The fabulous Clarisse Thorn wrote a great article in which she asks why men who are honest about their sexual desires get written off as creepy (among other things). It was originally posted on Alternet and it’s interesting to read through the comments and compare them to the comments on the Jezebel repost.
This is really good timing for me, since I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately (see my posts here and here). In my experience, most of the people who talk and write about male sexual energy and how men act upon it are women. While I owe a huge debt to the many women who helped me shape my understanding and practices, I would love to see more men taking a lead around this. Thomas at Yes Means Yes is one of the few other men I see talking about it.
I’m going to leave aside the men who are deliberately intrusive, obnoxious, or predatory. I think that dealing with them is a different issue than what I want to focus on at the moment because I think that different strategies are needed. Instead, I want to focus on the guys who have good intentions, in the sense that they don’t want to be creepy or invasive, but still end up being perceived that way.
Now, I want to be very clear that I get that men tend to throw their sexual attention around, without understanding how that can be intrusive, invasive and triggering. Most men have no idea how tedious (or worse) it can be. So one part of not coming across as creepy is getting a better understanding of that and its impact on women. That’s a topic for a different day. (Update: this post explains it better than I ever could. Read it and pass it on.)
I also want to be clear that this isn’t limited to male-female interactions. But it is a much more common issue in those contexts, both due to the ways that sexism shapes male-female relationships differently from male-male relationships, and because men flirting with or cruising men often do it differently. In non-gay spaces, for example, they are usually more subtle about it since there’s a chance that the guy you’re cruising might be one of those straight guys who responds with anger or violence. Of course, there are other complexities there, but I don’t want to get sidetracked. Similarly, when women flirt with or cruise anyone of any gender, the dynamics are different. And at the moment, I’m talking about how men interact with women.
One of the biggest reasons that some men come across as creepy is that most of us never learn good ways to ask for sex. We hear messages that tell us that it’s important to communicate about sex, or that we need to ask our partners (or our potential partners) in order to get consent, but there is very little guidance on how to make that work. So is it any surprise that there have been so many men seeking advice from pick up artists and the seduction community? Yes, a lot of them are looking for ways to manipulate women. And many others are simply looking for the social interaction skills that they haven’t learned yet.
So in that light, here’s one way to do it that doesn’t depend on misdirection or manipulation. It won’t work in all situations- it’s probably best for men in pre-existing relationships, although it can work in some flirting contexts.
1) Let go of your attachment to the outcome of your desire.
If you go into the situation with a specific goal in mind (i.e. getting laid, or getting laid in a specific way), you’re attached to a particular outcome. That tends to skew your actions because you’re trying to push things in a that direction. The more you can leave things open to possibilities, the more room you can give you partner. In a world in which women’s sexual agency tends to be taken away, this simple (although admittedly often difficult) step can go a long way to increasing her safety with you. And that makes it much more likely that you’ll get something that you want.
Bear in mind that there is a huge range of sexual activities that can be lots and lots of fun. Stop focusing on intercourse and discover how many other possibilities you have. They’re not lesser options. They’re different options, and they all count.
And as part of that, let go of the idea that anyone other than you is responsible for your pleasure or orgasm. Nobody owes you sex. Nobody owes you an orgasm. You, and you alone, are responsible for it. If someone else chooses to participate in that process, that’s up to them. And conversely, you don’t owe anyone else sex or orgasms. You have just as much agency around their desires as they have around yours.
2) Start off with making it clear that you’re asking for her consent.
Asking someone “do you want to have sex?” may sound like you’re making room for consent. But you need to remember that we live in a world that tells many women that they can’t say no. If you genuinely want to have her consent, and you want her to believe that, try starting off with something like:
If you’re in the mood…
If it would turn you on…
If you’re into it…
If you’re feeling horny…
These kinds of phrases do two things. First, they let her know that you’re offering her a possibility rather than making a demand. They invite and require her to make a positive statement, while making room for her to say no. Second, they remind you that she has just as much room to say yes or no as you do. This will can help you manage and contain your sexual energy until you get a clear statement of consent from her. And that is a good thing to practice.
3) Follow up with a statement of your desire.
I would like to have sex with you.
I’m in the mood for a blowjob.
I’d love to tie you up.
it would turn me on if we tried that new vibrator.
I’d enjoy kissing you.
By making a clear statement of your interests or desires in that moment, you’re giving her an idea of what you want. Be honest and direct- don’t ask for something you think she’ll say yes to, while hoping you can take it further once things get started. If you have difficulty asking for what you want, practice it when you’re alone sometime. Find the words that are authentic to you and come up with phrases that feel more natural when you say them.
When you directly and clearly state your desires, when you can own them, you are speaking from a place of power and strength. This is a major shift because most of us actually feel powerless around sex. We’re taught that women are the gatekeepers and men have to beg, bribe, convince, or coerce them into doing what we want. When we feel powerless, we often slip into patterns of passivity (which can lead to passive aggression) or violence. When we discover our power, we can let go of either of those and be strong.
4) Be ready to talk about what comes next.
Since you’ve let go of your attachment to the outcome, you’ll be able to let this start a conversation about what you each want to do. If she’s not in the mood for A, what about B, C, D, or E? And if she’s just not into having sex right then, you could decide to wait until later, jack off, or (if it fits within your relationship agreements) find someone else to ask. All perfectly fine options.
Learning new ways to talk about sex can seem really difficult at first. We don’t have many role models for it and a lot of men have internalized shame around sexual desires and/or talking about them. You could practice with each other sometime, which gives you the opportunity to tell each other if any phrases are especially good or particularly challenging for you. And of course, you could ask her to practice asking you for sex, using this framework or something else. It would give you each some deeper insight into the other’s experiences. (This works really well with yes/no/maybe lists.)
You can also practice this in non-sexual settings.
If you’re in the mood for it, I’d like to get Chinese food tonight.
If you’re up for it, I want to go see a movie.
If you’re interested, I’m feeling like going climbing at the gym
Nobody is born knowing how to do this. Some of us are fortunate to have been taught or to have figured it out. But until we start creating and sharing useful and realistic tools, it doesn’t matter how much we complain about the problem. People need solutions in order to let go of behaviors that don’t work.
So I invite you to give this a shot and see how it goes. After all, if there’s a chance that it’ll make talking with your partner about sex easier, if it might lead to your getting what you want, isn’t that a marvelous incentive? If you try this out, I’d love to hear how it goes for you. Feel free to comment below or send me a note.
And lastly, Clarisse is interested in unpacking the word creep as it applies to this topic. Here’s what she’s looking for:
You can contact her here.