Why Do We Demonize Men Who Are Honest About Their Sexual Desires?

Society pressures men to initiate sexual relationships, yet punishes them when they’re candid about their desires.

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This is an article about men, but I’m going to begin by talking about women’s experiences. Many of us women go through our daily lives fending off unwanted male attention; most of us have worried about being attacked by men.

If I stroll down a city street or take public transit alone, I can count on being approached by men I don’t want to talk to. If I walk home after dark, I can’t help fearing assault—so much so that if a man or group of men come near me on the street, I feel my heart lodge firmly in my throat until they pass.

So it’s completely understandable that we’re all on high alert for predatory expressions of male sexuality. While certain situations and certain people deserve the designation “creep”—like, say, the guy who once leered at me as I walked out of the public library and whispered, “I can smell your pussy”—most guys really don’t.

The pressure put on men to be initiators, but to avoid seeming creepy or aggressive, leads to an unpleasant double bind. After all, the same gross cultural pressures that make women into objects force men into instigators. (How many women do you know who proposed to their husbands?)

So how can a man express his sexual needs without being tarred as a creep? After all, the point of promoting sex-positive attitudes is for everyone to be able to be open about their needs and desires, right?

♦♦♦

When I was 23 years old, I was still coming to terms with my S&M orientation, and so I posted to an Internet message board about how “illicit” desire was messing up my life. Soon, I received an email from a guy in my area. He accurately guessed the cause of my anxieties (“either you want some BDSM play, or you maybe want to add other partners into a relationship”) and offered to fulfill all my wicked, dirty lusts. In fairness, the guy actually referred to himself as creepy during our text-only conversation—but I still feel guilty that when I told the story to my friends, we all referred to him as “the creep.”

I obviously had every right to turn down my Internet Lothario. Still, I shouldn’t have called him a creep; all he was doing was being overt and honest about his desires, and he did it in a polite—though straightforward—way. If he’d emailed me with “Hey bitch, you obviously want me to come over and dominate you,” then that would have been impolite and unpleasant.

But he emailed me a quick and amusing introduction, then asked what I wanted. After a few rounds of banter, I called a halt, and he respected that. I think the word “creep” is too vague and prejudiced to mean anything anymore. But if I were willing to use the word, I’d say my Internet suitor was the opposite of a creep.

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Although I’ve become more aware of it recently, I think I’ve always had the sense that men are particularly vulnerable to the judgment of “creep.” Over a year ago, I wrote a series of blog posts on the problems of masculinity, and in Part 3 I noted that—unlike men—”I can be explicit and overt about my sexuality without being viewed as a creep.”

Of course, I could be labeled a slut, which could damage me quite badly. There’s a reason I do all my most explicit writing under a pseudonym. Feminists often say that men’s promiscuity is lauded while women’s is stigmatized, and one point of this argument is purely linguistic: “stud” is a complimentary word for a promiscuous man, while “slut” is a hurtful word for a promiscuous woman.

Besides, our culture hates sex, no matter who’s doin’ it—even vanilla, consensual, heterosexual, private sex between cute, white, married adults is hard for some folks to acknowledge.

But in fact, men aren’t merely enabled to be promiscuous—they’re pressured to be getting laid all the time. This influences situations ranging from huge communities devoted entirely to teaching men how to pick up women, to the tragically callous dismissal of the experiences of men who have been raped.

And while there’s immense cultural repression of all sexuality, there’s also a fair and growing amount of modern TV, movies and feminist energy that seek to enable female sluttitude in all its harmless, glorious forms. The stud vs. slut dichotomy is worth discussing, but it has one flaw: it entirely ignores the word “creep,” whose function appears to be restricting male sexuality to a limited, contradictory set of behaviors.

Feminist blogger Thomas Millar writes, “The common understanding of male sexuality is a stereotype, an ultra-narrow group of desires and activities oriented around penis-in-vagina sex, anal intercourse and blowjobs; oriented around cissexual [i.e., non-trans] women partners having certain very narrow groups of physical characteristics.” Men are supposed to be insatiable only within those bounds. Men who step outside them—for example, heterosexual men who are attracted to curvier women, or who like being pegged with a dildo in the butt—are either mocked or viewed with anxious suspicion.

Worse, men who talk a lot about their sexuality, or who make any slightly unusual move (like sending a friendly proposition over the Internet), can run afoul of the pervasive tropes around male sexuality: that it’s inherently aggressive, toxic, and unwanted.

Under these circumstances, mere semi-explicit conversations become fraught territory. A male, S&M-oriented friend of mine told me about a girl he once spoke to while volunteering at a large feminist organization. She started a conversation about how she was coming to terms with her queer identity; she no longer wanted to have sex with men, but with women. He said he could relate, and described his feelings about coming into his S&M identity.

The next day, he got a call from the intern coordinator telling him to get back in the closet. “Turns out what I thought was discussing who I was, came across as hinting that she should participate,” says my friend. “The thought never crossed my mind—she was, after all, telling me that she didn’t want to have sex with men. But the cultural constructs around the conversation intervened between what I was saying and what she was hearing.”

As one masculinity thread commenter named Tim observes: “The only way for a guy to guarantee that he won’t be called ‘creepy’ is to suppress entirely his sexuality, just like a woman can escape being called a slut by suppressing hers.”

Another commenter, Sam, notes that it’s often difficult for men to “realize that being sexually confident and assertive is not tied to politics,” and that some men feel so much anxiety they hire experts to coach them through just asking a strange woman where to find Internet access.

These anti-male stereotypes have an incredibly broad effect, and not just among individuals. Calls to censor porn, for example, are influenced not only by extreme claims that porn access increases rape (it doesn’t) but by feelings that mainstream porn expresses an unacceptable form of male sexuality.

It’s certainly true that the kind of sex represented in mainstream porn isn’t for everybody, which is why there are lots of other kinds of porn out there (including feminist porn). However, I’m reluctant to condemn any kind of consensual sex in itself, including consensual sex as represented in mainstream porn. Plus, as commenter iamcuriousblue claims, many condemnations of mainstream porn incorporate a ”view of masculinity itself as inherently hostile and dangerous” and a tacit claim that male sexuality “needs to be kept on a short leash, where men’s viewing of violent or pornographic media is restricted, either through community pressure or state action, lest the dumb beast of a man get the wrong ideas.”

If we’re worried about people learning the wrong things from mainstream porn, then we should be giving everyone unflinchingly detailed sex education so that everyone understands just how limited mainstream porn is. Men aren’t dumb beasts—no more than women are wilting flowers—and stereotypes are easily defeated by a complete picture of the world.

♦♦♦

I’ve got three suggestions for how we can all start taking down awful conceptions of male sexuality—and the word “creep” with them.

1) Sam summed it up best: “Accept male desire, and accept men’s word when they talk about it.

Like most people, men want sex, and that’s not a bad thing. Like everyone, men deserve to feel as though their sexuality is hot, awesome, delicious, valuable, and can be pleasurable for all parties in a consensual situation. Just as women shouldn’t have to feel exploited when they have consensual sex, men shouldn’t have to feel like they’re exploiting someone when they have consensual sex. Just as more and more space is being made for forthright discussion of female sexuality, more and more space should be made for forthright discussion of male sexuality.

Of course there are inappropriate ways for men to express their desire, just as there are inappropriate ways for women to express their desire. For example, it’s not okay for people of any sex to continue hitting on someone after that person has clearly asked them to stop. It’s not okay for people in a position of power, like employers or clients, to use their position to harass or sexually intimidate people under their authority.

But these situations are a far cry from creating more dialogue in appropriate places—like gender-studies classes or blogs—about male sexuality. They’re also a far cry from giving men like my S&M friend the benefit of the doubt when they join conversations about desire.

2) “Male sexuality should be approached from the concept of pleasure rather than accomplishment,” writes machina, a blog commenter.

Linking sex to accomplishment rather than pleasure also leads to some men caring more about getting it done than their partners’ consent. Additionally, men are under so much pressure to get busy all the time that even when they’re having sex, their own pleasure may be less central than meeting the stereotype of how dudes are supposed to get laid. For some men, the stereotypes do represent their desires; for some, the stereotypes don’t work at all. A man who’s the top partner in anal sex with his girlfriend might be scoring big according to popular consensus—but if what he really craves is for her to peg him with a strap-on, then he’s not actually scoring at all. Even a guy who contentedly loves anal sex might have the chance at mind-blowing sexual paradise if he decided to risk something new, to think outside the box.

3) Which brings me to my last thought: Let’s work to discourage sexuality that’s actually predatory or non-consensual.

Obviously, most people aren’t rapists, and as HughRistik says: “I don’t think an individual man deserves to feel that his sexuality is toxic merely because he is a man and other men have displayed their sexuality in toxic ways.” But assault and harassment are real problems, causing real anxieties. (And not just for women.  I’ve heard stories about how men’s boundaries are routinely ignored; one example is women who, while exploring naked fun with some happy gentleman, will initiate condomless sex without even asking if he’s cool with that.)

It’s incumbent upon all of us to discourage that kind of thing when we see or hear about it, no matter who it comes from. It’s also incumbent upon us to honor one another’s boundaries. But this is not a question of limiting or repressing male sexuality, and it shouldn’t be framed that way. It should be framed entirely as a question of consent, communication, and respect.

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Thanks so much to all the commenters who have participated in my sprawling manliness threads: Part 1Part 2Part 3, and The Followup. Particular thanks to those who have stuck with The Followup, which has over 1,200 comments and is still evolving!

© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved. This piece originally ran on Alternet.org.

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About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a feminist sex writer who has given workshops all over the USA. She wrote a book about masculinity, dating dynamics, and sex theory called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser; she’s also got a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist. Recently, she released an anthology about sexual assault in virtual worlds called Violation: Rape In Gaming. Clarisse has also explored fiction with short stories like The End Of An Age: A Ramayana. To stay up-to-date with Clarisse’s work, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Steve Steveson says:

    Yes, there are creepy men, but this completely ignores the fact that there are creepy women. The Slut/Stud thing completely ignores much too.

    Take, for example, Sex and the City (and many romance novels and “chick flicks”). Women who are sexually aggressive in a way that would get men branded “creepy”.

    These words, when used in broad generalizations at least, are useless and nothing more than a way for people to beet there own drum. The Slut/Stud ignores creepy men and sexually aggressive women completely.

    To be honest, the use of the word slut is often miss quoted in this context. It is, in my experience, not used to describe women who have sex with lots of people, or who enjoy and are open about sex, but to describe people (both men and women) who are indiscriminating. For example people who will get drunk on a regular basis, sleep with someone, regret it the next day and move on. Not to describe people who have a strong idea of what they want and enjoy sex openly and freely.

    • If that was the way the word was universally applied, I don’t think people would have a problem with it. I agree though that I would wish that was the way the word was used, and would feel comfortable using it in that way; especially if it applied to men and women equally.

  2. Will Best says:

    “The only way for a guy to guarantee that he won’t be called ‘creepy’ is to suppress entirely his sexuality, just like a woman can escape being called a slut by suppressing hers”

    Actually that isn’t true, because asexual men are also considered “creepy”, though typically when you show no sexual desire in a woman she calls you some form of homosexual.

    • Actually, “typically” women will call you nothing when you show no sexual desire. Some ignorant ones may believe you are gay but that is not an offense anyways.

  3. why “white” …………..

    • It’s not clear what you’re referring to there, Jane.

      Do you mean this line: “even vanilla, consensual, heterosexual, private sex between cute, white, married adults is hard for some folks to acknowledge.”? If so the point is, even when it involves the most privileged group towards which there is the least discrimination, sex causes discomfort amongst some people. Hence “white” in that sentence. Or are you referring to something else?

  4. This puts up very succinctly what most men go through. This is real dialogue that acknowledges the fact that no one particular part of society can have its problems solved without a dusting done of the entire society. Thank you for this article. This is what I have been expecting from the GMP for long and finally it is here. Thank you once again.

  5. There is an enemy of both men and women here that needs to be fought tooth and nail, but it’s kind of hard to because it spits on our cupcake and tells us it is feminism: Rape fear pandering

    I mean the idea that female sexuality is a long string of painful and horrible experience, from the time daddy “took our innocence” at four (according to many a tell-all book, all porn stars or even somewhat sexual women would be virtuous flowers, but an abuse “unhinged” them), to the moment our (fantasized) tamper seal, I mean, hymen is broken, bleeds and hurts (or so we’re told), to the moment we send a sext message to the wrong person, to the moment we give a blow job to the wrong person, to the moment someone slipped roofies in our drinks and, you guessed, it, raped us.

    While those horrible things do happen, there is a difference between prevention and the shameless exploitation of people’s fears that we see now. Some feminists tell us to see evil men, exploitation, domination everywhere and we see what we are scared into seeing. We are scared to death of being cat-called, seeing that as a bullet proof example that every penis in the World wants us not only barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, but dead and burried in his backyard. While cat-calling is certainly stupid, even smart people have brain farts sometimes, especially when they are nervous. And even the genuine assholes are there are not all Robert Pickton, just assholes.

    While the effects this has on men are certainly bad, I like the irony of the effects it has on women. It is all done in the name of our protection (or revenge?) but what does it turn us into? You summed it up pretty well in the beginning of your article, just the way I felt for a long time : «  If I walk home after dark, I can’t help fearing assault—so much so that if a man or group of men come near me on the street, I feel my heart lodge firmly in my throat until they pass. »

    In a word, we live in fear of the boogeyman, all the time, everywhere. That’s no fun, that’s not healthy. In fact, I think it is even worse than assault itself.

    Maybe 10%, 20% or 150%, or whatever statistic they’re guessing right now are being raped, but that pathological, irrational fear is pushed on all women. It may be done in the name of our protection, but I consider it a form of violence in itself.

  6. You see everything is relative…….. e.g. person A respectfully broaches the idea to person B that they could have a mutually rewarding intimate experience. Sounds great right? It all depends on the relative experience level of A and B. If B is in a bonnet and crinolines and has never heard such a thing she will say “What a creep” to things that others would think are innocuous.

  7. So glad for this article! I hadn’t thought about sexuality from the male point of view, so I found this enlightening.

  8. Lidia Gasparian says:

    “So how can a man express his sexual needs without being tarred as a creep?”

    By not being a creep? Come on, if so many straight American men don’t know how to express sexuality and not make women feel disgusted, scared or insulted in the meanwhile count me out to visit you guys’ country in this lifetime.
    Women (or men) are not out there to label you a creep because of the rainy weather.

    Like, that is so simple:
    1. You see a woman you find gorgeous and wanted to have sex with. You can just tell your friend:
    – Wow, she is so gorgeous! I would totally go to bed with her.
    Instead of:
    – Dude what a drop dead gorgeous slut! I would so fuck her in the ass until it bleeds and then cum on her whorish face!

    2. You can approach a woman in a gentle way, say hello in a friendly tone, ask her name… then after a while ask for her number or, depending on the situation, even if she wants to go somewhere more private.
    Instead of just approaching her with a bully attitude, not even ask for her name and just asking her to suck your dick, “bitch”. No, not even asking to lick her pussy will work that way (or it may work with a drunk 1%-, but that does not mean it became less moronic).

    I mean. For real, guys. Is that so difficult? Did you just lose all your diplomacy, respect for women/people and good sense? Are you guys really from a 1st World Country? A civilized one?
    Many of you guys harass women of ALL NATIONALITIES online (and many gay guys as well). Many of you guys call us condescending names, are sexist/misogynist in so many ways and out of nowhere. If that is how you approach all of us online, we know that is how you approach North American women online… and many times in real life, too. Stop.
    Sex is something good, not something violent. Not something that has to be done while offending, degrading and humiliating women (BDSM apart, that is consensual and role-play). Not something you should do to feel superior to women. Not something that is only about your penis, your desires and your orgasm. You guys for the most part still act as if the penis is the most important object in the scene, the thing that deserves all praise and focus and the only thing that should be pleasured. You guys still believe that a man ejaculating is what marks the end of the sex session. Female pleasure (even less female orgasm) is something that helps men enjoy the time, because hey, if she is not wet how will you stick it in? but never something important at all. Her desires are always well received, but only as long as it matches your own and your ego. You guys want sex with many women but won’t respect them afterward – because hey, when a penis penetrates it gains power, and a vagina embraces it loses dignity, because your brain wants to believe that. many of you guys want to feel like you are using someone when having sex, and that is proven when you have revenge porn, condescending talks about how a “slutty bitch” did this or that to you, etc. You guys want your violent, women-are-cumbags porn but will disrespect women who work in porn. You guys want to see naked and sexy women but at the same time will shame and treat them as inferior, will say they are not “respecting themselves”… and that why it justifies you disrespecting them as well. Many of you guys even blame women for being raped… it was her clothes! Slut!
    I mean, stop with the victimization already. Many of the guys whining do many of these thing. You guys are reaping what you sow. It sucks that men who are not like that have to suffer the consequences with you… but women there have no many alternatives than to be alert and skeptical.

  9. It’s only creapy when they are a player and telling other multiple of women their desires.

Trackbacks

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  11. [...] 2011 2 Jan Tweet The article below was originally published on October 1, 2010 by AlterNet; the AlterNet editors titled it “Why Do We Demonize Men Who Are Honest About Their Sexual Needs?” I have no idea how many people linked to it, but it caused enough of a stir that I got hate mail from a man on the very same day it appeared, and also some of my sister feminist bloggers became upset. Maybe drawing fire from both sides of the divide indicates that I did something right? The article was also cross-posted at Jezebel and at the Good Men Project. [...]

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