When I was eighteen, in an Indian summer evening, I went for a walk with a young woman. We came to a park, and climbed up on a jungle gym, as eighteen year olds will sometimes do. As I recall, there was a platform on the gym where we both could sit. After we’d been talking for a while, I asked her if she’d ever had sex.
(To those of you who think this a horribly inappropriate question, I would say that eighteen year olds, curious about the world, should ask inappropriate questions.)
“When you have a boyfriend,” she said, “it’s kind of hard to avoid.”
Twenty years on, I remember this.
“It’s kind of hard to avoid.”
Maybe she was kidding. Maybe she found my question too personal. Her response, I imagine, was a throw-a-way line.
“In the contemporary United States, men generally are trained in a variety of ways to view sex as the acquisition of pleasure by the taking of women. … Such ideas are prevalent in the culture, transmitted from adult men to boys through direct instruction and modeling, by peer pressure among boys, and in mass media.” (Jensen.)
In some sense, many men do see sex as the acquisition of pleasure by the taking of a woman. But it’s also an idea transmitted from women to young men. It’s even an idea transmitted, albeit unintentionally, from some feminists.
I remember a summer evening when I was twenty, going to a party that was largely a gathering of gay men. I arrived with a friend who introduced me to some people, concluding with, “And he’s straight, so hands off.” He said that, and I had an odd feeling, because I’d never really felt that someone could be attracted to me.
For women, who are used to being desired by another person, I think it may be difficult to grasp how utterly bizarre it is to have the fleeting sensation that you might be the object of another person’s desire. I’m now on the far side of 35, and the difference between the way women react to me now, as compared to when I was 19 or 21 is… Well, there is no difference. I was invisible then and I’m invisible now.
So when feminists criticize men for viewing sex as the acquisition of pleasure, I would say that a lot of men view sex that way because, for men, that’s often the way it is. If you don’t acquire a sexual connection, if you don’t take some kind of action, nothing will happen, because a woman’s desire for you is generally not strong enough to make anything happen. And if you are at a vulnerable period in your life, if you aren’t so strong, women tend not to see you as a fully sexual person.
Okay, you’ve heard it all before. You know what I’m saying.
Cold late night so long ago
When I was not so strong you know
A pretty man came to see me
Never seen eyes so blue.
– “Magic Man,” Heart.