Sex, desire, and social media mob rule

This was bound to happen. This messy, controversial time of shame for men. It’s part of culture’s sexual awakening and it’s important. Men (yes, it’s mainly men) need to be held accountable for being sexual bullies. This is a disorienting situation for everyone because the status quo has been the same for so long. Men strong-arm women into sex all the time. Romance novels even tell us it’s sexy, that it makes our hearts go a-flutter. Saying no at first is part of the script. It lets them know we’re not cheap. Push us up against walls, take our breath away, ravage us with desire you can’t control. Apologize a little “I can’t help it, you’re just so hot.” We’re supposed to like it.

I was in a rideshare the other day with a woman who had left a young bearded hipster on the side of the road wondering what he had done wrong when she called a car. She told me in an exasperated voice that he was just so… pathetic. She told me that he had looked into her eyes and said, “Tell me what you want,” her voice was full of mockery using a sing song tone to make him sound like a whiny child. “I don’t know what you want. This metoo thing is so confusing. I just want to make sure I don’t cross any lines.” As she got out of the car at a different bar to try her luck again she laughed and said, “maybe I’ll find a real man here, that guy was such a pussy.” This attitude isn’t unusual. Many women are still playing games that hark back to these toxic power dynamics. How many times have you heard a friend say one of these?

“I’m waiting for him to text there’s no way I’d date a guy who didn’t text me first.”

“Yeah, we both swiped right but I’m waiting for him to make the first move.”

“I want to be swept off my feet.”

“I just wish he would just fuck me already.”

We’ve all been hardwired by the patriarchy. Men are told to “man up,” detach themselves from their emotions, and avoid facing their trauma. They’re told they have to be strong and that crying or being emotionally vulnerable is weak, and that physical affection of any kind is inappropriate unless it’s with a sexual partner. Emotional sensitivity is mocked and processing pain is impossible. Talking about your feelings and hugging your friends is for women, not for men. This culture creates toxic masculinity: men are unable to access their emotions and express themselves, and are starved of touch.

Our country is flailing in the throes of some serious daddy issues. Habits are hard to break and we’re operating with a history of 10,000 years of patriarchy. The majority of people in America want a strong man to be in charge. We stomp our feet like spoiled toddlers and say, “Daddy, fix it.” Trump, Kanye, Don Draper; this country’s biggest influencers are misogynists. We might think that liberal, open minded people are different, but as a court of public opinion weighs in on every bad sexual encounter, we are still putting men in the driving seat and women, once again, are rendered powerless. They are “victims.” We are told the story that they have no sexual agency and no control over what happens to them.

Women are tired of shitty sexual encounters. We’re angry about all the harassment and assault. We deserve better. It’s time for men to stop treating us as though we only exist for their pleasure. Men need to listen and pay attention as this power dynamic shifts, but women need to be vigilant too. Making men solely responsible for changing this dynamic plays right back into the power model we’re trying to overcome. Expecting men who have been raised with role models like James Bond to suddenly be able tune in to the subtleties of non-verbal consent is unrealistic, and asking them to check in at every step of the way puts the power directly back into their hands. Instead of holding men solely responsible for fixing this issue, we all need to make an effort. While men are learning how to be more sensitive, women need to learn how to be more assertive. If you’re flirting and you’re not sure if they get it, tell them you’re flirting. If you don’t want to be touched then say so. If your boundaries are crossed, stop fluttering your eyelashes and not saying anything. If you want someone to be closer then invite them. Don’t wait for them to ask, be proactive and put your desires on the table first. If we are expecting men to change their patriarchal hardwiring then women need to change too.

Desire is such a complicated creature, wrapped up in so much of our personal and cultural history. It tells a story of who we are, where we come from, and the world we live in. Desire has always been controversial, with society insisting on a right and wrong way to do it. Historically, heterosexual men have been the ones in control and their desires have been prioritized. For centuries any sexual desire outside a monogamous heterosexual marriage has been outlawed and severely punished. Women have been told that sex is something we must endure. Queer people have been invisible. In the last 50 years a lot has changed. Vibrators, swinger clubs, Pride, tinder, polyamory… even the concept of a healthy sex life that both partners enjoy is revolutionary. We still have a long way to go, but it has been such a huge shift it makes sense navigating it has been turbulent.

I am excited for a future where men are not ridiculed for being emotionally sensitive and where sexual encounters are no longer seen as conquests. I want women to be able to be sexually assertive without being shamed and seen as unsuitable girlfriend material. But in the meantime instead of pointing the finger when people get it wrong, I want us all to develop empathy and compassion for everyone. Instead of trying to protect women by shaming men into submission and handing our sexual agency over to the righteous masses for dissection and commentary on social media, let’s all tune in, pay attention, and learn how to get what we want rather than projecting our desires on other people. Otherwise we run the risk of developing new ways for culture to control our sex lives, making it harder to achieve the sexual freedom we desire, and preventing us from getting the sex we really want.