As I said goodbye to my most recent sexual partner, there was a smile on my face. It had been a great evening. We had got on really well and there were no complications about who would initiate what. He had been respectful throughout the encounter but hadn’t asked if he could kiss me or undress me, instead just going for it and gauging my response (which had been positive).
Contrast that with someone I had met a few days ago – we’d decided on a bar nearby to get drinks and dinner, the conversation was fantastic and so I had invited him over afterwards. But it was a slightly frustrating experience because nothing ever happened. It was clear as crystal at the end of the night that we both really liked each other. But no one had made the first move.
I lay that blame, of course, entirely on myself. Antiquated gender roles should have no place in today’s sex-positive day and age, so part of me knows it’s ridiculous to say the man should take the first step. But there is another part of me that finds men taking charge sexy, that gets a rush every time a man pins me against a wall.
A couple of years ago I had gone out with someone (for the first time) who had the entire day perfectly planned: street food for lunch, followed by a walk through an iconic antique market, ice cream and then some wine at his place. I had next to no say in the plan. And I remember finding that incredibly sexy.
The point is not to lay the blame on women or assign them responsibility for patriarchy. It is to encourage a deeper introspection of our desires. My first boyfriend, whom I got to know in 2010, was in the habit of asking me (and other women he had previously dated) whether he could kiss me, before doing so. Every time any sexual activity was involved he would always ask beforehand and continuously check in if I was comfortable throughout.
I HAVE FOUND IN MY EXPERIENCE THAT GENDER ROLES TEND TO PLAY THEMSELVES OUT IN THE BEDROOM A FAIR BIT.
I used to find that a huge turn-off and for quite a long time subjected him to some pretty brutal ridicule. But I realized eventually that perhaps it is time we start questioning whether we should be living in a world where we find kindness, compassion, asking for consent sexy, rather than a world where patriarchy is so ingrained in us that we are raised to find male dominance sexy.
Sometime last year I found myself having a frank discussion with some friends about my sex life (as you do). One of the people in the group was a friend of a friend I was only meeting for the first time. After listening to me talk for some time, she said, “Oh I get it. You’re attracted to power“.
It was as if a light-bulb had switched on above my head. I started reassessing my porn preferences, what I masturbate to most usually and what I get attracted to in real life and it became clear that despite my avowed card-carrying feminist status, patriarchy had retained itself in my subconscious in the sneakiest of ways.
I have found in my experience that gender roles tend to play themselves out in the bedroom a fair bit, mostly because sex, and female agency in sex is something we talk about so little. So there is still the prevalence of women playing out a more vulnerable and passive role both in the bedroom and in relationships in general, while men take charge and lead.
Think about it: if you’re a woman how many times have you felt the confidence to be able to express what you desire when in bed with a man, who is not quite satisfying you the way you like? On the contrary, my sexual experiences with women tend to be much more wholesome, much less driven by power. It is much less frequently that I feel they are trying to own me. Let me be clear: sex with men can be, and is often, enjoyable, but perhaps it’ll take a long time to come to a position where it is equal.
It’s a very difficult adversary – patriarchy – because it is all around us. We are raised in it. So to expect our sexual practices to be entirely woke and clean the day we start calling ourselves feminists is futile.
I will always remember that scene from Easy where one of the characters says, “Hey, we’re all bad feminists sometimes, I shaved my legs today!” And this is even more true of sex (and especially female sexuality), something that is rarely ever spoken about because it is so inviolably personal yet so political. But it is time we realize that desire IS political.
Over a couple of years of being on Tinder I have realized that I almost never swipe right on black or Asian men. Many of the friends I have spoken with this about assuage my guilt by putting it down to “personal preference”; one even added, “That’s not prejudiced. I would never swipe right on a ginger either.”
OUR SOCIAL CHOICES ARE CONDITIONED, AND RARELY FREE; SO ARE OUR SEXUAL ONES.
But increasingly I have felt that this is in fact blatant prejudice: unattractiveness lies in the eye of the beholder, or I suppose more precisely, in facial features, which are a result of race. So much of Tinder (and from what I am given to believe, Grindr) is riven with “no blacks – no fats – no Asians” specifications, institutionalizing and deepening the discriminatory lines along which our desires are shaped and socially conditioned.
A couple of years ago I met a colleague who jokingly revealed he had an “Asian fetish”. It is worth thinking about whether the sexual experiences between white men and those that their ancestors colonized are a result of a colonial hangover and a perspective of their partners as “exotic”, or a genuine desire.
A few months after moving to London from Delhi, a friend asked me, “are the men there really as cute as they show in Hollywood?” But what makes white men cuter than brown ones, apart from their race? Between a brown man and a white one (that is if we were to judge purely on facial features), we (including I) almost always tend to pick the white one.
It is time to stop taking as axiomatic the idea that white men are more beautiful than brown or black men, or able-bodied people are more beautiful than disabled ones, or cis people are more beautiful than trans people, or younger more beautiful than older. It is time to start questioning our desire for certain categories of people and what kind of conditioning forms it.
Our social choices are conditioned, and rarely free; so are our sexual ones. We are constantly negotiating them in a world infused with patriarchy, race, class, transphobia, fatphobia, ableism. It is time to start thinking about why we choose who and what we choose to be attracted to and which choices we would make if we were truly free.