Women, Sex, and Storytelling: The Truth Behind Tired Mainstream Narratives

Almost a half century after Helen Gurley Brown arrived at Cosmo, 40 years after Our Bodies, Ourselves was published, two decades after Salt n’ Pepa catchily urged women to talk about sex (and my grade-school friends vacillated between snickers and pretending to be sophisticated about the lyrics), and 15 years after Sex and the City became a hit, public conversations about women and sex remain rare—particularly those that stray from hetero, male-centered visions. Taboo and silence linger around narratives about female sexuality, except when they are sandwiched into conventional story lines. You know what those lines are: sassy starlets gone bad on one hand, and on the other, concern-trolling journalists, reporting on promiscuous teenage girls or sex workers in the developing world (paging Nick Kristof). And oh, yeah, if women do speak out—even politically—on matters of sexuality or even just gender, they’re pilloried immediately. Look at what happened to Sandra Fluke and even poor Katherine Fenton, who dared ask a question about pay equity at the recent presidential debate.

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