WHIPS and chains excite Rihanna; or at least that’s what her hit song S&M suggests. The singer has no qualms describing her sexual exploits and has openly expressed her needs to be dominated between the sheets. She is also back in a relationship with Chris Brown – the boyfriend who bashed her up in 2009.

If there is anything a naive young woman might pick up from the 25-year-old singer’s attitude, it’d be that it’s cool to be submissive in sex and it’s okay to let a man abuse you.

“A lot of pop culture objectifies women and sex. Once women are objectified, they lose ownership of their body. This is usually portrayed in a glamorous fashion and young girls who see this forget that there’s another element to sex which is themselves, as well as their wants and needs,” said Women’s Aid Organisation project officer Ann Nunis.

According to Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (Arrow) executive director Sivananthi Thanenthiran the fast pace of unchecked media development and access may have accelerated the objectification of women, so perhaps what we see now are very crude manifestations of this ownership and machismo.

“When you have something so cool like rappers with the power of MTV behind them glorifying such ownership and such glamorous uses of women’s bodies, it is difficult to set up alternative standards for society,” she said.

It is easy then for young men to perceive that all women want sex and for young women to believe that they should be willing partners despite feeling otherwise. This is one way young women tend to believe that it is their duty to have sex, wherever and whenever.

“I think at the heart of the problem is the way in which society views women. There is a difference, to me, for a young woman to have sexual expression and from ‘succumbing to men’s sexual needs.’ Men being entitled to sex is very different and I don’t think this is a new phenomena,” said Sivananthi.

She also mentioned that for the longest time, women and women’s bodies are still ‘owned’ by others – their fathers, their brothers, their husbands.

“Being able to protect oneself comes from knowledge about the issue. Young women need to first and foremost understand what consensual sex is. If your partner puts pressure on you to have sex, especially from the start, that’s something you need to take notice of and talk to your partner about,” added Ann.

It is also important that young women familiarise themselves with the warning signs of forced sex such as the use of guilt, authority and harm in coercion.

“Most of all women out there need to own the fact that they don’t have to be obliged to do anything and that they have a right to say ‘No’ to a situation that they are uncomfortable with.”

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