How Can We Achieve Sexual Liberation?By Jamie Valentino
In trying to camouflage throughout high school, I noticed details about my siblings. Such as, Pablo liked taller brunettes, David preferred older girls who drove, and Lorenzo took pride in dating sluts (that is, the teenage definition of 'slut,' which was only ever applied to females). But, of course, Lorenzo denied seeing it this way. I should have realized our high school tended to slut shame, not so coincidentally, the prettiest girls. In other words, females wielding the most sexual power were monitored most by a culture desperate to control it.
"Ironically, when the girls I claimed to have crushes on expressed mutual interest, my brothers and their friends called me a prude. I felt embarrassed but didn't argue, considering this insult less dangerous than gay."
At that point, I didn't fully understand my desire towards the same sex, but my sexual disinterest in the opposite sex started to reveal itself. And, even though most of my close friends tended to be girls, they interrogated me about who I liked to the extremes my brothers would never care enough to even ask. Ironically, when the girls I claimed to have crushes on expressed mutual interest, my brothers and their friends called me a prude. I felt embarrassed but didn't argue, considering this insult less dangerous than gay. Thankfully, I discovered alcohol, and it served as the middleman to help me satisfy teenage hookup culture expectations.
Junior year, I made out with my brother Lorenzo's girlfriend, Stacy. We were at the beach and drunkenly decided when the rest of the group went in the water was a good time to lock lips. (In my defense, I had mentioned staying back first.) Even worse, we had driven to South Beach as a group of six in a four-seater, with Stacy sitting on Lorenzo's lap and her best friend Celeste sitting on mine. Returning home, my revengeful brother demanded Stacy and her friend switch, and he kissed Celeste the entire ride back. He eventually dated her for three years, though he still denies that I played Cupid.
The next day at school, our friends found out, and to my surprise, criticized her while falling short of congratulating me like an interception in football - except for Lorenzo, who didn't speak to me for months despite sharing a room. I never managed to express that I didn't want to kiss Stacy but felt unable to reject her. Objectively beautiful, when she leaned towards me, my body reacted in autopilot like it had done in the past to socially survive. The morality of kissing my brother's girlfriend went over my head due to worrying about what others might think if I said no.
Now, at twenty-seven, I understand more about myself, such as the fact I prefer older (30-40s) men, which is why I felt almost asexual in high school. And, I became wiser about love, like learning that neither having sex on the first or third date will make you like or dislike a person more than you already would. However, I never came up with a generic formula for being a straight male because of my brother's colorful differences. Likewise, I’m close friends with enough women to know that love and sex cannot be summarized in an algorithm. And it seems like once I allowed myself to talk genuinely about the two, I never stopped, even when my family begs me to.
Pablo never had a serious girlfriend until college, which Mom claims helped him get into Harvard. However, he began dating another student there up until he attended Harvard Law. As an adult, David seems to fall in love with any beautiful woman with an accent. And former serial dater Lorenzo never dated anyone again after Celeste, now practicing meditation and Buddhism like a second career. "True sexual liberation is celibacy," he jokes to me.
Despite finding myself in adulthood, I feel robbed of the critical time for growth that I spent unaware other versions of 'normal' existed. While my brothers developed diverse interests and hobbies, I focused on fabricating this faux existence, and then years unraveling myself from the thread of heteronormativity.
"Today, racial equality, feminism, LGBTQ rights (almost in that order) are celebrated in media for the likes and comments of a new generation. However, just because the dynamics of gender and sex have shifted for the millennium, it doesn't mean the patriarchal cage has been lifted."
Today, racial equality, feminism, LGBTQ rights (almost in that order) are celebrated in media for the likes and comments of a new generation. However, just because the dynamics of gender and sex have shifted for the millennium, it doesn't mean the patriarchal cage has been lifted.
Way back in the 1960s, the goal of the historically dubbed 'sexual revolution was to advocate that sex before marriage didn't make women less pure. Feminists succeeded in being reimagined as sexual creatures, but the price for liberation was objectification and exploitation. The root of the issue is that society continues to view everything that encompasses sex like a tug-of-war for power between genders, and the media continues to treat the nuances of male or female with the frivolity of a trend. No amount of Cosmo read or porn watched will make you an expert on sex and gender. Knowing what a person likes requires asking.
Regardless how many times it seems otherwise, we no longer live in the shadows of knowledge. Anyone can find the science to any question with a Google search. For the most part, the principles of inclusivity and acceptance are as important in America today as democracy and capitalism. At least, depending on who is president. But, unfortunately, no law has succeeded in eradicating racism, sexism or homophobia. Judgement and stigma prevails in the sex lives of most Americans, countless unknowingly.
Politics and media can't control free will, and today's youth won't wait for a particular group to give up their majority stake in power. As for the rest of us, those in charge will continue to sell their conveniently ever-changing perspective on sex and gender until enough consumers stop buying it.
Back in 2020, at the peak of the crisis, New York State issued a series of health guidelines for people to follow to minimize the spread of COVID-19, specifically relating to how they can stay safe while having sex during the pandemic, catering to every gender and sexuality, and advising masturbation as the best way to flatten the curve. Reading about glory holes in a state official document made me feel like society is finally getting somewhere. The aim was not to shock, shame or preach, but to inform in detail and accurately, and that's how it should always be approached.
This doesn't mean influencers and lifestyle magazines need to go out of business. Nor is this waging war on Republicans or the Holy Spirit. Even if culture continues to use a rulebook to define sex and gender, we don't need to hold each other accountable to a manual. Sexual liberation comes from freeing each other from the chains of expectations and judgment - and then ourselves.
Jamie Valentino is a columnist and freelance writer based in New York City. You can read his words in WIRED Magazine, VICE, Houst