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Misogyny is ruining our sex lives

college culture

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Duke

culture

Misogyny is ruining our sex lives

Why don't we care about women?

Karla Colley

1.23.18

*This article’s focused on male-female sexual interactions

To have sex: to engage in sexual intercourse (including oral sex, vaginal penetration, and anal sex)

We need to talk about sex, and we specifically need to talk about what it means to have bad sex. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m referring to the kind of sex where you make an impromptu to-do-list in your head; the kind where you stare at the ceiling wondering how much longer before he’s done. This also includes the kind that leaves you feeling slimy afterwards, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why. I’m talking about the kind of sex that you struggle to describe to your friends afterwards because it wasn’t exactly sexual assault, but you still felt displeased, even violated.

Now, I’m willing to bet that these particular scenarios or feelings ring some bells because most sexually active women that I know have experienced this type of sexual interaction at least once. In fact, this – awful, unsatisfactory, and sometimes humiliating sex – isn’t a phenomenon. Actually, it's a fairly "normal" experience among women engaging in sex with men. Part of the problem is that we often confine violating sex to violent and forceful penetration, when in reality, it includes a spectrum of actions and subsequent emotions. Similarly, we think of bad sex solely in terms of “He didn’t use his fingers the way I like” or “What’s an orgasm? I’ve never experienced that sensation.” In reality, it can also account for general discomfort throughout the entire progression leading to sex. There needs to be a much larger conversation about male entitlement, misogyny, and unequal power dynamics in sexual interactions between men and women.

Consent confusion: Does she want the D or not?

In college, there seems to be an emphasis on social situations with implicit sexual undertones, such as the infamous “Netflix and chill.” You know, that guy you’ve been plotting on and alluding to on your finsta finally invites you over, right? When your friends, who are equally invested, cheekily ask you about the movie the next day, you simply flash a sly smile that tells them exactly what they want to know: you only watched the first half hour. See, there’s this cultural understanding that accepting an invitation to come over translates to an automatic “yes” to sex, and if not to that, then to at least everything else.

This is alarming, and assumptions like these bring attention to some questions surrounding consent. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines consent as “compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another.” It’s highly problematic that agreeing to go to a man’s house to watch a movie or play video games is widely interpreted as an agreement to also have sex when it wasn’t explicitly proposed. For one, the woman could have zero sexual interest in the man or only be interested in watching a movie on that particular night. That is, after all, what she agreed to; nothing more should be assumed or expected.

More than this, it’s important to understand that consent can be given and taken away at any point leading up to and even during a sexual act. Sure, the woman might’ve initially wanted some type of sexual interaction. Yet, somewhere along the line, the man said or did something that made her uncomfortable. She lost interest in taking things to the next level, so she started dropping hints, both verbal and non-verbal, to indicate that she changed her mind. Men should possess enough emotional intelligence and self-awareness to discern when women are not only uninterested, but also downright uncomfortable. A woman going quiet, deflecting, pulling away from an embrace, redirecting hands, and/or tensing up is not a woman who wants to engage in any type of sexual interaction.

In an ideal world, the woman would assert herself with a firm and transparent “no,” and if that decision wasn’t respected, she’d simply leave; however, that’s not the world that we currently live in. Instead of shaming women for not having this exact reaction, we should try to understand the probable reason behind hesitating. The truth is that, as women, we’ve been so conditioned to be docile and prioritize men’s desires ahead of our comfort that we’re often afraid to assert ourselves in denying men’s sexual advances. We often feel guilty for having such fear, despite the fact that women are quite literally brutalized and murdered, often times by “nice guys,” for rejecting men. As Jill Filipovic reported for The Guardian:
“Girls are raised with a contradictory set of expectations: be kind and acquiescent, but also be the brakes on male sexual desire. We are taught to reflexively say yes except for when we’re supposed to say no, but we don’t learn how to know when we want to say either.”

The easiest way to go about this is to have continuous open and honest conversations with your partner about what each person’s expectations and boundaries are, as well as paying attention to each other’s body language. Note that I said conversations, which implies that you’re not just hearing your partner, but genuinely listening to her and taking her comments into consideration. Sometimes women don’t explicitly say “no” because we feel like it won’t matter. We feel like we don’t matter. Some men view consent as a mere task on their checklist to getting off, which is partly why anything other than a hard “no” is taken as an unequivocal “yes." We need to create an environment where women feel we as people, in addition to our bodies, are valued.

The blurred lines of sexual coercion

Now, many men excuse themselves with the oversimplified logic that they don't pose active threats to the women around them since they’ve never physically forced themselves into a woman. However, one doesn’t have to violate a woman’s corporeal body to be dangerous. A lot of men won’t force women into sex with physical pressure, but they’ll certainly whine and grumble in a way that suggests that they feel entitled to our bodies. The complaints creatively vary, but my personal favorites include “You’re such a tease,” “You play too damn much,” and “Stop wasting my time.” One guy immediately insisted on taking me home even though I’d previously made my limits known, presumably because he’d assumed that he’d be able to sway me. Such charmers, huh?

In general, men appear to believe that when women say “no,” this isn’t a final decision. Rather, it’s the beginning of the hunt where "no" is a boundary that can and should be tested. How many romance films and romantic comedies have we seen where the leading man essentially hounds his love interest into going on a date with him? Society has blamed women for not saying “no” louder while ignoring that such demands are often disregarded.

Let’s think about the way that men often talk about sex or describe their sexual interactions to their male friends. There are women who are explicit about their sexual intentions with their potential partners from the beginning, but these straightforward women aren't commonly seen as thrilling. Why? When one’s been socialized to prioritize the chase rather than women’s authentic mutual interest, or their sexual fulfillment for that matter, losing the opportunity to be the aggressor or conqueror can feel like one’s been cheated out of his right. This is why men frequently dismiss women that they feel are too “easy,” and we can hear the twinge of excitement and pride in their voices when they talk about the women that they finally managed to get into their beds. This more than suggests that there’s something extra satisfactory about having sex with women who initially resisted or proved to be difficult.
There are men with a rather nasty habit of pestering women into having sex, as if having to convince us shouldn’t raise a red flag (or multiple red flags). This kind of harassment often results in women giving in when they find it "easier" to get it over with than continue to be harassed. There’s a difference between a woman saying “sure” after you’ve badgered her for the fourth time than a woman earnestly saying “yes” on her own terms. More than this, some women understandably falter out of fear of men resorting to physical aggression or violence. If you won’t respect her decision the first time she declines your offer, who’s to say that you won’t cross physical boundaries too?
Contrary to popular belief, women know when they’re sexually interested in someone. We don’t need to be persuaded. As I previously stated, women’s stances on what, if any, sexual activities we want to partake in can absolutely change, but an outside party shouldn’t influence these conclusions. It should be the woman’s personal decision and hers alone.

Who's sex really about?

As a society, we’ve normalized our understanding of men's sexual interactions with women not only as a chase, but also as acts that are done to women rather than with them.
“I fucked her.” “I banged her.” “I smashed her.” “I clapped those cheeks.”
The way that we discuss what’s assumed to be consensual sex highlights serious concerns with how women’s bodies are viewed. Frequently, when men refer to women that they’ve had sex with, their language points to the fact that the experience was more about them receiving pleasure and fulfilling their sexual desires rather than both them and their female partners mutually enjoying each other’s bodies and achieving sexual satisfaction. I’ve undoubtedly also heard women use this language, but they haven’t been conditioned to solely view men’s bodies as vessels for their sexual delight.
Consider the way that we define good or successful sex. For a lot of men, sex ends once they’ve reached their climax. A woman’s orgasm is seen as an elusive hindrance. We treat it as a bonus level instead of as something that should be actively sought after and worked towards. Sadly, men view a woman’s orgasm as the ultimate indicator of sexual satisfaction, but often don’t exert any serious energy into helping their partners reach that peak. Hello, that’s why women often stroke the male ego by faking it. Research shows that up to 80% of women are unable to or only occasionally reach orgasm through intercourse alone. Since many men are unwilling to put in the additional effort to make sure that their lady gets hers too, some women just go through life never having experienced one with a partner. Excuse me?
Of course, we should acknowledge that not every sexual experience is going to result in sensual, deep starring, soul-shattering, life-changing sex. That might not even be what the woman in question is particularly looking for; however, what all experiences should have in common are respect for one’s sexual partner, enthusiastic consent, and mutual sexual enjoyment. These are the keys to having good, no – great sex. We need to make them non-negotiable.

Where does this leave us?

We all need to understand and accept that like most things in life, sex is often messy, perplexing, and difficult to maneuver. Just because the sex is technically consensual doesn’t mean that everything went well or that the way it progressed was okay. It seems daunting, but we need to continue to have these difficult discussions, even if we don’t know how to properly communicate our ideas. We need to bring into the open conversations that are certainly taking place behind closed doors. While women should lead this dialogue, men need to be willing to listen, accept critiques, and actively participate.
After all, it takes two to horizontally tango, and life’s too short for terrible sex.