For many people, it is difficult to find someone who wants to have sex with them. It can also be hard to know when someone wants to have sex with you; someone may have a difficult time letting you know. Some people are socialized to not be too available (regarding the desire for sex), others are socialized to not be too vulnerable (regarding the desire for sex), and some people are socialized not to disappoint (regarding the desire to not have sex).
It’d be easier if we all could just say directly to each other, “I want to have sex with you,” and the other person felt free to say, “I do as well,” or, “I do not want to,” and have that be that. Romantic, maybe not, but refreshing, perhaps.
Heterosexual men and heterosexual women are, generally, socialized differently about sex. About wanting it and about moving toward it. That’s only made things difficult. We often think sex is not supposed to be difficult, that it’s supposed to be simple and easy.
It’s sex! It’s awesome! It should be simple and easy. But it’s so damned complex. It really is.
In many conversations I’ve had with men—particularly since the #MeToo movement has taken a long overdue hold of the country—there’s been a search for a right answer, like the one I mention, about our just being honest about what we want and don’t want. There’s been a sense that we should figure out how to make it simple again.
But it never was and we should never have treated it like it was.
Difficult Questions Without Easy Answers
I would like men—straight men in particular—to take a good, long look at how we learned about having sex. Not the physical stuff. Not the concern about STDs and the pregnancy prevention stuff, but the movement toward wanting to have sex with someone and then having sex with them. What messages did we get growing up?
There’s lots of talk about how to ask someone on a date, but not a lot of what to do between meeting someone and sleeping with someone. (Well, there’s a bunch by the pick-up artists, but sadly, that’s all there really is.)
Even if you were lucky enough to have had parents who sat you down and talked to you about the birds and the bees instead of learning about sex from your peers, you probably didn’t have parents that had any more guidance than that you should respect the person you’re with.
Not that that’s not great advice. You should respect whoever you’re with, sexual or otherwise, but it doesn’t help you when you’re trying to figure out whether the woman you brought home is only going to make out on the couch with you or whether you should move toward unbuttoning her jeans.
What’s the difference between “encouraging” her and “coercing” her? Is there a game being played where she’s not supposed to express that she wants to have sex even though you think she really does so you keep pushing the envelope? When does coercion become sexual assault?
Individually, we need to reassess what we’ve done and what we want to do differently moving forward.
Looking At Power
We seek easy answers to these complex questions. Society has tried to “fix” this in the past by saying that we need explicit consent during each step of the way (e.g., “May I place my hand on your breast?” “No.” Etc.)
Many people’s answer is to just keep pushing further until you get a very definite, “No.” Unfortunately, if that’s the case we’ll probably discover that we crossed the line to coercion and sexual assault because we were waiting for that “No,” but we didn’t realize it until it was pointed out to us. And then we may get defensive.
If that sounds familiar, then we have to sit with that and decide that we need to make changes.
Because that’s what happens if we’re looking for easy answers instead of being attentive to power dynamics and privilege. Once we attune to those two things, we become more aware that there are no easy answers. Many men I know would deny that they have power and privilege in their life, and certainly don’t feel they do in their dating life.
Attuning to That Power & Privilege
Returning to the start of this post, many guys feel that since finding someone who wants to have sex with them is a challenge, it means that they have no power in sexual situations. They think: I want something; it took a while to get this far and I’m damn sure not going to lose my opportunity.
And that’s how you know that you have power and privilege because, if you drop down into what you’re feeling, you may notice that you feel entitled. You feel entitled because you were the nice guy. You went through the dating ritual. You met for coffee first, maybe for dinner. She’s back home with you. She seems to be interested since she’s making out with you. You feel that it doesn’t make sense for her to change her mind and she’s probably just hung up on some outdated ideas about being coy and not looking like she wants it. We feel entitled to her and that is the problem.
It’s like the men who complain that a woman took their job or a white person complaining that a Black person took their promotion: the privilege you don’t feel you have is that you think the job or promotion is yours to lose. Just like you may think a woman’s body is yours to gain.
Once you attune to this, you won’t feel surer of anything, perhaps. You may even find that you have less sex. Sure, that’ll suck, but you may find yourself more connected. Connected to the person you’re with, yes, but also connected to yourself and what you want and how you want to move toward it.
Because that’s the great part of getting in touch with our own power and our privilege: we get more deeply in touch with our own humanity. The humanity that toxic masculinity and patriarchy have kept us away from. And that’s definitely worth it.
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