Deconstructing Predatory Male Sexuality

Thanks to Wikimedia for the image.

So, that guy who was hitting on you in an unwanted way? Kinda creepy, right?

Or not, as Clarisse Thorn would have it, in her post asking us to analyze the reasons for demonizing men who express their sexual needs. She asked us to think about what the word “creep” really means; why it’s such a terrible, stigmatizing act for a man to express his sexuality; and why it almost always comes across as predatory, or at best creepy or weird.

As she explains, “men who talk a lot about their sexuality, or who make any slightly unusual move (like sending a friendly proposition over the Internet), can run afoul of the pervasive tropes around male sexuality: that it’s inherently aggressive, toxic and unwanted.”

Forcing men to suppress every hint of their sexuality in order to not seem creepy is obviously as unacceptable a solution as telling women to suppress their sexuality in order to not come across as slutty. Yet mainstream culture saturates us with images of virile, potent (heterosexual, cis-gendered) men who aggressively pursue and conquer their lovers. How are men supposed to navigate between this unattainable ideal and the reality of everyday life, when a potential partner might react negatively to a proposition instead of swooning into her lover’s well-muscled arms?

Thorn suggests that everyone–both women and men–learn to accept male sexuality when it is expressed, and to not police it as predatory unless it actually is. Saying that something sounds like a hot idea is not inherently threatening so long as it remains in the spoken realm, in a consensual conversation. Additionally, Thorn advises that male sexuality be approached from a perspective of pleasure rather than conquest, meaning that men should honestly evaluate their needs in light of mainstream ideals, and figure out if the whole “Stud” mentality fits them or not.

This works both ways, of course; if men should be introspective about their sexual needs, trying to ascertain if cultural models work for them or should be discarded, then women need to do the same. People of every gender and orientation should have a decent sense of their needs and boundaries, and should be able to encourage potential partners whose honest sex talk is up their alley, as well as discourage potential partners (or those random strangers who get it in their heads to hit on you) when a specific kind of interaction is inappropriate or unwanted.

To this end, men might be able to borrow something that feminists have been using for a while: the idea of a “safe space,” or a conversation or location with the sole purpose of making everybody comfortable discussing a given topic. Judgments and criticisms are supposed to be suspended in a safe space, thus allowing participants the freedom of speech without worrying about offending someone (obviously, this kind of group works best when the participants are fairly homogeneous). Women have utilized this notion in the consciousness-raising groups of second wave feminism, as well as in sexual assault survivor groups, where survivors need to feel safe and comfortable in order to be able to express themselves and hopefully reach a healing or therapeutic experience. In this sense, men might also benefit from creating a “safe space” for themselves, where they can freely talk about their sexual needs without worrying about coming across as creepy. When with their peers, they can bounce ideas off one another and attempt to evaluate more objectively what is authentically sexy to them, and whether expressing a desire in one way or another might sound intrusive, or might require rephrasing to get the idea across in a non-predatory way.

On the flip side, men need to be able to objectively discern what counts as threatening, invasive, or non-consensual talk and behavior, and be able to communicate these things to their peers. Learning to respect other people’s sexual boundaries, which is explicitly not something that is taught in mainstream culture, may take some time to learn. This is not to imply that every dude is a dolt when it comes to navigating boundaries or being respectful, just as it wouldn’t be true to say that every woman has the best communication skills ever due to, well, having ovaries or whatever. But the cultural conditioning that each gender receives is very strong and very thorough, so discussing general topics such as men’s or women’s sexuality can be a useful starting point.

Sadly, much of the burden does remain on men to communicate their sexuality in a way that does not sound threatening, because there is still so much sexual violence that women are justified to be on their guard around men they don’t know. Still, everyone has a right to sexual expression, and hopefully as both men and women discuss and dissect their own sexuality, there will be more opportunities for honest dialogue.

Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.

About Jeana

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.

  • http://clarissethorn.wordpress.com Clarisse Thorn

    :) Great response to my article. Thanks for writing it!

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    Thanks! Your original article was so thought-provoking and remains so relevant, I really wanted to keep discussing and promoting awareness of the issues you raised.

  • anonymoose

    Your post reminded me of a funny, yet disturbingly thought provoking skit that I saw on Saturday Night Live.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBVuAGFcGKY&feature=related

  • anonymoose

    Your writings on this were very thought provoking. I think about this topic often as I am bothered by and wonder about the consequences of the trend where woman try to sexually neuter ALL men mentally, because some men’s unwanted attentions.

    I wonder if they have been too successful in taming men’s sexual expression. I did just wonder if this is one reason women have been turning to the Internet to get creeped upon. I know a lot of women who use the Internet to be pursued aggressively because they just can’t get that in real life as men are being told that it is unwanted in the real world.