No, women can’t have sex anytime they want

And saying that is harmful.

Photo by LexScope on Unsplash

“Women have privileges too!” is the general response when you attempt to chat with a cis-hetero guy about feminism and male privilege. The first one they’ll list is that “women get to have sex whenever they want!”

This inequality of access to sex is a widely shared stereotype and one that a lot of young men feel very strongly about. They see it as a huge advantage that women have over them, that they can basically always find a guy for a shag. The old cliché is that if a guy walks into a bar and yells out, “Who wants to have sex with me?” no women will volunteer, while if a woman did the same, she would have her pick of horny men to take home.

The incel movement in particular repeats this idea a lot, in very misogynistic terms. One Reddit post, with the title “Back to the basics — women are the gatekeepers of sex,” argues that:

“If not for the extremely powerful male sexual desire, men would never interact with women, ever! Men and women are so different and hardly relate to one another. We’re like foreign creatures who are annoying [to each other] and who we can hardly relate to. So why bother with them at all?”

The post goes on to say that this extremely powerful sexual desire, supposedly stronger than any that a woman could feel, combined with a sense of worthlessness, leave men trailing behind on the market of sex.

Women get rejected, too

This myth, even though it is widely shared, is completely false. Firstly, because women get rejected too. I don’t know any hetero woman who hasn’t made moves on a guy and found herself facing a solid no — apart from those who never make the first move.

There are many reasons for which men don’t always want to have sex with women — not being attracted to them, having a partner, not being in the mood, having an early start the next morning… Men are not machines that crave sex all the time.

Sure, maybe there are times in their lives when they are incredibly horny and can think of nothing else, the teenage years being one example. It’s the same for women. For a couple of days a month I can think of nothing but sex — it’s how I know I’m ovulating. But neither for men, nor women, is that a constant state of being, whatever it might feel like to frustrated teenagers who wank a dozen times a day.

Suggesting otherwise is harmful, because it makes men feel uncomfortable declining sex, as though to do so threatens their masculinity. It makes women, when rejected by men, question everything about themselves — because if men should always want sex, how vile must you be for them to turn you down?

It’s worth noting that the term “incel” was originally coined by a woman. In the 90s, Alana set up a website to discuss her sexual inactivity, which she called Alana’s Involuntary Celibate Project and hoped would become a resource for others like her — people who couldn’t find a partner and needed support and guidance. Since then, Alana has publically distanced herself from what the word has become — shorthand for men who feel entitled to sex, and hate women for having a say in the matter.

When women do get rejected, or when they feel like they are unattractive and that no boys want to date them, they don’t turn it into hateful rhetoric against mankind. They don’t go to the internet to call them bitches and sluts. When women feel undesirable, they turn it inwards. They starve themselves, verbally abuse themselves as they look in the mirror— while some boys form movements like the incels, with sometimes deadly levels of misogyny.

Women put far more effort into looking desirable

A variant of the argument that women have sex on tap is that men have to put more work in, while women just show up. I suggest that any man who says this be given a bikini wax, and told that he must come back every two weeks to continue to be able to have socially acceptable genitals.

Women put so much time, energy and money into looking pretty, in the face of increasingly crushing beauty standards. From starving themselves to trying on every outfit they have to find one which doesn’t “make them look fat,” from obsessing over every flaw to getting up at 6 in the morning to have time for an extensive make-up routine before work, from waxing, plucking and straightening hairs to squeezing on shapewear to hide their bulges, you cannot say that women do no work when it comes to seduction.

And trust me when I say, if you don’t do all of that, if you do what guys do and just roll up to a bar with unbrushed hair, a dirty T-shirt jeans and sneakers, you are not going to be surrounded by takers.

If men spent as many hours at the gym as women put into hair, makeup, diets, shopping for clothes, dithering in front of the mirror, working out not for pleasure but for weight loss, they would have that body that apparently all women want in a man.

I am not saying this is desirable. I don’t think that men should be spending more time on their appearance, I think women should be spending less and that we should value natural beauty, and step away from appearance entirely and discover all the other ways people are sexy. But to start we need to recognise the pressure women face every day to look perfect.

The burden of fear

Even if women did have an unlimited supply of men willing to have sex with them at any moment, that doesn’t mean they can actually comfortably follow through with it. Sex can hardly be described as widely available when it comes with a risk of ending up raped, or murdered or violently attacked. It’s like saying you can have candy any time you want, but in the bag there are loads of hidden razor blades. That’s not free access.

“His greatest fear is his date will be fat, her greatest fear is her date will be a serial killer,” as the saying goes.

Women also have to pay other prices for sex, that prevent it from being an easy option, like facing a lot of judgement over their number of sexual partners. If you feel the entire weight of society and worry about your future partners opinion of your number, than you are more reluctant to go have casual sex. And often the same guys that are jealous of women for being able to access sex easily are the ones that would be very quick to shame them on their number of partners …

Orgasms are few and far between

The most common definition of sex is aligned with male pleasure — it begins with penetration (everything else is foreplay) and ends with ejaculation. Besides being very discriminatory towards all those that do not practice penetrative sex, this definition sidelines female pleasure.

If we were to redefine sex as only being complete when a woman has an orgasm, it certainly would not be easier for women to find than men. There is a well-documented orgasm gap between men and women — one study from 2016 by the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that 95 percent of heterosexual men reported they almost always orgasmed during sex, compared to 65 percent of heterosexual women.

So yeah, a penis to thrust itself into your vagina might be easy to find, but if an orgasm is what you are looking for, it’s easier for blokes, hands down.

Crossed wires

The examples given to illustrate women’s supposed advantage when it comes to sexual opportunity are very limited: usually referring to casual sex, initiated with a blunt question — do you wanna go home and f*ck?

When men complain that women can find this more easily, they are basically complaining that women don’t want to have sex on their terms. If sex presents itself openly and bluntly, men would be more likely to want it, for reasons we’ve already mentioned: they are more likely to have a good time and less likely to get assaulted. Women are also exposed to direct sexual advantages in situations of harassment on a near daily basis, so it is less charming when they hear it again in a bar, for instance. Understandably, women often want to wait longer, have a conversation, maybe even a few dates, before having sex.

An oft-cited study from 1978 showed that when students approached people of the opposite sex at random and asked the question: “I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?” Not one of the women approached said yes, while 75% of the men did. When you change the question to “would you like to go out with me tonight?” men and women accepted the proposition in roughly equal proportions.

What men complaining about women’s access to sex are complaining about is that they want sex on their terms — even as they are reluctant to approach women on their terms.

The “women” referred too are women that correspond to a certain beauty norm

When they complain about women always being able to have sex, men are referring to the women they would want to sleep with. They are referring to the women that fit into a socially defined level of beauty, dismissing those that don’t. Which makes sense because they don’t really even consider those women as worthy of thought or acknowledgment.

Our society has defined a large proportion of women to be unworthy of male desire. Amongst women, there are the fat, the “ugly” or the unfuckable, who struggle to find sexual partners because their attractiveness has been devalued by our society.

Men easily dismiss women that aren’t attractive enough for them, aiming in their league, or, usually, higher.

What they resent, in saying that women are the “gatekeepers of sex”, is basically the fact that women, too are allowed to have “standards.” There is a strong sense of entitlement over women’s bodies, linked to the fact that we are constantly objectified. And objects aren’t supposed to have opinions, ‘standards’, a right to say no.

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