Sex and the Walk of Shame

“After I’ve just gotten laid, the first thing I think about is that I can’t wait to tell my crew who I just did. Omigod, they’re not going to believe I just did Kristy. They’ll all be high-fiving me.”

Guys routinely celebrate having sex. The messages they give each other pretty much translate to, “Sex is great! And more is better!”

But what do women hear?

After anticipating “high-fives” for his sexual success, the young man above adds: “And Kristy? She’ll probably ask me not to tell anyone, to protect her reputation.”

Men and women receive very different messages about sex.

In fact, the term “hookup” is deliberately ambiguous. It can mean anything from kissing to intercourse. So if a guy says he hooked up, he’s hoping other guys think he went “all the way.” But if a girl hooks up, she hopes her friends hear, “I kissed him.”

At one northeastern college, men returning to the fraternities after a night at the dorms are said to be strolling the Walk of Fame. But women returning to the dorms from a frat are taking the Walk of Shame.

A few years back a fraternity at Dartmouth published the names of all of the women the brothers had had sex with, making disparaging comments about them.

Is sex something to avoid? Something dirty? Or something to pursue with a vengeance? It all depends on whether you’re male of female.

When it comes to sex, men are celebrated but women risk punishment.

Many think sexual repression is not a problem in our society – that these notions never reach the subconscious. Yet women can come to turn off sexual feeling, whether they realize it or not. Not feeling can be safer.

Sex therapist, Lonnie Barbach, says that highly repressive societies create women who have difficulty climaxing, while women in non-repressive societies have regular and satisfactory orgasms.

In 1972, when women were more penalized than they are today, a Playboy Foundation survey found that more than half of single women under age 25 found their first sexual experience neutral or unpleasant. Only 20% found sex highly pleasurable.

Things may not be as bad today. Indiana University’s recently released sex survey found that 58% of women in their 20s had had an orgasm the last time they had sex. But when that compares with 96% of their male counterparts, we see the tell-tale signs of continuing repression.

But really, should we be surprised?

Men who slut-shame don’t seem too worried that women won’t enjoy sex with them. After watching sex-craved porn stars, and thinking that accurately reflects women’s sexuality, perhaps they assume women can’t help but come back for more. No matter what.

Some will interpret my observation that men are more sex-positive and more promiscuous as prescribing male behavior to everyone. As one reader put it, “But I don’t want to run around like a tart!”

Actually, I want to have a conversation about the positives and negatives of so-called men’s and women’s ways of doing sex. It is certainly not better to treat people like currency – the more you bang the higher your status. But what can women learn from men, and what can men learn from women?

Related posts on BroadBlogs
“Cock” vs “Down There”
Sex: Who Gets Screwed?
Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 6, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. This blog post is so true, on how men are praised when they have sex and women are looked at in a shameful way. It goes to show how in that way men still degrade women, even if it’s more of a cultural acceptance to be “cool’ with his friends. I believe that It shouldn’t be that way even though men and women have orgasms differently it shouldn’t be a walk of shame for a woman. Women have always been looked at as a nurturer for their children and a sex symbol and men have been associated with selfishness. Those views that history has drilled in us are the reason why the walk of shame exists. Men are phased with porn and in real-life sex, people don’t have sex like they do in porn its more of an imaginary sex life for men.

  2. This seems to go along with the idea of sex being more of a bragging right for men, yet women often risk judgement. Men are glorified in this “hookup culture” and women are labeled promiscuous. Great example about “Walk of Fame” (men) vs. “Walk of Shame” (women). Furthermore, we have men who slut shame and perpetuate the cycle.

    I think it would be helpful if sex could be looked at as less of a “prize” or bragging right and more of a positive thing. The stigma around sex and “the walk of shame” shouldn’t be seen one way for women (negative) and a high five matter for men (the walk of “fame”). No one wants to be labeled and especially not in a negative way, so why should this be labeling be so normalized for women but men receive a different type of acknowledgement? This labeling contributes to the stereotype and women are continued to bear the brunt of the shame.

  3. This is way too true, and starts at an early age. In middle school, when some kids become sexually active, the boys are praised for “getting their nut” or being the most “advanced” kid in the class. Girls, on the other hand, maybe get congratulated for having their first kiss but everything beyond that is shamed by their classmates and words like slut are thrown around.

    Thinking about the double standard for men and women, I wish I could say I am defying it but in reality, I am enforcing it. At my college, I live with my best friend and our two best guy friends. Whenever our male roommates have girls over they boast about it and we even give them a high-five for having a girl over that they have been interested in for a while. When my best friend or I, two college girls, have a boy over, we often try not to tell them or if we go to a guys place we try to keep it hush. Maybe it is part of their protective, brotherly nature, or maybe it is because girls shouldn’t “sleep around” but I have never once experienced them in support or “proud” of us for hanging out with a boy. Usually there are a few critical comments and then the topic is never brought up again. I have never boasted about a personal sexual experience or felt like it was an accomplishment, I always try to keep it under wraps out of fear of judgment.

  4. This unfortunately is all too true. For years women have been stigmatized for having sex and having that “walk of shame” the next morning meanwhile guys get congratulated for doing the deed. It’s far too one sided and really sad to be quite honest. Why can two consenting parties have sex and have nothing bragged about or taunted about after? The fact that sex is still very taboo in this age is part of the problem. Sex and sexual activity needs to be normalized so these stigmas can cease to exist. Sexual conversations among women especially should be talked about more often and more openly so we as women don’t have to feel like there’s a scarlet letter ingrained on us.

  5. I think that this idea of the Walk of Fame versus the Walk of Shame points to a bigger problem in society that affects women in nearly an infinite amount of aspects: the double standard. Men are generally praised for things that women are shamed for, which is exemplified in this post. Women are shamed for drinking too much and “being slutty”, whereas men challenge each other to drinking until they are belligerent and are given an ego boost from their buddies for barely making it through the night. I am quite frankly not surprised that women experience greater sexual pleasure and orgasm more often in societies that do not shame them for being sexually expressive. This also points to another bigger social problem that men orgasm exponentially more often than women do. Granted, part of the problem is that women subconsciously feel shamed for having sex outside of a relationship due to societal standards, but it may also have to do with men viewing women as tools to their pleasure, and sex not being an act of give-and-take.

    • Yes, I agree with all of that. And even when men aren’t purposefully treating women like sex objects our society treats women like they are so that oftentimes women are more focused on how they can be pleasing o their partners, rather than pleasing themselves. (Which makes sex even more of a chore, and makes them lose interest.) Yet their partners would probably rather women enjoy sex – Most men anyway.

  6. I have to agree, most of the time men brag about having sex and having sex often they are praised by their peers and are seen as “cool” or “players” something that is praised. However, is a woman where to do the same thing she would be called a “slut” or “whore” something very negative compared to their male peers. And the fraternity posting the names of all the women the men slept with is a violation of privacy and just their way to brag what and who they’ve done. I don’t understand why our society worships men for having sex ad having many partners but shame women for doing the same thing.

    • The double standard doesn’t make any sense in a logical way– Unless you are looking at patriarchy. If you want to make women feel disempowered and shameful, A double standard works really well.

  7. When it comes to sex men and women receive very different messages about sex. For example, like mentioned in the text men are celebrated but women risk punishment when dealing/having sex. In other words, woman should be innocent and pure and shouldn’t be sleeping around while men are praised for sleeping around. This concept creates a double standard, which should be removed because it puts down women and judges them while it does the total opposite for men. It can been seen more with college students, whether or not the woman is pleased/fulfilled men still brag about whom they’ve slept with. When it comes to the walk of shame is seems normal for men to do but for women they are easily judged. This then can connect to men and women having one night stands and how men and women are seen by society. But just like the walk of shame results, the results will be the same for one night stands.

  8. It seems not surprise at all to me imagining how would I react in the scenario the post describes while reading, even as a female. Neither do I feel like to be considered as a girl tends to connect with guys sexually, nor am I willing to do so. I would definitely prefer my friends say “wow you kiss him” rather than “oh you two had sex” and the reason for this preference remains unclear. Maybe the former one sounds much more romantic because kissing scene has been portrait in media in such a way. While two people kiss, the kiss puts them at an equal status: no matter he kisses her or she kisses him. Both of them do the same thing and neither “gives more” than the other does. But there is a different story while sexual intercourse happens between a man and a woman. People tend to consider the man “gains” something (maybe the dominance over the woman, the possession of the woman’s body, or virginity, etc.) from the woman but things don’t work on the contrary. The woman is implicitly attached to the man whom she had sex with, noticing that she will be seen as promiscuous woman if she is found to have sex with other different persons. Isn’t that ridiculous? Ironically, persons who think it does make sense at all hardly risk breaking this stereotype by exposing the real number of their partners.

  9. There are always going to be double standards especially in the age area that people are in college. Many guys are proud that they have as much sex as they “claim” to have because it’s been showed in our culture that it is something that should be awarded. However, in the case of a woman, if she proclaimed as much sex as she did have thenher reputation would be received that she is a “slut”. Hence the double standard. It’s unfair that we still live in an era that as openly it is about sex, this double standard still exists. Women would probably enjoy sex more if they weren’t so influenced about the outside world as well as the media. They would probably be more likely to have an orgasm if they weren’t so put down by society that men and their pleasures come first. Speaking from my own experiences I feel that I enjoy sex more when I’m comfortable with my partner and he makes me feel amazing with my body, looks, and if I’m pleasured. Thinking of a recent experience I had with a guy, it was probably the worst sex I’ve ever ha because I was obsessed with how hot he was that I was completely thinking if he was pleasured and what I could do to make the sex hot that I completely forgot about my needs. After reading this post and discussing it in class it helped me get some clarity on why I hadn’t enjoyed it and that in my case me and my partner should be equal in pleasuring each other.

  10. That women find their first sexual experience neutral doesn’t surprise me at all. What we learn in school and through media is that the sex (which is also always referred to as heterosexual sex) lasts until the man gets an orgasm. Men are not taught to make sure that the woman can come too, and women are taught not to ask about it.

    No one should feel ashamed about enjoying sex. I wonder when a women’s sexual pleasure is going to be seen as a great thing. I mean, if you think about it, a woman’s orgasm should be preferable, because then one doesn’t even need to worry about the risk of getting pregnant. In a society of equality, both women and men should be able to ask for sex, and take the first step without being judged.

    What women can learn from men: talk about sex as a good thing, and encourage female friends to have more sex. What men can learn from women: how to find the clitoris.

  11. I can’t say I have ever high-fived one of my friends after recounting a sexual encounter (in fact I cant say I have experienced men sharing any information of sexual encounters) but I can recognise a sometimes underlying sense of shame (thankfully not very often) after two parties have had sexual encounters. I often think this can be related to feelings of inadequacy / confusion / shyness on the male side which results in some really poor communication and I think that men need to really step up to the plate on this and be more brave when they are with someone regardless of how long that is for.

    It is always deeply unpleasant when anyone is labelled negatively with regards to their enjoyment of sex, or enjoyment of not having sex. As for being uneducated about the sexual experiences of female partners I think this is often a communication issue that can get better with time and which also goes both ways.

  12. This blog post is relevant to some experiences I have seen in college. Many of my girlfriends are called “whores, sluts, hoes…” because they are sexually active. It is not right that guys are celebrating their sexual encounters while girls are ashamed and embarrassed. This leads to their “walk of shame.” I found it interesting, yet disturbing when it mentions that this sexual repression for females affects their subconscious negatively. It is incredible how uneducated men are in regards to the sexual experiences of their female partner. They cannot assume that what they see in porn is exactly what women want, just as this blog mentions.

    • Megan, I’ve been through my own flatmates making a joke out of the fact I spent the night at guys’ houses. I was perfectly happy with what I was doing, having a great time, exploring who I was. I wasn’t there to be judged by them because I was enjoying myself, and I found the supposed “Walk of Shame” funny, (mostly) women glaring at you because it’s supposedly uncouth for a woman to have spent a night outwith her own bed, alone and unsatisfied.

      If anybody wants to judge me, they can feel free. I felt like what I was called by my flatmates was them expressing their jealousy (not one of the single girls in my flat so much as kissed a guy in the 9 months I lived with them).

      • Great comment!

        As a guy you might think I’m out of the loop on this one, but I wear dresses most of the time (they’re just more comfortable, pretty and, yes, arousing) and often walk down the [everywhere] and feel like everyone is judging me, which I find funny and enjoyable because they are comparing themselves to me, or me to they’re gay friend, or just hating on me in their mind over and over because I walk by and smile at them. I’m not sure why I enjoy wearing dresses exactly, the reasons are numerous and fluctuating, but I do know I love it and never want to stop.

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