Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: “Why must modern ‘sex norms’ dehumanise women?”

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Lucy Mangan
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Our columnist has a thing or two to say about the latest bedroom trends.

“Everybody wants to fucking spit on me now.”

Thus spake one of my closest female friends who has just come out of a very long-term relationship and re-entered the dating scene after a decade or so.

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She was – quite legitimately, I thought, but then I’ve been out of the dating game about as long – denouncing the habits of the men she’d recently been to bed with. Times have changed, it seems, and now spitting on the woman you’re in bed with is considered quite normal. The worst thing is, research suggests she’s been quite lucky.

Increasing numbers of lawyers and activists are reporting a rise in women being choked during sex. And – as is the way of these things – an increasing number of women are dying this way.

The perpetrators are increasingly presenting “consensual choking” and “rough sex” as a defence. Sometimes, presumably, this is an accurate one. Often, the context of cases (previous violent outbursts, recently discovered infidelities) suggest that it is merely useful; the creeping normalisation of niche practices used as a handy way of getting away with murder. 

Woman lying down in a bed with her face covered

Most of those studying the phenomenon (or trying to prosecute its results) blame porn. It’s easy to forget that the internet as a whole is basically the biggest unregulated mass experiment that has ever been carried out on the human race, but at times like these it’s worth remembering.

We are now in an age where, when it comes to sex, most people have been raised in a world suffused with extreme images and extreme acts, generally carried out by people cleaving to one aesthetic (thin, firm, white, hairless) and centring on penetration in order to serve one major demographic: men.

Of course, there are other kinds, and there are female porn directors deliberately going against the grain, but porn made for and by men reworking the same tropes is by far the dominant mode.

Where does this leave us?

Short version: being spat on and killed. With impunity. Long version: dehumanised, ignored, left without a language of our own regarding sex and desire, and fighting overwhelming cultural forces and formative experiences to overcome all of this. While being spat on, and before we are killed.

I’m being super uncool, of course! You’re not supposed to object to porn. You’re supposed to enjoy it, get off on it, enjoy your partner getting off on it and so on. And if you do, that’s fine. But you might want to find out if there are other things beyond simply what you have been presented with since you – or the boys around you – were old enough to click a button that suit you, your body, your imagination, even better.

And you might also want to consider that it’s fine not to enjoy porn. Just as it’s fine to resist anything else a society not hugely concerned with our wellbeing uniformly tells us we should do.

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Things have changed so quickly. Like I say, my friend is dating again after a 10-year break. Times are different enough for her to notice new attitudes and commonplace practices. Ask yourself this: if you hadn’t (effectively) grown up with it, would you too object to being spat on? What else do you not really like but haven’t objected to because you think of it as ‘normal’?

What if someone assured you it wasn’t? Or what if ‘normal’ didn’t matter because you felt yourself to be absolutely equal with whoever you’re in bed with? What if? What if?

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