“O” no thanks

When you are wondering along the beach with your kids this summer and you see the I-Scream van be sure to take your kids along for a free ice cream? What topping would they like? Raspberry Ripple favoured lube, or Toffee Apple flavoured lube? If you can persuade them to perform an orgasm face then post it on Facebook they could win £200 of Sexy Goodies. Yes, Ann Summers, in its usual pursuit of good taste is taking a tour with an ice cream van, where is is offering free ice cream with flavoured lube. And offering incentives to people to perform sex faces. And when we say people, let’s be honest, it’s women. Ann Summers markets itself towards women.

When I first started writing this post I wrote a few paragraphs to head off any accusations of prudery or being a dried up old prune. But I deleted what I wrote because I really shouldn’t have to list my own sexual proclivities in order to be able to criticise a high street marketing campaign which infantilises an adult activity and encourages the exploitation of women.

Sex is fun, but it is also a serious business with many emotions attached to it. In my younger years I was quite taken with Ann Summers as a shop. I thought that having a shop on the high street where you could pop in and pick up a new vibrator on your way back home was great and enlightened, normalising sex and empowering women. Now my view has completely changed. Instead of normalising sex I think Ann Summers cheapens it, with their tacky underwear, poor quality vibrators and disgusting edible lubricants. Rather than empower women to have control of their own sexuality, it portrays a sexual environment where women feel they should changing their behaviour to please men, whether that is by dressing up, using bondage gear or this BJ strap. Not particularly empowering is it? The mainstreaming of this sort of shop creates expectations of sexually permissive behaviour, women, and even girls, feel they have to live up to the naughty nurse, or saucy air hostess fantasy instead of just enjoying loving, mutually satisfactory sex.

But the very worst thing about this campaign for me is the enticement for girls to win a goody bag full of Ann Summers tat if they just take a picture of themselves making an “O face” i.e. a picture of themselves pretending to orgasm, then posting it to Facebook to be rated. So not only are they to be exploited by posing like a porn star, but they are then to be judged on the quality of their pose. I wonder what makes a good orgasm face? Presumably as close to a porn star as possible, seeing as it likely that the people who will vote on this particular portrait gallery will never have seen a woman orgasm in real life.

I wonder at the women who want to share these sort of pictures with friends, family and strangers. Like my just woken up look, when my sleep wrinkles are trying to unstick themselves (which is sadly taking longer and longer these days), my expression when engaged in orgasm is a sight I would only want to share with my partner. The women and girls who will end up taking part in this Britain’s Got Pornstars competition are a product of today’s society. The media is full of girls who’s only achievements are to have slept with a celebrity, or parade about in skimpy clothes. Like a naughty child who acts up when they realise they only get attention for behaving badly, these girls get the message that they will only be valued for who they sleep with and how they look. So they dress in what they think is the male fantasy, and act out the male sexual fantasy, or whatever it is that will get them the attention they desire.

We as a society need to start proving that we value women as more than just sexual objects. We need to give them more to aspire to than life as “that girl who slept with a footballer then went on Celebrity Big Brother”. Only then can they have confidence in who they really are and have a sexual relationship that they really want, with someone who respects them, and not feel the need to feed into the sordid, misogynistic view of sex that Ann Summers promotes.

I think women being open about sex with each other and with their partners is a good thing. But there is a difference between being open about sex and being public about it. I don’t want to have to explain to my 4 year old why she can’t have an ice cream from the van peddling cheap sexual expectations. By the same token, I think anyone engaging in sex should be mature enough not to need an ice cream van reminiscent of their childhood to explore their sexuality. Finally, I think Ann Summers should really think about what they are asking of the women who they want to pose with their “O face” and realise how demeaning an exploitative it is. Of course women are mostly free to make their own choices and could choose not to, but these choices are not made in a societal vacuum, and we have created a society where people think this sort of behaviour is except able, and even to be expected. I hope anyone with a sense of integrity realises that it isn’t. I implore you to stop shopping in Ann Summers, the shop that thinks a strap with which men can control a women giving him a blow job is acceptable and even empowering. Stop buying the ridiculous magazines and the Daily Mail, which celebrate women as objects of desire or ridicule depending on their face, body or dress. Teach your sons and daughters that sex is wonderful, and should be explored with someone you trust, and not Ann Summers or Facebook.

UPDATE: I can’t embed linky blog hops in WordPress but please take a look at this blog hop at Salt & Caramel for more great posts on this topic.