The woman who 'slept her way to monogamy'

Ophira Eisenberg's new book, <i>Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy</i>.

Ophira Eisenberg's new book, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy.

During the Melbourne Writers Festival recently, I had the great pleasure of hosting a conversation with Canadian-turned-New Yorker Ophira Eisenberg. Eisenberg is a comedian and public radio host with a cracking wit and a killer hairdo.

She’s also boned a lot of dudes.

Eisenberg’s debut book, ‘Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy”, is an exceptionally funny memoir about her sexual history. Beginning with her first kiss on a dance floor at age 11 and ending with her unexpected marriage, it’s a beautiful journey through romantic and sexual exploration and how it has the potential to enrich a life. And what I loved so much about it was its refusal to apologise for or even address the idea that copious amounts of sex from a young age with lots of different partners will necessarily damage or break a woman.

Ophira Eisenberg

Ophira Eisenberg

From the outset, Eisenberg admits to having been fascinated by sex - both having it and embracing its many possibilities. Desperate to rid herself of the cumbersome virginity that stands in the way of her greater sexual escapades, she makes a pact with her best friend that sees her losing her virginity at 15 to a stranger on a bathroom sink. And - SPOILER! - the experience doesn’t shatter her self esteem or damage her for life. Rather, it emboldens her to continue exploring a world that’s suddenly opened up to her.

Some people might be shocked that such an episode could be spoken of so cavalierly, or even modelled as something that might have a positive impact.While the law acknowledges that 15-year-olds are not yet emotionally equipped to give informed consent (which is why sex with a minor is and always will be a crime) the reality is, that teenagers do have sex. And it's not helpful to cast teenage girls as gatekeepers to the ravenous sexual appetites of their indiscriminate male peers - all of whom are assumed to be incapable of viewing girls as whole human beings while being equally incapable of their own vulnerability. But because chastity belts are considered relics of a medieval age, we place caveats on the kinds of sex girls ‘should’ be having. Respectful. Gentle. Perhaps surrounded by candlelight with Boyz II Men’s Greatest Hits playing in the background.

The justification for most of that is the idea that sex is some kind of sacred ritual that has the power to irrevocably damage girls, because it’s assumed they enter into it lacking any kind of agency or power. Respect should be part and parcel of any sexual encounter, but perpetuating the idea that girls and women are automatically passive is a large part of the problem.

Reading Eisenberg’s book, I never got the sense that her experiences weren’t fully driven by her or welcomed, even when they were less than satisfying (as sex occasionally is). Physical pleasure is just one part of the reason why humans boink - it’s also not the only thing that provides satisfaction. My own sexual experience might best be described as ‘moderately colourful’, and I know that many of things I reflect on fondly or with interest have little to do with the sex itself but more to do with how they fed a boldness in me or emotional growth.

If there are any lessons to be imparted by Eisenberg’s memoir, they are perhaps these.

1. Sex on the beach is scratchy, and uncomfortable;

2. Haitian love spells do not work, and;

3. Even relationships that end badly are meaningful, and nothing can take that away from you - not even finding yourself stuck next to them for hours on an international flight.

What you will not take away is any combination of the following.

1. Losing your virginity to a stranger will irrevocably damage you for life;

2. Sex is bad and women only have it in order to secure love; and

3. When you meet ‘The One’, both you and they will regret your colourful sexual history and increasingly resent you for it.

The idea that we might regret our choices so deeply that they cause irreparable scarring is ludicrous. The sexual lives of girls and women are full of victories, mistakes and moments we might even forget entirely. Even the ones that cause us to curl up in bed randomly, groan-laughing as we remember drunkenly attempting to give a wristy while an entire pub watched, are fodder for great stories. It is violation and abuse that harms women, not sex itself. And by not properly arming girls to be empowered by their sexual choices and desire, we make it easier for the more common examples of sexual coercion and inequality to occur.

Empowering girls sexually has everything to do with empowering them to make their own decisions and be confident enough to pursue what they want - even if that means sometimes saying yes to situations that make other people uncomfortable. Eisbenberg’s memoir is a perfect example of this. By refusing to engage with the narrative of slut-shaming, she provides an exemplary model for how we can actually create a generation of girls able to say no AND yes in equal measure, and understand that such things simply don’t have the power to destroy them.

 

30 comments

  • i wanna read this book! i met the one, he's pretty great. I haven't even thought about how many women he's had sex with, and he's never asked me to detail my sexual history for him (if 'guy in toilets at horrible bar while wasted at 22' is even an accepted moniker i'm not sure). Do people even still have THAT talk anymore? archaic. I like that books like this are out there, we're all different, and if you have a story and can tell it well, I'm keen to read it.

    Commenter
    carolne
    Date and time
    September 04, 2013, 5:37AM
    • Applause to Ms Eisenberg. I feel like her story is my story. The older I've become, the more shocked I've been at the re-advent of slut shaming aganst women who have rich, active sexual histories. This didn't seem to be an issue in the 90s but sure seems like one now. Blessings upon you Ophira!!

      Commenter
      The Big O!
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      September 04, 2013, 8:54AM
      • No people don't do that anymore, the cry that women can have sex with whomsoever they please is met with a shrug.

        Feminism is looking for traditional boundaries where there are none.

        Commenter
        Eyes are rolling
        Date and time
        September 04, 2013, 9:00AM
        • What you call 'slut shaming' is just a moral judgement. This will always happen. Always!
          As long as people have different values they will judge each other.

          I for one would not likely associate with a girl proud of giving wristies while the whole pub watched. At the same time i would not associate with a guy doing the same thing to a girl while the whole pub watched. It's just about values.

          The catch cry "do what you want, whenever you want" may seem like a good idea... until you realise their are consequences (and there will be).

          Commenter
          cranky
          Location
          pants
          Date and time
          September 04, 2013, 9:39AM
          • How would you know? It's likely that a number of the women in your acquaintance have done things you wouldn't approve of. And while they may not be proud of them, they may also not be ashamed preferring instead to see these incidents as things that happened that have no lasting impact on their worth as a person.

            Commenter
            Clementine Ford
            Location
            Melbourne
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 10:47AM
          • Yes, but don't call a woman a slut if she's had more than 5 sexual partners and you've had 20. It's the double-standard that's the problem.

            Commenter
            Ripley
            Location
            Hunting Aliens
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 11:00AM
          • Cranky, you are clearly not familiar with the current generation of young girls. Slut shaming is not a moral judgement! It rarely has anything to do with reality, morals, values or ethics. It's usually a veiled way to demean a girl for whatever supposed crime she's committed, sexually-related or not, by suggesting her sexuality is shameful. A girl might call another girl a slut for wearing red lipstick. Now really, where's the *moral* judgement there?

            Commenter
            TDS
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 11:24AM
          • What are the consequences, Cranky?

            As a woman who had a varied and most enjoyable sex life in my younger years I have not yet had any negative consequences.

            I had many mutually enjoyable sexual encounters with many lovely men. I also had fulfilling long term relationships and raised two gorgeous girls who are also comfortable with their sexuality and happy in their relationships. .

            I'm now aged 55 and widowed. I have many fond memories of my earlier years and have never felt any shame or embarrassment. Quite the opposite. And I have remained friends with some of the young men I once 'knew'.

            Commenter
            Sunshine
            Location
            ACT
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 12:42PM
          • "And while they may not be proud of them, they may also not be ashamed preferring instead to see these incidents as things that happened that have no lasting impact on their worth as a person."
            In the case of a workmate or casual acquaintance that is fair enough, but a long-term/lifetime relationship is a different story. It is a partnership, so it is not just one person's decision to make as to whether an event relates to who they are as a person or not.

            Plus, if they actually see a past event as something not to be ashamed of, then why would they feel the need to not dicsuss it with somebody they consider to be 'The One', who accepts them for who they are? Unless:
            - They are scared that 'The One' will not agree with their view of the event. In which case, depending on how much their view differs, the likelihood of them actually being 'The One' is lessened.
            - They actually are ashamed of their past actions, no matter how much they claim they are not.

            Commenter
            Markus
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 1:11PM
          • @Clem. There is a difference between things you once did and things you do now. People change. Only you have to deal with your worth as person. Only you can define it. FWIW, i have done things i am ashamed of. Im my eyes they did have lasting impact on MY OWN worth as a person.

            @Ripley. Agree. Double standard is not OK. BUT i would say that some girls these days take promiscuity to a new level.... in the name of feminism.

            @TDS. So... it's just like a swear word now? OK. Sure.
            Doesn't seem like it is that bad then,

            @Sunshine. There are consequences to everything we do. In regards to sex, there are STDs, pregnancy, abortion. There are reputations, there is honour. Ever heard of Muslim honour killings? I am not saying that these consequences are deserved or not.... just that they exist.

            Commenter
            cranky
            Location
            pants
            Date and time
            September 04, 2013, 1:13PM

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