Out of the Gray-Zone; We Shouldn’t Pressure Women to Endure Uncomfortable Sex

Sexual predators and harassers are on the run. It became apparent during the Harvey Weinstein allegations that a new day had dawned. No longer would sexual harassment be an ugly reality that we publicly decried but privately permitted. #MeToo took hold, and the impressive weight of solidarity was brought to bear.

Perhaps for the first time, women who thought they’d been abandoned and alone in their victimhood could finally hear voices of support. And then we learned something terrible about ourselves: it’s not all casting couches, horrific quid pro quo, and blackmail. There is also a much more common “gray-zone” of consent/non-consent in which women feel pressured to have sex they don’t really want to have.

I recently read an article entitled “The Female Price of Male Pleasure” by Lili Loofbourow and was shocked to learn the number of women who experience pain during sex. Loofbourow’s explanation for why women would allow this phenomenon basically suggested that society has conditioned women to de-prioritize and de-emphasize their own physical comfort for the pleasure of men.

The argument is compelling, and the situation is tragic. This should not be the case. Women should not feel pressured by an outside entity to accept pain during sex if that is not their own decision. Don’t get too wrapped up in the “if it’s not their own decision” part yet; we’ll get into that in a minute.

In the article, Loofbourow cites some research that indicates the high percentages of women who experience pain during sex and the disproportionately high percentage of women who don’t tell their partners when sex hurts. They are conditioned to endure the pain and to not object to it, she explains. This conditioning, she continues, is why women find themselves having sex with which they are uncomfortable. This reality should be wholly unacceptable to everyone, and we should vehemently and categorically oppose it.

It is also, however, our duty to not only acknowledge the wrongdoing but to also put an end to it, and that’s where we’re falling short.

It is at this point that I would like to point out that I’m not criticizing women who have made the choice, for their own reasons, to have painful sex. I’m simply asserting that it should be exclusively the choice of those women, and that they should not feel pressured by society or by any individual to stray from their own feelings on the matter.

This article, I am told, goes a long way toward validating the feelings of a large number of women on this subject. There is value in validation of this type. In circumstances like this, I am told it provides an essential measure of comfort. Women who have felt isolated in their experience with these types of thoughts and feelings find a bit of consolation in hearing a voice that echoes their own voices, which they have been made to feel should not be outwardly expressed.

That’s powerful. We do need to acknowledge the wrong where it has been done, and we need to have sympathy and compassion for those who have been wronged. It is important to hear and understand how this has come to pass. It is also, however, our duty to not only acknowledge the wrongdoing but to also put an end to it, and that’s where we’re falling short.

While discussing this with my partner, it became apparent that while we agreed on perception of and severity of the offending problem, we did not agree on how to proceed from that point. My partner informed me that “validation is often an important precursor to action,” and I was struck by the apparent truth of the statement. There was no disagreement at this stage, either.

The conversation, however, got a little bit rockier when I suggested that while that was true, when it came to issues such as this, the popular conversation tended to get mired in the precursor validation stage and to never advance into actual action. We tend to acknowledge the problem, but to then also be unwilling to make the changes necessary to nullify or reverse it.

So, I am suggesting that we now reverse it. If, as Loofbourow states, women are regretfully having sex that is painful for them because they feel an unspoken (in the moment) pressure from men and from society, we need to make it clear to them that we support them in resisting that pressure. We should encourage women to take them helm of their own sexuality, and to steer their ships against whatever tides are making them believe they have to tolerate discomfort. Our reassurance needs to be the new wind in their sails.

We may have finally started to actually crack down on overt incidents of sexual assault and harassment, but the war is not won until all women feel confident that they are in complete control of their own sexuality. If society and/or men have given women the impression that they were expected to quietly endure physically or emotionally uncomfortable sex, let it be known that this is no longer the case. Let the reign of communication and compassion begin. Let’s rise above the uncertainty of gray-zone consent and allow everyone to feel that they are able to enter the bedroom as equals.