On a recent trip to Amsterdam, my cousins and I took the tourist walk of shame through the Red Light District. We didn’t patronize as much as we did window shop, staring through the panes in incredulity at the fact that, for only two euros, we could watch what the signs called “live porno homo sex” or buy a condom in the shape of a windmill.
But as I took that exotic stroll past the various window displays, something else amazing happened: finding myself on the straat, a flock of swans nestled in the canal to my right, and an enthusiastic prostitute to my left spinning her nipple tassels in a perfectly circular motion, I had an epiphany.
Self-respect is a nebulous idea that differs from person to person — it isn’t something that can be accurately measured or quantified in any particular terms. The way that people use their bodies is a free decision — hopefully and usually, the right decision for themselves — and should not be basis for others’ judgment.
It seems very often (not universal, but certainly often, from what I have observed) that people who make a choice to be more reserved about their bodily assets tend to look down upon people who choose otherwise.
You may think that your body is a temple or a Sistine Chapel to be appreciated from a safe distance, or some other euphemism for celestial chastity, and it’s fine if that notion works for you. If you can happily live for a long period without intimate interactions, then four for you, Glen Coco. Your restraint is remarkable. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s equally as important to respect someone else’s preference as it is to stay true to your own.
Despite what John Mayer says, I personally don’t think my body is a wonderland. I love myself (no surprises here) and I treat my body well, but I don’t feel that I need to be perfectly, 100 percent chaste and pure to do that. I know what this is starting to sound like, but hear me out: I promise these are not just the justifications of some proud nymphomaniac.
In spite of my self-respect, however, I would gladly look at my body as a less important aspect of myself than my mind and personality. I don’t feel that physical intimacy (even highly altered versions of intimacy, as in strip clubs or the Red Light District) is something that should be necessarily more difficult to attain than mental intimacy. I feel that it’s preferable to treat the gradual revealing of mental traits as a more meaningful finish line than to dangle one’s sexuality in front of someone else as some sort of relationship incentive. But like I stated before, that’s just my opinion.
What I am saying is that if a person chooses to use their body freely and candidly, there’s no less validity to that decision than choosing to conceal one’s figure with sensible clothes. Both are just preferences, nothing more, and should be treated as such.
If I may quickly remind you of one of the more overexposed childhood truisms, it’s what’s on the inside that counts the most (if you promise to keep reading, I promise I’ll never repeat that again). Even with this age-old knowledge tucked under our belts, though, I continue to hear people who speak out against sexual freedom or bodily exposure as “undignified” and “degrading.” If it’s truly what’s within that counts the most, though, then why should the body’s exterior or the ways it’s used be any indicator of a person’s dignity or character?
Naturally, there are exceptions to this. You won’t find me defending the actions of a man like Tiger Woods under the premise that “Hey, he isn’t ashamed of his sexuality so it’s all cool!” Being unfaithful? Bad. Having unsafe sex? Bad. Having unsafe, unfaithful sex? Very bad. But otherwise (for the most part; I’m sure I left a couple bases uncovered) people who can so confidently carry themselves in body and soul are owed respect for doing so.
Think about that while, in my mind, I’ll still be standing between the forthrightness of the prostitutes and the innocent romanticism of the swans trying to figure out where I fit into this whole equation — I’m pretty sure it should be somewhere north of the two euro mark.
DYLAN GALLAGHER is beautiful in every single way — words can’t bring him down. But you can always try at firstname.lastname@example.org or cleverblog.tumblr.com/ask.