Are men really from Mars after all? I kinda doubt it, but last night I got a comment that seemed to come straight from outer space. It appeared on a post I wrote last month on a study that suggests kissing alleviates stress for men and women. Amy wrote:
Sunglold, I don’t know what rock you have been hidding under… but there is a massive difference in the way men and women think and feel about sex (and kissing).
In my experience, men and women are worlds appart when it comes to sex!
Men have at least 10 times more testosterone than women, and testosterone inhibits bonding and increases interest in casual sex and sex with a variety of partners. …
Women strive for attatchment, bonding, love and commitment. Women can’t understand why men don’t have more feelings for them. But put simply, men just don’t have as many feelings as women. [my emphasis]
I’ll agree that in most Western societies, men are socialized to be less expressive with their feelings. That’s not the same thing as not having feelings, however. Most of the men I’ve been close to have stories – sometimes over a decade old – about being painfully, painfully dumped by an earlier girlfriend. Most of them now have children and love them just as fiercely as any mother.
Denying that men can feel deeply amounts to denying men their full humanity. And they say feminists despise men?!
Women can get hurt in casual sex. So can men. Women can get their hearts broken by a lover. So can men. It happens to virtually all of us who aren’t celibate. It even happens to celibate people, too! (Some of my worst heartbreaks came during my virginal teen years.)
Where Amy and other anti-feminists blame feminism for bringing on the sexual revolution and leading directly to the shattering of young female psyches, the history is much more complicated, and most of it has little to do with feminism. Heartbreak goes back at least as far as Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere. The sexual revolution on the 1960s had its roots in youth culture, drugs, and rock and roll. The advent of the birth control pill in 1961 enabled young women to try out sex – whether in hippie communes, bars or with a committed boyfriend – without fear of pregnancy paralyzing their pleasure.
Second-wave feminism was generally chilly toward the sexual revolution, at least as most young heterosexuals were experiencing it in the 1960s and 1970s. Nowhere in The Feminist Mystique did Betty Friedan suggest that the path to women’s liberation required shagging anything that moves. By 1970, Anne Koedt was assailing men’s sexual incompetence in “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm.” The Redstockings saw men as well-nigh irredeemable; why would you want to sleep with the enemy? While the Redstockings Manifesto (1969) didn’t go so far as to repudiate all relations with men, within a few years political lesbianism and separatism became a major current within feminism. Needless to say, none of these women were advocating casual sex with men, either. Third-wave feminism has generally repudiated separatism and criticized slut-shaming, but that’s not the same as positively advocating hookups and casual sex for all women.
Where feminism made a difference was, of course, in opening up historically new educational and economic opportunities for women. These made it possible for women to defer marriage and to enjoy sex without bartering it for economic security. This, to my mind, was the real sexual revolution. It’s just not the one people mean when they blame feminism for the failings of the hookup scene.
So yes, in a materialist sense, feminism enabled casual sex. But more importantly in the long run, feminism has opened the possibility of for us (men and women alike) to have sex only when we want to, not under duress, and not for economic security or survival. In a perfectly feminist world, no one would stay married against their will, for example, or submit to a spouse’s unwanted advances. We don’t live in that world yet. Plenty of people stay married for economic reasons. (Some of them are men.)
For those of us who aren’t trapped by economics, feminism allows us to say no to the sex we don’t want, and an enthusiastic, lusty, happy yes to the sex we do want. That’s revolutionary, all right. It’s just not identical with “the sexual revolution.” It’s also antithetical to the idea that anyone needs to participate in hooking up.
Contrast this with the bleak view of sex and men that Amy expresses at her blog:
Casual sex makes men LESS likely to commit, he’s not going to buy the cow when he can get the milk for free. At least the whores are setting the price for sex! Casual sex means no flowers, jewellery or chocolates. Engagement rings, marriage and kids will be even further out of your reach. Always wait as long as possible before sleeping with a guy; because once they get you, they don’t want you anymore.
(More here, including advice to flatter a man, then knock his ego back.)
Viewing sex as a commodity is almost certain to lead to heartbreak. I can buy my own chocolate. I can’t buy love at any price.
And then there’s a pesky little Kantian ethical issue with regarding sex, and by extension one’s partner, as a mere means to an end. I don’t much care whether the end is “getting some pussy” or “getting married.” Either way, it dehumanizes and disrespects one’s partner.
Amy expresses a lot of frustration with men who are users and losers and just general douchebags (my word, not hers). She has apparently had a run of bad luck, and I’m sincerely sorry to hear about that. She’s also young and has a lot of time to meet someone who’s kind and warm and interested in a real relationship. I hope she’ll find her heart’s desire.
My advice (not that she asked)? Stay away from the bars and the hookup scene if what you want is a relationship, because it’s true that among college-aged people, more men than women will want to keep it casual (see Kathleen Bogle’s Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus.) Don’t play games; any guy worth loving is one who won’t be impressed by manipulation and scheming. Avoid casual sex unless it appeals to you. If you do have casual sex, remember that you don’t need to justify it by immediately deciding you’re in love (thus preordaining later heartbreak). Be true to your own desires and respectful of your partners’; you might still get your heart broken, but you won’t end up embittered.
And have patience. I was 28 when I met my husband, 30 when I married him. He was more keen on having children than I was. Fifteen years later, he may be getting the milk for free (or maybe it’s the other way ’round?) but he’s absolutely not a user or a loser. He feels as deeply as I do; he loves as deeply as I do. This isn’t a fairy tale (and lord knows we’ve had our share of bumps and woes). It’s just one example of how we don’t have to be trapped by ideas that denigrate one gender or the other. For that, we can thank feminism’s real sexual revolution.