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'Sally Rooney's gives a perfect insight into the expectations placed on women when it comes to sex'

Rooney puts a lens on a modern, uniquely female experience.

(Light spoilers ahead for Sally Rooney’s novel, ‘Normal People’ – nothing too juicy in terms of plot, promise!)

SALLY ROONEY’S SECOND novel, the Man Booker Prize nominated ‘Normal People’, is proving to be having an effect on its readers.

I was similarly enamoured with the story of Marianne and Connell; their transient relationship and the encapsulation of what it means to be young and in love. 

Perhaps the aspect of their story – more specifically, Marianne’s – that struck me the most was her relationship with sex. 

Without giving too much away, Marianne engages unwillingly, for the most part, in acts of BDSM and domination during most of her relationships throughout the book. At one point, she admits to Connell that she doesn’t enjoy being hit during sex by her then-boyfriend Jamie. It just seems to be a thing she does, because it is expected of her.

Her future relationships follow a similar pattern, and while she seemingly attempts to break the cycle, at one point she finds herself asking Connell to hit her during sex. Some have argued that this a form of self-harm on Marianne’s part, as all she’s ever known is violence; it’s what she thinks she deserves, in the utmost of intimate moments.

Or is it Rooney putting a lens on a modern – and uniquely female – experience? While society has grown more open to its views of sex, women continue to bear the brunt of the negative consequences. Porn remains one of the biggest influences and “educators” on sex when it comes to young men.

A study of 269 Pornhub videos conducted by the Journal of Sex Research found “visible activities that were not aggressive but did not actively consider consent” was present in slightly less than 40 per cent of the videos. Meanwhile, “non-consensual aggression” appeared in about 12 per cent of the videos, and less than 10 per cent of the titles “suggested aggression”.

While there is a lot being done in terms of sex education and attempts to equip young people with more realistic, non-porn driven expectations, this generation will probably relate heavily to the scenarios put forward by Rooney. While BDSM practices (very different to literal violence) are fine when both parties are mutually consenting, no one should have to be coerced into doing something they don’t take pleasure from. And what now may be considered ‘vanilla’, sexually speaking, isn’t lesser to what’s considered kinky – again, as long as both parties are willing. 

Rooney’s paints a realistic – albeit slightly grim – picture of what it means to be a young woman in love, making it compulsory reading.

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