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Sex in the City: How liberal is Oz

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The fallout from Mardi Gras over the weekend is still all too visible on the streets of Sydney. Glitter is lodged in every orifice of the city, semi-naked men can still be seen emerging, bedraggled and in a cloud of diamontes, with wig and stilettos in hand, fighting to uphold the principles of gravity. Even now Oxford Street is a smorgasbord of all manner of racy costumes for anyone brave enough to recycle something that has, metaphorically and literally, been around the block.

It is still ill-advised to walk under trees anywhere in the general vicinity of Oxford street, in the not-so-unlikely event that two birds of paradise, locked in passionate embrace, fall out and injure you.  In short, the road to recovery is long, but for the sake of such an explosive celebration of sexual liberty, is it worth it? Yes, yes it is.

Sydney Mardi Gras, 2014

Sydney Mardi Gras, 2014

This brings me to the question at hand: How liberal, really, is Oz? Is Mardi Gras just an excuse for everyone to don their most outrageous (kids-size) costume and give vent to all their freakish fantasies? Or is it a pure expression of sexual liberty that is alive and well in Australia?

It is well known that Sydney is a city which embraces sexual liberty and gay rights; one need only stroll down Oxford Street on a Saturday night to see the proof; but the history of same-sex marriage in Australia has been stormy.

The sudden overturning of Same-sex Marriage laws in ACT in December of last year, just six weeks after the laws were introduced, was a major blow to Gay Marriage Rights in the country.  Same-sex couples that managed to seal the deal in the brief interim have had their marriages invalidated.

Gay Rights Demonstration, Sydney

Gay Rights Demonstration, Sydney

It is no question that Australia is lagging far behind the rest of the Developing World in terms of Gay rights. Since the Netherlands first legalized Gay Marriage in 2001, 14 other countries have followed suit; including Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Spain, Denmark, and France. Countless other countries have introduced partial laws that recognise same-sex marriage.

So why the disparity? Is it simply that conservative rural Australia is speaking louder than all of us here in the urban crucible of ethnic, sexual, and religious diversity? Or are conventional views of sexuality really entrenched in the Australian mindset?

Prostitution is legal in Australia

Prostitution is legal in Australia

On the other end of the spectrum, prostitution is legal in most states of Australia and has been since the early 90’s. Brothels and strip clubs abound, in fact Sydney’s number 1 event and entertainment guide, Time Out has an entire section titled “SEXXXY SYDNEY –Everything that’s titillating, sexy and a little bit naughty in Sin City”, complete with a list of recommended brothels, strip clubs, sensual massage parlors and everything else illicit and underground.

It’s becoming less and less uncommon, in some circles, for a night out to include a trip to Stiletto, Club 121, or Bliss – just a few popular brothels in Sydney.

Legalization of Prostitution is supported by the UN as a means to better regulate the sex industry, ensure better support for sex workers, and improve health and safety. So legalization would seem to denote a level of forward-thinking in Australian politics….so why, then, such a staunch denunciation of Gay Marriage, an institution that is already recognized in most of the Developing world?

Sydney high-end brothel, ‘Stiletto’

Sydney high-end brothel, ‘Stiletto’

Sexual liberty is not only about sexual orientation or the sex industry – it’s also about the freedom to talk about sex and sexuality.

While online-dating websites have been around for years, the topic was always a sensitive one, one that Users might have been embarrassed or even secretive about.  Grindr and tinder represent a huge shift in that mentality. How many people do you know who use one of the two? Probably quite a few.

Tinder user profile

Tinder user profile

Tinder has refused to provide the number of users, but as of May last year Tinder had generated 50 million matches and users had made 4.5 billion ratings.

What’s also interesting is that the average age of users is 23 – so this is not just a way for horny old men to get dates; it’s actually being used by attractive, intelligent, and discerning young people.

Grindr, which was created to facilitate “spontaneous and intimate” relations, is just as widespread. In March of last year, Grindr had accumulated 5 million users.  Whether it be for sex alone or for a relationship, the taboo of digital relationships seems to have all but disappeared.

So just how liberal is Oz? If the accessibility of sex and the freedom to talk about sex openly, are any indication, then it would seem that yes, we are liberal. But isn’t the freedom to love and express your love to anyone, male or female, the crux of sexual liberty?

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