by Jean Roberta
As an erotic writer, I’m always interested to learn about sexual cultures: what a particular demographic considers sexually acceptable, and what is taboo. As an instructor of first-year university courses, I’m interested in the culture of the age-group of my students (approximately 18-22, with some exceptions), as well as the high-school culture that most of them have just emerged from.
Very soon, I will be facing classrooms full of young adults. I will give them stories, poems, novels and essays to read, and I hope they find the printed words meaningful. I strongly suspect that literature written before the twenty-first century will seem outdated to most of them because they won’t recognize the persistence of certain social patterns.
One social event among today’s young that has been acknowledged in the media is the Teenage Sex Party: a group of high school students get together to drink, and (in many cases) indulge in other mind-bending substances. A gang-bang happens, either spontaneously (it seems like a good idea at the time), or pre-planned. In most cases that I’ve heard of, the event is largely spontaneous, though it often starts with one boy and one girl. The rest of the crowd piles on. (If there are same-sex Teenage Sex Parties, they don’t seem widely known.)
I suspect that this event happens much more often than many adults choose to believe. It’s easy enough to legislate a minimum age for drinking, driving, and consensual sex. It’s not really possible to legislate lust, curiosity, or recklessness, and teenagers of all genders have these qualities in abundance.
Note that I’m not expressing approval of the Teenage Sex Party. I’m just saying that it doesn’t freak me out. Many years ago, I was a teenage girl. Less long ago, I was the mother of a teenage girl.
Now here is the catalyst that propels a local event into the stratosphere of public discussion: someone has a recording device and takes pictures, or makes a little porn-movie of the event. Someone posts this on YouTube or some other social-media platform. The images go viral. The girl or girls in the Sex Party (who are usually outnumbered by boys) become targets of a lynch-mob of their peers.
In some cases, the girl who has become known as the Scarlet Whore of Whoville (or whatever town it is) changes schools to avoid the stigma, and finds that her reputation has preceded her. If she reads her email, she finds fresh insults and threats every day. She can’t concentrate in class, and wants to drop out of school. She can’t sleep. Her only support comes from her parents, who would like her to recover in a well-guarded facility. In a worst-case scenario, the girl commits suicide.
At this point, there is much hand-wringing in the media. The girl’s red-eyed parents ask why the police have not prosecuted the “rapists” who did this to their daughter. Various experts point out that vulnerable young women need to be better-protected from sexual exploitation. Some form of house arrest is often recommended, along with more old-fashioned parental “discipline.”
The frequent aftermath of the Teenage Sex Party, in which a girl is deprived of human status because of her perceived sexual behaviour, is parallel to the disfiguring, flogging, or murder of “fallen women” in cultures that practise fundamentalist religion in its most medieval forms. There is nothing especially modern or high-tech about any of this; it took place in the time of Christ, as recorded in the Bible. (Christ was against it.)
Let’s reconsider the party itself. In a case that was recently discussed on a daytime television talk show, the girl who was the centre of attention explained that she went to the party with the intention of having sex with one boy (presumably her boyfriend at the time). Another boy entered the room, and both boys persuaded her to let them take turns. By this time, everyone involved was highly intoxicated and higher than a kite, so it was hard for the girl to remember everything clearly. At some point, she became aware that the fourth guy had been replaced by a fifth guy. She couldn’t identify him, but she knew he hadn’t asked her permission.
The talk show host asked Scarlet (as I’ll call her) her if she knew the difference between sexual attention and sexual exploitation. He made it very clear that there was only one right answer to this question. She said yes, and agreed that what was done to her had crossed the line. The host then assured the girl’s anxious parents that the local police were wrong when they said the boys couldn’t be charged. The host promised to look into the case himself.
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Scarlet was clearly disturbed by the host’s promise to her parents that oh yes, those five boys could and should be punished. She said she didn’t think they should get criminal records. She seemed admirably loyal to the truth: the event had not been a clear-cut assault, and she had not been simply a victim of unwanted sex. She was still a victim of something that began right after the sex-party.
It’s incredibly hard for a teenage girl to maintain her integrity by telling the truth about her sexuality in the face of social pressure. In my day, there was rarely any objective evidence, but rumours abounded. When numerous classmates asked me whether it was true that I had “done it” with the boy who was bragging about this, I denied it. Admitting it would have opened up an abyss of shame in which I was afraid of being trapped for the rest of my life. Then, when boys asked me why most girls lie so much about what they really want and what they’ve really done, I cringed. I didn’t want to be a liar or a hypocrite, but I didn’t see any viable alternative.
Let’s think about sexual hypocrisy with regard to Scarlet and the boys from the party. Did the boys acquire terrible reputations at school because they were recognizable from the video on YouTube? Did anyone propose that the person who recorded the event without Scarlet’s consent (and who might not have been a participant) should be convicted of a crime?
I would like to see a talk show with a different focus on the Teenage Sex-Party and its aftermath. Who were the ringleaders of the smear campaign against Scarlet, and why was no one talking about appropriate penalties for them? Where were the parents of these underage thugs? How many of them will grow up to become sexual bullies at work? Will any of them become police officers who use their power to abuse or even kill innocent civilians?
Something is definitely rotten in Denmark, so to speak. And it’s not a loss of sexual purity among young women.