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More thoughts on creepiness and sex-positivity July 6, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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I was responding to a comment from my post yesterday about elevatorgate, just now, and realized part of what put a twist in my panties about this issue originally.  And while I think that I am in agreement with Rebecca Watson almost completely, and thank her for her consciousness raising (assuming she won’t mind the continual use of that term associated with her new BFF Richard Dawkins), I also think that there is a tangential issue that all of these conversations touch on that have been meaningful for me for a long time.

So, while trying to slowly put behind us the specific issue of Rebecca Watson and her elevator friend, I want to address the general issue of being creepy in a sex-positive world full of happy, horny, sluts.

It is essentially this: There is nothing wrong with asking for sex.

I have read, in the last few days, so many comments about proper ways to hit on women that don’t sexualize them, that respect them, and that will not creep them out.  I get it; make sure you are in a safe context, speak to them respectfully, and and don’t just proposition them, but talk to them first.  The last part throws me off a little.  There is nothing inherently wrong with asking a person, in a safe environment and with appropriate words, to have sex with you.  You just have to be prepared to hear and accept a no, because that is likely what will happen in most (but not all) cases.

Before this issue arose, I would have not done what elevator guy did, but mostly for pragmatic reasons.  Whether this makes me privileged, insensitive, or whatever, the fact is that I realize that it just would not work, and is therefore a waste of my time.  I would have not understood the fear that many women would feel in that situation because I, as has been pointed out, have some blinders on.

Fair enough.  Blinders partially removed, trying to understand better, but I still have concerns for how this privilege of mine interacts with a world of happy, horny, sluts.

 

The world I want to live in; a slut-friendly world.

Many commenters, on Pharyngula and elsewhere, pointed out that men do not have the right to assume that any interaction with a woman gives them the right to assume the possibility of sexual encounters.  That’s right, we should not assume anything.  But this is different than saying they don’t have the right to ask, so long as they are willing to accept a no without feeling rejected.  This distinction is critical, because it highlights where he rub here is.  Asking is not assuming.  In fact, it is perfectly flush with skepticism; you don’t know something so you investigate.  I think that many so-called “elevator guy apologists” are probably trying to articulate this, while still often missing the factor of context.  People talking past one-another on the internet, once again.

The issue is this; what would be acceptable for one woman would be creepy for another.  In other words, just like with the Schroedinger’s rapist issue, we have what I call the similar problem of Schroedinger’s slut; we don’t know (in most cases) when the proposition will be acceptable or creepy for another person.  So, once you find the appropriate place and time, it’s carpe diem time.  Life is too short to live life in fear.  So, if you meet a girl or a guy (or both) at a party, a bar, a club, or elsewhere where they are not physically trapped, then ask what you desire! If you are respectful, open, honest, and so forth and are still seen as creepy, there is nothing you could have done to not be creepy.  That person might just have issues with their sexuality, if you did in fact ask respectfully and in a safe space.

I’m extending this issue into the realm of sex-positivity and sluthood, not common bar/party meetings of people where the normal vanilla rules apply.  In my ideal world, a proposition of sex between relative strangers is morally and socially acceptable, even if it is unlikely to succeed.  I still don’t do it often, because I am often in vanilla circles and realize that many people are sex negative and view sluthood as a bad thing.  But at a kink club, polyamory meetup, or a swing club?

Different rules.

But creepiness is still an issue, and that is what I am curious about.  See for us, one thing we have to learn is how to hear “no.” And how to say no without feeling bad about it.  That is difficult as well.

 

A Memorable Lesson from Polyamory 101

A few years back I was at a polyamory meeting where had this exercise which has stuck with me ever since.  We stood up and walked around the room asking anyone and everyone for permission to kiss them.  Male, female, old, young, etc.  Everyone had to say “no” (even if you wanted to say “yes!”) so that we could get accustomed to hearing and saying no.  The reason for this is that we learn that there is no harm in asking.  Hearing no is not so bad, and neither is saying it.  Some people may think there is harm in asking, and others feel bad saying no.  That’s just immaturity and prudishness.  By all means be a prude if that makes you happy.  But even in that case you can still say no without it being an issue.

I have been to a few conferences over the years.  Financial struggles make it hard to do so more, especially now.  And while at a conference among godless heathens and (often) libertines, I sometimes meet more freaky people, and the only way I found this out was by asking.  Just not while in an elevator and alone.  But I will not be shamed by my admitted privilege into not asking at all, as some voices in the last few days seem to imply.  That is a form of sex-negativity, and is not a step towards health for our community or for any individuals.

Bottom line: We all need to try and be aware of contexts that present potential dangers and violations of respect, but there is a distinction between the context and the request for sex.  We all, as a culture, need to be able to ask for what we want, be prepared to hear a no (or a yes), and we need to remember that people have different boundaries that we cannot predict upon sight.  When we cross other people’s boundaries, we can apologize; and when someone crosses ours we can realize that they may have meant no disrespect.

And when people do act disrespectfully without concern for our discomfort or boundaries, we have the right to call them out on it.  I am in full support of people who cross boundaries being educated, especially if they display no concern for having done so.  Let’s hope that Rebecca Watson’s education of us will be a prevention of potential harm that could happen.  Let’s hope that nothing more serious than what she experienced ever happens at a conference.

And let’s also hope that the sluts in our community have some hot sex with each-other.

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Comments»

1. noblecaboose - July 9, 2011

Here’s my problem with the Schrodinger’s slut analogy:

Imagine a square, with possible situations along one axis and possible actions on the other.

X axis: (a) A woman is sexually available and interested, (b) A woman is sexually unavailable and not interested.

y axis: (1) You proposition her directly, (2)you do not proposition her.

Inside the square, you have four possible outcomes:
(a,1) Hooray! Sex!
(a,2) Boo, no sex. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
(b,1) You have just creeped her out, and further confirmed the already tired cliche that all guys are creepy horndogs who want nothing more than to bone anything that breathes.
(b,2) Nothing happens.

So, is the slight possibility of sex really worth the risk of making someone uncomfortable? Is that really the message you want to send to men? Dudes, put your own desires before hers?
It’s that very entitlement that makes women uncomfortable.
I think if the woman is sexually available, it’s up to HER to make it known. To me, that’s what sexual empowerment is about. If she’s a slut, she’ll let you know. I certainly would. That’s part of what being a slut means.
I realise that’s an imbalance, but it’s the only way to counterbalance the incredible imbalance of power that already exists. And if you don’t think there’s an imbalance of power, or that we’ve already overcome it, then you’re really wearing blinders.
Maybe I’m missing your point. And in a perfect world, we wouldn’t need men to recognise and be aware of your privilege as males. But we don’t live in a perfect world, where sex is free and nobody is beaten and raped for saying no to the wrong man, or quietly coerced into non-consensual sex because she’s gone too far already to say no, or woken from a drunk stupor to find a stranger’s cock inside her.

2. ShaunPhilly - July 9, 2011

I see. So, in other words, even if the circumstances are safe (say, not in an enclosed small space, but in a public area) and she is not available and not interested, my simply asking is creepy?

See, this is what drives me nuts, as a sex-positivity proponent. This concept of ‘creepiness’ seems to go from dangerous situations to simply non-interest. It’s not just about how and where I ask, it’s that I ask at all. It’s like the difference between romance and stalker in romantic comedies; the interest of the other party.

Why would a woman be creeped out by being asked, in a safe space, if they are interested in sexual activity?Nobody has the right to never be uncomfortable (nor does anyone have the right to never be offended, which is a similar point); that is simply an unreasonable request. It’s not entitlement, it’s adult communication of what we want. All people are allowed to ask for what we want in life. If that’s entitlement, then all genders have it. Women have the entitlement to ask for what they want, declare what they want, and sometimes to have it. Same for men. Same for all genders, as I said. If asking for sex makes another person uncomfortable per se (and not due to some unsafe circumstances), then that is not an equality, discrimination, or moral issue in itself.

There is a balance of power here. But a request does not exploit this. A request is a person asking another person for some mutual activity. In a safe environment that person can say yes, no, lets talk about it, or whatever other answer they like.

You said “To me, that’s what sexual empowerment is about. If she’s a slut, she’ll let you know. I certainly would. That’s part of what being a slut means.”

But that simply is not always true. Some sluts are shy. There is nothing inherent in sluthood in being open about it. Some sluts want to be pursued, and some people, some of them men, like to pursue. And some men like to be pursued, and some women like to pursue them. Your perspective would make the woman who wants to be pursued never pursued by men, because the men could not ask them just in case they might be uncomfortable…FOR BEING ASKED A QUESTION!

That is absurd. Our privilege exists, but not treating other people as adults by asking questions about our desires does not solve this privilege issue. It only results in men not being able to pursue women of interest because they might make them uncomfortable. This whole issue arose to inform men of our privilege in settings where a woman does not feel safe. I’m talking about a question in a safe space, and STILL it’s about privilege. I’m sorry, but I find your objection to be unwarranted.

3. Erica - October 25, 2011

Hi there,
I realize I’m late to the party in commenting on this post, but this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I am a woman who sometimes identifies with the “slut” label and in fact has been known to enjoy random play – so I am certainly not coming from a place of “prudishness” as you put it.

However, I feel you are coming entirely from a straight male perspective without really thinking through what this would mean for women. Under your proposed social model – people proposition others for sex whenever they desire it – the average straight guy might get propositioned by strangers a few times a week, since women are not all that likely to desire instant sex with near- strangers outside a very particular scenario like a play party.

A conventionally attractive young woman, however, would get propositioned CONSTANTLY. Literally, constantly. Going to the store. “Wanna have sex?” Preparing a presentation. “Wanna have sex?” Walking the dog. “Wanna have sex?” All the time, nonstop, so that she barely has time to do anything but fend off the barrage of advances, and is certainly not able to inhabit nonsexualized space when she wants to. Because this is no way to live, we have social norms where men do not give voice to their desire on every occasion, but rather allow women to make the first move and indicate when she might be open to the pretty much constant male sexual desire around her. (Going to a play party is itself such a signal, which is why it’s a special circumstance, although most party organizers still find they function best when women are explicitly put in charge of making first approach.)

This is analogous to what often happens to young American women traveling in countries with very repressive norms for female dress/behavior. Because the traveler does not conform to those norms she is assumed to be fair game/a slut, and what happens? ENDLESS catcalls, harassment, and unwanted conversations. It’s not a matter of being unable to say no or being sex-negative, it’s about wanting to just walk around and live your life like a normal human being, perhaps even be contemplative and silent for a while, without continual demands for your attention.

Or to take another analogy: In some touristy parts of the developing world, you cannot walk down the street without being continually assailed by people trying to sell you things in a very aggressive manner. If you want to have a pleasant morning stroll with your coffee, forget it – “Want to buy a batik?” “Want to buy a carving?” “Look at my jewelry, for you, a special price!!” Now, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with trying to sell someone a handicraft and you would not accuse the hapless, weary tourists of being “batik-negative.” It’s just that the sheer volume of sellers compared to the number of willing buyers is so large that the atmosphere becomes very unpleasant. Since the number of straight male “sellers” of casual sex is much much larger than the number of straight female “buyers,” the same unpleasant atmosphere would inevitably develop without any one person doing something intrinsically wrong.

And this is why we have social norms against “just asking.”

4. shaunphilly - October 25, 2011

I suppose you don’t think that in an ideal world men (or women) would not just ask literally whenever they wanted sex. Context does matter. And while its not wrong to ask for sex, people ideally would understand that it is not pragmatic to walk around the streets or grocery stores asking every attractive person they see for sex.

I, as a slutty man who likes sex a lot, does not even want to ask random women to have sex with me, especially while out shopping. In fact, I even know many slutty women in my own life who I am physically attracted to whom I have not asked because, frankly, I have enough on my plate (a fiance and a girlfriend keeps me pretty busy).

I know there are men who do ask in all sorts of places and times, and given my post they might do it more, but in an ideal world they would eventually learn more appropriate times and places to ask (and be more likely to receive) and would not feel the need to approach people as randomly.

It would still happen, but less frequently. Sex positivity helps everyone. My concern is situations where it is appropriate and people don’t ask, more than anything else.


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