When I go home with a man, I don’t think he is desperate. I don’t think he is needy. I don’t think he is starved for attention or trying to get my approval, or the approval of my gender as a whole. I don’t read some psychological illness or childhood deprivation when he crows about getting laid or how pretty I am. I don’t think he’s weird for having a sex drive or a freak for acting on his desires. I don’t think he loves me or wants to marry me and I don’t think of us as a failure if we don’t end up tripping down the aisle. I just see him as a man who happens to like sex, and happens to like me, and that’s that.
Cold, isn’t it? Clinical. We’re still not used to women talking about sex in this way. But I’m a young, happily single woman with no interest in dating, but I still have a sexuality. I still have needs and wants. Anyone who sees me sipping overpriced cocktails wearing pearls and red lipstick would pick me for a bit of a hedonist. And if society views men with healthy sex lives as normal and balanced then, goshdarnit, why don’t they see me the same way?
I have never identified as asexual, and I’ve never experienced the stigma and discrimination of being that way. But as much as we are prejudiced against people who don’t feel sexual and/or romantic attraction, we expect this to be the silent de-facto for unattached women. Women aren’t allowed to masturbate, flirt, sleep around, or have any kind of sex that isn’t in or leading towards the perfect marriage to the perfect husband to make perfect babies. Even Charlotte from Sex and the City – the 90s girl’s Karma Sutra – exclaims ‘I’ve been dating since I was fifteen, where *is* he?’
Sex isn’t tryouts, lads. I’m not at the mall trying on shoes, trying to find the perfect ones to take home. I’m in it for the same reason you are.
And it’s not just about pleasure. If it was, all of us would spare ourselves and each other the sweaty, awkward ordeal of sex, fraught with risk of pregnancy, injury, disease & death (source: every sexual health class ever). There’s no chance of getting knocked up by my vibrator, and no guy ever caught chlamydia from jacking himself off. If it was just about the big-O, spending $400 an hour on high-class escorts would be a colossal waste of money. Of course we’re all in it for the intimacy. It’s not a desperate search for Prince Charming to carry me off on his white horse, but at the same time, sex is something you share, with someone, and whether or not it lasts longer than the moment isn’t important to me. In the moment you are closer to them than to anyone else in the world, and that’s one of the many miracles of life.
I like sex. I like people. I like the marriage of the two. But we have this idea in our heads that women can only, and should only, tangle love and men and sex into one inextricable knot, and that one cannot exist without the other; that women lack the logic or emotional intelligence to see them as separate things that can, but don’t always, intersect. When I go out, I’m not looking for a person; I’m looking for an experience. I grow to like the person, unless I discover something unsavoury about them; it’s just like any other relationship, I like you until I don’t like you anymore. I’m friends with many of my partners and former partners, and I still think fondly of most of the ones I’m not in contact with. And, with a few regrettable exceptions, my partners are all exceptionally respectful, decent human beings and excellent company. The idea that you can’t respect and care for someone just because you are in a relationship that isn’t ‘forever and always’ or gooey Disney-princess romantic is seriously disturbing.
We don’t actually have a problem with women having sex. We don’t have a problem with the wives and girlfriends of the world. We don’t have a problem with mothers or grandmothers; all of whom, I’m afraid to tell you, have gotten their freak on at some point. We have a problem with women *wanting* sex.
We shame women for wanting boyfriends, but we don’t shame them for actually having boyfriends. We want men to pick up women, but the only way we can fathom a woman’s opinion on the matter is the oh-so-dynamic-and-complicated ‘slut/prude’ Catch-22. We want women to be sexually available but never sexually eager. We want women to be romantically and sexually passive, and we are terrified of women who resist or make their own advances. Our fear of the nymphomaniac is just one of many symptoms of a deeply misogynistic society. At the heart of it all, we are still terrified of women who call the shots; even on their own lives and bodies.
This, my friends, is rape culture. We can't see anything wrong with a woman having sex when she doesn't want to, because that's how it's meant to be. Women are never allowed to want sex, but they're never allowed to refuse. In this mindset, rape is impossible; or at least very permissible. Just part of the status quo.
When we talk about women having sex, it’s all about women ‘losing’ something, ‘giving it away’, ‘disrespecting herself’, ‘giving in’. If sex was so costly and soul-destroying for women as people make it out to be, women like me wouldn’t exist. Are female orgasms fictional now? Sex isn’t a prize; I’m not rewarding you for your awkward pick-up lines or paying you back for the drinks and the cab ride home. Our society is hellbent on seeing sex as a transaction – I’ll give you sex, I’ll give you head, I’ll give in to you, I’ll give you my virginity. We seem to forget that women have nerve endings, too; in fact, a helluva lot more than cis-males. Think about the reasons why men have sex; a little, a lot, with one person or dozens. None of them are ‘giving away’ anything or ‘disrespecting themselves’, because we recognise that most men get physical and emotional pleasure from intimacy. Well, ditto for women, folks. Newsflash.
This gendered double standard arises, ultimately, from our inability to imagine women complexly. We see what they’re doing in the moment and make snap judgements, without putting things into context or, you know, butting out of someone else’s business.
You know what? Sometimes I feel like Cinderella’s Prince from Into the Woods.
"This was just a moment in the woods
Our moment, shimmering and lovely and sad
Leave the moment
Just be glad for the moment that we had
Every moment is of the moment when you’re in the woods…
Now, I must go off to slay the giant."
We always seem to remember that men, no matter how much they treasure their moments in the wood, have other purposes in life; we respect that they have giants to slay and that the absence or presence of women in their beds does little to change that. But when a woman wants in, we think her life revolves around the business of man-seducing and husband-getting.
I have my moments in the woods. But I need to slay my own giants, too.
The other thing that is monumentally confusing for people who like to dissect my sex life and make snap judgements about my character/IQ/whatever is that I am, apparently, a ‘virgin’. I don’t have ‘real sex’.
When we reduce sex to a single act, not only do we exclude queer experiences of sex, but we buy into the inherent misogyny of heteronormativity. For a non-lesbian woman who sleeps with male-bodied men, the idea of not having penetrative sex is unthinkable. It’s ‘not really sex’.
Last time I checked, cis-women lesbians seem to manage just fine without penises. Nobody accuses the devilish homosexual of being a virgin; in fact, I think they have the opposite problem.
I choose not to have certain kinds of sex in the same way that everyone else draws the line at what they will and will not do. I do not have to justify my reasons to anybody. But the fact that people take such issue with my boundaries – and these are people I’m not even intending on sleeping with, people who never had any intentions of sleeping with me – is, to me, ultimate proof of how problematic society’s relationship is to female sexuality. This lack of understanding that there are other kinds of sex, that there are other ways for people of all genders to experience sexual pleasure aside from that going in there, the fact that almost nobody knows that up to 80% of women cannot orgasm from penetration alone, is proof that people still think of my sexuality on what I have to offer, what I have to give, and how much I have to lose. For the record, nobody has felt betrayed or conned by my sticking to my boundaries, nor do they have the right to. If you’re up for something that I’m not up for, well then, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. That’s the joy of being single, isn’t it?
They make orifices for men to stick their penises in. They’re called fleshlights. There are people who are happy and satisfied with not experiencing sexual attraction. They’re called asexual individuals, and y’all should treat them with a fuckload more respect. But I am a woman interested in the business of giving and receiving sexual pleasure, and I go out and get what I want. On my own terms. In my own way. I am capable of having sex without love and that is nothing to be ashamed of, or to shame me over, when every night men hit the clubs hoping for the same and nobody thinks of them as lonely childless sad people or perverts.
The only people who have to be happy about what happens behind closed doors is me, and the people I wake up next to. I am sick and tired of having my sexuality ignored, shamed, or ridiculed. The existence of my sexuality is not up for debate and my sex life is not open to discussion. And next time you think about judging me, or the other ‘girls on the prowl’, think about whether or not you would judge them if they were men, and then remember that we are in fact the gender with the most nerve endings, the only gender with an organ which exists solely for pleasure, and the gender of the multiple orgasms. If that doesn’t give us the right to be nymphomaniacs, then nothing does.