Tanya Sweeney on Love Island: 'There's an unseemly subtext to this dynamic: that women don't enjoy sex quite the same as men'

To borrow Insta-speak, Longford lass Maura Higgins certainly knows her angles.

Bronzed of limb, enhanced of lip and glinty of eye, she strutted into the ‘Love Island’ villa with the singular aim to make an impression. And that she did, on contestant and viewer alike.

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Yet again, she was behind the standout moment of the week, causing her love interest Tommy Fury to literally stutter and stumble off his beanbag.

Maura, while involved in some typical poolside banter with other contestants, admitted that she could count on one hand the number of sexual partners she’d had, to the apparent disbelief of the others. “I thought you were more …” her love rival Mollie-Mae offered, searching clearly for the right euphemism. “Oh no, there was a girl (I slept with) as well,” Maura countered, a declaration that made Tommy take momentary leave of his senses (presumably the point). The online commentariat were equally agog.

Maura has certainly made an impression from the get-go.

Within moments of landing in Palma, Maura had placed Tommy Fury, coupled up with Mollie-Mae, in her crosshairs. Maura was the fiery and forward yin to Mollie-Mae’s vanilla, princess yang.

It didn’t take a reality TV expert to realise that Maura was being cast in the edit as some sort of hypersexual, villainous minx. “The things I’d do to him,” she declared by way of an opening gambit. She could hear herself screaming his name, she admitted.

And later, within Mollie- Mae’s eyeline, a slinky-eyed bedtime request: “Do you want to go to bed with me, Tommy?”

Suffice to say that the internet had a collective breakdown. Tommy’s comments about ‘climaxing’ on sight of Maura, meanwhile, went largely unscrutinised by most.

Whatever about bedding Tommy, newcomer Maura’s sole objective here was likely to wrench some screen time from the bevy of interchangeable, Kardashian-lite beauties already in situ. Job very much done.

Days later, Maura made her move on the boxer, leaning in to kiss him, which he politely declined.

Previously, he had noted that he would very much kiss her if the opportunity were to arise. Yet, perhaps noting a soupçon of discomfort on Tommy’s part, Maura left it at that; no harm done. Taking her rejection with grace, Maura went on a date with new male contestant Tom.

Fans called for Maura, a ‘sexual predator’, to be axed from the show (800 fans issued official complaints).

“Imagine if this was the other way around, the man would be made to leave!” came the collective refrain. As ever, nuance was bereft from the entire dialogue. That Tommy had said outright that he was hugely attracted to Maura has evaded the conversation.

Now, most people appear to have forgotten one very pertinent point: this sort of horny carry on is the entire objective of ‘Love Island’. Without it, you are watching an extended Boohoo.com advert. It’s a game show, not ‘National Geographic’ for bikini babes.

The goal, such as it is, is to couple up with the most attractive/compatible partner you can land, so as to avoid expulsion from the island, and to inch closer to the £50,000 prize. If that means hitting on ostensibly attached men, flirting like it’s your job, stepping on others’ toes and doing away with subtlety, so be it.

In the wake of #MeToo, there was certainly something very much of the moment in the collective reaction to Maura Higgins. With the newly woke now mindful of all things pertaining to boundaries and consent, it stands to reason that Maura’s forward ways were going to be scrutinised, and not for the better.

I say ‘all things’, yet as with many phenomena that gain traction on Twitter, nuance has been lost and the meaning of ‘consent’, ‘sex pest’ and ‘predator’ are now bandied about at will.

The #MeToo movement was amazing for many reasons: it gave a voice and support to victims of sexual assault, harassment and violence – both male and female. Allegations of same have been taken seriously like never before. For that we must rejoice.

Yet in its wake, ‘sexual predator’ has become a catch-all term, and the creepy, sexually clueless and just plain horny have been conflated within it.

Moby thought he went out on a few dates with Natalie Portman back in the early Noughties (she admitted to hanging out with him, yet countered this version of events by labelling him a ‘creepy older guy’). The blowback on social media earlier this month was explosive. And yet, the public opprobrium Moby endured was minimal when those exact rumours surfaced in tabloids in 1999.

And while the running commentary on ‘Love Island’s Maura Higgins is an undeniable product of the post-#MeToo climate, it also runs distinctly retrograde.

There’s an undeniable sense that in terms of sexual relations, forthright Maura has upended a long-established dynamic where women are the givers and men the takers.

Men are to chase; women the ones who are to be chased. Men ask for consent, women grant it.

It’s a wonderful development, and a long overdue one at that, that awareness around consent in particular has been raised. Yet amid the #MeToo dialogue, the idea the giver and taker of consent are still gendered very much remains.

There’s an unseemly subtext to this dynamic: that women don’t enjoy sex in quite the same way that men do. That their desire is more usually couched in the emotional, not the physical.

Case in point: in contrast to Maura’s ‘don’t ask, don’t get’ approach, Mollie-Mae had been playing the artful coquette with Tommy for days until Maura kicked the proverbial hornet’s nest. And then under pressure, Mollie-Mae exploded: “I want a man who’ll worship the ground I walk on!”

There are a lot of beautiful people vying for attention/airtime in the ‘Love Island’ villa.

Maura walked in like a veritable gunslinger with both pieces blazing. Some say she’s been carrying the entire series on her back. Others applaud her energy. Others again are appalled at the breaker of girl-code, her outright brazenness.

Whether it’s all down to plain old-fashioned sexual desire, an eye on more airtime or even a notoriety that can be parlayed into a post-villa career is still anyone’s guess.

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