Friday, March 14, 2014

Sexual Integrity

There are a lot of aspects of traditional masculinity that really don't apply anymore, but no matter how you define it, an essential difference between man and boy is that a man has matured enough to take responsibility for his own actions and words. A true man has the integrity to conduct himself in a way that is respectful to those around him, without compromising his own standards. Despite society's current views of men, a true man is not defined by the number of people he's had sex with, but rather how he approaches sex.

The State of Things: Rape Culture

If you've ever stumbled across a feminist-leaning article, tweet, or Facebook post, there's a good chance you've encountered the term "Rape Culture." This is the term used to describe our current society's seeming apathy toward sexual assault. Whether it's blaming the victim1 or a very loose definition of consent,2 there's a myriad of ways that our current culture passively accepts rape.

Girl with "I'm asking for it" written on hand.
Ok, maybe the consent issue is pretty clear in this case.
photo credit: AbbyD11 via photopin cc

Rape Culture also includes the insufficient legal and social support we have in place for sexual assault victims. Even for the depressingly low percentages of sexual assault cases that get reported, most rapists don't see any jail time and suffer minimal, if any, financial or social damages. As a society we are so wrapped up in not "ruining" the lives of people who allegedly3 committed sexual assault that we ignore and, in some cases, demonize the victims whose lives have been impacted already.

Schrödinger's Rapist

As it turns out, Rape Culture isn't all that great for guys either. It's actually really insulting to assume that a girl was "going to get raped" if she dresses a certain way. After all, we're guys right? We can't control ourselves! It's in our nature to be ravenous lustbeasts with no thought beyond how and when we're getting laid. We simply can't be trusted to be respectful and make good ethical decisions because we're just victims of our own sexual urges!

Man staring at woman across bench
"You're making me horny..."
photo credit: Fernando_PC via photopin cc

Essentially, Rape Culture tells us that guys are somehow less than human. It paints this picture of men as simplistic creatures whose sex drive is infinitely more powerful than any other faculty. We're incapable of reason or restraint when "tempted" by the sight of bare skin or suggested body shapes, so it has to fall on women to police our desires by dressing themselves in formless sacks lest they incite our lizard-brain sexual urges.

Now, people of both genders get raped, and not just by the opposite gender, but the most common form of rape is women being assaulted by men. This is partially because men, in general, have more physical strength than women, so when a sexual assault occurs it's much harder for a woman to break free. Add that to the pile of threats women are surrounded by, and it's not hard to see why women are pretty much forced to be on high alert at all times for sexual predators. That guy a woman sees walking across the parking garage after class could just be going back to his car to go home, or he could be preparing to grab her as he passes and drag her to his back seat. Women aren't mindreaders, and they can't decipher a man's intentions, so they have to play it safe and assume that every man is a threat. This makes it that much harder for guys to approach women they're interested in, much less establish trust and a connection with them.

The Commodity Model of Sex

A lot of the prevailing attitudes toward rape stem from millenia of women being viewed as objects. Until relatively recently4 in most cultures, women were given to men by their fathers as gifts, arranged to be married to partners picked by their families, and treated as sexual goods. In a lot of cultures there were even specific laws regarding who would inherit responsibility for a woman whose husband passed away, and in general a woman was only considered "valuable" if she still retained her virginity.

Having a cultural view of sex that defines the worth of women by the sex they don't have means that women are much less likely to engage in casual sex for fear that they're "giving it up" too easily. This is a result of the Commodity Model of Sex, which is the view that men want sex from women all the time and women just aren't as interested in sex. In this model, every potential sexual relationship between men and women becomes transactional in nature. Basically, because women are less interested in sex, they become the gatekeepers for it and are free to set the "price" wherever they want (marriage, committed monogamy, etc.) but in order to maintain "value" that price has to be sufficiently high, otherwise the woman is considered less valuable or undesirable because she's too "easy."

Man and woman negotiating contract with lawyer.
"This is of course contingent on a valid certificate of virginity."
photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

With a transactional approach to sex, each side is trying to negotiate an agreement that is more beneficial to them than to the person they're transacting with. The Commodity Model view basically puts men and women into adversarial roles, making sex negotiation some kind of fight where the man wins if they trick the woman into having sex without giving her commitment, and the woman wins if she manages to lock the man into a relationship. This system of winners and losers makes sex a stressful, time-consuming, and ultimately frustrating affair for both sides as they try to con one another into something the other doesn't want.

There's nothing wrong with being less interested in sex, or choosing to abstain from it for personal/religious/professional reasons. There's also nothing wrong with placing conditions a relationship has to meet before sex becomes an option. This is called setting boundaries, and everyone should have boundaries they enforce, even if those boundaries are fairly weak. Not all women are interested in commitment though, and not all men are just looking to hook up. There's a lot of women who are just as interested in casual sex as a lot of guys are. Unfortunately, because of the prevailing Commodity Model attitude, they are discouraged from seeking it out. This, in turn, means men who are interested in casual sex are having to work harder to find partners open to that kind of relationship.

Collaboration and Enthusiastic Consent

The good news is that the Commodity Model isn't the only way to approach sex. In fact, there's a much better Collaborative Model of Sex that encourages men and women to work together for mutual benefit. The Collaborative Model recognizes that both sides have various motivations and desires, and it encourages like-minded men and women to explore mutually beneficial arrangements. Whether it's finding casual sex partners or long-term commitments with an eye on marriage in the future, the Collaborative Model takes the stance that by cooperating with one another we can establish relationships that are fulfilling for both parties.

The way a person with a Collaborative viewpoint approaches sex is that it's something fun and awesome, and they're looking for a partner to share that with, not a target to trick into laying there staring at the ceiling and thinking of England while they do their thing. A collaborator is concerned with their partner's pleasure and comfort just as much as their own. Rather than paying some price for a service and being happy as long as their own needs are met, a collaborator seeks to fulfill their partner's needs as well as their own, so that both parties are satisfied, which has the added bonus that it's likely said partner will want to engage with them again.

In order to be collaborative in the approach to sex, a person needs to be clear and honest about their intentions. Not looking for a relationship? Fine, but you need to make that clear to your potential partner before either of you shed any clothing. Likewise, you need to be clear on your expectations regarding the level of involvement you're expecting. One night stand? Friends with benefits? Potential relationship? If you're not honest about what you're looking for, then the only things you'll find is unnecessary drama and trouble.

And of course, the most important aspect of a collaborative approach to sex is that both partners are not only consenting, but willing, and that's what the idea of Enthusiastic Consent is all about. To a practitioner of Enthusiastic Consent, it's not enough that the other person "doesn't say no," they're only interested in people who actively say "Yes!" This eliminates ethical ambiguity and ensures that both parties are safe from being raped or accused of rape.

Man and woman laying in bed together.
And honestly, the sex is WAY better with someone who WANTS to be doing it with you.

The flip side of this is that you *always* need to respect the other person's expectations. If you don't want the same things and they don't feel comfortable getting intimate with you; accept that it's not going to happen and move on. There has never been anyone who has argued their way into someone's pants. Plus, the way you handle rejection will speak volumes about your character. If you get angry or bitter about it, people notice and mentally file you under the "immature" category. Accept the rejection with grace and change the subject. "Ok, cool. Hey, did you catch last night's episode of [TV SHOW]?" will impress the other person, and could lead to them changing their minds later, or show them that you're a mature, self-secure person that they might want to introduce to their cute friend who's looking for the same things you are.

A true man recognizes that others are independent people with their own motivations, needs, and desires. Be safe, be collaborative, be consensual, and be a man.

1 "She was asking for it, being dressed so provocatively!"
2 "She didn't say no..."
3 If there's any doubt, chances are the person's still not somebody you want to party with.
4 Over the last century or so, though the most radical shifts are much more recent.

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