Calling All Heterosexual Sex Transactional Perpetuates Rape Culture

[crossposted from Sex Positive Activism]

An article in today’s Huffington Post has me absolutely livid.  The author, HuffPo contributor Toni Nagy, presumably is trying to make a point about how “dry humping” is a good idea for feminists (read: heterosexual women) as a way to draw out the courting ritual and be more selective about sexual partners.  What she in fact manages to do–all in a 723-word article–is essentialize gender, turn women into hollow stereotypes, and perpetuate rape culture.

How many people’s mouths would you stick your finger in? A lot. I would stick my finger in a lot of people’s mouths. But how many people would you let stick their finger in your mouth? Not as many! There is a biological difference between the way women and men experience sex, and each gender should view and treat sex in its own way. I think women need a velvet rope and a self-important doorman for their vaginas, monitoring who gets access. If you’re not on the list, you are not coming inside.

This is how Nagy’s article starts, firmly rooted in the second grade.  Sexuality, I don’t need to remind those who are familiar with my blogs, is not a linear transaction that we take part in by following a rigid script.  This includes heterosexual sex.  By distilling it down to the penis-in-vagina elements, Nagy clearly misses a thousand points.

But it gets better.  What’s so dangerous about this article is that it’s not satire. People are taking it seriously.  It appears on the Huffington Post front page, guaranteeing a huge number of page views, and it plays into familiar ladymag myths of the woman who, while “overly” sexual in her twenties, embarking on what Tony Nagy deems as every self-possessed woman’s “whore tour,” comes to view sex as a transaction, a game in which men and women play familiar roles.

Nagy plays into biological arguments that have shown up far too frequently in articles on heterosexuality recently–sex makes women want to bond, good sex is emotional, and women crave sperm.  She then treats sex as a prize that men have to earn, stating that “The harder a guy has to work to get into your pants, the better he will treat the girl wearing them. ”

Watch out, ladies.  Don’t make him work hard enough, and your vagina’s value will be diminished.

So how does this article perpetuate rape culture, you ask?  Well, it puts another voice behind the proposition that sex is a commodity, as are women’s bodies.  It positions heterosexual sex as a game–though women are apparently expected to give it up young, a little twist on the usual narrative, as women age the dating game shifts back into transactional territory where value lies in access to a woman’s body.  That access, of course, revolves around PIV sex, because we should be picky about who puts their “finger” in our “mouth.”

Sex-positive activists, it’s time to amp up the education efforts.  Let’s keep talking about why articles like this are damaging to women and to our entire society.  Let’s attack these myths by providing examples of how sex can be fluid and varied.  Let’s remind everyone that gender is far more complicated than this picture would suggest, and that queer women exist.  If we don’t point out the cissexism, heteronormativity, and plain old sexism in arguments like this, no one else is going to do it for us.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted August 11, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Oh dear. “The harder a guy has to work to get in your pants, the better he will treat the girl wearing them.”???? Some limited (second-hand) personal experience talking here, but I suspect “The harder a guy has to work to get in your pants, the more he thinks you owe him once he’s there.”

    The fact that people take that line seriously is so scary, on both sides of the virgin/whore dichotomy (and thus, also in the “middle”, where every real woman exists). The tired old idea that if you “give it away,” you should expect (and lets face it, people mean “deserve”) to get treated like crap. But also, the false sense of security in being “pure” – if you think all you have to do to prevent being abused is be selective enough with your vagina, how unprepared will you be when the royal “wooing” treatment turns into a possessive, controlling nightmare? By peddling these false ideas about how the “sexual economy” does or should work, articles like this frankly put women in danger, and encourage men to be assholes. Ugh.

    • Posted August 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Depending on the man and his sense of entitlement, Melanie’s suspicions can be correct. Though I don’t want to generalize all men any more than articles like the one we’re discussing though. But I have dated people who were the initial interested party, before I was, and felt like that fact was held over my head in the relationship.

      I think this insistence in viewing hetero sex as a transaction not only harms relationships between men and women for the reasons discussed, but can perhaps contribute to some people’s unwillingness to accept LGBTQ relationships? Because they can’t figure out how to pigeonhole them into this gender-essential transaction myth of women providing sex/children/domestic labor while men provide money/protection/bring home bacon or however it’s supposed to work.

  2. Posted August 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    “The harder a guy has to work to get into your pants, the better he will treat the girl wearing them”, huh??

    I once made a guy wait TEN YEARS before I gave in and slept with him. We were friends for a long time and I knew he liked me, but for some reason I just never took it to that leven until years later when I finally started to have feelings for him in return. And as soon as I finally let him into my pants, the very next day he turned around and said to me “Sorry whore, I never really liked you and we were never really friends, I just thought you’d be a good lay and I was willing to do whatever it took to eventually get there. And now that you gave it to me, I’m gonna tell everyone what an easy trick you are.” Then he blocked me on his cell phone, instant messenger, and Facebook and never spoke to me again. That was a year ago, and I’m still BADLY emotionally scarred from it. Men treat a woman better if she makes them wait longer to get into her vagina?? HA!!!!! If making him wait ten years will cause him to call you a whore and laugh in your face, then NO amount of “waiting period” will make men respect us. We LOSE every time!!!

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