Two weeks ago, I found myself at a long hostel table with a handful of other travelers, sharing a pitcher of cheap sangria and talking to a Brooklyn hipster about what I was doing in France. Or more specifically, who I was doing.
"When else are you going to have an opportunity like this?" he asked. "You're young and you're surrounded by hot French guys. Take advantage of it!" When I responded that navigating sex and relationships is different here than in the States and described the guys my friends had hooked up with—the ones who used the word "girlfriend" within a week, the ones who had kept texting long after they should have gotten the message that it wasn't going to happen—he brushed off my excuses. "So give them a fake number!"
Actual image search result for "French men" [Source]
He's not the only one, of course. A friend who left to return home in December sends me Facebook messages every so often, asking me if I've slept with a French guy yet. When I hang out with other students here, the topic often turns to our adventures in love and lust, and I can never decide if I'm just imagining the awkwardness when it turns out that I'm the only one who didn't go home with someone the weekend before. I remember one moment back in September, when two of my friends were talking about their Friday night plans and one mentioned that she hadn't had sex in a whole month. "A month?" The other responded. "It's been, like, six weeks for me!"
I didn't mention that my dry spell and I had just passed our two year anniversary. Nor, for that matter, did I bring up—then or ever—that my "number" was (and still is) 1, and that the closest I'd come to sexual activity since my high school boyfriend and I broke up was when a friend drunkenly (but with permission) groped my boobs in the basement at a College Dems party.
I can't point to any one reason for this. It's not that I have a problem with sex. Even in middle school, I refused to buy into the idea that being a good person required me to keep my legs shut. (It was a little tough to be vehemently opposed to premarital sex given that I was the flower girl at my parents' wedding.) I'm not religious. I'm not a virgin, waiting for "the right time" before I let my gift ship sail. As a feminist, I'll unwaveringly defend a woman's right to sleep with every guy on the block—or every gal—if she so chooses.
Yet it often seems that, as an Empowered Modern Feminist™, I'm expected to choose that path. Girls are taught from an early age to be "pure," to save ourselves for The One and to put some vague notion of virtue before our own happiness as an individual. Feminism rejects that notion, and it seems only logical that to fully reject the purity myth we must act against it, spearheading the revolution with our unshaven crotches. To do otherwise is to uphold the status quo, to contribute to our own oppression, and to give in to a system that denies us our full autonomy.
But that is, from where I stand, just as bad. I will not be told that I must do something with my body. It makes little difference to me who is doing the telling. Regardless of whether the message comes from the patriarchy or from within the feminist ranks, it boils down to the same point: My choices are not mine to make. My desires are irrelevant in the light of the greater good.
That's bullshit. You cannot preach consent and then turn around and tell me to do something I'm not comfortable with. My feminism is one in which my actions are dependent upon my happiness. They should not harm others, but acting in a patriarchy-approved manner is not inherently harmful. My feminism is Choice Feminism. My feminism is one that allows me to live the life that makes me comfortable, rather than causing one that causes me further unhappiness. My feminism is one in which "I don't want to" is a good enough reason.
As a feminist, I reserve the right to keep my legs shut—or not. I will not push my own limits to make a point, any more than I will change my behavior at a bar or cut my hair to stick it to the patriarchy.
When I finally headed upstairs to bed at the end of that night two weeks ago, my new hipster friend made me promise to "live a little" for the rest of my time abroad. And I will: I have travelling to do, pictures to take, and delicious cheeses to eat. But sex? Maybe I will, maybe I won't. Either way, it's not up to him—it's my choice to make, and mine alone.