Thursday, August 4, 2011

Is domination the name of the game?

I just read this line in a piece at the Good Men Project about how men are doing in what sounds like our “post-feminist” society:

Most sexual relationships (if not all) involve a power exchange, including some degree of domination and submission. How does this basic human need fit in with the discourses of gender “equality” that prevail today?

This is an oft repeated stock idea that you’ll hear a lot all over the place. Sex is about power. When I was 21 and thought I knew everything about everything (and was a somewhat insufferable little shit), I would’ve said the exact same thing. It sounds like such an intellectual way to discuss the down and dirty deed, especially since intellectual types never want to sound too hopeful or sweet. It just wouldn’t do for us to say anything equating sex with love. And I would never say that all sex is about love—anymore than I agree with the idea that “most sexual relationships (if not all) involve a power exchange”. Emphasis mine.

Why is this the prevailing narrative? I can tell you, I’ve had lots of sex that didn’t seem to be about power at all. Two willing participants getting together and doing something that is mutually beneficial doesn’t sound like a power struggle to me—it sounds like a good time. Even when two people get together and one says, “Hey, can you boss me around for a little while? That’s hot!” it’s not really about a power exchange because, well, one person asked for the illusion of a power game. When one person is willingly submitting to another’s respectful domination, it’s fake power exchange. The person on bottom is just as much in control of their sexual experience at that point as the person on top.

The only other instances I can think of when power is at play during sex aren’t so pretty. They’re either situations in which the couple is at odds in other aspects of their relationship and each is using sex as a tool or a weapon, or they’re rape. “Maybe if I give him sex, he’ll like me.” “Maybe if I give her my love, she’ll give me her sex.” See what I just did there? I quoted the story before we get to the conclusion that all sex is about power. We’re taught to believe that men want the sex and are engaged in an elaborate ruse or, worse, all-out battle to get it. But, again, is that true? Like, is it inherently true, or is it just what we’ve been taught and therefore what we act out on the regular?

This idea that sex is inherently about power supports all sorts of unhealthy sexual attitudes. It scares women into trying to control men with sex. It gives men the impression that they have to be dishonest or forceful in order to get what they want. But, again, that isn’t inherently true. That’s just the traditional narrative. Why don’t we ever say that sex is about fun and connecting with another person? It doesn’t have to be about love for the long haul—it doesn’t even have to be about love for the night. But it can be a mutually pleasurable experience, and I just don’t get how that’s about power.

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