A Double Standard

Amber Madison

If we want young people to take responsibility for their sexual choices and reproductive health, we must demand the same of men that we demand of women.

OnCommonGround was given the exclusive right to excerpt this essay from the anthology, Rethinking Responsibility: Reflection on Sex and Accountability, published by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. For more OnCommonGround excerpts in this series click here.

If a girl gets the HPV vaccine, she might have sex. If a girl has
too much sex, she is a slut. If a girl has unprotected sex, she could
get knocked up. If a girl likes sex, she could turn into a nympho.

The way we handle sex and sexuality, you would think young women were
doing it with themselves. Lectures about making wise sexual decisions
focus stern eyes on young women and give but a darting glance to young
men: “dude, where’s your condom?” But you can’t address sexual
responsibility without also examining young men’s sexual choices, and
all too often that’s left out of the equation.

We all read
the story about the girl giving oral sex to multiple guys on the back
of a bus — and the articles were all framed the same: what is wrong
with young women’s sexuality? No one thought to ask, what is wrong with
young men’s sexuality? Why did so many guys think it was okay to
receive oral sex in the back of a school bus from a girl who had just
gone down on fi ve of his friends? But what if the story was reversed?
Say there was a young man who was giving oral sex to multiple girls on
the back of a bus. I’d be willing to bet that our concern would still
be with the girl’s behavior, and not the boy’s. The articles would be:
why are girls receiving oral sex in such a casual environment? Do they
not worry about getting an STI from a guy who’s gotten busy with half
the cheerleading squad? We may not condone the irresponsible sex acts
of guys, but we do accept them.

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The other thing we accept
is that guys will treat girls badly. We prepare women for this
inevitability by warning them that guys are out for only one thing. We
say men are jerks who can’t stand commitment and don’t value emotional
intimacy (even though, ironically, studies have indicated that husbands
are more happily married than their wives, and it’s more diffi cult for
men to heal emotionally after a break up). We tell girls that young men
are careless beings who engage in sex and feel nothing. And instead of
deterring sexual activity, these stereotypes do two things: first, it
lets guys off the hook. These ideas make clear that we have no
expectation for men to be emotionally or physically responsible in
regards to sex. Second, they inadvertently encourage young women to act
just as sexually irresponsible as we perceive young men do. In a world
where girls can do anything guys can, why would a girl want to be the
one taking sex seriously and getting screwed over when she could
instead see sex as something emotionally void and “no big deal.”

If we want young people to take responsibility for their sexual choices
and reproductive health, we must demand the same of men that we demand
of women. Teach young men that they are expected to be caring partners
who are informed about contraception and that they are expected to
think carefully about with whom and when they have sex. Teach young
women to expect more out of a guy than just a sex seeking robot. That
way, when young women are making sexual choices, they’ll know the way
to a man’s heart isn’t only through his fly. Because sex is something
men and women do together, we need to be taught the same information,
share the same responsibility of preventing unwanted pregnancies and
STIs, and be held to the same moral standards.

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