Girls behaving badly

Posted: Feb 16, 2005 12:00 AM

If you watch a lot of cable television, you've probably seen the ads, especially late at night or early in the morning. The "Girls Gone Wild" videos promise to show you coeds behaving badly on the beach during Spring Break or getting down and dirty at Mardi Gras. The formula is simple: find a group of nubile young things drunk out of their heads and induce them to pull up their T-shirts or pull down their shorts and expose themselves to anyone willing to fork over $19.95 for the privilege. The most recent incarnation features gangster rapper Snoop Dogg hawking fresh, young flesh.

 Call me old-fashioned, but I just can't imagine what these girls were thinking when they agreed to "show off their assets," as one knock-off video boasts. These young women aren't pros -- they are not part of the pornographic underworld -- but ordinary teens and twenty-somethings who one day will be wives and mothers. One young girl, who was 17 at the time she allowed herself to be photographed topless, has already sued the producers of "The Guy Game," a video game featuring females in various stages of undress. Her suit claims she did not give a "valid or enforceable consent or release" for photos to be used by the video game makers. "Plaintiff is still a teenager and wishes to attend college, develop her career and be active in her community and church." Good luck.

 What is most shocking about this phenomenon is that we're not all that shocked by it. Modesty used to be considered a natural female attribute. No more. Just take a look around next time you're at the mall. With warm weather on the way, belly buttons will be popping out everywhere, and thighs will be very much on display, even in church. Back in the day, a pair of tight jeans was enough to earn a girl a bad reputation. Now slutty has gone Main Street.

 A recent report by the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) -- "Sex (Ms.) Education: What Young Women Need to Know (But Won't Hear in Women's Studies) About Sex, Love, and Marriage" -- suggests that feminism is at least partly to blame. Female sexual license has become a central tenet in modern feminism, as the IWF documents in its study of feminist academic literature. Popular feminist textbooks, notes the study's author Carrie Lukas, "celebrate feminism's role in changing social mores by increasing the recognition of women's sexuality, bolstering its acceptance, and encouraging greater access to birth control." Early feminists burned their bras as a symbol of their liberation. Could baring their breasts be the newest symbolic act of young feminists?

 As Lukas demonstrates, however, libertine behavior exacts a heavier toll on females than males. Women are more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases than men, for example. A woman is eight times more likely than a man to contract HIV from a single sexual encounter and four times more likely to get gonorrhea when exposed. Women are also more likely to suffer serious damage, such as sterility or cervical cancer, from STDs. And the risks are not just physical.

 Many studies show that promiscuous behavior entails greater psychological costs for even the most "liberated" women. One anthropologist cited by Lukas hypothesizes that the uncomfortable feelings many women experience after casual sexual encounters may be a warning system for women not to engage in behavior that would have been "maladaptive in earlier evolutionary eras. Casual sex with men unwilling to invest in them or their offspring is a prime instigator of such negative feelings."

 The girls baring all in these low-budget videos may think that guys like this kind of behavior. But as Steven E. Rhoads, author of "Taking Sex Differences Seriously" notes, "Men often prize promiscuous sex in the short term, but they want faithful wives. . . . If a man finds a woman hard to get, he will sense that she is more likely to be faithful after marriage." Plenty of men and boys will buy the "Girls Gone Wild" videos, but they're not likely to invite the amateur strippers home to meet Mom.