I like sex.
I realize that this is the sort of declaration that ranks right up there in obviousness as “Hey, the sun rises in the east!” and “water’s a bit wet, i’nit?” but stick with me here, I have a point I’m getting to.
I’ve been reading Clarisse Thorne’s “Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser” lately and it’s been a thought-provoking read. Beyond being a fascinating and surprisingly even-handed look at PUA culture and techniques, it also has a lot of cross-over with sex positivity. Some of the attitudes expressed by members of the PUA community she interviews reminded of some of the ways I looked at the world not that long ago, especially with regards to sex and sexuality.
When I was younger and less experienced – back in the bad old days – I liked sex but didn’t really know much about it. Less of a case of not understanding the mechanics or only routine in my repertoire being “writing letters with my tongue” but about human sexuality. I had absorbed a lot of misinformation about sex and sexuality from the culture I grew up in, especially as a white, hetero, cisgendered male. As far as I knew, sex was something of a transaction: guys bargained, cajoled, argued, convinced, begged or otherwise persuaded women into performing some sex act – ideally some penis-in-vagina action – and women would give in. Sometimes reluctantly, sometimes with enthusiasm but rarely without some form of negotiation. The fact that men wanted sex was something of an inconvenience at best, something actually shameful at worst. Being called a pervert – if, say, you were caught watching Porky’s, Embrace of the Vampire or the Phoebe Cates scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High – was among the worst things you could label a guy.
After losing my virginity, I was – I shit you not – shocked when my girlfriend was interested in having sex again… like, the very next day. Without my having to put on a production or anything! Oh, what brave new world that had such people in it!
Still, even after being introduced to a world where women actually -gasp- enjoyed sex, I still clung to the belief that men were the horny ones and women had to be persuaded – which is to say, turned on or seduced – into wanting sex in equal measure. This colored a lot of my interactions with women, especially with how I was going about trying to convince them to go out on a date (and then, ideally, come home) with me. I wasn’t seeing sex – or romance, for that matter – in terms of “here’s a fun thing we can both enjoy”, I was seeing it as “what do I have to do to get you to sleep with me.” It was an adversarial process – one encouraged by society at large – and one that simultaneously demonized and praised male sexuality while insisting that female sexuality was less important, if it existed at all.
Dating was a ritualized kabuki dance; while we both knew that sex was a possibility, I had to take care to not express any overt interest in it lest I look like a pervert who Only Wanted One Thing. I had to display enough value in order to make it worth her time to give me the opportunity to try to persuade her into sleeping with me. It was exhausting and it meant that I wasn’t treating her as a person but as a vault whose combination I had to learn in order to get inside.
And from talking to my friends… I was decidedly not the only one who felt that way. We all felt the annoyance that we had to pretend that we didn’t want what we so obviously did and the frustration that women just didn’t know what it was like for guys. Men and women were just too different.
It took quite a bit of effort to break out of the antagonistic view of sex and realize that a) women were sexual beings too and b) it was ok to want sex. The problem wasn’t the interest, the problem was the way that we were all taught to go about getting it.
The Paradox of Male Sexuality
The way our culture defines male sexuality is problematic to say the least. We’re constantly beset with conflicting messages about just how a man is supposed to be, sexually. Male sexuality is equally something to be scoffed at, ashamed of and celebrated… as long as you don’t deviate from the accepted norm.
On the one hand, male sexuality is portrayed as one of constant horniness. Men are supposed to get rock-hard erections at the merest hint of stimulus (such as, say, a stiff breeze…) and ready to go at the drop of a bra – we don’t need no silly “foreplay” or anything so silly as “setting the mood”. One common joke: “How do excite your man? Show up.” The other joke-but-not-really is that men are so horny and oversexed that they’d fuck spongecake if it was warm enough.
For a man, according to the common message, sex is the alpha and omega of our lives. If you’re not interested in sex, you are not a man. We will do almost anything in the name of getting laid – travelling across the country on the hint that we might have sex (The Sure Thing, Euro Trip, Sex Drive), subject ourselves to any number of indignities (The Last American Virgin), lie about who we are (Wedding Crashers) or what we do (ditto) or make any number of promises we may or may not have intend to keep (Paradise By The Dashboard Light). Sex is a part of everything we do as men.
Men are expected to want to fuck as many women ((I mention women specifically because male sexuality is still predominately defined as heterosexual. Gay men are also frequently seen – and portrayed – as wildly promiscuous, but this is frequently held against them.)) as possible; restricting oneself to just a single woman is jokingly referred to being “tied down”. Any number of people will happily provide any number of reasons and explanations – ranging from evolutionary psychology to the effects of testosterone – as to why men should not be expected to be monogamous and should instead be free to spread their seed as far and wide as possible. Sleeping with as large a number of women as possible is something to be celebrated – certain celebrities (Wilt Chamberlain, Gene Simmons, Hugh Hefner, Warren Beatty) are known for their level of promiscuity as much as for their professional accomplishments. The higher the number… well, the more manly you are.
Of course, this glory only fits within specific standards. It doesn’t count if you’re sleeping with women who fall outside the conventional definition of beauty1. If your desires fall outside of the accepted stereotype – most commonly young and busty with a narrow waist and long tapered legs – well there’s something wrong with you. If you are attracted to, say, heavy women or older women… well, that’s fodder for comedy right there because real men aren’t into that.
And if you’re a virgin more than a few months past puberty… well shit son, something must be wrong with you, because a man is not a virgin! Men get laid.
At the same time, however, male sexuality is also seen as a joke or even something to be ashamed of. Ignoring more extreme ends of the spectrum such as Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, male sexuality is commonly portrayed as awkward, buffoonish or barely restrained animal instinct. In film, television and comics, sex makes people stupid. The womanizer characters are often also either the moron or the man-child. Men can’t hold a conversation with a woman without attempting to look down her shirt, can barely spit out two sentences to a woman who he finds attractive without making a Freudian reference to her breasts, vagina or having sex. The man who has lots of sex partners is shown to have something wrong with him, emotionally and needs a Good Woman to heal him and teach him the wonders of monogamy. Women were disturbed, even disgusted by any noticeable expression of sexual interest whether verbal or physical (inopportune erections, anyone) and yet the man simply can’t help himself.
Being told simultaneously that you were supposed to be a stud and that women found sex icky does not make for a well-balanced view of sex growing up.
Not, mind you, that women have it any easier.
- a changing definition if ever there were one. [↩]