Understanding the difference between getting sex and experiencing sex promotes consent—and makes all the difference in getting one’s needs met.
A huge part of male culture revolves around getting sex, primarily from women. In fact, getting sex from a woman is so tied in to society’s popular idea of what it means to “be a man” that many men feel weak, inadequate, and desperate if they’re not getting sex, and others justify trampling a woman’s boundaries to take what they’re not being given.
Note that I use the phrase “getting sex,” not “having sex,” and the phrase “from women,” not “with women.” I chose these phrases carefully, because for countless men, getting sex is both a challenge to one’s manhood and an accomplishment to brag about, a proof of masculine power and worthiness, a testament to their testosterone levels, an entry ticket to the club. Words such as “scoring,” and phrases such as “friend zone,” which frame getting sex as a sporting contest in which there is a winner and a loser—either the woman whose defense crumbles or the man who fails and is pushed back by rejection—layer sex with a language of aggression and oppression, while words such as “banging” and “nailing” add an element of violence.
Getting sex is different from having sex; getting sex, in some ways, is not even about having or experiencing sex. It’s about proving that you can get it any time you want, which is ultimately proving that you have power over women to make them meet your needs. The sex that’s had doesn’t have to be good, or loving, or meaningful, or intimate. It just has to be had—and on the man’s terms.
But getting sex meets a false need that men have been sold—a need that the media and popular culture play on to activate primitive areas of the brain, because flipping those switches to sell products and services that hold the promise of getting sex is easier and takes less time than activating the gray matter used to make healthy decisions that respect women’s bodies and their independence. Courtship is for novels and chick flicks. Companionship is for Hallmark cards. Cooperation is for elementary school. Conquest sells.
The truth is, getting sex doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t make you more of a man if you get it or less of one if you don’t. What getting sex—as opposed to having sex or experiencing sex—does is lead to feelings of emptiness and disappointment that men then feed by trying to … you guessed it … get more sex.
Here are five reasons why getting sex is overrated, along with some insight into what’s missing when power enters the picture.
1. When sex is about power, intimacy is absent. If one partner is exercising power over the other, there can be no intimacy. The definition of intimacy is mutual vulnerability. Power makes one partner vulnerable while the other remains in control. Without intimacy, sex defaults to simple physical pleasure, which is physiologically but not psychologically satisfying. The true need for intimacy remains unmet.
2. When sex is something you strategize to get then brag about getting after the fact, it’s hard to enjoy the moment. If all your energy and effort goes into making something happen so you can tell people it happened so they will accept and respect you, that doesn’t say much about—or leave much for—the thing itself. Experiencing sex is about getting your partner to accept and respect you and accepting and respecting your partner. Getting sex instead of experiencing it cheats you out of the experience itself.
3. When sex is something you’re sharing with your posse instead of your partner, the story you need to tell controls the action. If you feel pressured to be able to tell your buddies that x, y, or z happened with your partner, you’re going to press your partner to do x, y, and z instead of letting actual lovemaking evolve. The story that makes you a man can’t be the one of the hours of foreplay you provided; it has to be the story of the particular pleasures you received.
4. When sex is something by which you measure yourself, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The dating scene is difficult, which is one reason hookup culture is so popular. It reduces the investment of time, effort, and money you need to expend to get sex, because intimacy, vulnerability, commitment, and even respect are not required. But pressure to perform generally doesn’t improve performance, either on the dating scene or in the bedroom. Our best performances occur when we are relaxed and confident, when we actually focus on the performance itself as opposed to the outcome. Experiencing sex is performance-based, while getting sex is outcome-based.
5. When sex is about your need for acceptance, you can’t meet your own needs—much less your partner’s—of intimacy and love. If your goal in getting sex is to be accepted and respected by your peers, you’re ignoring your own basic human needs of intimate companionship and love, and you’re ignoring your partner’s needs for those things as well. Think about it this way: if a huge part of sex is pleasure, who are you trying to please and why? Experiencing sex puts the focus where it belongs, on your relationship with your partner, instead of on your position on the totem pole with your peer group.
I believe the best way to promote consent is to start thinking about sex differently. Let’s start by thinking about experiencing sex instead of just getting it.