Monthly Archives: January 2008

Challenging views of sexuality in contemporary culture.

“For more than ten years I was in a nonmonogamous relationship with a black man committed to nonsexist behavior in almost every aspect of daily life–the major exception being the bedroom. I accepted my partner’s insistence that his sexual desires be met in any circumstance where I had made sexual overtures (kissing, caressing, and so on). Hence ours was not a relationship in which I felt free to initiate sexual play without going forward and engaging in coitus. Often I felt compelled to engage in sexual intercourse when I did not want to.

“In my fantasies, I dreamed of being with a male who would fully respect my body rights, my right to say ‘no,’ my freedom not to proceed in any sexual activity that I did not desire even if I initially felt that I wanted to be sexual. When I left this relationship, I was determined to choose male partners who could respect a woman’s right to say ‘no,’ irrespective of the circumstance.

“Years passed before I found a partner who respected those rights in a feminist manner, with whom I made a mutual covenant that neither of us would ever engage in any sexual act that we did not desire to participate in. I was elated. With this partner I felt free and safe. I felt that I could choose not to have sex without worrying that this choice would alienate or anger my partner. Though most women were impressed that I had found such a partner, they doubted that this could be a chosen commitment to female freedom on any man’s part; they raised suspicious questions. Braggin’ about him to girlfriends and acquaintances, I was often told, ‘Girl, you betta be careful. Dude might be gay.’ I also begin to feel doubts. Nothing about the way this dude behaved was familiar. His was not the usual ‘dick-thing’ masculinity that had aroused feeligns of pleasure and danger in me for most of my erotic life. While I liked his alternative behavior, I felt a loss of control–the kind that we experience when we are no longer acting within the socialized framework of both acceptable and familiar heterosexual behavior. I worried that he did not find me really desirable. Then I asked myself whether aggressive emphasis on his desire, on his need for ‘the pussy’ would have reassured me. It seemed to me, then, that I needed to rethink the nature of female heterosexual eroticism, particularly in relation to black culture.

“Critically interrogating my responses, I confronted the reality that despite all my years of opposing patriarchy, I had no fully questioned or transformed the structure of my desire. By allowing my erotic desire to still be determined to any extent by conventional sexist constructions, I was acting in complicity with patriarchal thinking. Resisting patriarchy ultimately meant that I had to reconstruct myself as a heterosexual, desiring subject in a manner that would make it possible for me to be fully aroused by male behavior that was not phallocentric. In basic terms, I had to learn how to be sexual with a man in a context where his pleasure and his hard-on is decentered and mutual pleasure is centered instead. That meant learning how to enjoy being with a male partner who could be sexual without viewing coitus as the ultimate expression of desire.

“Talking with women of varying ages and ethnicities about this issue, I am more convinced than ever that women who engage in sexual acts with male partners must not only interrogate the nature of the masculinity we desire, we must also actively construct radically new ways to think and feel as desiring subjects. By shaping our eroticism in way that repudiate phallocentrism, we oppose rape culture. Whether this alters sexist male behavior is not the point. A woman who wants to engage in erotic acts with a man without reinscribing sexism will be much more likely to avoid or reject situations in which she might be victimized. By refusing to function within the heterosexist framework that condones male erotic domination of women, females would be actively disempowering patriarchy.

“Without a doubt, our collective, conscious refusal to act in any way that would make us complicit in the perpetuation of rape culture within the sphere of sexual relations would undermine the structure. Concurrently, when heterosexual women are no longer attracted to macho men, the message sent to men would at least be consistent and clear. That would be a major intervention in the overall effort to transform rape culture.” “Seduced By Violence No More,” from Outlaw Culture (bell hooks), pages 131-133 (italics mine)

The above quote not only succinctly articulates widespread cultural contradiction; it also emphasizes possible transformations in individual perception of sexuality. While bell hooks is writing about women and women’s transformation, the overall content, and, in particular, the italicized section, also addresses a male concern that Andrew has told me about many times: the heterosexual concentration on male erection and, more importantly, male ejaculation.

Andrew has spoken many times about how this creates unnecessary male performance anxiety around sex, because oftentimes both male and female attention in so focused on the penis. Both erection and ejaculation are seen as signs of sexual ability.

Culturally, there is a widespread belief that a man who does not do these things is not properly masculine. Simultaneously, the cultural lack of male erection and/or ejaculation threatens women, who have frequently believe that their desirability is predicated upon male erection and ejaculation. The idea that one could “be sexual without viewing coitus as the ultimate expression of desire” is considered culturally ridiculous, even ludicrous. It’s assumed that if one is sexual without viewing penetration as the ultimate expression of desire, that one is sexually defective in some way – unable to perform, or otherwise lacking a proper hormonal balance.

Even as I write this, I feel the need to justify my writing by explaining that “of course I enjoy penetration,” lest anyone mistake me for a lesser or defective (heterosexual) sexual being.

The irony is that anxiety and violence do not inherently contribute to better sex. This is not to say that sex, or sexual acts, must be all white lace, flowers, and sweetness, only that there are many other possibilities, ones that cast aside constrictive and sometimes brutal gender roles.

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