I was reading Nick Catucci’s Village Voice review of Nelly Furtado’s Loose today and I had to laugh. “Pop music is a lot like Halloween,” he writes. “It gives women an excuse to pretend they're sluts.”

It occurred to me the first time that I saw the “Promiscuous” video that the only reason Nelly gets away with embracing her inner whore is cause it’s all an act. Let’s be honest, in real life she’s a pretty conventional, family-oriented girl. She’s got a man and a baby at home.

Her flirty charade raises one of the more bizarre contradictions of North American culture.

In day to day life, we don’t like it when a woman dresses too provocatively or talks too graphically or puts herself out there too much. We expect females to keep their sexuality in check.

When it comes to pop stars, though, the reverse is true. Mainstream culture seems to fiend for public displays of sex—lots of skin on stage, stripper dances in music videos, whorish photo shoots.

But only so long as the star concerned isn’t actually living like that.

Beyonce is the perfect example. She does a remarkable job of playing both sides of this coin. She’s Sexy Sasha in public and Wholesome Church Girl in private.

Others haven’t navigated as well. Look at Britney. She sang “I’m a Slave 4 U,” unleashed an orgy of a music video on prime time TV, and demanded that the world see her as an all-grown-up sexpot. Yet, she insisted in the press that she was a virgin, simultaneously satisfying America’s appetite for titillation and puritan prudishness. However, when her sex life made a splash in the tabloids—with the drunken Vegas wedding and her
Chaotic escapades with K-Fed pre-marital bliss—her approval ratings plummeted. People started wondering if she actually was a slut. And people don’t want to wonder that about pop stars.

Same goes for Christina. She unveiled her new, nasty dirty girl image but failed to assure the public that she was keeping the chastity belt on, leaving the public uncomfortable. Of course, now that Xtina is happily married, she can act as trampy as she damn well pleases.

Jessica Simpson was safe to bust out of her tops because she was married to Nick Lachey. Now that she’s single, expect her to lose the Daisy Duke short-shorts and tone down her soft porn image.

Then there’s the Paris Problem. Paris Hilton’s sex tape confirmed the public’s suspicions about her. She dressed scandalous, looked scandalous, and…turned out to actually be scandalous. Which is obviously a no-no. Ditto Superhead. Both have weathered a shit-storm of negative press.

The moral of the story? North America loves to see its good girls get down—but only if they’re just pretending.