Two young women researchers are calling for a new form of sexual ethics that would allow women to have casual sex without feeling that they're "sluts".
They say the popular view of women as either promiscuous or passive victims has failed to reduce incidents of rape and sexual assault.
Instead, they want both women and men to think about what each of them really wants out of a sexual encounter, and negotiate how to get it.
Canadian sociologist Melanie Beres, a post-doctoral researcher at Auckland University, and Auckland doctoral student Pantea Farvid told a sociology conference yesterday that rape prevention efforts should stop just giving women tips to avoid harm and promote an ethic of "self-care and care for the other".
Dr Beres interviewed young Canadians aged 19 to 25 about their casual sex experiences, while Ms Farvid interviewed New Zealanders in the same age bracket. The New Zealand women were more likely to have actively initiated casual sex, whereas the Canadians were more likely to say it "just happened". Drink was used by some as an excuse for their choices.
Studies have shown New Zealanders start sex younger than in many countries and have high rates of teen pregnancies and STDs. By the age of 25, 13 per cent of women have had more than 10 sexual partners.
Dr Beres said some women deliberately challenged society's "double standard" that said casual sex was okay for men. One woman in her study took the initiative in sexual encounters and another had decided that a serious relationship would hinder her career, so she sought casual sex to meet her physical needs.
Ms Farvid said a more open approach to sex would move away from the legal idea that the only issue in sexual morality was consent.
In some highly publicised group sex cases, men had escaped conviction because of doubts over consent. But on the basis of care for oneself and others, it would be unethical to have "four men in a room with a woman".By Simon Collins Email Simon