By Annie Zidek
Sex has always been coupled with social scrutiny, both separating agency from sexuality and scrutinizing people who personally partake in casual sex. Today we see this through the perpetuation of double standards for the sexes with dating apps. Even though the apps are meant to be a level playing field for the sexes sexually, there is still a major disconnect between what men and women can ask from casual partners.
Now, it’s important to realize sex wasn’t always as normative as it is today. The Social Purity Movement, which moved sex from its religious context and into the secular sector in the late nineteenth century, was essentially the middle class policing sexuality and regulating it socially. The Social Purity Movement advocated a single view of morality for both sexes, critiquing men—married and single—who had sex with prostitutes outside of marriage reinforcing young women’s purity for marriage.
Not only was the Social Purity movement the start of the modern regulation of women’s sexuality, but it was also brought sex into public eye. Even though the movement consequently resulted in years of the push and pull of sex in the public eye, it was a necessary step towards its destigmatization. Thankfully, we have had feminists throughout history who have championed the efforts to normalize sexuality and its presence in our everyday lives.
In fact, feminism’s push for the normalization of casual sex pushed back the age of marriage. An Atlantic article from 2013 notes, on average, American women are ringing the bells of their first marriage at 27. So now your twenties are the time to take advantage of your own sexuality comparatively to when marriage was the standard. So now young people the cusp of adulthood engage in hook up culture and casual sex.
Though painted as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, hook up culture is meant to be the encouragement of sexual exploration with respect towards yourself and your partners. Casual sex is good; it’s beneficial. A cornerstone for third wave feminism, casual sex is meant to be empowering; it is about the self—with respect towards your consenting partner(s), of course. It is taking control of one’s own sexuality and expressing it liberally. Casual sex is about the self, about owning one’s sexuality. And dating apps cater to this sexual liberation while simultaneously feeding into social currency, the idea that social apps create your sense of self worth.
Dating apps like Tinder allow people to connect with others and meet up do what they want, no strings attached. It gives people a sense of sexual freedom, of agency and control. Casual sex isn’t harmful if done in a safe way. In her Ted Talk, sex psychologist Dr. Zhana Vrangalova even says casual sex is beneficial: The day after casual sex, most people experience positive emotions: adventuresome, pleased, desirable, and excited, for example. She also says casual sex encourages communication, which adds to a heightened sense of self-awareness.
But that’s the hypothetical, and we live in a world where the hypothetical isn’t necessarily the reality.
Nowadays, dating apps perpetuate slut shaming and double standards and, in turn, create an atmosphere of social inequality and an unsafe environment for casual sex, especially for women.
Apps like Tinder are meant to level the playing field—to allow men and women to find partners without shame through new technology. But it doesn’t. There’s a discussion surrounding the topic. In my History of Sex class, we discussed how women knowingly put themselves in positions where they can be harassed online through these apps: men use dirty pick up lines, dehumanizing the women and seeing them as something to be won.
One of the girls in my class, identifying as bisexual, opts to match with both men and women on Tinder, and she sees the striking differences in the communication from the genders: the women say, “Hi, how are you?” or “Hey, what’s up?” whereas the men can blatantly say, “hey wanna fuck?” There is a problem within the social currency of online dating. Women are harassed through chats on Tinder, and they know this. In a way, by using the app, they are submitting to (and expecting) harassment from the some of the men that use online dating apps. They’re willingly putting themselves in this position because they are so used to it offline.
Calling back on the Social Purity Movement, there still is a double standard for men and women when it comes to casual intimacy. Sure, a resurgence of “slut shaming” for men has come up like the word “fuckboy,” but women have had years—their own history, even—of sexual oppression and slut shaming:
Prostitutes were blamed for venereal disease throughout history (during the late nineteenth century, during World War I and II).
In the early 1900s, promiscuous women were often deemed feebleminded when institutionalized, and they were often sterilized.
Until the pill in 1960 and Roe v. Wade in 1973, contraceptives were scarce, and abortion was illegal, so women went to great lengths to terminate their pregnancies, ultimately hurting themselves.
When the pill came out in 1960, only single women in the cities and married women had access to the contraceptive, limiting access to people who needed it.
In 1991, people questioned the validity of Anita Hill’s case against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas regarding Thomas’s sexual harassment towards Hill.
(To name a few.)
Basically, women have faced a series of micro and macro aggressions throughout history, and today it translates into their treatment in online spaces. Their social currency is comprised of hyper-sexualization and societal expectations, which some men then warp and use to harass these women on online platforms. Sexual self-awareness, which can be achieved with the help of Tinder, is stripped away because men are dominating dating apps and leaving women in the confines of their gender roles and stuck in within the parameters of double standards.
In order to change the way we talk online, we must first reform the way we interact in person. While there are steps being taken, there are still many more steps to take:
Stop slut-shaming women. You cannot make women feel guilty for the number of sexual partners they have. They have agency and have ability too many sexual partners, and you cannot shame them for that.
Do not shame women for being blunt and assertive; she’s not a bitch: she knows what she wants. She is self-aware. If anything, she should be commended for
There needs to be more portrayal of single women in media. Hollywood needs to produce pieces of work where women are not chasing down lovers, where women are not relying on men emotionally and sexually. Literature needs to publish works that portray women as single women without a subplot of love interests. Get movies and lit to pass the Bechdel test.
These are only three ways to help revamp the way we look at women in regards to their sexcapades, two of them being moves you can make. Though small, they can start with you and help change the bigger picture of the way we treat women.
As for the portrayal of single women, Hollywood should make moves to release movies that show women as single women—happy ending or not. They should portray real women. If Hollywood, an influential industry, can change the way they see and show women, then the way women are viewed and treated as single people can change for the better. They can be seen as people that have autonomy and sexual expression.
Give women the sexual freedom they deserve.