Please note: This piece includes a couple of passing references to my personal sexuality. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, use your judgment on this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?
I’ve been thinking about this question for many years. The publisher of this very blog brought it up in a conversation we were having, and it’s been on my mind off and on ever since. It came up again at a recent salon of sex writers and activists; it came up yet again, although more obliquely, in a conversation I was having with a porn writing friend of mine.
Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?
There are exceptions, obviously. Arguably the most famous and influential sex writer right now is the sex advice columnist Dan Savage. And there are others, of course: David Steinberg, Dr. Marty Klein, Charlie Glickman, I could keep going. And of course, there’s plenty of dumb, generic, Maxim-magazine type sex writing from men; in some senses it’s silly to complain about sex writing as female-dominated, given how much of the dumb crap there is. But it does seem as if sex writing — serious, intellectual sex writing, at any rate — is one of those rare fields that’s largely taken up by women, and in which women are both more visible and more generally respected.
And thinking about this question is making me think about the suspectability of male sexuality.
I think that when women write about sex, we’re assumed, in some ways, to be dispassionate observers. Of course we get targeted as sluts and whores and whatnot. But we’re also seen as bringing a fresh perspective to the subject, and a cooler eye, and a more thoughtful point of view.
When men write about sex, on the other hand, they’re assumed to be drooling horndogs.
Of course men have sex on the brain, this assumption goes. They’re men. They think with their dicks. That’s what men do. Who cares what they think about sex? We all know what they think about sex. What men think about sex is that they want it.
The very fact that sex is seen as a primarily male experience makes male sex writers, paradoxically, seem less serious. Our society sees sex as being about maleness: male desires, male insecurities, male satisfaction. Our culture is sexually obsessed with women, of course; but it’s sexually obsessed with women as — and I’m turning into a ’70s lesbian feminist as I write this — the objects of desire, rather than the subjects of it. Sex is seen as a male topic. But therefore, we all too often assume that we know what men think about sex, and how they feel about it. Male sexual desire is assumed to be simple: an animal urge to put a dick in a wet hole. With, occasionally, some variations in the way of orientation and paraphilias. And I think this makes it harder for male sex writers to be taken seriously. Anything they have to say on the subject is likely to be seen as suspect.
Now, I’m not writing this to complain about the terrible unfairness of this reverse discrimination. Yes, this is to some extent unfair. It’s unfair to men to assume that the only thinking they do about sex is with their dicks, and that they therefore don’t have anything to contribute to a serious conversation about it. (Also, I feel compelled to point out, men aren’t the only ones who sometimes think with the little head instead of the big one. Believe me, I speak from experience.) But given how much regular discrimination women deal with in almost every other occupation, I’m not crying a river over the fact that this one little field of endeavor has a more female stamp on it.
That’s not the point of this.
The point of this is twofold. One is this: I, selfishly, want to read more of what men have to say about sex. I want to read more about the varieties of male sexuality, from people who are living it from the inside. I want to read more about the varieties of female sexuality, from people who are seeing it from the outside. I want to read more about how men feel about this “animal urge horndog” label they’ve gotten stuck with: to what extent they think it’s true, to what extent they think it isn’t, how the reality and the unreality of it weave together in their experience of their sexuality. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit most of the serious thought about it to one gender. And in addition to hearing what men, qua men, think about sex, I want to hear what individual men think about it: what Dan and David and Marty and Charlie and so on have to say. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit the voices who can talk about it seriously to the voices that are attached to vaginas.
A porn writing friend of mine was talking with me recently about a story he’d written; a kink-themed story, in which a male character was using economic leverage to take sexual advantage of a female character. My friend found this fantasy scenario hot (as do I — hoo, boy!)… but he was finding himself somewhat uneasy about it as well. In particular, as a good feminist, he felt uneasy about eroticizing these gender dynamics and the economic power that men have over women.
And yet, if the story had been written by a woman, telling the story from the female victim’s point of view instead of the male perpetrator’s, I doubt that he would have felt any qualms about reading and enjoying it. It bugged me a little that he felt that way about writing it. It made me wonder how many other good male porn writers had considered writing stories like this, had even started to write stories like this… and had stayed their hand, for fear of being seen as, or indeed for fear of being, drooling sexist male horndogs who just want to take sexual advantage of women. If so — that sucks. I, selfishly, as a fan of kinky porn in which men do fucked-up things to women, would like to read more stories like this that are written by men. I know what this fantasy feels like from my end of it. I want to learn more about what it feels like from the other end, from thoughtful feminist men who get off on it, too.
So that’s my first point. My second point is this:
I’ve lived my whole life dealing with the various and sundry ways that female sexuality gets demeaned, by being ignored or trivialized or assumed to not exist.
Thinking about this topic is making me realize the various and sundry ways that male sexuality gets demeaned… by the mirror image of that process. It’s making me realize that the amplification of male sexuality — the funhouse mirror that takes the image of a man and distorts it into a drooling tongue and a hard dick — has the effect of demeaning it as well.
And that sucks for all of us.