, but "no one teaches us how to fuck." We're supposed to figure that out for ourselves.
When we're left to figure it out for ourselves, we have no way to filter through all of the bad information--namely, that a woman's sexuality is always defined in terms of a man's.
I remember being surprised when one of my girlfriends told me in high school that the first time she had sex didn't hurt at all. I was jealous of her. Because for me, it was still hurting.
When we're left to figure out sex on our own, we accept whatever information we have available as true. Everything I read on the Internet told the same old story we've been telling for thousands of years: For girls, the first time you have sex is going to be painful; you need to just get it over with, like ripping a Band-Aid off; and once your vagina gets stretched out, it will be fine.
I kept waiting for it to be fine. And it never was. Not until I understood that basically all of the information I'd absorbed was a lie.
Your vagina is not a pair of shoes that needs to be broken in. Your vagina is a muscle which is designed to stretch when you are aroused. If you're sufficiently aroused your first time, sexual intercourse will not be painful.
Our society is obsessed with this concept of "virginity." I absolutely loathe it. It damages human sexuality. By arbitrarily holding vaginal intercourse up on a pedestal, "virginity" discounts other means of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. This ostracizes gay people (when exactly do lesbians who never have sex with men "lose their virginity"?) and suppresses the sexual desires of women who cannot achieve orgasm by vaginal stimulation, or who might simply prefer clitoral stimulation.
The "virginity" myth and the myth that a woman's first time having penetrative sex must be painful go hand in hand. Once you "give up your virginity," you lose your innocence, so the story goes. Pain during that intercourse is just a physical manifestation of the punishment you're about to endure (i.e. - burning in hell).
Pornography, ironically, also fetishizes the concept of virginity. You can bet there are tons of pornographic videos out there which depict "deflowerings." And even if they aren't expressly violent scenes, there will always be an element of violence to this concept--a man ripping through a woman's hymen and causing her pain. (Again, this doesn't happen. The hymen can stretch just like the muscles of your vagina).
I'm not arguing against pornography in general. Porn can be a safe means of self-expression for men and women when it's made ethically. But again, when we expect teenagers to just figure sex out for themselves without any guidance, it's a fair bet they're going to look at pornography, and to let that be their only source of information is dangerous. Porn is not realistic. I assumed my high school boyfriend must have been an expert on sex because he watched so much porn, and consequentially I thought it must have been my own fault that I was experiencing so much discomfort. Now I look back and wish there would have been someone there to say to both of us: "It's fine if you want to watch that, but do not under any circumstances assume that's how things happen in real life."
So the moral of the story is this: we need better sex ed.
There are two aspects of sex that some schools have already figured out how to teach: birth control and STI protection. But what about consent, which is also necessary for safety in a sexual relationship? What about same sex relationships? Why is every sex ed class heteronormative? What about the dangers of pornography? What about the myth of virginity? I'd put every single one of these things, and more, in my sex ed curriculum.
Because there are people who suffer in real ways from lack of this information. Women endure physical pain because they think they have to. Women and men are raped because the concept of consent is never taught. People never find a fulfilling relationship, because they never know what brings them sexual pleasure.
Betty Dodson writes in her introduction to Cunt that public discourse on sex cannot continue only to focus on rape, incest and abuse. "Until more feminists have the courage to openly claim and enjoy their own sexuality and sexual pleasure, the women's movement will remain stuck in a joyless discourse which does not improve society."
I'll take one for the team, Betty.
Sex is not something to feel guilty about. It's a human desire. Like a good meal or a good book, it fulfills you, enriches you, humbles you. That's the moral that we should be teaching. That's what I plan to teach my children.