Sex is a fun topic to write about and I’ve written a LOT about it.
But this piece by Ann Friedman in New York magazine is so spot on that I wish I had written it myself. It’s about whether women should be passive when it comes to pursuing sex, even when their biology insists that their desire is as strong as male desire.
Friedman, reporting on Daniel Bergner’s new book, “What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire,” starts by asserting that we’ve been brainwashed:
“Men and women have been barraged with the message that women are not naughty by nature. They are thought of as hardwired to hunt for a partner and a mate, while men pursue sex as a pleasurable act in and of itself. It follows from there that women – at least good women – must be pursued and coaxed into sex, and men enjoy the thrill of the chase.”
There’s plenty of evidence for that, as women prefer to be asked out, have men make the first move, and are particularly turned on by their partners’ desire for them. But then again, if women like sex just as much as men, why can’t they pursue it in the same way?
And this is where society – for better or worse – kicks in. I’m a reality-based dating coach. I don’t make the rules. I observe them. And I’ve observed the same Catch-22 that Friedman and Bergner have reported on below:
“Women want sex, and in particular, they want sex with people who really want them. But socially, many straight men still find it a turnoff when women are sexual aggressors. Which means that, for women, aggressively pursuing the thing they want actually leads to them not getting it….
If women like sex just as much as men, why can’t they pursue it in the same way?
For example, women and men overwhelmingly state that men are supposed to plan dates, ask out the woman, and pick her up. Moreover, when women do not adhere to these scripts they are viewed negatively. For example, women who initiate dates are viewed by men as more promiscuous and not interested in forming a serious relationship.” …We’ve already established that females of all species are interested in sex for pleasure. But in the human realm, that simple, fundamental motivation is all too easily labeled as “sluttiness,” or some sort of deep desperation wrought by singledom.”
Yep, that’s about right. Again, I’m not endorsing this – just observing it. As a self-proclaimed slut who started most of his relationships by hopping into bed and dealing with the fall-out, I hold no judgment for anyone who does the same.
But since my forte is helping smart, strong, successful women understand men and find love, we can’t ignore the reality of the situation, outlined by Friedman:
“This catch-22 presents women with a few options, none of which are appealing. You can directly pursue a man, but only if you want to convey that you’re only in it for sex. You can choose not to pursue him, but then you’re relegated to this historic, passive role that doesn’t jibe with your active, considered approach to any other area of life, be it work or real estate or even friendship….“According to these women, their professional background is already intimidating to many men and they feel as though asking them out would make them less attractive and even more intimidating,” she says. “The men I interview also state that they prefer to be the individual who initiates the date and at times find women who ask them out to be more aggressive.”
Yes, gender roles are changing, even if our biology is not. Which is why I give the advice I give, which sounds more “traditional” than you’d expect from a liberal.
Men: Plan, pay, court, follow up, and make a consistent effort. (Most) women really appreciate when you take the lead.
Women: Let men do this instead of doing it yourself. Not because you CAN’T, but because, on the whole, your man doesn’t find it appealing when you call him, ask him out, pay for him, initiate sex, and follow up with him. That’s usually his job.
“More and more men are finding it difficult to be as direct, when it comes to dating and sex, as previous generations of men maybe once were,” says Chiara Atik, author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide. “Everyone’s being kind of wishy-washy. Women want sex, but they don’t want to be seen as forward (or worse, desperate). Men want sex but are intimidated, unconfident, or don’t want to be seen as domineering. We’re not sure who should be the sexual instigators, and then no one really steps up to the plate.”
If you’re going to throw out all the rules and suggest that there are no roles for men and women whatsoever, you have no right to suggest a new standard operating procedure. The procedure in a genderless world is “no procedure”.
That’s what we’re seeing right now. And it doesn’t seem like women like the results.
Which is why I strongly differ with the author’s conclusion:
“We all get that the rules of traditional courtship – in which men make every single advance and women demur or acquiesce – are dead, but we haven’t replaced them with a new standard operating procedure.”
In my opinion, if you’re going to throw out all the rules and suggest that there are no roles for men and women whatsoever, you have no right to suggest a new standard operating procedure. The procedure in a genderless world is “no procedure”.
Frankly, I think that most women seem to really like it when a man acts with confidence and decisiveness – when he calls, plans, pays, initiates sex, and follows up.
What do you think? Is it old-school and patriarchal when men “take the lead”? Is it disempowering and passive if women prefer this?
Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.