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Sex Writers, Drooling Horndogs, and the Suspectability of Male Sexuality

Please note: This piece includes a couple of passing references to my personal sexuality. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, use your judgment on this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Down and dirty Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?

I’ve been thinking about this question for many years. The publisher of this very blog brought it up in a conversation we were having, and it’s been on my mind off and on ever since. It came up again at a recent salon of sex writers and activists; it came up yet again, although more obliquely, in a conversation I was having with a porn writing friend of mine.

Why is the “sex writer” field so dominated by women?

There are exceptions, obviously. Arguably the most famous and influential sex writer right now is the sex advice columnist Dan Savage. And there are others, of course: David Steinberg, Dr. Marty Klein, Charlie Glickman, I could keep going. And of course, there’s plenty of dumb, generic, Maxim-magazine type sex writing from men; in some senses it’s silly to complain about sex writing as female-dominated, given how much of the dumb crap there is. But it does seem as if sex writing — serious, intellectual sex writing, at any rate — is one of those rare fields that’s largely taken up by women, and in which women are both more visible and more generally respected.

And thinking about this question is making me think about the suspectability of male sexuality.

I think that when women write about sex, we’re assumed, in some ways, to be dispassionate observers. Of course we get targeted as sluts and whores and whatnot. But we’re also seen as bringing a fresh perspective to the subject, and a cooler eye, and a more thoughtful point of view.

500full-the-wolf-man-poster When men write about sex, on the other hand, they’re assumed to be drooling horndogs.

Of course men have sex on the brain, this assumption goes. They’re men. They think with their dicks. That’s what men do. Who cares what they think about sex? We all know what they think about sex. What men think about sex is that they want it.

The very fact that sex is seen as a primarily male experience makes male sex writers, paradoxically, seem less serious. Our society sees sex as being about maleness: male desires, male insecurities, male satisfaction. Our culture is sexually obsessed with women, of course; but it’s sexually obsessed with women as — and I’m turning into a ’70s lesbian feminist as I write this — the objects of desire, rather than the subjects of it. Sex is seen as a male topic. But therefore, we all too often assume that we know what men think about sex, and how they feel about it. Male sexual desire is assumed to be simple: an animal urge to put a dick in a wet hole. With, occasionally, some variations in the way of orientation and paraphilias. And I think this makes it harder for male sex writers to be taken seriously. Anything they have to say on the subject is likely to be seen as suspect.

Now, I’m not writing this to complain about the terrible unfairness of this reverse discrimination. Yes, this is to some extent unfair. It’s unfair to men to assume that the only thinking they do about sex is with their dicks, and that they therefore don’t have anything to contribute to a serious conversation about it. (Also, I feel compelled to point out, men aren’t the only ones who sometimes think with the little head instead of the big one. Believe me, I speak from experience.) But given how much regular discrimination women deal with in almost every other occupation, I’m not crying a river over the fact that this one little field of endeavor has a more female stamp on it.

That’s not the point of this.

Nicholson baker vox The point of this is twofold. One is this: I, selfishly, want to read more of what men have to say about sex. I want to read more about the varieties of male sexuality, from people who are living it from the inside. I want to read more about the varieties of female sexuality, from people who are seeing it from the outside. I want to read more about how men feel about this “animal urge horndog” label they’ve gotten stuck with: to what extent they think it’s true, to what extent they think it isn’t, how the reality and the unreality of it weave together in their experience of their sexuality. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit most of the serious thought about it to one gender. And in addition to hearing what men, qua men, think about sex, I want to hear what individual men think about it: what Dan and David and Marty and Charlie and so on have to say. Sex is too interesting and too important a topic to limit the voices who can talk about it seriously to the voices that are attached to vaginas.

A porn writing friend of mine was talking with me recently about a story he’d written; a kink-themed story, in which a male character was using economic leverage to take sexual advantage of a female character. My friend found this fantasy scenario hot (as do I — hoo, boy!)… but he was finding himself somewhat uneasy about it as well. In particular, as a good feminist, he felt uneasy about eroticizing these gender dynamics and the economic power that men have over women.

And yet, if the story had been written by a woman, telling the story from the female victim’s point of view instead of the male perpetrator’s, I doubt that he would have felt any qualms about reading and enjoying it. It bugged me a little that he felt that way about writing it. It made me wonder how many other good male porn writers had considered writing stories like this, had even started to write stories like this… and had stayed their hand, for fear of being seen as, or indeed for fear of being, drooling sexist male horndogs who just want to take sexual advantage of women. If so — that sucks. I, selfishly, as a fan of kinky porn in which men do fucked-up things to women, would like to read more stories like this that are written by men. I know what this fantasy feels like from my end of it. I want to learn more about what it feels like from the other end, from thoughtful feminist men who get off on it, too.

So that’s my first point. My second point is this:

I’ve lived my whole life dealing with the various and sundry ways that female sexuality gets demeaned, by being ignored or trivialized or assumed to not exist.

Lips-logo Thinking about this topic is making me realize the various and sundry ways that male sexuality gets demeaned… by the mirror image of that process. It’s making me realize that the amplification of male sexuality — the funhouse mirror that takes the image of a man and distorts it into a drooling tongue and a hard dick — has the effect of demeaning it as well.

And that sucks for all of us.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve worried the same about voicing my opinions about sex and sexuality. No matter how much of an egalitarian I am, if I had voiced my concerns, I feel as though I’d have been discounted. The fact that a woman had to make the case first, kind of makes me sad.
    Thanks Greta!

  2. Nathaniel says

    I feel this particular theme you mention has impacted my personal sex life.
    Namely, I find the thought of exposing my kinks and Domination fantasies to people frightening. Whenever I think about doing so I get tense and tight inside.
    Honestly, I feel ashamed that I am so scared. I believe fully in sex positivism, and the rule of GGG. Even as I advocate for these social mores in a political way, on a personal level I freeze.
    I think that the fact that I have fantasies of Domination, rather than submission, make this issue particularly keen. When you first posted this on Blowfish, I mentioned the meme of “men as predators.” Dominatrixes are not seen as real threats, even with whips in hand. I do not sense the same comfort with men in a sexually dominant position.
    All this leaves my petrified at the thought of sharing my kinks with potential sex partners. Will the reject me? Think me a perv? Or worst of all, become frightened of me?
    I can’t bear the possibility.

  3. Valhar2000 says

    Nathaniel, have you ever looked for websites, or associations of people dedicated to this sort of thing? It seems to me you would be much more likely to find people there who understand the nature of your kink and will not be immediately afraid of it.
    I suppose other people will be able to offer better advice in this regard: I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in BDSM or power-play during sex, so I only know what I hear from Dan Savage and Greta when they talk about such things.

  4. says

    i’m just leaving a stupid, reactionary comment, but:
    because men are mostly stimulated by visual. women are stimulated by other stuff, including ‘serious, intellectual’ writing. ymmv. some women like visual, but way more women than men like text/written.

  5. says

    chicago dyke: Interesting point, and I’ve seen research suggesting that it’s often true. But it kind of just begs the question. Why should written erotica be considered high-quality, and visual erotica be considered trash? There’s good, high-quality, artistic- merit visual porn in the world (photos, video — and check out my Best Erotic Comics series!) And Loki knows there’s plenty of written porn that’s mediocre or worse.
    So why should the latter be seen as classier than the former — unless it’s because the latter is more of a women’s genre, and the former is more of a men’s genre?

  6. says

    Nathaniel: I feel for you. I wish I had some good specific advice for you that would fit into a comment.
    I can tell you that there are female masochists/ submissives out there, who stand a good chance of wanting what you have to offer. (Assuming that you’re otherwise personable and sane, which you seem to be.) As a general rule, I think you’re right that women who want to top men are not seen as a threat in the same way as men who want to top women… but there are plenty of exceptions.
    And as Valhar2000 said, you’d probably do well trying to seek out those exceptions. Check out kink communities, online or in person. You can make contact with women who have simpatico desires… and talk to other straight male tops about how they deal with these issues. (And don’t get discouraged if you don’t click with the first community you find: there are lots of online kink communities, and they’re not all created equal.)

  7. says

    Well, I try. I think it’s easier for queer men to get away with (which is why Dan Savage can do it). But I’m bi, so I can at least offer some reflections on the male-female dimension. Bi men are often accused of being vectors of infection from the gay community to the straight community—for once I’d like that infection to be memetic rather than biological.
    For instance, I just wrote a post questioning what the concept of a “sex object” means and what it contributes to feminist discourse:
    http://umich-ssa.org/?p=113

  8. says

    By the way, maybe it’s a quibble, but I object to the word “top” being used to mean the dominant role in a BDSM relationship. The word for that should be “dom”, not “top”.
    It already had a well-defined meaning, and that’s the mechanical position of penetration in a gay pairing. We could use it by analogy to indicate the typical position of heterosexual intercourse, whereas “bottom” in a straight couple would mean pegging.
    The presumption is that all tops are dom, but this is simply not the case.
    I am a top-leaning vers who is also a sub-leaning switch. So while I would sometimes be dom/top, I’d more often be sub/top.
    Nathaniel is a dom, not a top; well, I guess he’s also a top (unless he likes to get pegged?), but for completely different reasons.

  9. says

    Patrick, with all due respect, you don’t get to single-handedly define this language for everyone else. The use of the word “top” to mean “dominant” or “sadistic” as well as “penetrative partner in gay male pairing” is widely-used and well-established: you may not personally like it, but it’s not incorrect.
    I personally like the fluidity of this language. And I think it’s entirely appropriate, since our sexual practices are fluid — there are different uses for the word “top” because there are so many different ways to top. But my likes and dislikes aren’t the issue here, either. Language means what the people using it understand it to mean. And you are not the only person using the language.

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