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Would Celebrating Female Sexuality Help to Reduce Levels of Sexual Violence and Rape?

13/03/2014 17:10 GMT | Updated 13/05/2014 10:59 BST

To put me in the festive spirit this Christmas, one of my best friends very kindly bought me a book about rape. To many, so much as an utterance of this word can bring even casual conversations between the closest of friends to an awkward and abrupt halt (unless it's a rape joke told by an intellectually-stunted dude of course, in which case, haha! More of that please!) But for me, this was a subject that I was in equal measure interested in and appalled by, so it was pretty much the perfect gift. Plus, I figured given how uncomfortable the subject made people feel, it was the perfect tool to keep people away from me on the tube.

The book (Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape) was a collection of essays so there were many different viewpoints on this important issue - but the main idea that really stuck with me was the notion that rape and sexual assault against women could potentially be reduced if females were granted more autonomy over their own sexuality. If instead of feeling like they had to wait a set number of dates to 'give it up' - to protect some intangible concept of virginity and/or purity - they could just follow their desire and have sex exactly when they wanted to.

Of course, women can technically have casual sex whenever they want. There's no law against it. But there is a deep-seated societal disapproval, which arguably, is just as powerful a deterrent.

Unlike men, women who have a lot of casual sex may will have to worry about the negative repercussions of being called a 'slut' or a 'whore' (words for which, it's worth adding, there are no male counterparts), because heaven forbid, a woman should dare to show active desire outside of a committed relationship.

It's hard, if not downright impossible, to imagine a woman winning the Sun's ever so prestigious Shagger of the Year award as Russell Brand did three years in a row. While the title is presumably a joke, there is a glorifying factor to it that would never be celebrated in mainstream culture if it were attached to a woman. Female sexuality is to be disparaged, not encouraged.

This double standard creates the 'good girl'/'bad girl' binary which has policed women's sexuality for centuries. If you give it up, you're a bad girl. If you save yourself, you're a good girl. And by making women feel like they should deny a male's advances in order to be seen as a 'good girl', the very damaging idea is being bred that even when women say 'no', they really mean 'yes'; the guy just has to be persistent enough to break down her sweet little faux-decline. This dynamic could very easily facilitate rape if when the girl is saying 'no', astonishingly, she actually really means 'NO'.

As well as women saying 'no' and hopefully being respected and listened to if and when they choose to do so, what also needs to be respected is a woman's right to enthusiastically say 'YES!' without shame, without guilt, and without stigma.

But for that to happen, the continued and quite frankly pre-historic idea that women are only passive objects of desire rather than active, desiring beings, needs to change. While words like 'slut' still exist to reinforce the idea that women who want to have multiple sexual partners are no good, the idea of enthusiastic consent is still, infuriatingly, a hard concept to imagine.