Does that seem like a strange question, or an obvious one?
Maybe it is…but then again, I’m guessing there could be many “obvious” answers to this question. Some might say that it belongs to God, or my husband, or any and all men, or society, or the government…
Or even me.
I’m female. And even today, many women’s sexuality is not their own, to do with as they choose. There are millions of women who don’t own the right to make decisions that affect their own bodies, their own reproductive systems – their own lives.
Here in my own country, the purported ‘land of the free and home of the brave’, female Michigan legislators were silenced for saying ‘vagina’ and ‘vasectomies’. Seriously – is the word ‘vagina’ really so terrifying, powerful, or objectionable that it needs to be outlawed? Most of us were conceived and born through the vagina, after all –
Maybe that’s a part of the problem? That, without vaginas, the vast majority of us wouldn’t be here? Then why not outlaw ‘uterus’ as well – all babies, thus far, have needed to incubate for several months in one of those, if they’re going to survive.
So maybe that’s not quite it…is it the perceived sexual power of the vagina, the way many men want to claim the right to enter it, and to legislate what we do with it?
Not so very long ago, the choice of whether to be a mother was not given to women. When a woman was married, she assumed a conjugal duty to provide her husband sexual release. There might be pleasure, if her husband was attentive to her needs, and if she knew what they were in a time when very little was known about female sexuality.
A woman who had sex outside of marriage, especially if got pregnant, could be ostracized, and even punished, not so very long ago. Her child would be considered lesser – a bastard, illegitimate. And, too often, the father of that child would escape any real punitive consequence – simply because it they didn’t carry the child.
Not so long ago, abortion was illegal – but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t performed – sometimes safely, and sometimes not, by doctors or those pretending to be, in unsantitary conditions. Other times, women and girls would attempt to abort their fetus themselves – but abortion was a criminal act.
And so there was a dilemma, born of a climate of male entitlement. There was stigma for conceiving or sex outside of marriage; devaluing of the unmarried and non-virginal. There were criminal and/or physical consequences for abortion. The children of young girls and women who were pregnant might be forcibly taken from them, and placed for closed adoptions.
As I said here, I was raised within a double standard – in my home, in the 70s and 80s, my sister and I had one set of chores, and our brothers another, based on traditional American gender roles. We were held to different codes of conduct – good girls were expected to be married as virgins, and we were required to be good girls. I wore my hair long (I don’t mean somewhat long; I mean between my buttocks and my knees) until I was nearly 14, because my father liked long hair on women. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup because it was ‘trashy’, according to my mother. When my father found condoms in the glove box of my car, he was so shocked and disappointed that he wouldn’t talk to me about it. My mother refused to believe the truth – they’d been given to me as a joke by my best friend, and I’d stuck them in the glove box, just in case. I wasn’t sexually active, then, the car didn’t run, and I didn’t even have a license to drive it, if it had. None of that mattered; good girls didn’t have condoms in their glove boxes, and that was that.
The clear message was that my sexuality belonged to others, and always would. My parents would control it, and protect it so that my husband could inherit it one day.
I’m very glad that I rebelled, that I claimed the right to this vital piece of who I am, for myself. That, more and more, it is I, and no one else, who owns my sexuality. After all, it’s part of me, and not anyone else. Owning it, I’ve blossomed, become stronger, more confident, more passionate.
My Accomplice reaps the rewards of my ownership, because I’m more daring, on my own terms, than I would be if I felt he were master of my sexual expression. My children also benefit – a satisfied and fulfilled mom is a calmer, happier mom! They’re being raised without those gender biases and double standards I was told would protect me and my virtue.
For myself, for my daughter, and for all people, I believe virtue is a matter of how we choose to live, not the details of how we conduct our sexual and reproductive lives.
How about you? Do you feel that you own your sexuality, or that someone else has a claim to it? If so, who, and why? Are you comfortable with that, or would you like things to be different?