If the prevalence of prostitution is any indication, the widely held view that men, gay or straight, will do just about anything for sex is a somber truism. Once puberty hits so does a wave of social pressure that serves to buttress hormonal impulses — and it can be hard to tell the difference between socialized desire and actual desire.
I do not have to tell any man what it feels like to be saddled with a sex drive while lacking the necessary knowledge, sensitivity, and maturity that foster healthy sexuality. We all develop at our own pace (if we develop at all) but for many men, the desire for sex is a constant — sometimes malignant — force.
The malignancy is obvious when rape and sexual assault become substitutes for sex. Direct interviews by researchers suggest that a disturbingly large number of men will admit to being rapists without using the word “rape” because they either don’t know or don’t want to know the difference between sex and rape. They do not necessarily have to know because, given the reality of rape culture and victim-blaming, these men often operate with impunity. They lack empathy, (falsely) associate domination of women with masculinity, and are likely more concerned with the social consequences of not violating a woman than the social consequences of violating her.
The flip side to this is that an adolescent boy can be taken advantage of by someone older and more experienced due to the adolescent’s perceived need for sex and the societal pressure placed on him to accept sex if and when available. In my past role as a crisis counselor, I encountered more than one boy in this situation, and a good friend once confessed to me that this was the context in which he “lost his virginity.” It is not often discussed that the stereotypical view of men as sex addicts can facilitate the devolution of men to the status of remorseless sexual predators AND to that of easy prey.
This stereotype also carries with it less severe consequences. I have been pressured by female partners to have sex when I was not in the mood for it and even (mildly) shamed for my refusal. The implication was that I should want to have sex. Feeling fatigued, having a bad headache, or even mourning my dead grandmother were not considered valid excuses. However, I consider myself fortunate to have never faced any manner of intimidation related to sex — something that women experience often.
It is incredibly hard, in the context of male-female relationships especially, to have honest conversations about sex, to set proper boundaries, or to seek support when sexually victimized if mainstream society continues to assume that sex is at the center of every man’s raison d’etre.
Let’s consent to a culture change.
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