As I wrote Monday, for many people sexual relations work like retail shopping: women run the store and sell sex to men, in return for money, gifts or marriage.
Of course when women give sex to men, they get sex in return but that’s not a fair exchange, it’s “giving it away.” Underpinning this is the assumption, sometimes implicit but often explicit, that women control the market because men are much hornier: “The one who is more eager to make the deal is in a weaker position than the one who is willing to walk away.”
If that were true, society wouldn’t have to slut-shame women, restrict access to birth control or employ female genital mutilation to stop them from having sex. There’s be no problem keeping women virgin until marriage. Nevertheless, many people remain convinced women only put up with sex to land a boyfriend or a husband: they can’t stand the act but they lie on their back and, as the phrase goes, think of England.
A Twitter user named Scott Gurstein, for instance, claimed a few years back that women tolerate sex “under limited circumstances and during limited time frames. That’s nature’s design.” A writer named Brad Anderson similarly says he’s “yet to meet a hetero woman who enthusiastically participates in sex.” Why yes, the jokes do write themselves. Not so funny is the argument by religious complementarian Douglas Wilson that sex is something men do to women, not with women, and it can never “be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party.” In Wilson’s worldview men conquer, women submit.
These views aren’t as far outside the mainstream as they should be. It’s a staple of relationship-advice articles that a woman would never go to bed with a man unless they were in love or thought they were headed that way. TV writer Tracy McMillan said in 2011 (I’m not linking but you can find her Why You’re Not Married article easily enough) that marriage “involves [men] sacrificing their most treasured possession — a free-agent penis” so the sacrifices women make — cooking his meals, picking up after him, doing the laundry — are trivial by comparison. Women, of course, give up their free-agent vagina, but McMillan doesn’t see that as an equal sacrifice.
One point I make repeatedly in Undead Sexist Clichesx is that proclaiming universal rules for what women (or men, etc.) want is an exercise in futility. Sex is no different.
Some women like it a lot, some not at all or not very much. Some like it in particular ways, particular positions or with particular partners. Some women see sex and love as inseparable, some separate them quite well. Women can be polyamorous, monogamous or asex. They have exclusive relationships, open marriages and relationships that are mostly monogamous with a little straying now and again. They can be sex-positive or reject sex-positive feminism (more rejection here). None of it is because women are fundamentally and universally wiredd that way; the path depends on the individual.
Some women do have low or no sex drive, but so do some men. Some women aren’t into sex because of rape or incest trauma in their past. Many women have a healthy sex drive but can’t achieve orgasm from vaginal penetration. Some women don’t enjoy sex because they’ve been taught their pleasure is unimportant. Bad sex for men, as writer Lili Loofbourow says, means unsatisfying sex; for women it means feeling like crap either emotionally or physically: “One side will endure a great deal of discomfort and pain for the other’s pleasure and delight. And we’ve all agreed to act like that’s normal, and just how the world works.”
Or consider the argument that wives are obligated to put out when their husband wants sex. As D.C. McAlister puts it, (not a direct link) even if she doesn’t want it she should go ahead instead of refusing, which is selfish and unloving. Just lie there and think of England. Religious conservative Lori Alexander says women must put their husband’s desires ahead of their own; writer Caitlin Flanagan says 1950s marriages were happier because women did indeed make love regardless of their own wants and needs. I don’t doubt the men were happy, but the women?
It’s small wonder some women aren’t into sex if their experience consists of lying there and enduring it when they don’t really want it. She learns sex is a chore, the man never learns she’s not happy, nothing ever changes or improves.
It’s the most dismal view of consensual sex I’ve ever heard.