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VICTIM WHO?

If you’re a sexually curious woman, along with being called a slut, another unfortunate refrain is: “Are you sure you want to do that?” Some of my greatest hits include: Are you sure you want to fuck that married couple? Are you sure you want to go to that sex party? Are you sure you want to be suspended upside down from the ceiling by a guy with a low-hanging man bun? Are you sure you want to pee into that lawyer’s mouth for $200? The implication, of course, always being: because you might not like it! But it’s like…okay, so what?

As women, we’re led to believe that a negative sexual experience can be devastating—that if some asshole crosses one of our sexual boundaries, or if we leave the orgy feeling fat and uncomfortable instead of enlightened, that we might never recover. But why do women always have to be the “victims” of sex? Why is it that in nearly every area of our lives we are encouraged to take risks and try new things—to Lean In and play hard—but when it comes to sex, we’re like, “Be safe or you’ll end up traumatized or dead”? These doomsday ideas become self-fulfilling prophecies, cultivating a type of sexual fragility that I don’t think is healthy.

It’s true that sex can be high-risk. Things go wrong. People get hurt. But just because I had a bad sexual experience doesn’t mean that I’m broken. It means I know to avoid that thing going forward. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that it turned out I didn’t like—like that time, for instance, when I let my boyfriend tie me to a dresser while I watched him have sex with my best friend. Unsurprisingly, it was literally awful, but now at least I can say I’ve done it? The point is, there are far worse things in life  than bad sex (like a hangover, for example).

Of course, sexual assault is real, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. But assault is separate from the concept of victimhood. Feeling like a victim is a subjective headspace. Think about it this way: Men are taught that there is no such thing as a negative sexual experience.

From a young age, boys are essentially taught: All sex is good sex; take what you can get; even a bad low job is a good blow job. Pretty much the only quasi-negative sexual experience that you ever see a man have in a movie is the trope of a guy being tricked into sex with a fat or ugly woman—which, of course, is never traumatic for him, but rather a comical encounter that provides fodder for banter with his friends the next morning. But when a woman is coerced into sex, she spends the rest of the movie crying in the shower and developing a cheesy nineties-throwback self-harm habit.

It’s no secret that female sexuality has long been policed. But today we’ve created an environment where (allegedly predatory) male sexuality needs to be policed, and (allegedly passive) female sexuality needs to be protected—which seems equally tragic to me. At the heart of the victim narrative is a familiar and unfortunate premise: the idea that, by having sex, men are getting something, whereas women are giving something up. It’s outdated, it’s offensive, and it’s psychologically destructive for women, because it has the power to mislead girls into thinking that having one not-ideal sexual experience means that they have lost a part of themselves. Hello—pitying and victimizing women doesn’t help us; it just dismisses the importance of female sexual agency.

Back in the mid-1960s, universities set curfews for their female students, whereas men were allowed to stay out as late as they pleased. It was then that a faction of the feminist movement, in part lead by Camille Paglia—the controversial feminist, academic, and writer, who back then was a college student—fought to gain the same freedoms that men had. They rejected the need for special protections, instead wanting autonomy over their private lives. They said: “Give us the freedom to risk rape.” Of course, that sounds jarring. But the point they were making is relevant still: We would rather be free in the world and accept whatever risk comes along with that than be trapped inside, endlessly braiding each other’s hair like passive Rapunzels.

In our postwoke social-justice Millennial whatever, there is no excuse for men to not have a thorough understanding of the nuances of consent. Today more than ever we should hold men accountable for their actions, and to a high sexual standard. But as women, we infantilize ourselves when we don’t take responsibility for our own actions in the bedroom. We have to be able to assess the difference between assault and discomfort. Of course, I’m not saying that if you’re a legitimate victim of sexual abuse you should just “get over it.” (It feels relevant to note that, often, people who are sexually abused call themselves “survivors” rather than “victims,” in an effort to move away from the idea of the passive female victim who’s there for the taking.) But we decide what moments in our lives we give power to. We write our own stories. We can decide to define ourselves by our worst experiences—to become victims rather than survivors—or instead, after something bad happens, we can learn from it and move forward. Because realistically, being a fragile victim is just not on-brand for the modern slut.

If I want to reap the benefits of slutdom, I have to have a thick skin. If I want sexual freedom, I have to be able to say no. Slut power is about freedom, but it’s also about taking responsibility. The world is not a safe space. There is no such thing as safe sex. We are not victims, we are predators.