Rites of the Savage Tribe

by | August 26, 2014 | General | 6 comments

by Jean Roberta

As an erotic writer, I’m always interested to learn about sexual cultures: what a particular demographic considers sexually acceptable, and what is taboo. As an instructor of first-year university courses, I’m interested in the culture of the age-group of my students (approximately 18-22, with some exceptions), as well as the high-school culture that most of them have just emerged from.

Very soon, I will be facing classrooms full of young adults. I will give them stories, poems, novels and essays to read, and I hope they find the printed words meaningful. I strongly suspect that literature written before the twenty-first century will seem outdated to most of them because they won’t recognize the persistence of certain social patterns.

One social event among today’s young that has been acknowledged in the media is the Teenage Sex Party: a group of high school students get together to drink, and (in many cases) indulge in other mind-bending substances. A gang-bang happens, either spontaneously (it seems like a good idea at the time), or pre-planned. In most cases that I’ve heard of, the event is largely spontaneous, though it often starts with one boy and one girl. The rest of the crowd piles on. (If there are same-sex Teenage Sex Parties, they don’t seem widely known.)

I suspect that this event happens much more often than many adults choose to believe. It’s easy enough to legislate a minimum age for drinking, driving, and consensual sex. It’s not really possible to legislate lust, curiosity, or recklessness, and teenagers of all genders have these qualities in abundance.

Note that I’m not expressing approval of the Teenage Sex Party. I’m just saying that it doesn’t freak me out. Many years ago, I was a teenage girl. Less long ago, I was the mother of a teenage girl.

Now here is the catalyst that propels a local event into the stratosphere of public discussion: someone has a recording device and takes pictures, or makes a little porn-movie of the event. Someone posts this on YouTube or some other social-media platform. The images go viral. The girl or girls in the Sex Party (who are usually outnumbered by boys) become targets of a lynch-mob of their peers.

In some cases, the girl who has become known as the Scarlet Whore of Whoville (or whatever town it is) changes schools to avoid the stigma, and finds that her reputation has preceded her. If she reads her email, she finds fresh insults and threats every day. She can’t concentrate in class, and wants to drop out of school. She can’t sleep. Her only support comes from her parents, who would like her to recover in a well-guarded facility. In a worst-case scenario, the girl commits suicide.

At this point, there is much hand-wringing in the media. The girl’s red-eyed parents ask why the police have not prosecuted the “rapists” who did this to their daughter. Various experts point out that vulnerable young women need to be better-protected from sexual exploitation. Some form of house arrest is often recommended, along with more old-fashioned parental “discipline.”


The frequent aftermath of the Teenage Sex Party, in which a girl is deprived of human status because of her perceived sexual behaviour, is parallel to the disfiguring, flogging, or murder of “fallen women” in cultures that practise fundamentalist religion in its most medieval forms. There is nothing especially modern or high-tech about any of this; it took place in the time of Christ, as recorded in the Bible. (Christ was against it.)

Let’s reconsider the party itself. In a case that was recently discussed on a daytime television talk show, the girl who was the centre of attention explained that she went to the party with the intention of having sex with one boy (presumably her boyfriend at the time). Another boy entered the room, and both boys persuaded her to let them take turns. By this time, everyone involved was highly intoxicated and higher than a kite, so it was hard for the girl to remember everything clearly. At some point, she became aware that the fourth guy had been replaced by a fifth guy. She couldn’t identify him, but she knew he hadn’t asked her permission.

The talk show host asked Scarlet (as I’ll call her) her if she knew the difference between sexual attention and sexual exploitation. He made it very clear that there was only one right answer to this question. She said yes, and agreed that what was done to her had crossed the line. The host then assured the girl’s anxious parents that the local police were wrong when they said the boys couldn’t be charged. The host promised to look into the case himself.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Scarlet was clearly disturbed by the host’s promise to her parents that oh yes, those five boys could and should be punished. She said she didn’t think they should get criminal records. She seemed admirably loyal to the truth: the event had not been a clear-cut assault, and she had not been simply a victim of unwanted sex. She was still a victim of something that began right after the sex-party.

It’s incredibly hard for a teenage girl to maintain her integrity by telling the truth about her sexuality in the face of social pressure. In my day, there was rarely any objective evidence, but rumours abounded. When numerous classmates asked me whether it was true that I had “done it” with the boy who was bragging about this, I denied it. Admitting it would have opened up an abyss of shame in which I was afraid of being trapped for the rest of my life. Then, when boys asked me why most girls lie so much about what they really want and what they’ve really done, I cringed. I didn’t want to be a liar or a hypocrite, but I didn’t see any viable alternative.

Let’s think about sexual hypocrisy with regard to Scarlet and the boys from the party. Did the boys acquire terrible reputations at school because they were recognizable from the video on YouTube? Did anyone propose that the person who recorded the event without Scarlet’s consent (and who might not have been a participant) should be convicted of a crime?

I would like to see a talk show with a different focus on the Teenage Sex-Party and its aftermath. Who were the ringleaders of the smear campaign against Scarlet, and why was no one talking about appropriate penalties for them? Where were the parents of these underage thugs? How many of them will grow up to become sexual bullies at work? Will any of them become police officers who use their power to abuse or even kill innocent civilians?

Something is definitely rotten in Denmark, so to speak. And it’s not a loss of sexual purity among young women.

Jean Roberta

Jean Roberta once promised her parents not to use their unusual family name for her queer and erotic writing, and thus was born her thin-disguise pen name. She teaches English and Creative Writing in a university on the Canadian prairies, where the vastness of land and sky encourage daydreaming. Jean immigrated to Canada from the United States as a teenager with her family. In her last year of high school, she won a major award in a national student writing contest. In 1988, a one-woman publisher in Montreal published a book of Jean’s lesbian stories, Secrets of the Invisible World. When the publisher went out of business, the book went out of print. In the same year, Jean attended the Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal, where she read a call-for-submissions for erotic lesbian stories. She wrote three, sent them off, and got a letter saying that all three were accepted. Then the publisher went out of business. In 1998, Jean and her partner acquired their first computer. Jean looked for writers’ groups and found the Erotic Readers & Writers Association, which was then two years old! She began writing erotica in every flavor she could think of (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/f/m, etc) and in various genres (realistic contemporary, fantasy, historical). Her stories have appeared in anthology series such as Best Lesbian Erotica (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Volume 1 in new series, 2016), Best Lesbian Romance (2014), and Best Women's Erotica (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) from Cleis Press, as well as many others. Her single-author books include Obsession (Renaissance, Sizzler Editions), an erotic story collection, The Princess and the Outlaw: Tales of the Torrid Past (Lethe Press), and The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella (Lethe, also in audio). Fantasy stories by Jean include “Lunacy” in Journey to the Center of Desire (erotic stories based on the work of Jules Verne) from Circlet Press 2017, “Green Spectacles and Rosy Cheeks” (steampunk erotica) in Valves & Vixens 3 (House of Erotica, UK, 2016), and “Under the Sign of the Dragon” (story about the conception of King Arthur) in Nights of the Round Table: Arthurian Erotica (Circlet 2015). This story is now available from eXcessica (http://excessica.com). Her horror story, “Roots,” first published in Monsters from Torquere Press, is now in the Treasure Gallery of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. With Lethe Press publisher Steve Berman, she coedited Heiresses of Russ 2015 (Lethe), an annual anthology of the year’s best lesbian speculative fiction. Her realistic erotic novel, Prairie Gothic: A Tale of the Old Millennium, was published by Lethe in September 2021. Jean has written many reviews and blog posts. Her former columns include “Sex Is All Metaphors” (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas) for the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, July 2008-November 2010. The 25 column pieces can still be found in the on-site archives and in an e-book from Coming Together, www.eroticanthology.com. Jean married her long-term partner, Mirtha Rivera, on October 30, 2010. Links: www.JeanRoberta.com http://eroticaforall.co.uk/category/author-profiles


  1. Reuben

    Interesting article. It's remarkable how persistent these misguided notions can seem to be, of women being somehow more blameworthy than men when it comes to sexual indiscretions, or somehow more impure in their desire for sexual adventure and discovery.

    Am I wrong to think to there seems generally to be a lot of insensitivity and lack of awareness around amongst many young people these days? I mean as concerns considering the feelings of others. Or is it just that one only hears of the horrible stories of bullying and harassment and intimidation. Has youth always had the capacity for being very unfair and callous, obviously generalising, but now it gets vented through the very widespread social media and kind of picks up greater momentum?

    I detest bullying. And I always feel so sorry for the individuals involved.

    Also, I suspect many older adults can easily forget how incredibly difficult it can be to learn about oneself and the world around us when younger, and how easily a youngster can hit the pitfalls before realising it. It can all seem a lot simpler when you've already been around the block a few times.

  2. Reuben

    In saying above that I feel sorry for 'individuals involved' in bullying I mean to refer of course to those on the receiving end.

  3. Fiona McGier

    The more things change, the more they stay the same…unfortunately. When I was in high school most girls lied. I told the truth and was shunned for it. I held my head high, telling my accusers that I didn't think I was a "whatever insult they used", so I didn't give a rat's ass what they thought. Then I left that town to go to college and never looked back.

    I really thought things would have changed for the better by the time my own kids were high schoolers. Alas, they're all adults now and things have never been more rigid. Girls who get a "reputation" are sluts and guys who get one are players. Only the names have changed. What is admirable for guys is still horrible for girls.

    At this point, it seems to me that the ones who are in charge of enforcing the "purity squad" are older, perhaps men who are overly-dependent on little blue pills these days, and so to them it seems like everyone else in the world is "getting some" and they're not. So they want to be sure no one enjoys themselves because they aren't. And there are women who have never enjoyed sex, so the idea that anyone is annoys them. Jealousy much??

    Why can't we just mind our own business? If my neighbors want to invite a football squad and donkeys into their bedroom, it's not my business. If they are gay, again, not my business. If they're unmarried or use birth control or have to get an abortion, again, not my business. Pay attention to your own life, those you love, and let everyone else do their own thing also. Equal. Civilized.

  4. Jean Roberta

    Reuben and Fiona, thank you for your thoughtful take on this issue. Of course, readers of this blog are likely to have an enlightened view of sexual issues in general. There is so much work to do. It troubles and amazes me that over 40 years after the start of the so-called "sexual revolution" of the late 1960s, it's still not acceptable in the cultural mainstream for girls or young women to consent to sex without being pressured to "admit" that it was really nonconsensual abuse. (And at the same time, women who report real, unambiguous rapes are still not believed.) Forty years ago, it was much less acceptable for girls to plan a university education followed by a professional career, but now this path is so well-trodden that women will soon make up half of all doctors and lawyers. Yet high school "sluts" are still ostracized, often by other girls who are probably terrified of being targets themselves. I suppose those of us who see how outrageous this is need to keep talking, especially to all the teenagers and young adults we know.

  5. Lisabet Sarai

    I really appreciate your balanced presentation of this particular episode, Jean. I wish I could have seen the girl on television. She sounds braver – and more self-aware – than most kids her age.

    I find it terribly sad, as well as ironic, that on the one hand this generation is so casual about sex and on the other, so vicious in their pursuit of those who engage in it. I sometimes think that male sexual frustration has a lot to do with this. I gather (from discussing this with men) that practically every man alive feels as though he doesn't get the amount of sex he wants or deserves. Furthermore, in many cases, men blame women for this – for not being sufficiently receptive. That anger turns into attacks on the women who do "put out" – presumably because they've done so for some other guy.

    Given this hypothesized dynamic, your speculation that the video was taken and leaked by someone *not* involved in the actual sex seems quite reasonable.

  6. Jean Roberta

    Lisabet, I hadn't thought of that! That possibility would definitely explain the amateur photographer's motivation.

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