Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sexual imbalance

Dear BBC, I know it can be hard to tell what is and isn't news. Let me help. This isn't. It's a video story by a woman and has the title "Why I had sex with 40 men I met online". Reading the details she met these men over a period of around 7 or 8 years. That's about 5 men per year, less than one every two months. Lots of women have that many sexual partners. And meeting them online doesn't make it any more or less of an issue, meeting people online is not really any different from meeting people at a party or in a bar. In fact if anything it gives you an opportunity to find out more about someone - reading through their profile and asking questions - before committing to meeting and it reduces the risk your judgement is impaired by alcohol or other drugs.*

If there is a (fairly small) story here it's that she started doing this when she was 15. The men she met at this time are legally rapists. Where is the documentary that tracks them down and asks them what the hell they were doing? Instead it asks why she did it - SHE didn't, SHE was too young to consent. THEY did it...

Also today on the BBC is this story: a documentary has been made about comedian Jeff Leach and the fact that he says he's had sex with 300 women. I've met Jeff once or twice on the comedy circuit but not really enough to have an opinion about his work (or to number among his bedpost notches). So how is it news for a man to have 300 partners but for a woman to have had just 40 partners?

The discrepancy is repeated in the middle of the article "It's said the average British man has had 13 sexual partners and women have had just seven.". Ok so men are having twice as many sexual partners as women? Are British men having as much gay sex as straight sex? Or are they having more than half of their sexual encounters while on holiday in the rest of the world? Seriously THE NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP. IT'S NOT POSSIBLE!

To be honest I don't think there's really anything shocking about having had 300 sexual partners. Of course if Jeff is unhappy about being promiscuous and wants to stop but finds it hard (ooh err) to do so, he can seek help, and if the BBC thinks that's an interesting topic for documentary, they can make it. But the whole project seems to me to come with the implicit message that promiscuity is automatically shameful and wrong. The tabloids are full of this: words like "cottaging", "dogging" and "wife-swapping" are treated as shocking and shameful despite the fact that none implies any co-ercion or dangerous or dishonest behaviour.

Personally I think if you're honest with people, practice safe sex and are careful not to take advantage of people who are drunk or otherwise vulnerable - do what you like!

*As a footnote we are always told about the dangers of meeting people online. It's presumed to be easier online to misrepresent yourself (i.e. pretend to be younger, etc than you really are) but frankly lots of people do that in real life. Most sites recommend meeting people you've met online in a public place and while there may be benefits to that I tend to think it sends out two very unhelpful messages: (1) you can identify a rapist or violent person by looking at them or briefly speaking to them and (2) if things turn nasty after you've agreed to go somewhere private with someone, it's your own fault.


Anonymous said...

I believe you have missed the angle behind this film. Becky Nicholson, the person in the short film, expresses her own feeling of disappointment in herself in what she was doing. She states that she started meeting strangers on line 'as a confidence thing' as her self esteem and confidence had been destroyed through 'bullying to the extreme'.

Whilst online, the attention extended to her by these strangers boosted her confidence, making her feel attractive. Her self esteem was so low that these boosts to her confidence which lasted only a few days at best became addictive. Following her liaisons with these strangers, Becky admits to feeling 'disgusted with herself' because of her actions.

I believe the issue here is not so much the quantity of sexual partners this person has had, as I agree with you that that is each individual's choice and as long as they're careful and not harming anyone, then what issue is it to anyone else, but rather more to do with young people's way of handling their low self esteem.

The blame to be placed here really is with the bullies this young woman faced at school and with the predatory strangers online who readily take advantage of the position of people such as Becky without a concern for their welfare or why they are doing what they are doing.

This story is a warning that the quest for confidence, improved self esteem and acceptance is not to be found between bed sheets (or in a bottle, using drugs, etc). Becky admits that as she has grown up, she has matured and become more self confident. This exposes another problem:
As I went through my teenage years there was no such thing as internet, mobile phones, etc. During these awkward years I too, as teenagers the world over do,felt lonely, occasionally misunderstood, and certainly suffered with low self-esteem. However, remained relatively safe throughout this period with family and friends, and my only contact being my immediate environment, and no chance of exposing myself to any danger should I have thought it a good idea. Today's generation have never known life without internet, mobile phones, that connection to the larger world outside being a given. This too is what the BBC are alerting the younger generation to.

Anyway, I've finished my breakfast now and you've made me late for work, so gotta go!

DFR said...

I too met Jeff and he set out to make his fame based on his sex and drug addiction.. he is neither funny or talented... but he set out to get famous. Job done.

frecklescorp said...

Ha! I saw her as well on the BBC Three show aimed at 16-24 year old about Sex online "what's the Harm?" I think it was called. I didn't watch until the end, but I remember having the same thought about the number of men she'd slept with, ie: so what!? and also remember wondering why it was framed as shocking that most people used online encounters to arrange casual sex... why is it more shocking than sidling up to a stranger in a bar? or perhaps they are just shocked at people being open about their sexual needs!
If you do watch it, notice how unchallenging the presenter is to the young man who categorises his 'conquests' as different varieties of 'gash'

The National Consciousness said...

I agree Kate. My place or yours?

Cruella said...

Neither, but thanks for asking.