Of Penetration And Power Dynamics

I can’t stop thinking about entering. The beautiful violence and symmetry of thrusting — back and forth, back and forth; to live the rhythm of your own tide. I want to feel myself surrounded.

I can’t stop thinking about penetration. It feels like a throbbing song behind my eyes, between my legs; my groin and my brain are doing a dance macabre. They’re dancing the flamenco, the stage is slick with crimson streaks, the steps are halting, violent. Their arms lash the sky, their eyes roll; they’re stomping louder and louder and louder, each demanding the final curtain call.

They want the adoring thrum of applause, but I’m the only one watching. And I alternate between parts. I am my own understudy. I’m praying I’ll wrench my own ankle and then I can take my place on stage, triumphant.

I can’t stop thinking about entering. The beautiful violence and symmetry of thrusting — back and forth, back and forth; to live the rhythm of your own tide. I want to feel myself surrounded.

But most of all, this dance-off is about determining whether my desire to penetrate is right. Or at least understanding what about it is wrong. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t conceive of penetration as a kind of subjugation. Even as I beg to be entered, I lament the passivity of the entire act, the waiting to be filled. Come in, the room’s been waiting for you.

I don’t want to be taken, I want to take.

I don’t want to be taken, I want to take. But if I want to take, do I also want to subjugate? And can sex actually be relegated to its own crystalline pleasure-sphere sans real-life osmosis in which my desire to dominate another person’s body remains strictly between the sheets and not on the streets?

Have I imbued the penis with all my frustration at having less — less power, less agency, less volume, less space, less money, less options, and less sexual carte blanche as a woman?

The openings of our bodies captivate me.

The gaps, our apertures, the wet spaces wrapped in wrinkles and downy hair. The quiet eroticism of our ruptures, our nostrils, mouths, even our ears. The wet slit of my vagina, the warm bread smell of belly buttons.

The openings of our bodies captivate me.

And the anus. Rough to the touch. A dark, furry, nocturnal creature, sightless. Frightened of its story. It’s not eager like the vagina. It’s shy; it needs to be convinced.

And how wonderful when it believes you. When you feel it give way to his touch. Or to your own fingertips. When you feel the warmth of his body envelop your fingers, it’s pure delight.

I’m pretty damn straight. While I admire women’s beauty regularly — their breasts in particular are something I think about a lot — the idea of penetrating a woman holds little oomph for me. While I will always sing of the sweet glory of the bouncing breast — the velvety rise of flesh giving way to another rise, another mound, how I love the puckered perfection of the nipple — other women’s vaginas remain beautiful, but unarousing to me.

Milan Kundera’s heartbreaking and tres erotic book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, has always served as kind of psycho-sexual sounding board for me. Much of the book chronicles the trials and travails of a serial womanizer, Tomas, who alternatively worships and dehumanizes women:

“…when he gave her his standard ‘Strip!’ command, she not only failed to comply but counter-commanded, ‘No, you first!’ . . . After ordering ‘Strip!’ several more times (with comic failure), he was forced to accept a compromise. According to the rules of the game she has set up during his last visit (‘do as I do’), she took off his trousers, he took off her blouse . . . until at least they stood there naked… He placed his hand on her moist genitals, then moved his fingers along to the anus, the spot he loved most in all women’s bodies.
Hers was unusually prominent…Fingering her strong, healthy orb, that most splendid of rings called by doctors the sphincter, he suddenly felt her fingers on the corresponding part of his own anatomy. She was mimicking his moves with the precision of a mirror. . . he has yet to be faced with a woman who was taller than he was, squinted at him and fingered his anus. To overcome his embarrassment, he forced her down on the bed.”

Yes yes yes! My brain screams. I find Tomas’ discomfort incredibly satisfying. In reading this passage again (and again) in writing this essay, I realize that it is the mirroring of touch I find so arousing; her refusal to let him dictate their physical exchange to satiate his own desire is spectacular; his ill-founded humiliation in having a woman touch him just as he is touching her is profound.

In her book The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution, Shulamith Firestone beautifully explores these power dynamics as well:

“Contrary to popular opinion love is not altruistic. The initial attraction is based on curious admiration…for the self-possession, the integrated unity, of the other and a wish to become part of this Self in some way (today, read: intrude or take over), to become important to that psychic balance…A clash of selves follows in which the individual attempts to fight off the growing hold over him of the other.”

Yes, it’s terribly cynical, but to me it rings inexorably true. I do think that while love is often called a “partnership” — “my partner” cleverly refers to both a casual lover and a steadfast companion — we choose these people because they make our lives better, fuller, more interesting. We believe they bring out better versions of ourselves; together we are a stronger entity than we could be alone. There is nothing wrong with that beautiful bastardization of two bodies (or more!) coming together physically and metaphysically — I think it can be wonderful and all those “together we’re better” utterings and mutterings are completely true . . .

But what of the anus? Where does this all come together? For me, Tomas’ inability to allow himself to be penetrated as he loves to penetrate all his lovers, is an inability to surrender control and offer up mutual vulnerability. It is a refusal to acquiesce his power.

Firestone continues:

“Love is the final opening up to (or surrender to the dominion of) the other…thus love is the height of selfishness: the self attempts to enrich itself through the absorption of another being. Love is being psychically wide-open to another. It is a situation of total emotional vulnerability.”

If there is something more vulnerable than offering up your ass — particularly as a heterosexual man — I’d like to know about it. The entire exchange is predicated on a tremendous amount of trust and spits in the face of a crushing, gendered inequality.

In penetrating a man, one finds fleeting parity. One finds a way to acknowledge the chasm between us and temporarily collapse it in the mutual exchange of pleasure with a body part we both have. In knowing he is unfamiliar with the sensation of being penetrated — socially and physically — a man writhes against the joy of that discomfort.

“Love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory,” Kundera writes.

And I couldn’t agree more.