Sexing America

This paper was written by students in a course at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, and reflects those students' research and thoughts at the time the paper was written. Like other things on Serendip, the paper is not intended to be "authoritative" but is instead provided to encourage others to themselves learn about and think through subjects of interest, and, by providing relevant web links, to serve as a "window" to help them do so. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Sex and Gender

2005 Final Web Papers

On Serendip

Sexing America

by Kathryn Corbin, Elle Endre-Stacy, Kelsey G and Sarah Halter

There can be no question that we live in a culture that has sex on its mind. Every time we turn on the television or flip through a magazine, our eyes are bombarded with sexy commercials for everything from cigarettes to shoes, sitcoms about 20-somethings who sit in coffee shops and make suggestive jokes, or ads filled with voluptuous models who laze about on silk sheets and show off the newest bra. We've all heard the adage: "Sex sells."

However, just because sex is everywhere does not mean that America is comfortable with sex. One merely needs to look at the President's current "abstinence only" national plan to know that sex is a danger and an allure to Americans. We love it and hate it. We want it on our TV, yet we want it hidden away from children. We want our porn websites, but we want sexual predators locked away forever.

The following four essays all look at America's relationship with sex, albeit in very different ways. Kelsey G's paper begins with the claim that sexual freedom is essential for a woman's freedom. She argues that since sex-positive feminism believes that sexual freedom is an essential component of feminism, feminists should not resist or vilify the sex industry. Looking at women in First World countries who make a living in the sex industry, Kelsey insists that these women commercialize their bodies and sell sex in a way that empowers them. Far from being pathetic victims or brainless pawns, Kelsey argues that these women are strong and capable. Feminist theory must be expanded, she says, so that constructive dialogue about the sex industry can be brought to the table.

Elle Stacy's paper discusses the importance of sexual education in America. Throughout America's history, she argues, there has been a considerably sex-negative political atmosphere. This has, in turn, resulted in some of the highest rates of STDs, and teen pregnancies in the industrialized world. Political figures in America's history who have who have brought up the possibility of teaching sex education in K1-12 public schools have been ostracized or fired from their positions. However, this paper takes a new stance on sex-education, beyond that in K1-12 schooling. Instead of fighting a losing battle with sex-negative proponents, this paper proposes a new venue for teaching comprehensive sex education to America's rising adults: College. While this may seem like too late in the game to start talking about comprehensive safe, and safer-sex ('safer' meaning beyond contraceptive health, including healthy relationships and healthy lifestyle habits), her paper argues a better-late-than-never approach.

Kathryn Corbin's paper steps back from politics to consider the theory behind sex-negative feminism. On one hand, sex-positive feminists such as Wendy Chapkis and Carol Queen advocate female sexuality and also women's participation in the sex industry. On the flip side, anti-sex feminists like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin argue that any type of situation that sexually objectifies the female is offensive. Sex, they say, is not an intimate act between two people, but an incident in which a woman's body is penetrated and debased. Kathryn takes issue with this standpoint and argues that feminists should never make sex the enemy. Kathryn insists that it is about time we feminists reclaim sex as a powerful and feminist action.

Finally, Sarah Halter looks into laws about sex, specifically hate crime legislation. Using the recent passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a starting place, Sarah explores the history of hate crime legislation. She argues that legislation like this is necessary because America believes in a sex hierarchy in which heterosexual married sex is sacred, and all else other is less. This belief leads to the vilifying of "Other" sex acts. After going into the history behind this hierarchy, Sarah concludes that the government must rule in favor of hate crime legislation so that it can make an ideological statement that it wishes to accept those who practice "Other" sex acts. Only then can America begin to demolish the sex hierarchy.

The intent of our papers is to invite others to the Table of Sex. We want to add our voices to the dialogue about sex and insist that the expansion of this dialogue is necessary. Despite the moral objections or religions fears of many Americans, sex will not go away. And in order for our country to progress, we must expand the discussion about sex.

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