On successful men, entitlement, and the worst sex we’ve all had

The real reason women say “yes” when we don’t mean it

Jane Haines
Jun 29, 2018 · 5 min read

I saw him on Bumble. To me, he was a mini-celebrity.

Before I begin, you should know that I’m a huge professional running aficionado. I was a competitive long-distance runner in high school, and I still follow the Boston Marathon as if it were March Madness or the Superbowl.

So when my favorite track and field reporter showed up on Bumble last month, I swiped right immediately. We matched, and I sent him a message.

“Hey so this is a weird, but I’m a huge fan of professional running. Not gonna lie…I’ve seen your work.”

“Hahah that’s hilarious. Great to hear.”

“So what’re you doing in DC?”

He was visiting for the half marathon that ran down my street earlier that morning.

“So I guess we kinda crossed paths earlier, huh?” he told me.

“Haha yea, in a weird way we did.”

It wasn’t long before both of us were out, drunkenly messaging back and forth. I was giddy with excitement.

When he arrived at my front door, I couldn’t tell if I was attracted to him or the space he already occupied in my mind.

We slept together anyway. And it was bad. Like really, really bad.

Midway through the sex portion of the evening, I told him to stop.

“This isn’t working for me.”

“No, come on” he pleaded, and shoved three wet fingers back inside me.

Asking him to stop several more times before he finally obliged seemed like more effort than it was worth. So I let him finish.

“I had a great time.” He grinned and kissed me on the forehead one more time before leaving.

I crawled into bed that night, shuddering at the thought that he could have possibly enjoyed himself, much less believe I did the same.

Then it dawned on me. The sports reporter was the Aziz Ansari to my Grace, the Cat Person to my Margot. It was the worst sex we’ve all had, but never want to talk about.

The New Yorker’s cover photo on what is now the infamous fictional essay “Cat Person”

What ties our stories together is how they exist in this nebulous gray zone between what some people call just bad sex and others deem full-on sexual assault.

So which is it?

It wasn’t that my hookup with the sports reporter was non-consensual, per say. I had freely given my “yes,” even if not so loudly during the latter half. I wasn’t thrilled with how the night turned out, but knew I could have snapped this guy like a twig had things gone wrong.

Until that night, I couldn’t fully grasp how I felt about the men who perpetrate these hazy encounters. Now I do.

And it wasn’t my own sexual promiscuity that bothered me. We all have bad sex sometimes. It’s a fact of life I resigned myself to long ago, and I often happily risk the occurrence for the chance that I’ll have a really great, spontaneous hookup.

None of the “common sense” rules about good judgment we typically hear surrounding sexual assault cases quite captured the palpable truth revealed by my encounter with the sports reporter.

What really baffled me about the situation is how someone I respected and admired could be so oblivious to social cues.

But he’s successful, I thought. He works at [insert name of major sports publication]. He’s literally interviewed Olympians and yet, he couldn’t recognize the glaring awkwardness of our hookup that made it really, really bad.

Until that night, I couldn’t fully grasp how I felt about the men who perpetrate these hazy encounters.

Now I do.

Most of these men aren’t being sexually pushy and obnoxious despite our lack of enthusiasm, they’re just ignorant to it altogether. And that behavior is a symptom of the way society not only normalizes — but rewards — male mediocrity, often at the expense of people around them.

So what if instead we stayed persistent? What if we said “this isn’t working for me” enough times that they walked out the door?

Would their worlds shatter? Would they change their behavior? Doubtful.

Instead, they’d call us crazy — and they have.

When we say “me, too” they say “eh, not quite.”

Just like withdrawing consent in the middle of a bad hookup, it takes persistence for them to believe us. It takes Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Al Franken and Brock Turner before they believe us.

In fact, it’s actually our strong wills and sharp tongues — things that should make it easier for us to express our sexual needs and desires, that keep us from doing so.

And even then, they still don’t understand our encounters with the Aziz Ansaris, the Cat Persons, the sports reporters. When these incidents happen, they call us the clueless ones.

“Why didn’t you say anything? Why didn’t you leave?”

Because we’re exhausted from dealing with the backlash.

Somewhere between the bar and the bedroom, our bodies become a commodity to exchange for acceptance, however subtle, into the social and professional worlds men dominate: Hollywood, politics, journalism, academia.

Men’s power and privilege is so inherent to these encounters — especially when we sleep with the successful ones — that they themselves can’t see it. And if we’re the ones to point it out, in addition to their inability to please us sexually, well — for every action there will be an unequal and opposite reaction.

If the backlash doesn’t come from them, it comes from the Aziz Ansari fans and the Bill Cosby sympathizers. It comes from the society which made these men so successful in the first place, and calls us “victims” and “attention-seekers” rather than people looking for basic respect.

That’s why, when you’re a woman in a fragile sexual situation, giving a genuine “yes” is harder than it seems.

When we pursue them at bars, invite them into our homes, and imply we’re looking for casual sex, the strength we need to express our preferences remains illusive, although our assertive personalities are anything but.

In fact, it’s actually our strong wills and sharp tongues — things that should make it easier for us to express our sexual needs and desires, that keep us from doing so.

It’s not necessarily that we fear physical violence from our partners (although some women do). It’s that in a world where men hold so much power and influence, we’re afraid to shatter the illusion of their greatness.

When we do, we face retribution.

“Slut.”

“Whore.”

“Dyke.”

So why do we keep sleeping with them?

It’s an exercise in optimism. We want to believe this world isn’t so unfair that the successful actor, the sports reporter, the good-looking guy we met at a bar could also blissfully ignore our well-being in the bedroom.

But it happens often, and women are tired of participating in the narrative that something is wrong with us when we don’t want sexual attention.

The result is that we say “yes” even when we don’t mean it.

To the men who remain ignorant of this reality: it’s about time you do better. Simply avoiding the label “sexual predator” is a pretty low bar.

Did you like this piece? Hit that clap button on the left so more people can see it! And read this story about my mom’s best sex advice.

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.

Jane Haines

Written by

I write about feminism, birth control, and my 27 months of Peace Corps service in Colombia (beginning July 2018!) Formerly w/ Marie Stopes International — US

Athena Talks

A hub of conversation to help young women mature, budding professionals become leaders and leaders become advocates for equality.