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Sexual Freedom

Reproductive Rights

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Cartoons by Cath Jackson
Feminists believe that women have a right to decide whether or not to have sexual relationships, and the forms that their sexual involvements wilt take.

. Male and female sexual desires should be seen as the creation of social processes, and therefore open to change: not given by biology.

. Women have the right to control their own fertility and to bave as many or as few children as they wish.

. Women have the right to refuse or to initiate sex inside or outside marriage, on the same basis as men.

. Both men and women should strive to eliminate the social conditions which currently make it necessary that a woman barters her sexual freedom for economic or other reasons - in marriage or in prostitution.


Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book for and by women
The Boston Women's Health Book Collective
(Simon and Schuster)
A sensible and inform ativd health manual.

The Hite Report: a nationwide study of female sexuality
Shere Hite (Summit Books)
A study that breaks away from ma/c-defined sexology

For Ourselves
Anja Meulenbelt (She ba)
A gentle feminist approach to sexuality.

Not an easy choice; a feminist re-examines abortion
Kathleen McDonne/l(The Women’s Press, Canada)

The Reach and other stories
Lilian Mohin and Sheila Shulman (Only women)
Lesbian feminist fiction.

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Women’s Health Information Service
c/o Royal Women’s Hospital,
Cardigan St. Carlton 3063.
Victoria, Australia.
Tel. (03) 347 0000
A centre in touch with other feminist networks: health is broadly defined.

Women’s Reproductive Rights Information Centre
52-54 Featherstone St London ECI
(01) 251 6332
Information centre for contact of local groups: op en five days a week.

Brisbane Women’s Community Health Centre
767 Stanley St Woolloongabba,
Old. Australia.
Tel. (07) 393 1175
Emphasises a hostistic approach to health.

London Gay Teenage Group
6 - 9 Manor Gardens,
Holloway Rd. London N7.
Tel. (01) 272 5741
Helpline: Sun S - 2pm, Wed 2 - 10pm.

Women’s Media Action
c/o A Woman’s Place, Hungerford House,
Victoria Embankment London WC2.
Tel. (01) 836 6081
Monitors the exploitation c/women’s sexua/fry and other forms of sexism in the media, and produces a newsletter

London Lesbian Line
BM Box 15141 London WC1 3XX
TeI. (01) 251 6911
Mon and Fri 2-10 p.m.
Tue, Wed, Thur 7-10 p.m.

Women's Therapy Centre
6 Manor Gdns, London N7 6LA
Tel. (01) 263 6200
Runs therapy groups concerned with a wide range of Issues. Send large S.A.E. for details.

Another kind of loving
Mariette Clare looks at sex education books for children,
and sex books for adults and decides that they are often
saying the same thing. And she doesn’t like it.

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RECENTLY my middle son. aged ten. ame home from school with a booklet: How we grow op. It tells children about puberty and about having babies and therefore, inevitably, about sexuality. I turned to the pages that describe making love. consciously seeking - and finding - the absences and inclusions that feminism leads me to expect.

I don’t only object because heterosexuality is defined in clinical terms - so making lesbianism and gay men’s sexuality invisible. It is also the assumptions found in such seemingly neutral and ‘objective’ biological descriptions that I wish to challenge.

I could have asked my sons why the booklet exhorts girls to make sure they are clean during menstruation, but has no such interfering advice to boys about wet dreams. Should I have pointed out to them that a boy’s genitals were fully illustrated, showing ‘penis and scrotum, but a girl’s labia and clitoris were not so much as mentioned, let alone visually represented? Why these differences? Why are girls denied of such information, and why are only their bodies seen as potentially dirty?

But most of all, what could I have said to them that would make them understand my objection to this description of sexual intercourse in the book: When too people make love they have great feelings of love, tenderness and pleasure towards one another. They lie close together and kiss. The man’s penis becomes erect and firm so that he can slide it slowly into the woman’s soft vagina. He moves his penis backwards and forwards several times and then the sperm in a small quantity of fluid comes out of the hole in the end. What, you may ask, is wrong with that?

Briefly. I’m tempted to answer: most of it.

First of all, and in true patriarchal fashion, the man is in control - ‘he can slide it (the penis) slowly into the woman’s soft vagina.’ It is not just chance that the woman is made the mere receptacle for the man’s activity. To be active and in charge is not just the way men behave, in bed and out of it: it actually defines being a man. The woman is rendered physiological signs of sexual arousal: the vagina may be called soft, but why not mention - at the very least - that it is also wet?

In this book sex is defined - as it is almost everywhere - as heterosexual penetration and ejaculation. This meaning is so dominant and so well-established that it is hard to remember that it is not dictated by biological fact, but by a society where men are in charge. In a feminist culture, on the other hand, the same description might run more like this: ‘When two people make love they have great feelings of love, tenderness and pleasure toward one another. They lie close together and kiss. Hey touch and stroke each other all over, but particularly in the place that feel especially nice. When they are both ready, the woman will take the man’s firm penis into her wet vagina. They take turns to move, each feeling the other’s body, enjoying the pleasure the reach a special sort of climax, so that the sperm in a small quantity of fluid comes out of the hole in the end. But his does not happen everytime, and this is, in any case, only one of the may ways in which people make each other happy.’

There are no good reasons why sexuality - even heterosexuality - has to be equated with the sex act itself; or why sex has to carry the association of male penetration: or why its goal should be thought of as orgasm; or why the male orgasm should be identified with ejaculation. Patriarchal culture may try to insist that such connections are natural. normal and unavoidable. But that is only one of the many lies it tells in order to make those who dissent think that they must be slightly deranged, so silencing their voices and excluding their ideas from public circulation.

But these meanings have been formed within a culture where sex has been linked to certain types of self-expression. In other non-Western cultures even patriarchy knows better. As the Tao of love and sex says, and in the male voice, too: ‘. . . sex without ejaculation is also a release of tension but without the explosion. It is a pleasure of peace not of violence, a sensuous and lasting satisfying melting into something larger amid more transcendent than oneself It is a feeling of wholeness, not of separation, a merging and a sharing not one exclusive, private and lonely spasm.

Yet as my sons grow older even this is not what they will learn about their own sexual capacities. Indeed, it is in direct conflict with how, as boys, they are already choosing to shape their identities in order to become real men. Already they are learning to deny their vulnerability, and so seeking the approval of their masculinity from other boys and men.

But as a feminist my concerns cannot be just with my sons. Analysing my own sexual experiences has taught me that the politics of the bedroom are - to coin a phrase - intimately tied up with the politics of the outside world. From fairy tales onwards, we learn in stories and romances that men and boys have exciting adventures, while virtuous women and girls have to wait patiently for their hero to come and find them.

True, romance carries with it the values of intimacy and caring. And I endorse these. But I also know that love is the pivot of women’s oppression. It delivers woman’s physical and emotional nurturing to a man who is unconscious of his inability to re-pay in kind. It eroticises power, and teaches women to luxuriate in the doubtful pleasures of passivity.

She felt suddenly weak, and had no strength either to struggle, or to brace herself against him, amid stood limp amid unresisting, finally aware of the futility of lighting him. A little whimper, half of pain, haIf of protest, escaped her, and immediately lie relaxed the tight grip his fingers had on her arms, his mouth softening on hers and his kiss becoming a seductive caress. A warmth began to steal slowly through her, she seemed unable to control her senses and her will was not her own. This quotation, from a Mills and Boon romance, could be repeated ad nauseum. She accepts, surrenders, is acted upon: he enforces, knows, controls. It is the form of sadomasochism, a form fed to women in the substance of romance, fed to men in the substance of pornography.

My sons can scarcely fail to encounter pornography. Porn is not a minor aberration, refuge to the inadequate. Nor is it a sacred and inalienable human right. It is central to the organisation of a patriarchal society. In the USA the porn industry’s annual turnover exceeds that of the straight entertainment industry.

Porn invites its users to equate sexual pleasure with their power. It puts the consumer in the position of being able to gaze at, arrange or dispose of the woman’s body at will, without any demand being made on him to be reciprocally recognised or personally vulnerable. In this sense, advertisements can use women’s bodies according to the same set of conventions. To indicate how pervasive is the idea that adult women are essentially available to all adult men, one boys’ comic offers a weekly prize of six dollars for a photograph of ‘your prettiest teacher’.

Sexuality is about all these things: from romantic novels and films to pornography, from sex education and therapy to great literature, from advice columns to casual conversations. And it is part of the task of heterosexual feminists to follow the example set by lesbian feminists and to create new ways of expressing sexuality - that do not subordinate women. This is not easily done. Our efforts could only too easily be reformed as just interesting variants of the usual games that revolve around male-defined sexual pleasure. Real reciprocity between women and men demands more than a few changes in bed-manners for male lovers. The sadomasochistic forms of sexuality which unconsciously inform even the school booklet that my son brought home, are intimately connected with the economic and emotional exploitation of women by men.

Fundamental change would involve an acknowledgement of the emotional and social dynamics of power that operate at the most intimate levels. Only through such recognition could they be mutually changed. If men can follow women in re-defining desire, then perhaps more men will discover. as one man did, that: ‘it’s very pleasurable to be desired as though you were a woman. It’s very pleasurable to try to look after a woman as though you were her mother, as well as her lover. It’s very pleasurable to be touched in places and ways that men more usually touch women.’

Mariette Clare is a writer who is currently researching images of food.

Contraception: a bedroom guide
If you want to make love to a person of the opposite sex, and want to avoid pregnancy, you’ll have to choose what type of sex you want and the type of contraception you are going to use. Yet these choices are often hidden by embarrassment.

Works by abstinence during the time when a woman is fertile.

Health hazards **
Tension and worry for the woman and usually a lack of sexual desire on her part.

Reliability *
85% if very carefully used.

Embarrassment **
Men may be reluctant to co-operate.

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Involves refraining from all forms of sexual contact with another person

Health hazards *****
No harmful side-effects and many positive ones: for example, cervical cancer is almost unknown among celibate women

Reliability *****

Embarrassment ****
None within the bedroom a small amount outside it, as you might be considered peculiar or repressed.

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An underrated and little discussed option.


Means allowing all forms of sexual expression, barring penetration of the woman’s body by the man’s penis.

Health hazards *****

Reliability *****
100% - provided the male partner cooperates.

Embarrassment ***
Embarrassment lessens with intimacy.

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This method can reveal hidden and unexplored forms of sexuality that can be both enriching as well as threatening. (See article above)


For men: a vasectomy is a tying of the tubes that lead from the testides to the penis, which ensures that sperm are not found in the seminal fluid. For women, a tying of the fallopian tubes, so that her eggs cannot make contact with the sperm - a more serious operation.

Health hazards *****
Is usually irreversible, although mens chances of successful reversal are higher than women’s.

Reliability *****
99% - excellent.

Women ***
Men **

Some women feel threatened by sterilisation: others feel liberated A vascetomy can touch on deep-seated fears of impotence and castration.

Female Sterilisation
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In the UK, a married man usually has to give his consent for his wife to have this operation, but a woman does not usually have to give her consent for her husband.

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Many women find it hard to trust men who say they have had a vasectomy.


Involves a man withdrawing his penis before he ejaculates.

Health hazards **
Causes tension and anxiety.

No facts available. Appallingly unreliable, as sperm are emitted before ejaculation, and the man might ejaculate before he intends to.

Embarrassment **
May cause dissatisfaction. 

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Men usually find it hard to withdraw in time.


Works by preventing ovulation in women, using hormones taken in pill form.

Health Hazards *
If taken from an early age, and for many years, some pills are linked to - amongst other side-effects - breast and cervical cancer, heart attacks and depression

Reliability *****
Almost 100% - Excellent unless diarrhoea and vomiting mean the pill is not absorbed.

Embarrassment *****
Initial with an unsympathetic doctor

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(IUD): coil, loop, shield.
A small plastic or copper device inserted into the uterus. It is thought to work by irritating the lining of the womb so preventing a fertilised egg implanting.

Health hazards **
Linked with pelvic-inflammatory diseases, infertility, stomach cramps, heavier periods and perforation of the uterus.

Reliability ****
97% - can be accidentally expelled.

Embarrassment ****
The male may be able to feel the string of the IUD in the vagina.

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Enhanced as women can check it is in place.


This is a rubber cap which works by physically preventing sperm from entering the uterus. A smaller version. the cervical cap. has been found to be less reliable.

Health hazards *****
No serious side-effects.

Reliability ****
97% - if inserted correctly and used with a spermicide.

Embarrassment **
Inhibits spontaneity, as it needs to be inserted lust prior to sex. The spermicides taste unpleasant.

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It is sometimes nicer to insert the cap together, so sharing some of the responsibility for its use and making it enjoyable.


Works by ‘sheathing’ the man’s penis and so preventing sperm from entering the woman’s vagina.

Health hazards *****
No serious side effects, and a positive one: it can prevent the spread of most venereal diseases

Reliability ****
97% - if used with spermicide

Embarrassment **
Has an unpleasant rubber smell. Some men find them fiddly, inconvenient, and they are sometimes embarrassing to buy.

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Not popular: some men and women claim they reduce pleasure, although the sharing of their use can help to offset this.

KEY ***** Excellent
**** Good
*** Fair
** Poor
* Appalling

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New Internationalist issue 150 magazine cover This article is from the August 1985 issue of New Internationalist.
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