Sex Talk: You Can Be Dirty without Being "Unclean"
There's a Bust article from earlier in the year (I think the September issue, but the website with the excerpt claims it's from September 2011 which would actually make it from the future and I am pretty sure the web hasn't made time travel possible yet) about a site dedicated to curing women of masturbation and porn addiction that's been generating some attention on the web this past week (because sometimes the internet likes to dredge up things). The site does not exactly come off looking very good in the profile. The stated goal of the website is to help women struggling with porn addiction and masturbation, which in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing - there will always be people of both sexes who take things (sexual or otherwise) to extremes that cause them discomfort and those people should be free to seek help in whatever way makes them comfortable, even if some of us think that their approach is extreme. The problem with the Dirty Girls site is that it seems to take a completely sex-negative approach. In a comment on the site's blog about the Bust article, the site's founder insists that it is "so completely false," that the site is "on a crusade against female masturbation." Rather, she informs us, they, "speak out against any behaviors that promote lust and that have become unmanageable." The unmanageable I can get behind, the "promotes lust," bit gives me some pause. The Bust article describes the site as a Christian one which discourages women from engaging in any form of sexual thought, "even within marriage--unless those thoughts are about your husband while you are engaging in intercourse with him." In other words, the idea it's promoting is one of a very limited, very specific type of sexuality. A deeper look at the site demonstrates that this characterization is actually ... totally and completely fair.
The Dirty Girls Ministry utilizes both an online forum and streaming-video counseling program to help women deal with "addictive" sexual behavior. What counts as addictive sexual behavior, unfortunately, is pretty much any form that doesn't involve a man to whom the woman is legally married. Even moderate porn use (as in about twice a week) is considered a sign of addiction, and members are encouraged to forgo masturbation completely, as if self-pleasure were equivalent to an alcohol addiction (in some very very rare cases this may be true, but in those cases a mental health professional is a better option than self-taught repression). The site is indeed Christian, and the women who avail themselves of the ministry do so, it seems, largely because they believe they do not fit the Christian ideal of female sexuality. While the culture at large has become more accepting of sexuality in general and women's sexuality in particular, there are some sects of Christianity (though it must be said, not all of them) that take an especially harsh approach to controlling people's sexual desires. The Dirty Girls site seems to have grown out of that attitude that sexuality is almost always inherently sinful.
The women who seek out the site do so for a variety of reasons. There are those who have genuinely compulsive behavior that they could no doubt use treatment for (ideally sex-positive treatment). There are also some who clearly have used sex as a means for attention or as self-medication for self-esteem issues in the past, who have swung the other way and decided that restricting their sexuality is the best approach, as opposed to finding a healthy way to express. But there are also those who use pornography and masturbation as means of dealing with past traumas. For these women, the choice to suppress their sexuality seems all the more tragic, as it implies that they've internalized the guilt for what they've suffered. There are also women who have homosexual desires that they believe are signs of internal sins that must be eradicated, rather than a part of themselves that is perfectly normal and acceptable. One women poignantly describes herself on the site's blog as fundamentally unclean, saying "I will always be dirty. In reality. My cleanliness has NOTHING to do with what I watch or don't watch. It has everything to do with the condition of my heart. My heart, when left on its own, will drift back to dirty." I cannot think of any situation where such an attitude could be considered healthy, and that anyone would encourage people to think this way about themselves is heartbreaking, although I recognize that the people running the site are themselves victims of a cultural negativity towards women's sexuality.
The Dirty Girls site is gathering attention because it focuses on limiting women's sexuality at a time when women are finally being allowed and even encouraged to own their sexuality. The website caters to women, because women are "underserved," in the realm of treatment for perceived sexual addiction, but the core values are not just against women's enjoyment of sex (outside of the marital bed) but of everyone's enjoyment of it. The difference between this site and other's like it that are aimed at men is that it carries with it the weight of a long history of sexual oppression of women. The virgin/whore dichotomy is still a strong one in our culture. Women are expected to be sexual gatekeepers, controlling both their own and men's sexual behaviors. Presumably this is easier for women because women "enjoy," sex less. This belief, unfortunately, adds an additional level of guilt and feelings of being somehow "wrong," to women who experience strong sexual desires. I suspect the creator of the Dirty Girls site, Crystal Renaud, genuinely means well, but telling these women that yes, their desires are unnatural and need to be excised, as if sexuality was a minor flaw to be worked away and not an immutable part of a person's identity does them a horrible disservice.
Unfortunately, until the conservative Christian community learns to accept the full range of human sexual desire as natural and fine, too many women will seek this route rather than looking for a more sex-positive approach to dealing with their issues.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she's had a little whiskey.