It has always been fashionable to say that online interaction is inferior for any number of reasons and to urge those of us who prefer the Internet for whatever reason to “just go outside”. Nowhere is this more true than in the area of dating. Think-pieces upon think-pieces extol the virtues of meeting people in a more “real” setting than the virtual ones available in this year of their Lord 2016 (notice the distinct lack of studies upon studies).
Online dating gets blamed for hookup culture, disposability culture, sexism, standards dubbed “unrealistic”, the death of romance, and, bizarrely, the end of dating (all of which predate the Internet, which merely expose them out in the open). Declarations of being done with dating sites have become common. This all leaves my over-a-decade OkCupid veteran self at a loss. While I see nothing wrong with saying no to a tool that doesn’t work for you, to me, saying that you refuse to put up an online dating site often if not quite always means that there is something going on that doesn’t apply to those of us who find dating sites to be useful tools. Continue reading “What Eschewing Online Dating Says About You”→
Merely experiencing desire upon beholding someone is not to necessarily objectify. To wit:
I’ve been objectified by men when I’ve worn frumpy sweatshirts and baggy straight jeans: my butt was groped when I was arrayed that way at a hole-in-the-wall eatery. I’ve been objectified by men while I was wearing long, loose tunics and skirts topped by carefully-draped headscarves: I was asked if I was a “total freak under that thing”, the last word punctuated by an unmistakable gesture towards my scarf. Hell, I’ve been objectified by men for being a virgin who mostly stayed at home: a much-older man online told me that he found it titillating to think about me “locked away” and insinuated that if we got together, he’d rescue me to a liberated life of constant sex and nudity at his apartment.
It is said that when a man mounts a man, the Divine Throne shakes out of the fear of Allah’s Wrath and the Heavens Tremble.
Then the angels start reciting, “Say: ‘He is Allah, the One; Allah, the self-sufficient. He does not beget nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him” (Ikhlas 112 1-4) until his wrath subsides. Source
In case you haven’t noticed yet, I am a feminist. Among the many other labels that I occasionally affix upon my person is “slut” (only in contexts where the word is recognized for its reclaimed value). I believe in full reproductive rights and agency, comprehensive sex ed, the valuing of sex for pleasure, the destigmatization and full legalization of all forms of sex work, and the end of STI-shaming.
So you’d think that I’d be against the notion of sex-negativity in feminism. Sex-positivity a good thing for people like me, right?
Sex-positivity might mean something different in an academic and/or political sense, but I will address the ways in which self-identified sex-positive people manifest that particular ideology. In other words, I’m exclusively dealing with sex-positivity as it exists, not as we hope it exists. I intend to reflect lived realities, not to straw-man sex-positivity. The attitude that we cannot ever judge anyone for consensual sex acts (or even judge the acts themselves outside of the individuals participating in them) has become the de facto one among the sex-positive types I’ve met, read, and otherwise encountered.
I find the notion that all sex is awesome as long as there was consent to be more than a little troubling.
On the surface, it does seem awesome. We live in a society that pathologizes mere sexual attraction when it falls outside a very narrow set of norms (let alone acting on those attractions) as well as de-prioritizes consent. Not being judgmental about anything and emphasizing consent appears to be a great counter to all that — and it can be. The problem is that we should be able to express criticism of consensual acts, especially when considering their greater context. At the very least, we should feel okay with expressing our discomfort about them. Sex-positivity can be used as a bludgeon by which to silence criticism of anything sex-related.
When I’ve expressed my discomfort regarding dominant poly men who date lots of submissive women who aren’t allowed to date anyone else (with the men often excusing their sexist behavior towards other women via their kink), I’ve been accused of being sex-negative. When I’ve brought up how sexist it is that porn, i.e. the way that most people learn about sex, primarily features fairly cis male-centric sexual acts, I’ve been told that those women consented, therefore I was being condescending towards them. When I’ve brought up the effect that depicting only a single body type as attractive might have on people’s expressed preferences, I’ve been told that I was shaming people for their sexual preferences and that I should just accept them.
Initially, all that wasn’t enough for me to abandon sex-positivity. Believe me, I wanted to stick to the sex-positive label. At first, I wanted to believe that consent was really all that mattered. Then, I wanted to believe that there was room in sex-positivity for thoughtful criticisms of consensual acts. Wanting for something to be the way you’d prefer it to be rarely transforms it, however. I felt that, especially as a woman of color, I needed to stop identifying as sex-positive.
Indeed, what ended up getting to me was an issue that almost drove me from feminism: the big r-word. Nowhere have I witnessed more open “benevolent” racism, exoticization/fetishization, and cultural appropriation than among members of the sex-positive community. While this probably has something to do with the crossover occurs with sex-positivity, New Age, kink, and so on, sex-positivity is used as an all-too-effective silencing mechanism for criticisms related to race. How dare I be upset by someone’s assumption that the Kama Sutra represents all of Indian culture? How dare I feel uncomfortable around people who mocked the renaming of the “Asian Room” at the local sex-positive space to “The Red Room?” How dare I take issue with a perfect stranger telling me that their primary source of attraction to me is my “cinnamon skin,” a phrase this perfect stranger incessantly repeated throughout the night as if it were the only means by which to identify me? Those are people’s kinks. Who was I to judge?
It’s as if “sex-positivity” has come to mean “you must instantly and without criticism accept others’ sexual preferences and choices.” When exactly did sex become the one topic that’s above reproach among feminists?
The answer, I’d wager, lies in the origins and use of the term “sex-positive.” To characterize those who aren’t sex-positive as anti-sex is similar to characterizing those who are not “pro-life” as “anti-life:” it’s a way to shut them down. Sex-positive feminism, or “pro-sex” feminism, arose in response to anti-porn feminism, not any alleged strain of “sex-negative” feminism. The way I see it, “sex-negative” is a deliberately provocative counter to the “rah rah, judge no one for nothing ever as long as they said yes before they got naked and got off” sex-positivity that is way, way more common than most feminists want to think about or admit exists.
For excellent yet brief coverage of the history of different kinds of feminism, check out Bitch’s feature.
Once upon a time, a veiled girl grew into a decidedly bare-headed young woman. As criticisms based on sexual pleasure were usually levied against, rather than by, the religious, she paid attention when religious folk criticized atheism in that way. Namely, certain theists claimed that without taboo, sex couldn’t possibly be as much fun. If they had been serious, she would have pointed out that the argument was the more benign cousin of the notion that sex is only good and healthy within the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage (her old religious, pedantic habits had yet to truly die).
As they were generally being playful, her mind went in a more pleasant direction. This isn’t to say that all of her religion-tinged sexual memories were good ones. She felt no goosebumps on her skin, just a wry smile playing upon her lips, when she recalled how her first partner once insisted she wear a headscarf during sex. She ended up feeling overheated and annoyed, not aroused. Darker were her memories of a tortured adolescence, one where an injunction against masturbation was delivered to her all too late to break the habit but soon enough to instill guilt. Flick, fret, flick, fret.
But she didn’t want to dwell on that. She recalled how lovely it was to feel the gentle warmth of the spring sunshine on the back of her neck and shoulders as she awaited a date for the first time. The accompanying breeze added to the tingling already coursing its way up and down her spine as she waited for her date to show up. Later, the fear of being caught fed the hunger with which her mouth tore into the one against it as the movie credits rolled.
Suddenly, she realized that she hadn’t violated a sexual boundary in years. Well, fuck, she thought. How could she get her spine to tingle like that again? She had no boundaries left that weren’t truly based on ethical considerations. Her feminism couldn’t provide any for her, either, since it was intersectional and sex-positive. It was clear that she needed to go on a quest for answers.
She first asked a hedonist, who said that she should just relax and enjoy it. She did so, and it was good, but not good enough. She next asked a philosopher, who said that she could always attempt to set up universal rather than contextual ethics. Such rules, the philosopher declared, were bound to lead to actions that could be considered wrong at some point (drowning babies, amirite?). Try as she might, though, she could not feel that she had willfully broken any meaningful rules. The same thing happened when she attempted to follow the advice of the kinkster who told her to set up power exchange rules with her partner. While the games were great fun, she could ultimately control the situation and opt out at any point. The next person she asked, a sex worker, told her to feed off of the invariably married clients’ deep wellspring of cheaters’ remorse, but the impersonal nature of the transactions enforced too much of a distance for that to work. At her wits’ end, she finally asked a therapist, who said that just as she had eliminated rather than accommodated her god-shaped hole, she needed to destroy her guilt-and-shame-shaped hole.
“But,” she pleaded. “I worked so hard to fill that god-shaped hole! And really, part of what plugged it was the shameless, sin-free sex!”
“Indeed,” nodded the therapist sagely. “Welp, time’s up, and I’m on vacation for the next two weeks, but feel free to book with me for after that.”
Drat, thought the young woman. What now?
Never one to Hamlet her way out of sex, she found her sweat mingling with another’s not too long after the therapy session. Hoping to fuck her way to the elusive thrill with the most intense sex she could muster in herself (and coax out of her partner), she let herself go. She swallowed and was swallowed, touched and was touched, pounced and was pounced upon, bit and was bitten. At the very height of her pleasure, she cried, “Oh, God, yes!”
Suddenly, the sheets at which she clutched were a deeper red, all that she was pressing into her lover and what her lover was pressing into her felt heartbreakingly beautiful, and the eerie light from the monitor that provided the only illumination in the room threw everything into sharp focus.
Maybe it was the fact that she was taking a deity’s name in vain in the throes of decidedly heathenish sexual congress. Maybe it was the naughty recollection that saying “God” was safer than saying a name, since it would be all too easy for her to moan the wrong one. Perhaps it was the implicit deification of her partner (“god” rather than “God”) or of the sex itself. It could have even been the very meaninglessness of what she was crying out.
Whichever way it might turn out to be, it felt great.
Well pleased, she spread the word as far and as wide as she could. After all, she argued, the non-religious should be able to do whatever ethical things that they needed to do to get there. What was the harm in invoking a non-existent being? Others heard her words, and some tried it out, and for many, it wasn’t good — it was great.
And that’s why, to this day, more than a few atheists say “God” when they have sex.
A friend bought Bending for me for my birthday and it was, ahem, truly a gift that kept on giving. You can buy it for Kindle or Nook or via Smashwords.
Note: I’m going to use more than one term to describe similar things. All less usual terms regarding gender and sexual orientation are linked to explanations of their meanings.
Of all the misguided things Woody Allen and his movies have stated about gender and sexuality, the most grating to me is his quip about nonmonosexuals:
Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.
This was perhaps intended to be tongue-in-cheek but sentiments along those lines are often expressed in earnest, resentment, envy, or some combination of the preceding feelings. Essentially, the claim is that people who can be attracted to more than one gender identity must be multiplying their number of potential non-platonic options.
On its face, it seems to make simple mathematical sense. Let’s pretend that I’m a woman who is only interested in men. As a straight woman, I’m limiting myself to less than half the population, i.e. excluding all non-male people. Now, let’s say that I’m bisexual, pansexual, or otherwise into not only men. The more gender identities I’m potentially attracted to, the more people are options for me, right?
It ain’t necessarily so. Love (or lust or attraction) is not a straightforward lottery system. If you’re calculating your perception of someone else’s odds, you may not be seeing all of the factors at play.
If by “options,” you mean “people that person could be attracted to,” perhaps such is the case. However, the word “options” (as well as what Woody Allen is saying) quite strongly implies that the attraction is reciprocated. Someone is only an “option” for you if they’re into you, too. This complicates matters significantly. Just because a person could potentially be attracted to more members of the human population doesn’t mean that more members of the human population are attracted to them in return. It could mean that for some people, perhaps, but such is not necessarily the case. Monosexuals, even the queerer ones, aren’t always the biggest fan of nonmonosexuals.
Further limits may arise when considering the preferences that nonmonosexuals may have. Specifically, I will venture to guess that many people who identify as pansexual (as opposed to those who do as bisexual) have political reasons to limit their dating pool. Pansexual people both acknowledge and could potentially be attracted to people who aren’t cis men or cis women. This could mean that they would be far less likely to accept intolerance of trans* and non-male/female-identified people in their partners. Basically, my conjecture is that fewer pansexual women will brook bigoted boyfriends and vice versa.
To be fair, I definitely know of pansexuals who experienced an increase in options when going from identifying as straight to identifying as pansexual. Such is not universal, however. To cite my personal experience, I had far more options (albeit only male ones) available to me when I was a straight-identified woman than after I started identifying as bisexual. While the culturally-assumed straight male fetish for female-on-female “action” might have just caused a collective eye-roll, consider the important difference between reality and fantasy. Plenty of men who enjoyed porn featuring only women expressed insecurity about my leaving them for another woman, believed that homosexuality is generally wrong, or otherwise felt uncomfortable with dating a bisexual woman. Then there were the fetishists: men who had a pre-made fantasy about femme women performing sex acts on each other for his viewing pleasure rather than for their own pleasure (i.e. the ones scared off by my talk of butch lesbians).
As for women, many of the lesbians I met were wary of me, fearing that I might leave them for a man — that I was just “experimenting.” Validation for their fears existed with some of the bisexual women I met, the ones who were only interested in sexual play with other women, not necessarily anything beyond a casual encounter (and sometimes one that had to involve her male partner, no exceptions).
Later, when I started identifying as pansexual, my pool shrunk even further to preclude the option of people who think “pansexual” is a silly and pretentious orientation (you wouldn’t believe how many people there are who think that way) and those whose transphobia was revealed when they realized that some of the people to whom I am attracted are trans*. Good riddance, certainly, but still a limit placed upon number of options. My lived experiences as a radical queer, atheist, and feminist woman of color further constrict my options: I am wholly uninterested in anyone who opposes or questions the rights of my friends and I to exist and live as we do.
Orientation aside, one’s attractiveness (or perceived attractiveness) plays a significant role in the number of one’s options. A very attractive straight person would likely have more options available to them than a less-attractive pansexual person.
Individual experiences notwithstanding, saying that pansexuality or any other nonmonosexual orientation by definition and by default means more options available is a false generalization The number of available options really depends on the person in question.
Included in yesterday’s Quickies is a link addressing the internet-infamous phenomenon of the Nice Guy. The clever piece turned the narrative of the Nice Guy around and humorously expressed female frustration with the “Girlfriend Zone.” Earlier, more crude versions call it the “Fuck Zone.”
I understand that it’s meant to be a flip of the classic “Friend Zone” (or even “Ladder Theory”) narrative and a criticism of the “Nice Guy” mentality. These are all things I can certainly get behind. At the same time, I’m not certain that complaints about the single-mindedness of men, no matter how hilariously-worded and -framed said complaints might be, are the best way to criticize sexual entitlement. Not only do such notions demean men, they also belittle women who are not targeted for sexual attention.
As a single college student, I got to hear the “Nice Guys” in my life complain about how there were just no women around to date or fuck since all women led them along as “friends” (all while looking right at me, the adorably clueless jerks). To exacerbate matters, the clubs I joined, hobbies in which I engaged, social groups I helped to form, and major whose classes I most attended were all widely reputed to be, in cissexist language, “sausage-fests.” Indeed, the mention of any of those male-dominated groups in the presence of a woman or more socially-aware man often solicited a derisive snort and a warning that, as one of the few girls, I would be relentlessly pursued by desperate young men.
Confused, I watched as the few other girls in each of the aforementioned groups dealt with their particular lovesick swains while no one seemed to notice that I was also a girl. To this day, I’m more than a little confused by why things went the way that they did. All that I know is that I was not mobbed by male “friends” secretly hoping to put in just the right amount of kindness coins that would lead to sex.
In terms of harassment, women are warned by other women and well-meaning men that they should be on their guard whenever they join groups with skewed gender ratios. I was certainly so warned when it came to secular groups of all stripes, only to find myself the target of straight-up sexism rather than pick-up lines.
All this can leave women who tend not to be targeted by non-platonic male attention (positive or negative) with an odd sense of resentment. It was, for example, incredibly hard for me to be sympathetic with women complaining about how much harassment they experience when they issue universally-worded (but clearly not universally-applicable) warnings. Instead of feeling sympathy for their mistreatment, I would feel annoyed at their thoughtless overlooking of my femaleness. I had to fight the urge to think of them as somehow allied with their harassers in their shared inability to acknowledge the fact that I am also a woman.
Ditto for the exclamations of “Oh my glob, you didn’t know that [insert name here] is creepy! Ha! Duh, he’s a creeper!” All that the mocking of a woman who haven’t realized that a certain man has a reputation accomplishes is to point out that he hasn’t harassed her. There are better ways to potentially warn someone than to single them out as undesirable to someone (albeit a “creeper”). Mention that he has a reputation for lechery, perhaps, instead of declaring that he hits on all girls.
The same applies to situations where the sexual attention is wanted. I’ve been turned down by more than a few men for everything from a casual coffee date to a vacation fling. I’m sure any woman could find a man to whom she is attracted but who would reject her advances. Men should have the right to say no and be selective and women should be able to hear “no” from a man without being utterly crushed. It’s hard for a woman to not to be crushed by a “no” from a man when society informs her that men are desperate for any female attention.
Less personally and more philosophically, calling more attention to men who want sex with women who want platonic friendship, even from the point of view of the woman, reinforces the ridiculous Mars-Venus mentality. Why not attack the problem at its root by challenging patriarchal notions of entitlement to women, differentiating between entitled sexual aggression and non-threatening expressions of desire, reiterating that yes means yes and no means no, and combating the “he’s a stud, she’s a slut” thinking that makes it difficult for men to say no and women to say yes?
Ceasing the use of sweeping language with regards to women as recipients of sexual attention, wanted or unwanted, would lead to more good and less harm than discussing sexism in a way that invalidates the femininity of women who are unappealing to Nice Guys and/or harassers.
college students often harbor a sexual double standard around dates that is relatively relaxed when it comes to in-the-moment hookups. In hookup scenarios, the study found, students are open to a woman taking the sexual lead.
Edit: This is a piece about cis women who have sex with cis men. Other configurations may vary. Also, wording has been changed to reflect the fact that some people do not need to orgasm to enjoy sex.
Even among the more gender-role liberated, there is an understanding that there is some sort of ugly “truth” in thinking that women want love while men want sex. Everyone knows that women experience less sexual desire than men. Also, there was that one study that showed that men say yes to casual sex and women say no. Science!
I don’t know what reaction I expected — an answering laugh, perhaps. What I didn’t expect was for him to give me a stern lecture on how no measures could totally preclude pregnancy as a possibility and that no matter how careful I was, “something could still happen.”