Who Lost Their Fantasies?

[Trigger Warning: I discuss rape culture and quote from personal experiences of rape]

I am writing this essay in response to a series of posts by Medium writer Emma Lindsay regarding the connection between our sexual desires and our sexual fantasies. She delivers an excellent analysis of the causes of rape which I would like to build on.

Common sense tells us that when we feel a desire but can’t immediately grasp that desire we fantasize instead. In other words, our fantasies emerge from our desires. This is certainly true. However, it is also true that our desires come from fantasies. If we don’t know what our fantasies are, we cannot connect with our feelings of desire, and end up feeling nothing at all.

Emma makes the case that a combination of rape culture, patriarchy, and capitalism combine to completely destroy female desire by first separating women from their fantasies. She also argues that this same combination of forces steal from men the feeling of human connection, which makes them vulnerable to rape culture’s messages to hurt women.

I agree with all of this — but Emma does not go far enough in her analysis. She believes that men of all kinds (horny, lonely, or anything else) experience a very strong sexual desire. However, as she seems to be arguing, if desire breaks down when we lose contact with either our fantasies or our feelings, then wouldn’t male sexual desire also break down as rape culture steals our emotional awareness?

As a straight, white, lonely young man I feel qualified to critique her advice for lonely straight men, and I find her insights into herself to be more helpful than her perspective on what it must be like to be a man.

In this essay I will explore the possibility that rape-risk men are suffering from a loss of desire just like Emma describes in herself and other women, and that the cure to this problem is the same cure that worked for Emma and that she recommends only for other women. Emma is right about everything — she just doesn’t apply her insights far enough when it comes to men.

In Part 1 of this essay I will summarize Emma’s arguments by collecting various passages from her many recent articles. Emma’s main concern is to “help women, not punish men”, or even to understand men, so she never really presents a coherent argument about men in a single essay. I pull together various passages to sum up her main point for men: we lack emotional awareness and need to practice emotional intelligence. In Part II, I build from Emma’s argument with my own experiences to show that men also experience a loss of desire and a disconnection from our fantasies, so her personal stories of healing are even more relevant than she realizes.

Part 1: Recovering Women’s Fantasies

1.1 Rape Culture destroys Desire

Years ago a friend raped Emma. Like many women, she didn’t realize at the time it was rape. It wasn’t especially violent or characteristically evil. All she knew at the time was that this man was in pain, and she felt sorry for him. It was only years later, as anti-rape activism became mainstream, that she heard other women’s stories and realized the truth. She realized that this rape may have been the origin of a terrible problem she was having: she could not feel sexual desire anymore, at least toward men. She realized that the rape itself was somehow involved with this strange symptom, but also that the rape was also part of something bigger, as she discussed in her first viral article :

I just felt a more intense version of a feeling that was already deeply familiar…the truth is, if that had just been a momentary violation followed by my anger and immediate leaving, it may not have had such a negative emotional impact on me… It was the culminating event in a series of sexual violences against me that caused my body to finally shut down. — from What I Learned From Dating Women Who Have Been Raped

Through more years of careful introspection she gained a very powerful awareness of exactly how she was broken. Emma’s big insight is that she couldn’t feel desire because she wasn’t aware of her sexual fantasies:

Before dating women, these mechanisms of repression were so strong I was often unconscious of what I found attractive in men. To admit to myself what turned me on would make me “abnormal” in some way, so I didn’t admit it to myself. — from The Hunger for Female Desire

She started researching and found that loss of sexual desire is a common problem for modern women, and may be increasing, but isn’t talked about much because it seems like women are more sexually empowered than ever:

In our supposedly “hyper-sexualized” culture, women nowadays are having less sex than the housewives of the 1950s. Low desire, or hypo-sexuality, is the most common sexual complaint from women of all ages. Women may live in a hyper-sexual society, but it is not our desires that have been hyper-sexualized. — from The Secret Lives of Women

Emma blames this loss of female sexual desire on a loss of sexual fantasies, and blames this loss of fantasy on direct and indirect “repression” and intimidation from many different directions. Rape culture is mostly to blame:

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…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. — from How We Obliterate Female Sexual Desire

Even worse, rape culture forces women to forget what it even feels like to be aroused:

Rape culture strips women of access to their own desire. Through slut shaming, through intimidation, through forcing pain upon us to punish us for our arousal, rape culture teaches women to not feel when they get turned on. What our mouths say turns us on, and what our vaginas say turns us on, is different. Because this knowledge of who we are was taken from us. Women are forbidden from knowing themselves fully. — from What Does Rape Culture Do To Female Desire — Revisited

At first, women’s feeling of sexual desire may continue in their bodies subconsciously, and even be satisfied sometimes by accident, but over time and with enough pressure from rape culture (especially rape itself) many women lose the ability to feel any kind of sexual desire at all:

Women are forbidden from experiencing what turns them on, and instead where arousal should be, there is nothing. There is just empty space…Unfortunately, being detached from my desire leads me to not knowing what I want. Sexually. Physically. In life. It is a recipe for permanent dissatisfaction, as I can never get what I really want because I don’t know what it is. — from Men & Fear of Intimacy, Women & Fear of Desire

This is a remarkable reversal of our usual understanding of how desires and fantasies work. Usually it seems that fantasies come from our desires: I am hungry, so I fantasize about eating a cake; I am horny so I fantasize about sex with a woman. Emma reverses this assumption, so that desire comes from fantasies. Perhaps I don’t just fantasize about sex because I am aroused, but I am also aroused because I am experiencing an arousing sexual fantasy.

Emma is not alone in this insight. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek often insists that sexual relationships are never just about two people — there is always a fantasy element involved in some way. He tells a story about having sex with a woman when the pleasurable lovemaking suddenly becomes monotonous, repetitive, pleasure-less thrusting. He points out that nothing seems to have changed in this situation: nobody said anything terrible and nothing terrible happened. The only thing that could have possibly changed was in his mind. He lost the fantasy element of the act. Emma simply adds that there are certain social systems which intentionally operate on women’s fantasies, often in subtle ways, destroying the pleasure of sex without anyone realizing why.

1.2 Consumerism is the main problem

Emma isn’t clear exactly what social systems are to blame for stealing women’s sexual fantasies. She variously refers to “rape culture”, “capitalism”, and the “patriarchy”:

- Once stripped of our desire, we are then filled with capitalist values.
- Women having full awareness of their own desire is a destabilizing force that patriarchal societies will repress at all costs.
- 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.
- If female desire is something innate and self determined that cannot be earned by men, the whole capitalist system breaks.

She perceives all these systems operating together as Capitalist-Patriarchal-Rape Culture and calls it “Capitalism” for short. This seems fair, because Patriarchy and Rape Culture naturally emerge from Capitalism as methods to control and dominate. Together they form a stable system: Capitalism inspires a quest for personal power, Patriarchy enables men to control Capitalism, and Rape Culture allows men to suppress competition from women.

A better short-hand name for this system is not “capitalism” but consumerism. All of these social systems use consumerism to achieve their goals. Consumerism is the mechanism of domination against women. White men in Medieval Europe developed the modern Patriarchy as an excuse to steal women’s property inheritance for the Church — a purely financial motivation made possibly by commodifying women’s value. Capitalism entrenched the Patriarchy by commodifying women as less-than-equal workers. The “Market” decided that women where only worth being paid 73 cents for every dollar paid to men, supposedly reflecting an objective “worth” of women.

The consumerist mechanism of rape culture is especially easy to see. “Friend Zoning” is perhaps the most prevalent problem of Rape Culture — the belief among “Nice Guys” that they deserve sex, and that women who sexually reject them are unjustly dumping them into a ‘friend zone’. This belief is a type of commodification, as @hexajackal on Twitter perfectly summed up:

Friendzoning is bullshit because girls are not machines that you put Kindness Coins into until sex falls out.

Consumerism depends on commodification, which is a form of objectification. Objectification is the act of stealing someone’s subjectivity — that is, stealing their fantasies and desires and everything else that distinguishes humans from insects or rocks. Beyond any economic system, political system, or college campus culture, consumerism is the ultimate evil, infecting any society it touches, and inevitably stealing from women the right to healthy fantasies and desires.

1.3 Recovering Female Desire through Introspection

It would be great if we lived in a society that didn’t force anyone to deny their fantasies and lose their ability to feel desire, but we do, so the only practical path forward for anyone suffering from a loss of desire is to rediscover their fantasies so that they can reclaim their desire.

Emma reclaimed her fantasies over years of careful self exploration. She practiced a type of Buddhist meditation meditation called “body scanning” which involves bringing attention to various parts of your body, one at a time, to explore how they feel and what is happening in those places.

Body awareness seems simple, even mundane, but we are so disconnected from ourselves that we often don’t even know what our bodies feel like.

For example, sitting down at a computer sucks away our attention so that hours go by and we don’t realize even the most basic physical sensations in our body like hunger or soreness. These physical sensations don’t go away just because we are distracted, so in order to start feeling them again all we have to do is intentionally look for feelings. Even if we don’t know what feelings might be happening in our bodies, this kind of “open awareness” can quickly reveal these feelings.

At one meditation retreat I was feeling frustrated and distracted for no apparent reason, but I followed the body scanning advice, and realized that my body was actually in searing pain (it was way too early in the morning). When I realized this, the pain decreased to an ache, and I was able to focus. It is hard to believe that I could not notice pain, but it happens all the time.

Emma used this practice to reboot her desire by first re-discovering what arousal feels like. It was only when she re-connected with the feelings of arousal that she was able to figure out what fantasies were going on in her head. She describes this process in great detail in The Hunger for Female Desire:

I would also notice other physical or emotional sensations that came up with arousal (which is why I know shame and fear are two of my big ones) and then try to be non-judgmental about what caused them.

It turns out that she had fantasies going on in her mind all the time which were not controlled by rape culture or consumerism or anything else. These were her fantasies which emerged naturally from her desire, but because she wasn’t aware of what her desire felt like, and because she was not aware of what her fantasies looked like, she had no access to this natural desire and could not act on it to build a rich, satisfying life. Arousal + Fantasy = Desire. We need awareness of both aspects in order to recover our desires.

Often the fantasies that rise up along with our desires are crazy, but they must be accepted:

I would also notice other physical or emotional sensations that came up with arousal (which is why I know shame and fear are two of my big ones) and then try to be non-judgmental about what caused them. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your behaviors not your emotions are what makes you an ethical person. So, if you start paying attention to your arousal patterns and realize that 12 year olds turn you on, this isn’t a problem. If you go and fuck 12 year olds, this is a big problem. See the difference? 12 year olds don’t get hurt because of how pedophiles feel, they get hurt because of how pedophiles behave. So, feelings are never wrong. Only behaviors are wrong.

This practice also helps women improve their relationships with men. Just as each person need a combination of feeling and fantasy, each relationship needs a combination of feeling and fantasy. It is not enough for a woman to just feel desire for her partner, she must express this desire:

And straight women won’t acknowledge it for the inverse reason; straight women learn that what they do doesn’t matter. Straight women suffer from an excessive focus on their beauty rather than their behavior, so it might not occur to them to tell a man how beautiful they find him, because they try to please men by “being” pleasing rather than “doing” pleasing things. Their own shame over never being beautiful enough prevents them from externalizing their inner world. Yet, I’m sure most women have rich inner worlds they keep hidden perhaps even from themselves.

In other words, women must turn their desire into fantasies and express these fantasies so that both she and her partner can share this fantasy. By expressing her fantasy, that fantasy becomes a fantasy for her male partners, and that fantasy allows him to love himself:

This repression didn’t just have a negative impact on me, but also on my male partners. I suffered because, unable to articulate my desire, I was unable to request that which would bring me pleasure. And, my partners suffered because they internalized feelings of undesirability.

Sexual desire, love, happiness — these feelings all require fantasy. Emma’s ideas are not just a theory about the rape culture, they are a way of life which is much richer and satisfying than how we live our lives today. Her theories are not reductive, egocentric, or exclusionary. This is what the world needs right now.

1.4 Rape Culture enables male desire

Confident in her ability to discern psychological problems in herself and in other women, Emma then turns her gaze on men to tackle rape culture. She concludes that Consumerism does not affect them in the same way as women. She bluntly states: “Men are afraid of intimacy, women are afraid of desire”. She claims that men don’t lose sexual desire because Consumerism enables their desires to grow into an almost supernatural power:

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. -from What Does Rape Culture do to Female Desire?

She identifies this idolization of desire as the foundation of rape culture, but she actually doesn’t reject it. She is jealous of it:

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?

Indeed, the ability to desire is probably the greatest part of being human, beyond even our ability to experience pleasure. It would make sense that a Patriarchal society would encourage desire in men at the cost of women’s desire and safety. Presumably, these desiring men are very in touch with their fantasies and have no problem demanding that women satisfy these fantasies. Isn’t that what it means to have sexual privilege?

1.5 Consumerism steals male emotions

At this point it would be easy for Emma to conclude that rapists are just the most desire-driven men out there, enjoying themselves far too much at other’s expense, but she cannot make this simple conclusion because she knows from personal experience that the men most likely to rape her are not those with the most obvious uncontrollable desires:

lonely men, not horny men, are the ones I’m afraid of. Horny men masturbate, lonely men rape. — from Men & Fear of Intimacy, Women & Fear of Desire:

Let’s be clear here: strong sexual desire does not lead to rape. Horny men and lonely men can both feel desire. Sexual desire is a good thing. Emma doesn’t make this point clearly, but this seems to be what she is getting at. Desire is an important part of being human. For a man to be a rapist, something else must be missing. She suggests that these men are trying to recover a lost feeling of human connection:

I view my assault, and every sexual abuse I have been on the receiving end of, to be a misguided attempt at connection on the behalf of my abuser. As a man, it is shameful to admit you need intimacy. It is shameful to admit you need love. But, it is not shameful to admit you need sex — so that’s what men usually ask for. Or take, as the case may be.

In What Drives Men to Rape?, Emma goes into her most detail about how emotional disconnection is largely to blame for rape:

Like a man dying of thirst reaching for a glass of water that keeps jumping out of reach, these lonely men will rage against the women who keep rejecting them because they are so desperate for companionship.

This makes sense. After all, what could be more fundamental than a need for human connection? Emma blames society (that is, Consumerism) for stealing this feeling of emotional connection from men:

We don’t teach men how to emotionally regulate themselves in our society. We teach men to hide their emotions, but we don’t teach men to identify and respond to what they are feeling themselves.

Furthermore, society then points men toward women as a solution for this painful dissociation, encouraging men to demand help from women to understand their emotions:

Why do my coworkers feel entitled to burden me with emotions that they would not burden their male colleagues with? Simply stated, a man crying to me does not view himself as part of a one sided exchange. He views this as “us connecting” or “getting closer.” This is because, as a society, we do not consider the work women do to comfort people to be “real work.” We just see “being comforting” an innate feature of women that makes them more pleasant. Men just have some dim awareness that they’re comfortable sharing themselves with me and not with other men, but they view this as my personality. They don’t consider that I am actively doing something that requires energy to help them feel better.

Now we have a clear picture of a likely rapist. He is a man with strong sexual desires but not enough emotional awareness to know what to do with this desire, mixed with a desperate need to connect with people and the consumerist assumption that the only way he can connect with people is through sex.

1.6 Only Emotional Awareness can Prevent Rape

Consumerism is the true villain of our society, and the main effect of consumerism on men is to create loneliness, which is the ultimate cause of rape, so to fight rape we must fight male loneliness. Emma recognizes this problem because she suffers from loneliness herself. She found a way to heal it with time and attention:

I had so many years ignoring painful experiences that my body just had so much misery stored in it. It was all trapped in my chest, like a kind of heaviness in my heart. I cried for days during that sesshin. During breaks, I lay on my bed and cried, and it was so painful that everything else was crowded out of my experience. But, it passed. Once fully felt, emotions tend to move. There wasn’t really any catharsis, or emotional realization, which I secretly wanted. There was only absence of pain, and the world became clearer to me. — from How I Stopped Being Sad

This introspection not only reveals and heals our own pain, it also reveals other’s pain and reveals our responsibility for that pain. Consumerism doesn’t just strip men of knowledge of their own emotions, it strips them of knowledge of women’s emotions.

In What Drives Men to Rape? Emma suggests that if a man was fully aware of a woman’s emotions then he wouldn’t rape her no matter how lonely he feels:

If they could see the pain they caused women, I think often they would not choose to inflict it. We have the myth of the “cruel” rapist, but I think far more common is the “clueless” rapist. Unfortunately, the pain inflicted is just as damaging.

All this introspection is hard, painful work, but the goal of introspection is actually to better enjoy our desires. Male desire for women is not the enemy. Indeed, Emma admires and is jealous of the powerful feelings of desire in the men she knows. There is also nothing really wrong with social systems that increase male desire — as long as they don’t also victimize women. Emma believes that to solve rape, we must increase male emotional awareness so that they can use their desire better:

So, what can you do if you’re a man who wants to fight rape culture? You can “get more in touch with your emotions.” What that means specifically, is you learn the physical sensations associated with emotions, and become more aware and able to identify what you are feeling at any given moment. As you become more aware of what you are feeling, you are more able to choose appropriate action rather than “uniform numbing” to address your emotional state.

All taken together, Emma has a very clear picture of the rapist and a very clear perspective of how a lonely men can avoid rape. Consumerism prevents him from recognizing his feelings of loneliness, and points him in the direction of women to solve this feeling. Consumerism also prevents him from recognizing women’s pain, making him capable of taking what he wants by force without any awareness of the pain he is creating. I add to Emma’s analysis that the suffering he causes does affect him on the subconscious level and this pain accumulates into loneliness, leading to a downward spiral. Luckily, this spiral can be stopped at almost any point by simply choosing to ignore consumerism and start practicing some introspection.

This is a very positive, hopeful, and helpful instruction for men. This is basically what I did to heal myself over a period years, and I’ve recommended very similar introspective work to other young men with good results.

Still, something important is missing from Emma’s full analysis. She seems convinced that all men, including rapists, experience a wonderful level of sexual desire, but I must question this assumption. She also completely neglects the possibility that men might need to get in touch with their fantasies like women need to. I argue that men are similar to women in both these ways. In fact, Emma’s analysis of herself is much more helpful to me as a man than her analysis of what she thinks it must be like to be a lonely man!

Emma complains that sexual repression forced her to perform desire without actually feeling it:

Completely cut off from my own desire, but afraid to be alone, I started mimicking desire to attract partners. — from Trying to Impress People on Dates Reinforces Rape Culture

Isn’t it possible that the “magical” desire she perceive in men, and that men constantly express toward her, is just as much a performance as her own desire?

Part 2: Recovering Men’s Fantasies

2.1 Consumerism kills Male Desire, too

Emma claims that rape culture “glamorizes” and “idealizes” male desire, but it actually only externalizes male desire as hyper-sexualized images. This is exploiting, not empowerment. Common sense tells us that a man who stares at a hypersexualized picture of a woman must be lost in desire for that fantasy. What else would be going on in his head as he stares? Actually, nothing is happening at all in his mind, because an externalized fantasy loses its obvious connections to our emotions.

When a fantasy becomes externalized, it starts to seem real. Fantasies themselves are subtle, foggy experiences, but when identified, externalized, and given a physical form they take on a life of their own in the physical world. In the distant past, men had an easier time recognize a fantasy as a fantasy and letting it go when necessary, but now that our fantasies are external, we might as well believe in them and stop examining them. I never question the existence or authenticity of the sun or the moon because they are physical, external objects I have no control over. I don’t introspect about the sun or moon — why bother?

On a bike ride one day I overheard a guy complaining that when he doesn’t record his ride with this GoPro, and review it afterward on film, he feels like the ride never happened. When anything in our minds get outsourced in this way, we stop caring about them, even if they still affect us. When we lose curiosity in a fantasy, we lose our knowledge of how that fantasy interacts with our emotions. We have no incentive to have emotional awareness. As we lose emotional awareness, Consumerism has an easier time extracting our fantasies, putting them on display, and tempting us to follow their lead.

Emma explained at length how rape culture forces women to disconnect from their fantasies by making these fantasies feel dangerous, so that women reject them and eventually forget that they even have these fantasies. The same process happens with men, except for the first step. Instead of being intimidated into suppressing our fantasies, consumerism tempts us into outsourcing and forgetting about them. Once anyone disconnects from their fantasies, emotional awareness is next to go, and they have started a downward spiral that can results in total loss of desire itself.

Sex has never been commodified as much as it is today. Porn is now instantly accessible and entirely free — a perfect combination for binging and abusing. Pamela Anderson recently wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post sounding the alarm against porn, claiming that it ruins young men’s sexual health, and calling it a public health crises. She recieved huge backlash, but public health experts are indeed worried.

There is growing evidence that extreme porn use can cause erectile dysfunction in young men, and that this problem is increasing as porn becomes easier to access. Physicians are seeing an increase in the number of young men with this problem, which is surprising because this is mostly a problem for older men suffering from other health issues. E.D. in young men can be caused by drug use and other issues, but various young men are coming out describing an obvious connection between their porn use and their sexual problems. One man explained that when he got up to two hour a day of porn, he lost the ability to have sex:

I found that when I was lying next to a girl a lot that I just wouldn’t be horny at all, despite being really attracted to the girl and wanting to have sex with her, [because] my sexuality was completely wired towards porn.

This is an extreme level of porn use, but this just proves that point that sexual Consumerism can kill desire in men through pleasure just as easily as rape culture can kill desire in women through intimidation.

There isn’t enough data yet for proper scientific studies, especially since smartphones are still new to the world, but there are some huge red flags that a loss of desire is becoming common. When news broke a few weeks ago was that Millennials are having less sex than their parents the internet exploded with theories. This isn’t necessarily bad news. It means less STDs, probably fewer unwanted pregnancies, and hopefully stronger relationships. However, this could also be a sign that the Western world is headed in the same direction as Japan, which has a huge problem with socially disconnected internet-addicted young people who are not having sex or relationships of any kind. Their government is now in a panic because so few pregnancies are being conceived that the national population might begin to drop at a dangerously high rate.

Despite these warning signs, it women like Emma still assume that men experience totally empowered desires — but this is just an illusion. Men have strong desires inside them, but they are just as disconnected from them as women are from their own desires. Male desire is just like women’s makeup — it is not possible to determine how much desire a man actually enjoys based on his behavior, just as it is not possible to determine how beautiful a woman feels based on how beautiful she looks. The illusion of male desire is just yet another trick of consumerism to hide itself from critical eyes.

2.2 The Patriarchy regulates Consumerism

Consumerism, left to itself, would eventually hurt itself by decreasing the number of worldwide consumers through declining birthrates. This is the same problem that any disease has as it tries to take over the world: if a disease kills its host too quickly, it never gets a chance to spread beyond a few villages. The most successful diseases are actually parasites which prevent themselves from killing the host, and actually even benefit it in some way.

The Patriarchy and rape culture depend on porn in many ways, but they also put the breaks on porn to prevent it from spiraling out of control. Patriarchy/Rape Culture command men to go outside and interact with real women. Of course, rape culture promotes interactions that are awful to women and not much healthier for men, but at least there are two people talking with each other and touching each other.

Patriarchal values combined with threats from rape culture force women to behave exactly like male fantasies. The exact male fantasies to perform are not specified, but part of this job description for women is to figure out what fantasies are in the minds of the dangerous men they are interacting with. This performance allows men to access their dissociated fantasies in a safe and easy way. Male desire, which Emma sees as so strongly empowered, is actually just a performance designed to put men in touch with their fantasies, as long as women play along. Introspection takes long, hard work. Patriarchy outsources this introspective work for men to women.

Male privilege is now disappearing, but it seems to still be working, leading the illusion that men are still living lives of strong, empowered desire.

The Patriarchy has existed for much longer than Capitalism. When Capitalism started booting up, the Patriarchy gave men special access to control it. As consumerism began to enhance Capitalism by stripping people of their natural desires, Patriarchy buffered the worst effects from men, allowing men to soldier forward with Capitalist goals, fueled by powerful feelings of desire. As Consumerist Capitalism destroyed healthy societies around the world, the claimed the desire-power of these cultures as their own.

As Capitalism grew bigger, consumerism hunted for more and more human desire to exploit. It was only a matter of time before it turned against the men who used to benefit most from it. The invention of the Corporation allowed Capitalism to function with the guidance of just a tiny percentage of the human population (all men, of course). This freed up Consumerism to start stealing desire from even the most powerful men.

When feminism came along, the Patriarchy was already starting to be a shit deal for most men. Male privilege was still much higher than female privilege, but it was no longer directly enjoyable. It is hard to appreciate privilege when you aren’t entirely human — when you are missing your ability to desire. Feminism allied with Consumerism in order to expand coverage to more women. And here we are today: Corporations have all the power, most men and women have almost none, and even the most privileged people in our social circles have lost much of their ability to feel real desire.

This happened so fast that it seems that men still have a “magical” desire inside them, but this is an illusion, just a consumerist narrative that men cling to as closely as most women cling to makeup. The jealousy that Emma feels for male desire is just yet another clever way that Corporate Consumerism hides itself from the public eye.

2.3 Rape Culture tries to reconnect fantasies

Emma criticizes the Patriarchy for inspiring rape, but it is actually men who are most disconnected from the patriarchy that she is most afraid of. Emma admits she is more afraid of lonely men than horny men:

lonely men, not horny men, are the ones I’m afraid of. Horny men masturbate, lonely men rape. — from Men & Fear of Intimacy, Women & Fear of Desire

Which of these men are more likely to benefiting from male privilege? Horny men are likely men who live comfortably in the Patriarchy, benefiting from it’s methods of desire-generation. Lonely men used to be part of the Patriarchy, or were brought up to be in it, but have been excluded from it, so Patriarchy’s methods of desire-generation don’t work for them. What these men need is not more emotional awareness, but something to replace the function of Patriarchy. This is what “rape culture” attempts to achieve. It does a very poor job, but it at least tries to reconnect men with their fantasies.

Rape culture does not attempt to make men less lonely. If rapists only want to ease their loneliness, as Emma suggests, it doesn’t make sense why they would assault women. Anti-rape feminist activists have been arguing for decades that men don’t gain any pleasure from rape. How could they? In the groundbreaking book “Yes means Yes: Visions of Female Power and a World Without Rape” the authors compare a rapist to a man who holds a musical band at gunpoint demanding that they play music, and points out that this music couldn’t possibly be pleasurable because the band would not have any good feeling to add to their music. From this, the authors conclude that rape must be about power not pleasure, and all rapists must be predatory sociopathic monsters. One reader commented on Emma’s article denying that men receive any kind of satisfaction at all from rape, so they must not just be “lonely”.

It makes sense why men would want women if they were lonely, but it makes no sense why they would assault women to ease loneliness, because a drunk or angry woman is not a satisfying human companion in any way. There must be something else going on here: Rapist men might are looking not just for emotional satisfaction but also to recover their lost desire by first recovering their disavowed fantasies by grasping at women.

Rape only makes sense for lonely men who are desperate to regain their humanity by reconnecting with their desires by reconnecting to their fantasies. Consumerism operating under Capitalism stole everyone’s fantasies a long time ago. Patriarchy protected male fantasies by forcing women to act as fantasies which allowed even the least emotionally aware men to reconnect with their sexual fantasies, regain desire, regain their humanity, and find peace and satisfaction (at the expense of all of those things for women). Without Patriarchy, these men still need to retain their humanity. Instructed by Patriarchy-that-once-was to seek their fantasies in women, they grope at women in blind faith that something about them will return their fantasies to them. It doesn’t make logical sense, especially to the women targeted by these men, but logic is not a priority for a man suffering from the inhumanity of lost desire.

Groping a woman doesn’t have to be a sexually pleasurable experience or a genuine experience of human connection for it to reconnect men with their fantasies. Simply touching a woman is significant to these men, because touch proves that a fantasy is real. Us lonely men live in a world of fully externalized fantasies. It is like playing an Oculars Rift game: the world around us is fully 3D, rich with sound and color, but we can’t touch anything and that lack of touch always reminds us that this isn’t actually a real place. We are desperate to recover fantasies as our own, to re-appropriate what consumerism stole from us. When a real woman appears in front of us, she appears as a dissociated fantasy. It is so painful to see this personal fantasy disconnected from us that we wish to reclaim it, to prove to ourselves that this is not an imagination but something real in this world.

Consumerism is to blame for dissociating men from their fantasies, but it is not to blame for rape. Rape Culture is to blame for rape because it promises to solve the psychological problems of consumerism by taking advantage of women. Rape Culture is popular only because consumerism is such a huge problem. Even if Rape Culture disappeared entirely today, the risk of rape would be just as high because the problems of consumerism would still exist, so there would be a huge incentive for men to find some relief from the suffering of lost desire, and would immediately re-invent rape culture inspired by tales of past Patriarchal power.

2.4 Finding a better solution

Before Emma started developing her proposals for men to practice more emotional awareness, she floated an idea that could actually replace the patriarchy and rape culture without harming women, while still reconnecting men with their hidden fantasies:

So, I challenge you, what is the correct way for a socially isolated straight man to get intimacy? If he approaches other men, he will lose face, as intimacy between straight men is shunned. If he approaches women, he will be rejected. How the hell can he get out of this?…if you are a man in this situation, I think you should seriously consider hiring a caring sex worker. Pay a nice lady for her time, maybe a therapist too if you have the means, treat her well, and try not to get arrested. — from Political Correctness and the Destruction of Intimacy

This proposal is basically rape culture without the rape, or Patriarchy without the male power. This is “female emotional labor” that is paid for. It is sexually objectifying, sexually commodifying, yet potentially healthy for both men and women. I can easily imagine a world where young men routinely hire sex therapists. This is basically what all the Nice Guys and Pick Up Artists want anyway: a clear cut, commodified, guaranteed access to sex with women. This could work!

Ironically, Emma’s proposal would allow Consumerism to become even more powerful. Emma clearly wants to subvert consumerist ideologies, but this proposal is exactly what modern Consumerism needs to keep expanding without wiping out humanity. This proposal is attractive only because it heals a symptom, but it doesn’t solve the disease.

The only healthy way for men to reconnect with their fantasies is to do it themselves. Involving women at any point in this process will either end up hurting women or promoting consumerism, or both. Everything that Emma has already explained about introspection applies equally well for men as is does for women. Our fantasies may be different, and our bodies may feel differently when aroused, but ultimately what we all needs is to reconnect with our our bodies feel and with what is going on in our minds.

2.5 My Descent into Dissolution

I have never raped or sexually assaulted anyone, but I came dangerously close once, so all my theorizing is not just theorizing. I had to confront and heal whatever was in myself that night to prevent something worse from happening. I know what works for me, and it is exactly what worked for Emma.

I was sleeping with a friend who I had already had sex with a year before, and I reached for her again. She told me “no” and I stopped, but she had to tell it to me twice. In the ten seconds between those two ‘No’s, I was a rapist. The fact that I stopped didn’t really matter.

Like Emma’s rapist, my mother had just died. I was 19 and very inexperienced. Alcohol clouded my mind. The combination of these things put me already at elevated risk. By themselves, these factors were not enough to make me a rapist. What pushed me in the direction of violence was a feeling of descending into depression, and the belief that if I could just touch her that I would be able to stop that depression. Reaching for her was not pleasurable. The feminists are absolutely correct. But it stopped a certain type of pain — at least for a moment. In other words, what I wanted was not pleasure, but the ability to feel desire again. Depressed people don’t necessarily feel pain. Instead, depressed people are simply incapable of desire. I just wanted to feel human again. Our Consumerist would had convinced me that women’s bodies somehow held the key to this normality.

The depression I sank into that night stayed with me for six years. Like Emma, I lost the ability to have sex with the people I used to be attracted to, or even touch them, no matter how much my mind wanted it. I was not a victim of rape, but I was just as much a victim of consumerism. By choosing to pull away from her, I chose to give up on my fantasies entirely, which I why I lost the ability to feel desire. This was a terrible decision, between being a rapist and not having any desire. Both possibilities meant giving up my humanity. At least I chose the option that only gave up my humanity, not both of ours.

After six years and lots of meditation I finally escaped the worst of this depression through introspection. I started paying attention to what my body felt like when I wanted a woman, or when she rejected me. I forced myself to sit down and just feel. I realized that my body was filled with pain — both when I was attracted to someone and when I was rejected. The pain was intense, and being more aware of this pain only made it worse. It wasn’t until I started practicing awareness of my fantasies that things started to get better. During these moments of intense pain, I realized that my mind was filled with sexual fantasies. The pain came from my fear of acknowledging that I was having these fantasies.

It was scary to realize that sexual fantasies could play through my mind without my consent. Realizing that they were there all along made me feel insane. In my fully externalized male world, I assumed that any fantasy that that existed in my mind was something that I was planning on doing or something that I was required to do. The first time that I told myself “it is okay to have this fantasy about this person and not act on it”, my mind immediately started telling me: “you are a failure for not going out into the world and GETTING this person” and “you are not a successful man” or “you will always be alone”. It took years for me to just have fantasies without feeling terrible about them.

Once I started feeling desires again, and became more comfortable with my mind, I realized that I had many fantasies of women in my mind that I simply did not realize where there at the time. I was terrified that these were rape fantasies. What would that say about me as a man? Especially a feminist-identified man? I was terrified any any fantasy that wasn’t G-rated, or that didn’t involve images of women that looked exactly like normal women. Emma does not go into detail about her exact fantasies, and I won’t either. I reassure the reader that my fantasies are as crazy as the reader can possibly imagine. Luckily I was strong enough to simply accept them. As Emma insists: “At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your behaviors not your emotions are what makes you an ethical person.” These fantasies always eventually faded, to be replaced with a simple, lovely self-acceptance.

I know exactly when my depression surrounding women, sex, and relationships lifted because I was watching carefully at the time while meditating. The first thing to return to my mind was a desire to go have tea with my best friend, and a desire to work on an art project, and a desire to take a shower. All of these feelings were desires. The lingering depression still made me feel uncomfortable, but I had desires to accomplish things. It turns out that the reason I was so desperate to connect with women, or at least to get close to them, was that I couldn’t feel any desire for the things in my life that I already had. My “desire” for women was actually just a desire for desire itself. A mind that is capable of desire knows how to desire and can simply enjoy the world. Emma describes a similar experience in “The Hunger for Female Desire” that when her desire returned after years of introspective work, it was a “universal desire” — the ability to desire what was already around her. This is the closest thing to enlightenment that I can possibly imagine.

2.6 The Problem of Privilege

It seems obvious to me now that men like myself desperately need to reconnect with our fantasies, so I noticed immediately when Emma failed to recommend this practice for men. It made me wonder why she failed to do so. More importantly, it made me wonder if she was right to do so, regardless of her intentions. I don’t see any difference with the problem that men and women face with lost fantasies, feelings, and desires, but I have to admit the solutions might not be the same. There might be good reason to be cautious when encouraging men to explore their fantasies.

Male privilege may no longer protect men from the desire-killing consequences of consumerism, but these privileges may be still strong enough to make introspective healing too dangerous. Male privilege is often the ability to act on fantasies without consequences. Men can stare at women on the bus without fear of being followed home. Men can harass women on the internet without fear of losing their jobs. The boundary between fantasy and reality for men is so vague that it might be challenging for men to have a fantasy without acting on it. If a man starts exploring his wild inner fantasy mind, and discovers very strong fantasies, he has very little preventing him from immediately acting on these fantasies, unlike women.

This problem came up during the trial for the “Cannibal Cop” — a former NYPD officer who was caught by his wife planning to kill and eat her on a cannibal fetish website. He argued that this was just “fantasy play”. Indeed, he insisted multiple times with his chat partners that this was just fantasy plat, and he didn’t purchase any tools or seem to have any solid plan. On the other hand, he did take a trip to see an old college friend while chatting on this site that this trip was reconnaissance to make a plan to kill her. He also used his access to the police database to look up personal information on this person — which was a serious crime by itself.

Still, this trip, the chatting, and even the crime of misusing a police database was not enough to clearly convict this man of a felony. The arguments came down to whether it was illegal or not to fantasize in detail about a crime. The first judge declared him not guilty, explaining in an opinion that the line “between fantasy and criminal intent…still exists” even “in the internet age”. This conclusion did not satisfy many people. Interviewed for the HBO documentary about this trial, feminist writer Laurie Penny admitted that we all have a right to fantasies, even dark fantasies, and we even have the right to play on the internet with these fantasies, but perhaps the police do not:

Anybody should be allowed to write a dirty story on the internet, or have a dirty fantasy even if it is gruesome, and tastely, and not something you would necessarily want to talk to you mom about over dinner. It stops being fine when other real people are involved. That this guy used police databases to track down women, he used his privileges as an officer of the law to do that — it sends a shiver down my spine.

Using a police database to look up personal information outside of an investigation is obviously a crime, and a misuse of privilege. One bigger question here is whether looking someone up in a database (or Googling them, or using Social Media) is more like fantasy or like action. If we assume that this type of googling is just like fantasy, then we might have to conclude that Cops should not be allowed to have dark fantasies, because if they allow themselves to have these fantasies, they risk misusing their privileges.

The biggest question here is: what other kinds of privileges might disqualify a man from freely exploring his dark fantasies? Is it possible that the privileges most men experience are already enough to disqualify him from this right to fantasies?

I believe that it does. Male privilege is basically the right to immediately act on fantasies. Anyone with this privilege needs to be much more careful while exploring his fantasies. While I criticize Emma for not reaching out to men with her excellent techniques in the same way she reaches out to women, I have to admit that she has very good reasons not to, even if they are not her intended reasons for doing so. Our fantasies are not different, and our need to connect with our fantasies are not different, but the risks we take engaging with these fantasies are dangerously different.

2.7 Managing Male Privilege

As the shame started lifting from my sexual fantasies, and I lost the monstrous desperation that made me worried of committing rape, I made new mistakes. My sexual fantasies began feeling so positive that I had brand new reasons for acting mindlessly on them. I didn’t physically force myself on anyone, but I did confront a couple different friends with very intense, very inappropriate sexual desires — and I no longer have these friends. I thought this was okay because I was being honest about my desires and because I felt filled with genuine love and happiness, not loneliness and desperation, but I was still not really seeing my fantasies properly. My male privilege allowed me to act directly toward these women without any risks to my body, career, or reputation, like it might if I was a woman confronting a man. All I risked was my relationships, and I lost those. Perhaps if even more was at risk, I would have worked through those fantasies to their conclusion so that I could let them go instead of acting on them.

Moving back to my small home town minimized the damages from this practice, at least. Practicing in The City was overwhelmingly intense. I became hyper-aware of all the beautiful women around me and my crazy fantasies which involved them. I started to lose my mind, so I moved back home for some peace and quiet. There, I had much more success and satisfaction exploring my fantasy mind. When crazy romantic fantasies emerged, I couldn’t just run to a bar and hit on women — there were in fact no women to hit on. It was a six hour bus ride to The City. Once I lost the two female friends that I was already attracted to, there was absolutely nobody for my fantasies to hurt. And if I did hurt someone, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get away with it in such a small place.

Being so isolated also reduced the fallout from my abusive behavior to my friends. All my unwanted romantic behavior took place over email, not in person. I know that even in person I would not have done anything truly terrible — but being so physically separated ensured that. I have apologized to these women (not that they care) and I will always be sad for their loss and for the pain I caused them, and for completely failing to be a good friend. But I also feel like I’ve managed to avoid untold future suffering for myself and other women by going through this process. I wish I did it better, but I’m not sure how much more isolated I could have been. A monastery would have worked. But so isolated from my family and (male) friends, I’m not sure if I myself would have survived.

In other words, in order to heal my mind, I had to first give up the male privileges which make it most dangerous for men to engage with their fantasies.

Moving back home worked for me. It certainly wasn’t easy — like Emma admits in “How I Stopped Being Sad”, the healing process required endless hours of crying and a couple scary moments. But it worked. If I had to reduce my advice down to a hastag, it would be #MoveBackHome. Of course, this probably isn’t right for everyone. I’m lucky that I had a home with happy friends and family, a nice view of the mountains, and just enough job opportunities to build a life.

While my main advice to men is to practice more introspection, just like Emma suggests, I also warn that anyone who wants to practice any kind of introspection should also work on building a community which keeps them safe from themselves and keeps everyone else safe from them. If there is anything worse than a Patriarch, it is a Patriarch who is in panic because he is losing his privileges.

That said, the ultimate purpose of this essay is just to convince other men like myself to go read Emma’s long article How I Stopped Being Sad and read it as if she were talking to everyone, not just women. She describes this process of fantasy exploration in a better way than I could. Check it out.

I would like to hear from you, too: legos {at} noneofus {dot} net