Ms. Opinionated: I Feel Bad About Liking Submissive Sex.

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Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Sydette Harry takes on questions from two women who feel conflicted about their sexual desires. 

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

My boyfriend (of over one year) recently started asking me to essentially "talk dirty" with him more during sex—like to tell him to "fuck me" or for him to tell me to "suck his dick."  Now don't judge too hard, he's actually the sweetest, kindest guy ever, who cuddles me and hand-feeds me ice cream when I'm having a rough day.  But recently this other side has come out during sex, and the feminist in me is wondering, like wow has the discourse of misogyny and pornography infiltrated the most intimate moments of my sex life?  I didn't grow up ever watching porn, but maybe he did and this is where his attraction towards this kind of language stems from?  Or am I just overanalyzing and being prude, and this is what turns him on so maybe I should just try it out?  Problem is that for me this kind of language is a huge turn-OFF, and feels a little degrading.  And we do already have pretty good sex without any of this language involved.  Any advice or insight is appreciated.

From,

Prude-talker

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

 I'm an "aspiring" feminist. I read articles on gender issues, I speak out against overtly sexist comments, and in thought I believe in the main concepts of feminism. However, I reserve the honor of titling myself as a feminist because I have a few weaknesses. I dress my body for male attention and I have grown dependent on receiving positive feedback about my body. I feel guilty about taking advantage of the way I resemble society's idea of "sexy" (sorry for sounding so vain), because I feel it is at the expense of women who might not be treated with the privilege of being what people consider "good-looking." But when I stop trying to look "hot", I become self-conscious and I feel powerless.

I am a feminist and in public social situations I am a strong defender of female equality, but when it comes to sexuality I am very different. I often find myself sexually attracted to very masculine, assertive men (who aren't generally concerned with gender issues). I enjoy being servile, being the "pretty little sex object," being treated like the alpha male's prize. I'm ashamed to admit that since it contrasts so starkly with my feminist principles. How do I reconcile my ideology with my sexual instincts? Am I still a feminist if I am aware of self-objectification, but continue to do it?

From,

Help! Thanks.

Hey ladies, we’re gonna answer this as a two-for-one letter week. Both of these letters deal with one of my biggest sticking points as a feminist. It's hard to be "nice" about it, so I'm gonna go with being loving. Please hear all the love and concern that I can imbue in my reply.

Feminism has more important things to think about that what you safely, willingly, and healthfully do with your consenting adult body parts. Guilt and shame are personal emotions to be worked through, not feminist talking points. You deserve a whole sense of self because you are human— not just because you are feminists. 

First up, Prude-talker, you saved the most important part of this letter for the second-to-last sentence. This behavior turns you off. That’s the most important thing. Your boyfriend’s “good guy behavior” and my opinion on it don’t really matter.  You don’t like it—that’s enough of a reason for it to be a no-go. Some people like the skin behind their knees tickled. Personally, I will have flashbacks to Tae Kwon Do and try and roundhouse you in the face. It’s a no-go.

But I will push back on your assumption that everything is “good” or “bad” and your need to psychoanalyze him for liking it. People may tell you it’s overanalyzing, I call it condescending. Feminism is feminism in a culture of misogyny. It permeates everything. It’s what we work through. If you weren’t a feminist, you still shouldn’t have to be part of sexual acts you don’t like. Feminism isn’t our get-out-of-difficult-relationship-moments free card. This is a sexual incompatibility problem and you need to talk. Preferably while fully clothed. If this desire is coming out more and more, your assertion that the sex is pretty good may be just an assumption. Your boyfriend may be trying to nudge it to where he likes it without talking, just like you are trying to keep it where you like it without talking.

The issue here is that he likes something and you don’t. You’re not having the fulfilling sex you both deserve. Having a safe space for you as a woman to make a life you want is a feminist concern and thankfully this sounds like a place where you can.

 Now as for the second letter, I want you to know my number one piece of advice is to talk to a professional. 

Being appreciated, valued, and found desirable by your partners of choice is a common human trait. But it isn’t healthy to feel desperately dependent on positive feedback. Your dependency on having much of your life "approved" is sending red flags everywhere.  It worries me deeply that you feel lost when others don’t constantly see you as hot. You have to build an appreciation of your body for yourself.

The fact that you are so dependent on outside approval to feel good about yourself makes me concerned that you are judging other bodies as harshly as you judge yourself. Beauty standards and preferences are informed structures that are western-focused, racist, and classist. They’re cis-centric and heterocentric to the extreme. People who don't meet those narrow standards shouldn’t feel bad about their bodies. What we need is to support and defend against the violence that is perpetrated against our bodies.

This doesn't make you a bad feminist. In fact, you are right along with many a great feminist who I often want to throttle. So I'll tell you what I tell them: do better.

On the bright side, don’t worry about your sexual desires. Turn-ons and kinks often come out of left field. We shouldn't try to build our ideological platforms around them.  I feel a kinship to you, as I do love a dominant man (the “alpha male” thing makes me roll my eyes, but whatever). As a vocal, proud Black Caribbean Afronative-pessimist feminist, I wound up having a thing for country boys. Drawls, twangs, and large belt buckles—I love ‘em. I have not a clue how I picked this up, but it brings me delight. It makes my friends laugh all the time.

That's what troubling to me about this: You are not enjoying you're body or your sexuality! If I'm reading your feelings about needing approval and feeling lost without it correctly, I worry about how you’ll speak up for yourself in your relationships.

Ladies, your sex lives, orientations, and sexualities are things that you should feel safe to enjoy as you please. That safety and support should be a top feminist priority. But what you do in that safe and delightful bed? That’s none of feminism’s goddamn business. Be healthy, be safe, and be caring to all involved. Including yourself.

All My Best,

Sydette

P.S. Can someone explain me this whole "alpha male" hogwash? The whole alpha male thing has humungous scientific holes and shoddy epistemological data (no, seriously, there is way too much stock put into it that doesn't address straight up culturally sanctioned violence masked as "dominance”). Plus, the Alpha Males sounds like a third-rate car gang from Grease. When men call themselves an “alpha males,” I can NOT stop myself from laughing.

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column


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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I'm pretty sure that the

I'm pretty sure that the "alpha' male concept comes from early studies that primatologists did on Savannah baboons. They identified one male as being dominant, and getting to mate with his choice of females. I don't remember all the details, but the scientists were all male. The funny thing is that when those same scientists sent their own students out into the field to continue the research, they sent a fair amount of women. These women's observations disproved the original findings, and discovered that baboon society and sexual behavior were far more complex, and that females were not just blindly subservient to the "alpha" males. In fact, they would often mate with "helper" males, who they formed friendships with in exchange for companionship, protection, and assistance with care of their young. The word has stuck, though, and been co-opted by people who don't know its origins. I always chuckle a little when I hear it, because I know better.

Yes and no. The "alpha male"

Yes and no. The "alpha male" idea does come from studying primates that live in multi-male, multi-female groups, but primatology recognizes that a) male alpha-hood is a tiered and shifting designation - alphas (generally) are alphas for a short time and the hierarchy isn't just alphas and everyone else; it's alpha, then the next guy, then the next guy, etc. and that these rankings constantly shift as the members of the group interact with each other; b) rankings exist among the females of mixed groups as well (interestingly alpha-hood in female savannah baboons is static - alphas are alphas for life - and inherited/generational/familial - the daughter/s of the highest ranking female have automatic rank, the daughters of the next highest ranking female share her rank, etc); and c) interactions and sexual congress in these groups are more nuanced and based on more than the alphas are the most desirable. The idea that alpha males will have automatic access to all fertile females is the alpha myth that was smashed by feminist primatology. Primatologists (generally) continue to recognize ranking systems in non-human primate social structures, but they (generally) also acknowledge that females have sexual agency.

It's also not true that all the early primatologists were male. Jane Goodall of course comes immediately to mind, Diane Fosey as well. These were pioneers in the field. And then there's Sarah Bird Hrdy - who never gets enough credit for being super awesome - not to mention the work of Donna Haraway. While it is true that there were lots of male primatologists in the field generating work with a patriarchal bias, early on in the field women and specifically feminists were putting out excellent work on primate behavior/observation/theory.

I do agree that when people use alpha-male to describe humans they are using a watered down and misunderstood idea of alpha-hood, thinking that a) alpha-hood is an inherent trait in a male: you are either and alpha or a beta, an idea which is quickly disproved in the literature, Robert Sapolsky has an excellent story on how low-ranking males have become the alpha b) alpha maleness is a sexual strategy of aggression, competition and domination rather than a shifting rank within a defined social group.

I'm pretty sure that the

I'm pretty sure that the "alpha' male concept comes from early studies that primatologists did on Savannah baboons. They identified one male as being dominant, and getting to mate with his choice of females. I don't remember all the details, but the scientists were all male. The funny thing is that when those same scientists sent their own students out into the field to continue the research, they sent a fair amount of women. These women's observations disproved the original findings, and discovered that baboon society and sexual behavior were far more complex, and that females were not just blindly subservient to the "alpha" males. In fact, they would often mate with "helper" males, who they formed friendships with in exchange for companionship, protection, and assistance with care of their young. The word has stuck, though, and been co-opted by people who don't know its origins. I always chuckle a little when I hear it, because I know better.

I disagree

It didn't sound like the second letter writer was judging others' bodies. She acknowledges that her ability to adhere to the normative beauty standard is a privilege that she enjoys and others might now. Acknowledging your privilege is the first step towards checking or pushing back against it. We can all do better, but she is in a good place to do so!