Is it ever okay to “expect” your sexual needs will be met by “others?” Is it ever acceptable to believe it is “reasonable and due” that another person will meet your sexual needs?
A woman always has the right to say “no,” of course. But how can this be reconciled with what I said in an earlier post, that I had a right to have my sexual needs met by some woman, somewhere, at some time? Can I feel it is “reasonable and due” that my sexual needs be met by “women” (Plural), while at the same time believing that “a woman” (Singular) always has the right to say “no?”
I was thinking about this in the context of a piece by Judith Warner, “Like a fish needs a donut.” In her essay, Mrs. Warner describes a disagreeable conversation she had while sharing donuts with two male friends. What she found distressing was that her friends described women they would prefer to date if they were single as being young, hot babes:
“The suggestion from me that men like themselves might actually prefer to date contemporaries, women who’d lived, matured, grown wiser and more human with the experience of parenting, and, at the very least, could recall the 1980s, was met with nothing but outraged looks and half-chewed-donut silence.
‘Why?’ one of them finally said.
‘Why,’ the second one swallowed to spurt, ‘would you want all those complications?’”
As a result of this conversation, Mrs. Warner was disillusioned:
“I spent the following days nursing a sputtering sort of rage. The conversation marked the end of an illusion, you see. I’d thought that in our little bubble, a bubble, it should be said, that was defined not by class or money or education, but rather by goodness and decency and values and realness (even I am laughing now), the men were somehow different from the men Out There who dated women multiple decades younger than themselves, prized them for their looks and their fecundity and fell in love with the magical rejuvenating mirrors they found in the women’s adoring young eyes.”
So Judith Warner was upset because the values she thinks would make for a worthy sexual partner – what she calls “wisdom, maturity, and realness” – were not what her male friends thought would make for an exciting hypothetical partner. And this left her in a rage for days.
So is her “sputtering rage” justified, or is she being completely irrational? To answer that, you have to answer another question: Is there anything wrong with Mrs. Warner’s friends’ desire for younger women? And if so, can you give a non-tautological reason why? (Something other than, “Older men shouldn’t date younger women because men should date women their own age.”)
Is it that women in their twenties are incapable of giving consent? Clearly not, as women in their twenties, while young, are adults and can consent.
So then what, if anything, is wrong with an older man having an exclusive preference for hot, young babes? And is Mrs. Warner’s rage irrational or justified?
The answer, I think, relates back to what I said in an earlier post: I have a right to have my sexual needs met by some woman, somewhere, at some time – even if I have no right to expect or demand to have my sexual needs met by a specific woman at a specific time. It follows from this that “women,” at least in theory, have an obligation to keep an open mind about having sexual relations with men who stand at different levels in the unspoken social hierarchy – that is, men who may be shy and not comport with traditional notions of masculinity – even if no individual woman ever has the obligation to reciprocate my sexual interest. And the obligation to keep an open mind means that it is wrong for women to develop habits of thought and behavior which are categorically dismissive of the sexuality of men who are not confident and – I hate to use the term – not “alpha males.”
Well, by analogy, consider the case of a woman over forty. She, for example, does not have the right to expect me to become romantically involved with her, if I don’t feel an attraction and don’t want to have a sexual relationship. Furthermore, she does not have a right to feel “entitled” to a sexual relationship with him, or him, or him. But she does have a right to feel “entitled” to some kind of sexual validation from “men.” Which isn’t to say that it’s always wrong for an older man to have sexual relations with a younger woman. But men do have an obligation to at least keep an open mind in regard to the sexuality of older women, and it is wrong for men to develop habits of thought and behavior that are categorically dismissive toward the sexuality of women over forty.
I think this explains why Mrs. Warner was so angry about the behavior of her male friends. They were being flippantly dismissive of the sexual wants and needs of middle-aged women, needs which include the need to feel sexually desirable. And so she was justifiably upset, because her friends were being extraordinarily rude.
Fortunately for her, many people in our society would tend to agree that older men who exclusively date women decades younger than themselves are behaving somewhat piggishly. And sexual marginalization of the middle aged woman is generally held to be unkind, something which ought not to be.
But there is no corresponding opprobrium attached to the young woman who fulfills her youthful sexual desires exclusively in the arms of the aggressive rogue. And it seems to be accepted as the natural order of things that the less aggressive young man is going to get poleaxed in the gladiatorial sexual arena. (Tough luck, sport.) Why is this?
I think first, there is a strong, if unspoken, belief in our culture as to what the characteristics of a “good” man are, and which men “deserve” sexual relations with women. Only the brave get the fair, so to speak. It’s as though confidence were some sort of global indicator of a man’s worthiness as a sexual partner. (I believe it was Plato who said that, in his ideal society, only the warriors would be allowed to kiss the beautiful women.) So as to Judith Warner’s talk of “inherent value” and “friendship” and “being a human being,” I’d say sure, if you’re a nineteen year old virgin talking to a beautiful young woman, go ahead and tell her all about all those things and see how far it gets you.
Second, we all seem to have agreed to pretend that sexual exploration in youth – when men happen to have significantly less sexual power than women – is trivial and unimportant. “Just a bunch of crazy stuff we did back then.” But sexual exploration is not at all unimportant, as Katie Dobie observed:
“In our teens and early twenties, sexual relationships are less about intimacy than about expanding our intimate knowledge of people… Through sex, we discover irrefutable otherness (he dreams of being madly in love; she hates going to sleep alone), and we are scared and enraptured, frustrated and inspired. We learn less about intimacy in our youthful sex lives than we do about humanity.”
I don’t know, “learning about humanity” sounds sort of important. Yet we pretend it’s all a farce. And from the trivialization of youthful sexual exploration, it follows that the pain caused by the sexual marginalization of the shy young man is, well, trivial. This is in contrast to the pain of the neglected middle aged woman, whose non-youthful sexual desires matter because they are sacred. Which is why the loneliness of the middle-aged woman is seen as something that ought to be rectified, which indeed it is, and yet the sexual isolation of the young man is looked upon as something of a joke.