Wow. This is humbling.
Just now, I created a tag called “sex ed learning moments” for precisely this kind of post, wherein I admit that learning to be a sex educator is a lifelong process, and I just caught myself doing something that I need to change. Or in this case, my husband caught me doing something, pointed it out, and I went “eek, yeah, gotta work on that.”
So. Recently I attempted to let my husband know that I was interested in scheduling some intimate time together (not necessarily sex, but something a bit more intentional than cuddling before we fall asleep).
I thought I was phrasing it in a way that made sense and communicated my desire, but I actually said something along the lines of, “Hey, if you want to, would you be interested in making time for sex or intimacy?”
And he called me on it. As he should’ve. My statement was entirely about his desire, and didn’t give him any information about my desire. He pointed out that me communicating my willingness to have sex is not the same as me communicating my desire to have sex. Because we normally have conversations about consent, sex positivity, and other feminist issues, he put it in terms of enthusiastic consent, also known as the “yes means yes” model of consent. In other words, I was conveying my consent, but it was far from enthusiastic consent. It’s problematic because putting my desires out there for him to discuss, negotiate, or act on follows the “yes means yes” model, but furtively trying to acquire info about his desires before revealing my own conforms more to the culturally prevalent and limiting “no means no” model.
I was floored. Even more so when he pointed out that I frequently initiate sex in this way, by inquiring about his desire rather than stating my own.
This demonstrates how deeply patriarchal gendered conditioning can run. I, a sex-positive feminist who’s a sex educator for GOODNESS’ SAKE, was falling into the trap of not realizing that my heteronormative feminine conditioning had pervasively influenced how I communicate about my desire. Because women in our culture are taught that having or expressing desire is not okay – it makes you a slut, obviously – we’re expected to communicate our desire in different ways than men. It’s okay to express desire if it conforms to what your partner is probably desiring at that moment. It’s okay to hint at having desire if the conditions are right. But outright stating it? That’s a big no-no. There lies the path to sluthood (for more on female promiscuity, check my post from a year ago, when I was teaching a college class on non-monogamy).
I didn’t think I was falling into the trap of disguising my desires in order to make them more socially acceptable. Especially not in my rather egalitarian relationship, where no slut-shaming occurs. But again, gender conditioning runs deep. This stuff gets rooted in our modes of communication, our fantasies, how we conceptualize and convey our desires. Unlearning it can take a while.
So I’m acknowledging that I need to think about how I communicate my desires, and I need to start digging my way out of the enculturation that encourages me to veil my request for sex in an inquiry about sex.
In specific terms, I’m focusing on 1) not feeling shame about how I still have a ways to go in my personal expression of enthusiastic consent and sex positivity, and 2) paying attention to the language I use when discussing sex with my partner. I’m going to work on communicating what I’m desiring before inquiring about his desires, and see where that takes us.
I’d encourage everyone to examine the language you use when you initiate sex or intimacy. What are you actually saying? What are you communicating to your partner(s)? Whose desire are you focusing on in your statement? If you notice an interesting pattern, let me know! I’m curious about this stuff!