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Virginity, Modesty and Womanhood: A Society Where Explicit Culture Equals Female Empowerment

What does it mean to choose abstinence and modesty in a society where sex, nudity, explicit sexuality and hook-up culture is portrayed as female empowerment?

A Black young woman turned to the viewer's right while facing the camera. She has her dark locks folded to the front to partly hide her face. She is wearing a black top and is holding herself in an embrace.

It is everywhere

It doesn't matter where you look (or where you don't look!) - it is everywhere. You head to one of your (many) social media apps, TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and you're bombarded with content. It does not matter what you usually subscribe to, who you follow or what type of aesthetic you feel drawn to these days, you will almost certainly come across it. And now 'Unholy' by Sam Smith and Kim Petras will stay in your head for the next 24 hours.

You decide to spend your day on Campus to get some work done. On the bus, the driver puts on the radio and at first, you're enjoying the sounds of 'As It Was' by Harry Styles or 'Blinding Lights' by The Weeknd, when all of a sudden - There's some wh*res in this house, there's some wh*res in this house! What a way to start the day!

Explicit content has become ubiquitous in the media that we consume, or should we say, the media that we are exposed to. How much of what you see and listen to is actually under your control? How well can we even control what we see? As we scroll and scroll and scroll, we barely notice the amount of nudity and mature content on our numerous screens, as we become desensitised to this type of media, very generously put under the umbrella term of 'entertainment'. This should raise significant red flags, not only to our own media consumer diet, but in relation to our younger generations.

Social media - desensitising younger generations?

According to Statista, in April 2023, 21% of TikTok's global audience were women between the ages of 18 and 24, while male users in the same age groups constituted 17.5%, the second biggest demographic being those aged between 25 and 34. Apart from this, TikTok, with its diverse and popular categories, trends and challenges is likely to continue to grow and maintain its popularity among existing users as fans keep using and improving their presence on the app. However, despite the indisputably rich and educational content (It's all about the life hacks!), TikTok has often come under scrutiny for its potential dangers, such as those involving health- and life-threatening challenges, as well as the effects on users' mental health, which becomes even more problematic considering that two-thirds of U.S teenagers are on the app, with 16% of respondents stating that they're constantly using it.

Social media is now heavily related to celebrity culture, as celebrities use their social networks to build the illusion of a closer relationship and more relatability between themselves and their fans. However, a quick look into comment sections reveals a public outcry about the strong sexual and increasingly worrying content, music videos and lyrics created by those popular figures that many look up to. If you spend some, or a lot of time, on Youtube, you have probably become aware of the public outcry and criticism in relation to Sam Smith's more recent music, such as 'I'm Not Here To Make Friends' or, more notably, his recent performance at the 2023 Grammys, which has left many people in shock over the apparently satanic themes the music industry. Earlier last year, even Beyonce's new album Renaissance caused listeners to pay close attention to new songs, such as 'Church Girl' and 'America Has A Problem', arguing that the lyrics are replete with passages alluding to demonic themes.

The problem: media affects society

Artists have always aimed to use their creations to either communicate, heal through their art or to represent a message. While much of mainstream media has been used to support moral and beneficial causes, such as the wider acceptance of different body shapes and appearances, the end to racism and discrimination, thereby creating a safe space for fans to live out their authentic identities and raise their confidence, in today's society, it is not always clear what message is being represented and how good it might be. Today, it is easier than ever to influence attitudes and behaviours, social media being the perfect medium to achieve this goal. In a society saturated with sexual content, how does this translate to young people's personal ideas about their sexuality and self-image? How does it influence their relationships?

A couple of years ago, while researching feminism and women's emancipation for a high school presentation, I came across an inspiring Ted Talk by Yvonne Orji. In 'The Wait Is Sexy', Orji talks about her journey with her sexuality and the decision to remain a virgin until she has found the right partner. However, there was one moment that left me confused, while I have to say that, at the time, I could not pinpoint the reason for this. To explain, there is one point during the talk where Orji proudly and confidently discloses that at the age of 33, she is still a virgin. In this moment, the audience applauds and cheers. To this day, I find myself questioning:

Why is everyone cheering?

Is her virginity considered or assumed to be an achievement?

If so, why?

If not, why?

Is this lifestyle something to have aspired?

Do some people in the audience regret their sexual history?

Or is everyone cheering in support of the speaker's confidence in her decision?

If so, does that mean that her confidence is not the norm when it comes to virginity?

These questions validate this point of investigation and raise even more questions about what it means to abstain from sexual activities, in particular when it is a woman to make that decision for herself. I became even more aware of this interesting subject when I came across a news article on Facebook about Lolo Jones, a 40-year old U.S Olympian, who in 2012 took to Twitter to proudly announce that she was still a virgin 'to honour God [and her] future husband'. During a later interview, she admitted that 'harder than training for the Olympics, harder than graduating from college, has been staying a virgin before marriage'. Again, in 2020, this topic was addressed during an interview hosted by Kevin Hart, in which Jones admitted to regretting her post from 2012, as announcing her abstinence had effectively ruined her dating life.

The reality is that in the last decades, women in many societies around the globe have experienced (and caused!) their emancipation from more traditional ideas in relation to their bodies, their independence and their gender roles. They are more free to make decisions about their own lives, their partners and their boundaries. In mainstream media, this seems to be represented in a shocking and extreme way, where girls and women are considered empowering and empowered, confident, strong and successful when they show themselves in the most attractive and sexual ways possible. This is also reflected in their lifestyles often showcased on social media, with women proudly announcing and celebrating their sexual freedom. Having raised awareness about the double stereotypes relating to hook-up culture - If you're a promiscuous man, you're attractive, successful and desirable, but if you're a promiscuous woman, you're a sl*t - women are now changing the story and empowering themselves by adapting similar lifestyles in their sexual experiences.

The closing question for this post is the following: How do we define the empowerment not related to sex? How do we empower ourselves as women in a sexually explicit society?


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