Saturday, 10 September 2011

Mini-Review - Living Dolls and Sexuality

Yesterday I finally got round to starting to read Living Dolls by Natasha Walter. I have been very impressed with it thus far, her insights into 'Lads mag culture' and the pressures on young women to be sex objects has been truly enjoyable and enlightening to read. I am personally planning on buying my younger sister a copy of it for christmas, even if I have to resort to Clockwork Orange-style tactics to get her to read it.

However, I feel very let down by Chapter Four. This chapter is about young women's attitudes towards casual sex. Walter discusses a modern promiscuity, but during doing this, she seems to descend into some sort of 'slut-shaming' attitude, which left me totally cold. The chapter features interviews with several women around my age - half of them are interested in, and have, casual sex, and the other half seek more emotional bonds with the people they wish to copulate with. Instead of using this divide to acknowledge that everyone's sexual experience is different and that people should do what makes them happy (obviously with regard to the fact that choice does not exist in a vacuum and so on), Walter dismisses the opinions and experiences of the self-confessed 'promiscuous' ones with a kind of "well it's what they think they want, but I know better" attitude. She only considers that the opinion of the 'chaste' girls (that sex should only come about as a result of a strong emotional tie) to be valid, using Anais Nin's diaries to back up her viewpoint.

Well, I'm sorry, but no. Without going into too much detail (hi mum!), by patriarchal standards, I am a slut. I've had long-term monogamous relationships (five years), I've had short term flings, I've had sex with friends, I've had one-night stands and pretty much everything in between. I'm not ashamed, and although I am currently in a monogamous relationship, there is nothing to say that I wouldn't do it all again. I only tell you this to assure you that I know what I'm talking about.

I firmly believe that while sex with someone who you are emotionally bonded with can be great, it is not the be-all and end all, and saying that it is is not a message we should be sending to women. What are we, Ann Widdecombe?

I believe that Walter makes this distinction because she sees the promiscuity of some of the girls to be a symptom of the 'hypersexual' culture she (brilliantly) rails against, and seems to think that the reason they are promiscuous is because they are willing participants in said hypersexual culture. What she fails to realise is that correlation does not equal causation. I identified with a lot of what the interviewed girls said ("I met this guy in a pub the other night. We had sex once and... he says, are you going to sleep with other people? I thought, who are you? Why are you asking me this? Of course I'm having sex with other people."), but I do not consider myself to be part of the 'Living Doll' culture. I don't shave, I'm usually to be found wearing bovver boots, I don't wear make up and I dye and cut my own hair. My promiscuity is to do with a liking for sex, not a search for an emotional connection. It's because putting other people's bits in your bits feels good. If you can have strong emotional connections without sex, why can't you have sex without strong emotional connections?

I think a much more positive message to send to young women should be "Do what makes you happy.  Take pleasure in pleasure and don't feel you have to justify your sexuality. Just always be safe, and don't let yourself be pushed into anything you don't want to do".

Sometimes, people just want to fuck because it feels good. We should not add any caveats to that.

I will review the rest of the book when I have finished it, I just had to get this little rant off my chest.


  1. Don't know the book but I agree with you on casual sex. My view is that we ARE sexual. It is entirely natural to want sex and while I can appreciate that many young women feel pressure to express their sexuality in the very specific way promoted by lads mag culture I think the pressure for women to deny their sexuality is more insidious. As a young feminist I instinctively resisted the rhetoric that said that if you wear make up or conform to social expectations of beauty, you are a 'bad feminist' but I was still influenced by it and hid my body in baggy clothes & didn't wear make up and spent much of my 20s celibate. But actually I have always loved sex. It's taken years to to get over that and just enjoy taking pleasure in my body and my sexuality. Great post

  2. Absolutely agree with what you saying about sex, we need more recognition that young women are sexual and feel and express desire and lust, and that having sex you want to have and take pleasure in is great and not shameful. The sexualisation debate too often ignores that young ppl have natural sexuality and sexual curiosity. But I don't think Natasha's assessment was a negative one. The woman with the anais nin diaries had been and talks to girls who had been pressured into sex they didn't want to have, and this is a very real issue, and needs to be tackled. I saw it as being quite positive that we had a mix of these sexually confident young women, therefore recognising that young women take pleasure in sex, and the flipside, young women who felt they didnt have a voice to say no.

    Great post as always! And its a fab book.

  3. Sex without love = fun.
    Sex with love = more fun.
    The second statement does not invalidate the first.

    Sure, in areas of the world where AIDS is rampant, there's a case to be made for abstinence, but that's a practical matter, not moral or ethical.

    I've never yet seen a decent explanation not based on religion or ideology as to why 'promiscuous' sex is a bad thing. (Same goes for polygamy.)

    I've added the book to my Ever Growing Reading List. Talking of which, I was asked a while back by a friend, about 'books you really should read before you die'. Any suggestions, preferably varied, and not the same old classics that all the usual lists have, would be gratefully received.

  4. I have to note this moment as it's a rare one, but I agree with you. I've read the book and would be interested to see your review of the rest of it.

  5. Out of curiosity, have you read "How To Be a Woman" by Caitlin Moran? Someone recommended me it for its feminist perspective, and I was wondering if i could get a second opinion before I bought it.

  6. In a word, DON'T. Ms Moran and I have a somewhat chequered history (she blocked me on Twitter after I questioned her use of transphobic language), but even before that I would not recommend her book as any kind of feminst guide - it is an individual's autobiography. Whether Moran herself identifies as a feminist is by the by. It is a book for amusement, not education. As for recommendations, although I have issues with this one chapter, Living Dolls is a fantastic guide to issues facing both women and the feminist movement in the modern ages, and is incredibly accessible to newcomers to the feminist scene.

  7. Thank You! Reading your post was a lovely, quite unexpected incandescent flare of sanity at this rather grey finish to the night! Brilliant! x