“No matter how much it sucks that a certain person has trouble finding people to have sex with — and yes, it obviously sucks, whether it’s happening to men or older women or fat people or whatever — this problem should never be discursively turned into “this person is entitled to sex”. Because no one is actually entitled to sex, and if we start acting like a given class of person is entitled to sex, then that becomes extremely dangerous extremely fast. This theme comes up really often in [emporiasexus].
… No one has a right to a sexual partner. … [I]t’s really important that we don’t ever make claims about how a given person “should” have a partner or other people are hurting that person by not partnering them, because these are tacit efforts to guilt people into having relationships they don’t want.”
– Clarisse Thorn, commenting on sexual “entitlement,” in regard to this blog. Full comment on her blog here. (Dec. 13, 2010 at 8:04 p.m. Scroll down.)
“Entitlement” is not my favorite word, as it’s both vague and carries a lot of negative baggage. Yet the first question I would ask about entitlement is this: Is a person “entitled” to have friends? Because if the answer is no, if having friends is a “privilege,” then you are saying that a person should never feel entitled to a basic human need, which is that of friendship.
Another question: Is a person “entitled” to platonic human touch? Because again, if the answer is no, and if being touched is a “privilege,” then someone should never feel entitled to the basic need for physical touch.
And these are human needs. Put an ordinary, sane person in solitary confinement, and that person will rapidly decompensate and become severely disturbed. And yet nobody would argue I have a right to coerce another person into being my friend, or to pressure another person to touch me, even platonically. Yet at the same time, to say that friendship and human touch are “privileges” – and they are either privileges or entitlements, there is no third choice – is to say it is wrong to feel entitled to a basic human need. The fact is, to survive psychologically as social beings, we are all desperately dependent on – and entitled to – that which other people cannot be ethically compelled to give us.
With that in mind, I re-wrote Clarisse Thorn’s comment, substituting sexual partners with “friends”:
No matter how much it sucks that a certain person has trouble finding friends… this problem should never be discursively turned into “this person is entitled to have friends.” Because no one is actually entitled to have friends. … No one has a right to have friends. … [I]t’s really important that we don’t ever make claims about how a given person “should” be someone’s friend or other people are hurting that person by not befriending them, because these are tacit efforts to guilt people into having friendships they don’t want.
As a hypothetical, let’s assume that nobody where I live and work is willing to be my friend, and so I have no friends. Am I still “entitled” to have friends? Yes, I believe so. Does it follow that I have the “right” to bother any particular individual in my neighborhood, until such time as that person “gives in” and is willing to be my friend? No, I don’t.
And the same goes for sexual “entitlement.” I believe a man can have a healthy sense of sexual entitlement – can believe he has a right to have a sexual partner – and can also believe that a woman has an absolute, non-negotiable right to say “no” to a sexual relationship. In other words, it’s possible to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Clarisse Thorn on sexual danger: “If we start acting like a given class of person is entitled to sex, then that becomes extremely dangerous extremely fast.” Two thoughts:
First, when a sexual situation becomes “extremely dangerous extremely fast,” it isn’t because a well meaning young man mistakes his entitlement to sexual pleasure for license to ignore a woman’s “no.” Rather, it’s because a psychopathic predator has calculated that a young woman’s fear or incapacity will allow him to sexually assault her. To the predator, whether he’s ethically “entitled” to anything is irrelevant.
Second, as to the fear that sexual “entitlement” could be misconstrued by a young woman so that she felt obligated to have sex, this can be countered with basic sexual ethics. And although I’m not a fan of black-and-white rules in the area of sexual relations, there are two that are irrefutable:
(1) A person always has the right to refuse sexual activity or a sexual relationship.
(2) It is always wrong to use force or the threat of force in sexual relations.
Sexual ethics 101. Not terribly difficult.
If the theme of sexual entitlement comes up often in this blog, it’s because I believe that there are too many young men who lack a healthy sense of sexual entitlement. As I mentioned, I’m not terribly fond of using the word “entitlement” to describe the feeling men should have toward their own sexual pleasure, yet I am even less fond of the way “entitlement” is bandied about to put down men who express their sexual needs.
Related to the idea of “entitlement,” there’s another source of misunderstanding I should mention: The idea that forming sexual relationships is “easy” for most men, and that a man’s anxiety and missteps in
the gladiatorial sexual arena young adulthood is a mystery that can only be explained by sexism and male privilege.
“I promise you, guys, you will not miss out on meeting “the one” by erring on the side of caution here. You will still talk to loads and loads of women in your lives, some of whom will be both attractive and attracted to you, and will make their interest clear. You lose nothing by not talking to a woman when you can’t quite tell if she wants to talk — and you gain the satisfaction of helping to create a culture in which women are treated with respect and can feel safe in public. Why do you keep insisting you’re owed more than that?”
(Comment left by Kate Harding, on October 12, 2009 at 9:07 p.m., in response to other comments about the post Schrödinger’s Rapist on her blog “Shapely Prose.”)
She didn’t use the word “entitlement,” but she might as well have. Here’s what she’s saying: To find sexual partners, all a young man has to do is decide, from among the “loads and loads” of women he is effortlessly going to meet, which women “obviously” share a mutual sexual interest. Easy as pie! And why does she believe this is so easy? Because men like Hugo Schwyzer tell her it is:
I served as a faculty advisor for a week-long student government lobbying trip to Washington D.C in the spring of 1997. Seven female students went on the trip — and I had sex with four of them.
Is that a cheap shot? Okay, here’s the problem: I can’t very well make my point about our sexual culture with only vague references to “some men.” And if Clarisse Thorn is “bugged” by themes of entitlement that she sees in my writing, then I need to be able to explain, in the most concrete, salient way I can, the world in which the sexually isolated man lives, and how a healthy sense of “entitlement” is desperately needed by some men.
Because the reality of heterosexual sexuality is this: None of the four students who had sex with Hugo Schwyzer – a professor who now lectures young men how to cross their t’s and dot their i’s in all matters sexual – none of these young women would be likely take a vulnerable nineteen year old virgin home and gently make love to him. And I don’t doubt that these women were good people, and probably kind. Yet the world in which a man finds himself is not all candy and cupcakes – young women’s preference for the aggressive, dominant man is unmistakable, obvious, and brutal.
* * *
… A limo pulls up alongside us on Park Avenue. Boys are in the limo. Not boys we’re friends with, the kind of boys we could date.