If we hadn't noticed Miley before the MTV Video Music Awards, we have now. In a few brief minutes, she made herself the subject of every armchair critic's opinion. They agreed: little Miley was outrageous, indecent, and slutty. Though her ratings jumped, media response was definitively negative.
The next morning on TV I heard a parenting "expert" advise mothers (fathers were not mentioned) how to deal with their daughters' (no mention of sons) back-to-school fashion choices. Miley's performance was invoked as an example of negative influences on teen trends. The expert encouraged mothers to refuse to buy those 'sexy' clothes. Further, they should explain to their daughters that, though they may view the fads simply as clothing choices, they must understand that peer-aged boys could become "excited," and would "therefore" judge the girls as sexual targets rather than valuing them as whole, integrated personalities.
Haven't we come beyond holding women responsible for males' sexual desire? And why does a man's erotic longing for us demean us? What do we promote by clinging to these beliefs?
When we demonize men's sexual desire, we place them in a predatory position. We warn our daughters to resist them, to demand that they sublimate and dampen their own natural sexuality in favour of courtship rituals that stress intimacy and romance. In turn, our girls learn that their own sexuality must be contained and controlled, to be meted out only when sufficient favours have been granted.
We do this, of course, in an effort to forestall sexual activity until our children (read: girls) are sufficiently mature to weather broken hearts and physiological consequences like pregnancy. We are well-intended, but our messages, some tacit and others graphic, convince our daughters that female sexuality is manageable--and should be--and that male sexuality is wild, uncontainable, and dangerous. We want them to say "no" until they are assured that a man's affections have been secured. Then the girls can use their sexuality as currency to reward and control his behaviour. Yuck.
How did I get so jaded? By doing sex therapy for a quarter of a century.
So many women come to me having lost their own desire for sex. They want only to be left in peace. Growing up inundated with lessons about the dangers of male sexuality, they come to feel guilty about their own desire for those very men.
That same life force which could have enthused and motivated them instead makes them feel invisible, makes them feel that their only power lies in acquiescing, as seldom as possible, to sexual invasion. They distrust their mates' sincerity and their own value. Eventually, they smother their desire...and then it's gone.
Their husbands arrive frustrated, confused and feeling impotent. They are not sure what they've done wrong, or how to do it right. They remember their wives' sexual collaboration early on and long for that spark. They can barely remember being wanted, and they, too, are desperately lonely.
Miley's performance may have been raunchy, but no one can deny that she seemed to be enjoying flaunting her sexual power and prowess. She would be no man's sexual victim. She modelled for our girls that even a sweet Hannah Montana could grow into a sexually confident young woman who was having a very good time with her sexuality.
I think we were maybe too quick to judge...or maybe we judged her so harshly because she reminded us of those fleeting moments when new relationship energy emboldened our own sexual enjoyment, so soon submerged again under layers of shame and fear. I think we may need more, rather than fewer, reminders that when women and men together decide to revel in their sexuality, magic happens.
Learn more about overcoming resistance to sexual desire.