I was babbling with a good male friend recently and he said something that made me blink fast. We were talking about sex, and his frustration with his current girlfriend whose sex drive doesn’t match his. It’s nothing super off, but he gets turned down, on average, three times a week. He could have sex every day, she’s only interested 3-4 times per seven day cycle. The conversation reminded me of a panel I’d sat on just before Valentine’s Day. We were talking about sex drives and the ideal number of times people, say… 21-35, should be getting it on. The guys, of course, threw out numbers like daily and at minimum five times a week. The expert (male) co-signed them and said to the ladies (in so many words), that we should be having sex as often as possible, that our sex drives should be through the roof. There was a suggestion that if we, women, didn’t want sex, then we should re-evaluate our sex drives and learn to.
I didn’t object. There was so much to object to that night that I’d lost my energy. (I did for plenty of other things, including other massive double standards.) But I sat on my stool wondering how we can go by the premise that women can be re-configured to rev up their sex drive, but we don’t apply the logic that men can turn their’s down. Why is there an expectation that she do more? Why can’t he do less? Why does his normal trump hers? Clearly my feminism (aka logic) was peeking out.
“So what do you want her to do? Do you when she doesn’t want to?” I asked my friend jokingly.
It’s an idea that’s beyond me. I’ve had sex before when I didn’t want to. It wasn’t rape. I didn’t offer a “no” to be ignored. But didn’t offer an enthusiastic “yes!” either to give consent. Just kind of gave in to his persistence with a meek “okay” and laid there counting the pumps until he was done and hoping I didn’t dry out in the process. I felt about like Shug Avery once deduced from Cellie's story about Mister:
A: You make it sound like he was going to the toilet on you.
B. That's what it feel like.
After the last time, I promised myself that going forward unless I was 100% "yes!" the answer was “no.” I’d deal with the fallout when it came— the guilt tripping, the relationship re-evaluation, the idle, convert threats of ‘what you don’t do someone else will’. Okay. Whatever it was, couldn’t be worse than the way I felt laying there waiting for him to finish doing his business.
“Well yeah,” my friend answered. “That’s what everyone else does.”
He didn’t get his new girl. She was the first woman that had ever told him “no”, had not even attempted to pacify him by offering oral at best, or a hand job at worst when she wasn’t in the mood too. The women before him had all been like I used to be. He made his wants known either verbally or by being all up on her. And when she wasn’t in the mood, she initially rebuffed him, but then he persisted, and after a bit, she just gave in. Never said no, never said yes, but she spread her legs so he did what he wanted and never thought about what she really wanted. She didn’t say no, so she must have meant yes.
He went on to tell me that he felt rejected when his girl said no. Not a surface type, but a bone deep ache that messed with his head until he couldn’t get to sleep some nights long after she was snoring beside him (yes, she snores too.)
He sat across from me rolling around all the shortcomings that would make her say no. He’d internalized it to be about something he was doing. At the same time, I was sitting there respecting the hell out of her for respecting her body enough not to allow it to be used for someone else’s pleasure when she didn’t feel like participating. And too, I was wondering why so many women say “okay” when what we really want to say is “no.”
There was a great article on Jezebel yesterday about this topic that breaks it all down. In “How I Learned to Set Boundaries in Bed”, Clarisse Thorn recalls of a past relationship:
One night we had a terrible fight. It was a complicated, wide-ranging fight, but a main theme was this: he couldn't deal with us not having sex. He made this very clear. He said, "You think I'm okay with living together and not having sex with you?" I told him I could leave if it was really that bad. That I could give him my share of the rent, and leave. I think part of me was hoping that he'd say, "Fine, leave!" But he insisted that he would be crushed if I left, he insisted that I had to stay. He did nothing to alleviate the sexual pressure on me.
So I had sex with him. Of course. It took me a few weeks, but I did it. I did it because I was in love with him. I did it because I felt guilty, as if having a strong emotional connection with a man is wrong if you don't "pay" him with sex. (Hey, "everyone knows" chicks have sex in exchange for relationships, right?) I did it because I thought it was "worth it", I thought it "wasn't that bad", even though I hated every minute of it.
When we started having sex again — I remember that it was dark, afterwards, and he said: "I've been wanting to do this for months," and he kissed me. I kissed him back enough to convince him that I liked it, and then I turned my head away, and I cried. I kept my body still and I didn't make a sound. I cried because I felt so trapped, because I felt so sick with myself, and I didn't let him see it because somehow — somehow — I'd convinced myself that this, too, was just a cost I had to pay for this relationship. I can't understand it now, but I guess I actually believed that I not only owed him sex, but that I owed him the illusion that I enjoyed it.
The article is fascinating (and a great read), but what struck me most was an idea that arose in the comments:
A woman's enthusiasm for sex should be a requirement for sex to take place.
It is a societal problem that so many women agree to have sex they don't want, but it is also a societal problem that so many men are willing to settle for sex where the woman is just putting up with it.