Why Isn’t My Life Like Girls Gone Wild?

April 26, 2007

From “Afternoon of the Sex Children” by Mark Greif, in n+1, issue #4:

“The college years—of all times—stand out as the apex of sex childhood. Even if college is routinized and undemanding, it is still inevitably residential, and therefore the place to perfect one’s life as a sex child. You move away from home into a setting where you are with other children—strangers all. you must be patient for four years just to get a degree. So there can be little to do but fornicate. Certainly from the wider culture, of MTV and rumor, you know four years is all you will get…As a college student today, you always know what things could be like. The “Girls Gone Wild” cameras show a world where at this very moment someone is spontaneously lifting her shirt for a logoed hat. You might think the whole thing was a put-on except that everyone seems so earnest. The most earnest write sex columns…The new full-scale campus sex magazines seek truth in naked self-photography and accounts of sex with strangers as if each incident were God’s revelation on Sinai. The lesson each time is that sleeping with strangers or being photographed naked lets authors know themselves better. Many of these institutions are driven by women. Perhaps they, even more than young men, feel an urgency to know themselves while they can—since America curses them with a premonition of disappointment: when flesh sages, freedom will wane.”

Greif argues that the movement towards sexual liberation hit a snag, got co-opted by commerce, competition, and the commodification of youth. It never reached the point of true liberation, where one would have“also been freed to be free from sex, too…One of the cruel betrayals of sexual liberation, in liberalization, was the illusion that a person can only be free if he hold sex as all-important and exposes it endlessly to others—providing it, proving it, enjoying it. This was a new kind of unfreedom.”

Greif fails in moments like these to distinguish between men and women, but of course it is obvious enough that those differences exist—that if anyone’s sexuality is on constant display, it is women’s.

I’ve attended two sex-toy (like tupperware) parties with other women on a college campus, and as we passed around the erotica and examined the rabbits, there was always this sense of exuberance and defiance in the room: we declared ourselves comfortable with putting sex out in public; therefore we were comfortable with ourselves. We scorned nobody so much as the mousy girl sitting in the corner, writing a conservative (anti-sex) article about the event for a student magazine, and, politics aside, too shy and prudish even to smell the pineapple-kiwi lotion.

“The reason it seems a sex of pure politeness and equal access does not work is that the constant preparation to imagine any and every other person as a sexual object (something our culture already encourages) proves to be ruthlessly egocentric and antisocial, making every other living body a tool for self-pleasure or gain. At times I wonder if we are witnessing a sexualization of the life process itself, in which all pleasure is canalized into the sexual, and the function of warm, living flesh in any form is to allow us access to autoerotism through the circuit of an other. This is echoed at the intellectual level in the discourse of ‘self-discovery’…Self-discovery puts a reflecting wall between the self and attention t the other, so that all energy supposedly exerted in fascination, attraction, and love just bounces back, even when it appears to go out as love for the other.”

I distrust the “we” of Greif’s article, because at the very least these processes are occurring differently for men and women. I am skeptical about the amount of exploitation women actually manage to accomplish, and how narcissistic their sexual encounters can possibly be when their pleasure is never guaranteed. But I do take Greif’s point about self-discovery: a woman who is free (careless?) with her sexuality is seen as confident, at ease in her body, and she seems to understand herself and her desires. Perhaps there is something wrong if we equate knowing yourself with exposing your sexuality.

But neither is it a free ride for the sexually liberated woman. Greif cites your Paris Hiltons and Lindsay Lohans as the sex children we obsess over, the ones we want to be and/or touch. These are also, of course, some of the most viciously despised women in the States (world?). That same sexually liberated woman, depending on who’s talking about her, or maybe for anyone talking about her at all, can be seen as self-destructive, materialistic, desperately insecure, lacking any sense of self-worth–simply giving it up to anyone who will validate her with sexual attention.

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