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Women’s liberation has come a long way since the birth of the pill and the bra-burning days of the ’60s.
Now, we keep condoms in our nightstand and have a full arsenal of lingerie fit for almost any occasion — including the occasional one-night stand.
But as more young women unhook their bras, Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love And Lose At Both, worries they may risk unhinging much more than a pushup.
In her book, where she follows the lives of several high school and university women over one academic year, Stepp argues that as women in their late teens and into their 20s are hooking up — which can mean anything from a lipped-locked encounter on the dance floor to wake-the-neighbours sexual interludes — they are damaging their emotional and physical health, as well as their ability to be in a healthy, lasting relationship. But sex among young women is nothing new and even Stepp is willing to admit that.
“It’s not just that girls are more aggressive in their sexuality,” says Stepp. “That’s been going on and off for years. It’s the whole idea of what sex means and whether it is part of a committed relationship or whether it’s a substitute for a relationship.”
Hookups, she says, can become damaging to a woman’s self-esteem “if it becomes a pattern of behaviour … What I think a lot of girls are doing is saying, ‘This is just sex,’ but then they are checking their cellphones the next day. So, it’s clearly more than just sex. If you do this over and over again you are suppressing those natural feelings of connectivity.”
She says we are focussing on casual sex rather than love because committed relationships are messy and time-consuming and women of this generation would prefer to spend their time on their careers and girlfriends than finding the right mate.
Stepp is right. Our priorities have changed since the days when women simply went to college to find a mate. But then again that is no longer the purpose of our education. And although this generation may be delaying love (sorry, we’ve got a lot on our plates) I don’t believe we’re doing it at the expense of love. Just look at the divorce rates — statistically, people who get married in their late 20s or early 30s are less likely to get divorced. All we’re doing is making sure we’ve got a partner we can truly love and trust, and perhaps having a little sexual gratification along the way. We’re exploring our sexuality. Full stop. And unlike Stepp, I think we can handle it.