Is male sexuality inherently predatory and threatening? Do all guys just want to grab women’s private parts, as Donald Trump suggested? Was Brock Turner’s jail sentence of six months and registering as a sex offender too harsh for “20 minutes of action”, as his father complained?
Many people believe rape is an inevitable by-product of male sexuality because the male sex drive is impossible to control. They may even believe that sexual desire causes guys to make bad decisions. They are dangerously incorrect and we all pay the price.
The reality is that most men are quite capable of controlling their sexual urges, which is why the vast majority of men are not rapists. In fact, most men are not particularly interested in having many partners. Researchers consistently find approximately 15% of men in their 20s have three or more partners per year, and only about 5% of all guys have three or more partners for three straight years. On college campuses, surrounded by thousands of other unmarried people their same age with a minimal level of adult supervision, only 25% of undergraduate men say they want two or more partners in the next thirty days. Yes, males have greater desire for and greater experience with promiscuity than women, but it’s a minority of guys who are driving the differences: three-fourths of male college students aren’t interested in having multiple short-term partners and more than four-fifths of guys in their 20s aren’t being promiscuous. So much for “hookup culture.” Most men don’t desire a promiscuous sex life. If you can get a man to talk about a sexual experience he regrets, you’ll probably hear a story about a drunken hookup.
Instead of recognizing and acting on the reality, we continue to minimize guys’ ability to control their sexual desires and instead give responsibility to others. Because we think guys can’t control themselves, we give girls and women responsibility for not dressing provocatively, not “leading him on,” and proving they gave a clear – and clearly understood – no. Guys seem to have little responsibility for knowing their own limits or being decent listeners. (Not good listeners; “no” is about as simple as it gets.) “Bathroom bills” in North Carolina make transgender individuals responsible for preventing the rape of women in restrooms; why not make it illegal to falsely claim a Trans identity?
Female victims clearly pay the price, as the letter from Brock Turner’s victim demonstrates. The experience and its associated trauma are awful. Not being listened to, as in the Bill Cosby case, just makes it worse.
Victims of male-on-male sexual assault suffer many of the same outcomes, with an additional dose of shame for not being able to defend themselves. Mental health problems may be compounded by the lack of public and professional knowledge regarding male sexual assault victims, leading to less effective treatment.
Some institutions have also paid the price of male sexual predation. They assumed rape was inevitable and then tried to act like it never happened. The Catholic Church has paid tens of millions in settlements. Football programs from Penn State to Baylor to Sayreville, NJ have paid, with reputations tarnished and jobs lost. At this level, the cost is paid not just by the perpetrators and those who covered for them, but many others who genuinely didn’t know. Some of those innocents, continuing to trust the organizations and relying on their faulty knowledge of male sexuality, lash out at the victims.
Although the cost is much smaller at the individual level, all men suffer from the notion that “men are dogs,” because any misbehavior of his reinforces that notion. Further, he is incapable of refuting the global charge because the group “men” is more likely than the group “women” to be lewd or commit any type of sexual assault. Most women date men, and when they spend time and energy trying to figure out if he’s a dog or a good guy, they’re paying the price of our misunderstanding.
We can and must do better. We can learn the facts about men’s ability and willingness to control themselves, and give credit to the majority of men for being responsible adults. We can also put responsibility on the minority of men who disgrace the whole group, and teach them how to do better.
Photo: Timothy Krause/flickr