A brilliant post by Belle Waring (but I repeat myself) about the crude reductionism and misogynist (and, for that matter, misandrist) double standards of Laura Sessions Stepp and her even more reactionary admirers. This is as good a summary as you can find:
It always goes back to two points: a strong belief that men are slavering idiots ruled by the tyrannical and capricious whims of their cocks, and a deep conviction women don’t like having sex. The first point is something which, as many have pointed out, is a much bleaker condemnation of men than anything you are likely to get from an actual feminist…The second point, that women don’t like sex, is an undercurrent in every discussion of this type. Not even an undercurrent: a foundation stone for the whole creaky apparatus.
I’ve discussed this before with respect to Leon Kass, who takes this well beyond the point of self-parody, but this is exactly correct: unless you assume that women don’t really like sex, but use it strictly as a tool to get material things from men who are apparently assumed to have no interest in female companionship and the solace of long-term relationships otherwise, the whole argument fails. Which, given that these arguments are in fact transparently false, is kind of a problem. And even if one assumes that in these particular social conditions men, on average, have a greater interest in casual sex (which is far less than is necessary if you’re going to argue that casual sex is bad for women), as Belle says there’s no reason whatsoever to assume that this is a natural condition. We don’t know how women would act in conditions of gender equality because nothing remotely like this exists. “What would a world look like in which women who had sex whenever and with whomever they want were never called sluts? Never judged by strangers and friends? What would it be like if girls were never told that they had to be gatekeepers for their bodies, defenders of castle walls that are always under assault by men wanting sex? Not to put too fine a point on it, what would the world be like if there wasn’t the pervasive threat of sexual violence?” All excellent questions, and ones that Stepp and Douthat would prefer remain unasked.
A couple of additional points. First, staunch feminist Ann Althouse, seemingly untroubled by Stepp’s egregious double standards and profoundly reactionary conceptions of gender and sexuality, claims that Stepp “irks some critics who don’t want to hear that casual sex may hurt a young woman’s heart.” The first problem is discussed above: maybe, just maybe, some of thus hurt is caused by the fact that women who engage in casual hook-ups are often stigmatized in ways that men aren’t. But, in addition, of course casual hookups can “hurt someone’s heart.” You know what else can hurt a young woman’s heart? Marriage. Long-term relationships. Not getting laid at all. You know can also experience emotional trauma from all of these things? Men. Nobody’s saying that freedom and equality means a world free from pain. Freedom and equality means being free to make good and bad choices, to experiment is ways that will sometimes go well and sometimes not. I don’t think most people think that casual hookups are unproblematic; rather, I think that they judge that in many cases it’s preferable to celibacy or committing to a life-long committed relationship when you’re 20. This strikes me as a quite reasonable thing to believe.
The second thing I don’t understand about this argument is the strange either/or assumptions it makes about people’s romantic and sexual lives. Stepp seems to think that people can choose love or uncommitted sexuality, hookups or Serious Relationships. But there’s no reason whatsoever that people–even women!–can’t do both of these things. Really, people want different things at different stages of life. Once you get beyond crackpot assumptions about female sexuality being some sort of scarce resource that must be dispensed only with the greatest gravity, it’s really not hard to understand this.
…UPDATE: Based on comments, I think it’s worth repeating Stepp’s metaphor: “Your body is your property. . . . Think about the first home you hope to own. You wouldn’t want someone to throw a rock through the front window, would you?” In other words, she’s not talking about individual cases of women being pressured into sex (and, as Lesley says in comments, it’s not as if shaming women somehow causes this pressure to vanish, and as zuzu says it’s not as if they’re aren’t countervailing pressures), but she’s making an a priori assumption that casual sex is something men want, women are the gatekeepers of, and are inherently damaging themselves by consenting to. I’m sorry, but no productive discussion is going to proceed from these assumptions.