The Puzzle Box Model Of Sex

Recently, I saw a blog post called “I am not a puzzle box” making the rounds on Facebook. It was popular for a very good reason: it provided a metaphor that explains why “creepy” behaviors and harassment are so often made out to be innocuous, normal, or the fault of the victim.

The author’s main point is that to the men who’ve been enculturated with the “puzzle box” viewpoint, “inside every woman, there’s a tasty Sex Treatâ„¢, and there’s some way to get it out. Some combination of words, of behaviors on the man’s part, some situation will pop that box open and the treat will be his!”

This means that if a man plays the game right – he’s polite to a woman on a date, he opens doors, he’s appropriately flattering, whatever – then his proper reward is sex. The two big problems with this view, as the author points out, are that it dehumanizes women, and that it conceptualizes sex as an item or prize rather than a consensual, collaborative activity.

Kick-ass blogger Holly Pervocracy aptly sums up a few different models of sex, including the item (or economic, or commodity) model and why it’s so problematic (women produce sex, while men buy/take/steal it). In contrast, Thomas Macaulay Millar’s performance model of sex promotes the view that sex is interactive and intimate; it requires active consent and participation from the people involved. Kinda like a musical performance.

With this in mind, how would you rather be treated: as a mechanical puzzle box that has to be manipulated just so in order to yield sexy-times, or as a collaborator, a co-artist, someone whose individuality is an integral part of the experience itself? Not that there’s anything wrong with objectifying your partner(s) if it’s part of consensual erotic play, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that I’d prefer performance-model to puzzle-box most days of the week.

Thanks to Wikimedia for the Japanese puzzle box image.

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.