How We Obliterate Female Sexual Desire
Why do bisexual women get raped so much? Almost half of bisexual women have been raped (compared to 13-14% for straight/lesbian women) and I have always wondered — why?
What the fuck is going on? Seriously, what the fucking fuck?
As a bisexual woman who has experienced a sexual assault, I have had more than a passing curiosity about this question. Perhaps “obsession” would be a better phrasing. But I’m so fucking angry that it takes a lot of energy to be rational on this topic, so the answer has been slow coming. Yet, coming it is.
Some of my greatest insight has come from the feminist writing of Julia Serano, who is a bisexual trans woman. Serano wrote on the immense violence against trans women in her book Whipping Girl. Because Serano also had the experience of being perceived as male (or, being “male-bodied” as she phrased it) she has a deep understanding of the different types of sexualization society places on men and women. To summarize, men are sexualized in ways that place them as the aggressor, and women are sexualized in ways that place them as objects.
[A] woman can never truly be seen as a sexual aggressor, only a sexual object. Thus, women who do take take sexual initiative are not considered to be preying on men per se, but rather opening themselves up or inviting male sexual aggression.
The idea that women who take sexual initiative are seen as opening themselves up for male sexual aggression explained so much in my life. When I was younger, I used to be a fairly sexually open person. I would talk about people I found attractive. I would talk, immaturely perhaps, about my sexual exploits. I would buy sex toys — once I brought cheap vibrators for all the girls on my hall in college. Just because.
Being as sexually open as I was invited a fair amount of harassment, but I was pretty durable. I could take stupid jokes, boob grabs and ass smackings and maintain a fairly high level of outgoing sexual sass. But, I couldn’t take that sexual assault. It broke my spirit, and I became functionally asexual for years. I still cry for that girl I used to be.
And yet, depressingly, somehow such a thing seemed inevitable. My being open about my sexuality and about my turn ons invited harassment. It’s as if by being sexually frank, I had precluded my right to be choosy about my partners.
I remember once complaining about how horny I was to some male friends, and them saying “Emma, shut the fuck up. You could go into a bar and just get some guy to sleep with you whenever you wanted.” I never even noticed how asinine that statement was, until another more insightful friend pointed it out to me. “They’re being intentionally obtuse,” he said, “obviously you want to sleep with a man you’re attracted to, not just any man.”
The thing is, regardless of gender, if you have no standards, if you’re willing to literally have sex with anyone who will sleep with you — well, you’ll probably be able to find someone. Yet, culturally it goes without saying that a man who wants to have sex wants to have sex with an attractive woman. Yet, the idea that a woman would want to sleep with attractive men seemed not to occur to the men telling me how easy it was for me to get laid. A woman expressing her desire for sex is expected to be open to whatever sex happens to come her way.
We don’t accept the reality of female desire. I was just reading about the history of date rape, and the crux of the question (as phrased in the article) being asked around the topic in the 90s was “Can a woman be attracted to a man, he buys dinner and they go home, does she still have the right to say ‘No?’”
Or, to simplify — can a man rape a woman who is turned on by him? Can a man rape a woman who is really horny in general?
So, obviously yes, but culturally… we seem not to believe it. A major argument presented as a mitigating factor in a lot of rape cases seems to be she was turned on. I’m sure most of these women were not turned on, but even if they were, it wouldn’t matter.
Arousal is not consent.
If I got out a big, purple strap on and ass raped some man with it until he bled would I be able to justify that by saying “he had an erection when we started it, he clearly wanted to get fucked”? No — a very reasonable counterpoint would be “even if he wanted to have sex, he might not have wanted to have that kind of sex.”
Yet, when it comes to heteronormative sex acts, and when the woman is on the receiving end, if a woman is openly turned on we — as a society — struggle with her right to reject that sex act. So often when I’ve been fooling around with guys, if I’m obviously turned on but not enjoying where the sex is going, my reluctance to continue is met with anger (especially if the act I’m rejecting is vaginal penetration.)
But you know what? I do enjoy fucking people with big purple strap ons. When I’m turned on, maybe I don’t want to get fucked with some fleshy man dick. Maybe I want to fuck some guy with my purple dildo. And, ok — no one has to consent to a pegging if they’re not into it. But by the same token, I shouldn’t be expected to consent to a sex act I’m not into. And sometimes, even if I’m horny as hell, I’m not about dick.
We live in a society where, as soon as a woman gets turned on, she is in danger. She is in danger because some people will read arousal as consent. She in in danger because if she finds a heteronormative sex act unpleasant, she might be denied the ability to stop. She is in danger because people see her as an object to be used, and will use her own sexual desire as a way of implicating her in her own objectification.
So, what do women do? They represses their lust. A woman’s only defense to an unwanted sexual act is “I wasn’t turned on.” She will deny her own arousal, even to herself, so that she can protect herself from the violence that will inevitably come her way. And, they’ve done studies on this — women literally don’t know what is turning them on. Because if a woman did know, if she admits her arousal to anyone by accident or on purpose, people will often use this knowledge to hurt her.
To circle back round, what’s my take on why bisexual women get raped more? I think it’s because, the act of coming out as bisexual necessitates being open (a bit) about what turns you on (women.) Heterosexuality is the default, so straight women never really need to answer to anyone about their sex life, and lesbians don’t date men so they’ll get raped less (since men do most of the raping.) But, bi women are at the perfect intersection of “needing to be somewhat open about their desire” and “sleeping with the gender responsible for most rapes.”
This violence against bisexual women, however, I think is just a specific manifestation of the violence against female desire in general. Feminists talk sometimes about men (not all men) who want to punish women for sex, but this is really about wanting to punish women for desire. A horny woman is a dangerous woman, because she might not behave sexually in societally sanctioned ways. She might not allow herself to be used as a sexual object to reward the most “successful” men, but instead choose to have sex with men she’s attracted to. If women have sex with whoever they want, if they know their own arousal and follow it, it they start being actors rather than props in this play, how will the oligarchy force low status men to play keep playing this losing game? Would men care about status if women didn’t?
Anyway — I’m not really sure how to wrap this one up. But, I guess I’ll go with fuck you, society. Fuck you for casting me in the role of a victim, fuck you for actually making me a victim. Fuck you for robbing me of my sexual agency, fuck you for robbing me of my desire. Fuck you for sublimating feminine sexuality. Fuck your fucking rape culture, and fuck your lies and idealization of male sexuality. Fuck you for your disbelief in my agency, fuck your disbelief in my desire. Fuck you to all the men who stalked me. Fuck you to all the men who refused to see me as a person. Fuck you to all the men who cried when I cut my hair. Fuck you to all the old men who hit on me when I was a teenager. Fuck all you fucking catcallers. Fuck you to the asshole who assaulted me. Seriously. Fuck you all.