What Does Rape Culture Do To Female Desire?

Emma Lindsay
Apr 12, 2016 · 4 min read

I have a date with a man tonight, which is unusual. I’m excited about it, but I woke up in the night feeling anxious. About my date? Not sure, could have been my taxes.

But…

I do get anxious on dates with men. It’s not like, an overwhelming heart racing anxiety, but more a cold anxiety. Like, I feel tense and can’t settle down comfortably anxiety. An “I’m not totally sure what I’m feeling because I’m shutting it all down” anxiety.

I have been considering, lately, where does this anxiety come from. What filled me with so much fear and tension that it just wasn’t worth it to date men for 5 years? I do know that the fear correlates with my own desire. If I start feeling turned on, I will start feeling tense and afraid. These feelings all come together. And, it’s not just with men anymore. I stopped dating women as well because I just couldn’t escape the association of arousal with fear. It’s like a pavlovian response, when I get turned on, bad things will happen to me, and I get afraid.

Where did this association come from? After writing this medium post on a sexual assault I had experienced I got contacted by a lot of people from my past. One was an ex boyfriend (from a long time ago) who said these — among other things — to me:

[Potential Trigger Warning]

I try to imagine what ways you could have slowed me down and controlled me, rather than pulling away. My mind was always on fire when I was with you. Every time we decided to talk about something while sex was in the air, I had to really exhale and calm myself long enough to focus on it. All I can imagine is if you slapped me, or took control — it really wasn’t your personality.

As a dominant male, there is always a desire to take — a desire to press forward. You loved that about me. The thing is, you have to be the one to control it, in the sense that you have to have control of your boundaries even in a relationship. You can’t put the onus on me, otherwise I’ll just keep going until you say otherwise.

I am on the fence about whether to publish these. This guy isn’t in a great place right now, and I don’t want to make his suffering worse if he reads them. On the other hand, I’m trying to heal myself, and writing about these things helps me. Please don’t rail him in the comments. And, author, if you’re reading please don’t comment on this publicly.

The reason I did want to publish what he wrote is that he honestly and openly expressed the underlying idealization of rape culture. He glamorized the excessive “uncontrollable” desire of the male as a magical thing, and explicitly told me that I needed to be the one to reign it in. I need to control him so that he could keep experiencing his magical desire without the inconvenience of consideration for my feelings.

Here’s the thing though, if you make the experience of dating you extremely unpleasant I won’t date you. I don’t have to control a damn thing. If you refuse to control yourself, if you make the experience of being with you worse than the experience of being single, I will choose to be single. Sexual coercion brings nothing but pain and misery to my life, so why would I consent to that?

Beyond issues of control, however, I felt jealousy. Why do I never get to be the person who expresses extreme desire? Why does he get to feel these magical things, and why do I have to pay the price for him?

When I feel desire and am with a woman, she will often do things to try to increase my pleasure. I almost cried when my girlfriend said to me “I want to make you feel good.”

“No one’s ever said that to me before,” I said.

“You haven’t been with a lot of lesbians, have you?” she asked. “We say that all the time.”

When I feel desire with a man, sometimes it’s fine, but sometimes he will use it as an excuse to harm me. And, I allow it because I am turned on, because I am turned on enough to want to be sexual even if it costs me something. But, afterward, my body learns it and next time it gets turned on it signals “this is dangerous, this is when you get hurt.”

I remember once, in a very honest moment with a male friend, he told me he fantasized about raping women who had passed out from alcohol. “Why?” I asked, “is it because if she’s unconscious she can’t judge you?”

“Partly,” he said, “and partly I just feel like she deserves it.”

Sometimes, when men see me get turned on, I think they feel like I deserve it. Like I deserve to be hurting, like I have surrendered my right to be cared about by those I am intimate with. I’m not sure exactly where this anger comes from, but I do know the toll it’s taken on me.

When I think of my date tonight, my motivating fear is not what if he hurts me but what if he turns me on?

Emma Lindsay
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