Why do our heads explode when a woman treats sex in the same way as many men do? Why does the media get into an ecstatic froth? Why does the internet get even more excited that it does about a video of a squirrel on a skateboard wearing a cute hat?
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the events at a private school in Cape Town involving a teacher who allegedly had sexual relations with an 18-year-old learner aren’t who did what with whom and when, but our reaction to it. While the choice of sexual partners — let’s remember they all seem to have been adults — was without doubt unfortunate, the reality is that a woman had sex with what we deem an unacceptable number of men over a given period. As a result, her life may be ruined. But maybe all she actually did was behave like a man.
Many, many men will have sex with almost any women who agrees to do so. The reality is that most men will have sex with a pothole or an attractively-shaped hole in a tree if the pothole or tree seems in the slightest bit willing. Or if the pothole or tree is drunk and unconscious.
We seem not to consider this behaviour particularly remarkable. Indeed, we take it for granted. Sexual behaviour is predicated on the idea of men pursuing sex, and women saying no to it.
But it is remarkable that we judge women who have had many sexual partners so differently. There is no female equivalent for words such as “stud” or “lady’s man” or “Casanova”. Just like there is no male equivalent for a word like “slut”.
The geography of the sexual landscape means that on entering a nightclub, an attractive woman could, if she chose to, have sex with most of the men there just by winking and gesturing towards the toilet. A man would not get the same response from the women in the club.
This example demonstrates that our society is, to some extent, held together by women’s sexual urges being managed by a strict regime of shame and self-control.
If women behaved like men, our society would fall apart. People would be having sex at children’s birthday parties, during board meetings, in the road, and in air traffic control towers while planes plunge towards the ground — although people on those planes would probably be hammering away as they plummeted to their death.
Which kind of makes sense, actually.
So rather than vilify and gossip about the woman in question, we should devote that time and attention to looking at ourselves and our society. Would we devote this much time, attention and thrilled outrage to this story if the person who had had numerous sexual partners was a man? I suspect we wouldn’t. We would just dismiss it as typical male behaviour.
Indeed, in some circles, the man would be lauded as something of a heroic sexual over-achiever. Would he be offered a lucrative contract to be the spokesman for a cologne guaranteed to lure women to one’s bed? That might be a bit of a stretch. But the sad thing is it isn’t a huge one.
John Davenport is the chief creative officer at Havas, an advertising and communications company. These are his own views