The Hunger for Female Desire
Why has male homosexuality historically been more taboo than lesbianism? I’m sure there are many subtle answers to that question, but a significant one, I believe, is that it’s societally shameful to find the male body desirable. This shame touches gay men, and straight/bisexual women alike. However, the way men absorb this shame is different from how women do it.
Because homosexuality is, itself, also taboo, gay male desire for masculine bodies intensified the taboo around male homosexuality making it, essentially, “more forbidden” than lesbianism*. Men-loving women, however, have to somehow be accommodated in wider culture in order for heterosexuality to function. To afford women some semblance of dignity given this taboo, we sort of play off female attraction as “non-physical.” Women are into funny! Or rich, or smart, or whatever — and are willing to tolerate male ickyness to get to these other attractive non-physical aspects of their male partners.
Here’s the problem: men are fucking beautiful. And, it wasn’t until years of dating women that I was able to appreciate male beauty. With women, I was all like “omg, you look so good, you feel so good,” and that was seen as totally normal. Many women invite this type of attention comfortably. But with men, shit gets weirder.
One thing I have noticed about dating dudes is that the are hyper attuned to even the smallest expression of desire. In fact, I’ve been impressed/kind of jealous at how well some guys have been able to read even my tiniest signals. I’m like, man, I wish I could read women that well. On the other hand, overt requests can get kind of awkward.
Last night, I was kind of turned on, and asked this guy if he’d skype jack off for me. He, very nicely, turned me down, but it kind of felt weird like I’d violated the straight-people code. Often, with women, I don’t even need to ask! Women send unsolicited sexy pix all the time, and once, even an unsolicited masturbation snap-chat! But, for a man to send similar unsolicited pictures/videos to a woman would be seen as disrespectful. And, asking for them, sort of makes me feel kinda pervy for a similar reason; it’s assumed women don’t want to see sexualized men.
But I absolutely do.
When I started dating men again, I instinctively applied some of the rules I’d absorbed from dating women. I always pay or go dutch (it weirds me out when men pay for my shit), I’m down to do the asking out or first kissing, and I expect to take direct pleasure in my partner’s body.
And this last point was one that I didn’t even know I was missing years ago. When I was younger, I remember getting jealous of men who took pleasure in my body. Like, ugh, you don’t look good, you don’t feel good, and I kind of resent you for enjoying this interaction more than I am. I later assumed I was just some sort of lesbian, when I started hooking up with women and found the same pleasure in the female body my male partners had found in me. Now, however, I think society had caused me to deny my own feelings of pleasure toward the male body.
And, the societal mechanisms that crushed my desire are the same ones that are making me feel awkward when I date men now. Even when a guy is super nice about it, when I make a request that he hasn’t received before (“hey, can I get a dick pic plz?”) I kind of feel ashamed. Like a I am clearly not acting like a normal woman right now kind of a shame. Whereas, if I message a woman and am all like “can you show me your tits?” she may say no, but she’s probably heard this request before in some form. It seems normal to her that people want to see her tits, and I don’t feel so weird for also wanting to see them. Men, I think, are sometimes uncomfortable with my desire to sexualize them, and then I feel uncomfortable too.
Before dating women, these mechanisms of repression were so strong I was often unconscious of what I found attractive in men. To admit to myself what turned me on would make me “abnormal” in some way, so I didn’t admit it to myself. This repression didn’t just have a negative impact on me, but also on my male partners. I suffered because, unable to articulate my desire, I was unable to request that which would bring me pleasure. And, my partners suffered because they internalized feelings of undesirability.
Part of the reason I think these straight guys are hyper-attuned to even the most subtle expression of desire in women is that’s all they get. As far as I can tell (and, I’ve never dated a straight women so I don’t know for sure) straight women aren’t like “baby, you are fucking gorgeous” that often with dudes. All the positive affirmation they receive will need to be read into the intensity of the female sigh, so men learn to hear the inaudible in the exhales of women.
Most men I know tend to not feel very sexy, and the way they expect to please a partner in the bedroom is with their performance rather than their essence (not to get too hippy dippy about it.) At its worst, a focus on beauty is objectification of another to the sum of their material parts. However, at its best, an appreciation of beauty is an acknowledgment the innate value of another human being. Straight men have to live without having their innate worth acknowledged by their intimate partners.
And straight women won’t acknowledge it for the inverse reason; straight women learn that what they do doesn’t matter. Straight women suffer from an excessive focus on their beauty rather than their behavior, so it might not occur to them to tell a man how beautiful they find him, because they try to please men by “being” pleasing rather than “doing” pleasing things. Their own shame over never being beautiful enough prevents them from externalizing their inner world. Yet, I’m sure most women have rich inner worlds they keep hidden perhaps even from themselves.
I can’t claim to ever have had a completely conventional sexual taste, but when I was younger, I think I had more conventional taste. Or, at least more conventional arousal patterns, which I learned in the typical way. Unconventional arousal patterns triggered shame, an unpleasant emotion, so I would focus my attention elsewhere to subvert my own desire when shame and arousal co-arose. So, to be more concrete, if I found — say — rubbing my hands up a man’s chest to be both a turn on and shame inducing, I would stop doing that in a sexual setting to avoid experiencing shame.
This prevented me from engaging in behaviors that were pleasurable, and usually, they ones I avoided were subtle. Ironically, if something was sufficiently perverse, my inner troll might battle though the shame for the enjoyment of being controversial. But small turn-ons were quickly thrown out if they triggered any other uncomfortableness.
However, after my sexual assault, shit sort of blew up. I avoided men, and for a while, all sexual experiences at all. This was felt, basically, as an extreme fear that arose in conjunction with sexual desire which, again, would cause me to shift my focus to something that wouldn’t trigger desire. However, much of this behavior was below my consciousness, so often all I was aware of was going for long periods of time without getting turned on. I seriously wondered if I was asexual during this time, but had a memory of periods of intense desire, and was never able to resolve my confusion.
Then, when I did start feeling desire again, what I felt was almost a universal desire. I was surprised, and terrified, at just how many things I was turned on by. I was also ashamed at the ubiquity of my own desire, and wondered if I hadn’t been “broken” somehow by my sexual assault. This is a common theme — hyper-sexual women are often suspected to be the victims of abuse, and I’d believe there is even a correlation there, but not because they’re broken.
Unlike women who had not absorbed abuse, I had an incentive to explore the unpleasant emotions that arose with desire. Before my assault, I didn’t have that incentive. However, when I was unpacking the fear that my assault had bequeathed me, I also unpacked some of the shame that I would never have noticed because it seems “normal.” I should probably explain this process a bit, in case any readers wish to unpack some of their own fear or shame or whatever.
I have been mediating for a while, however, I found the vipassana labeling and body scanning techniques to be particularly useful for this type of thing. Effectively, I learned to tune in to the physical sensations of my body, and in particular learned to notice the physical sensations that are associated with arousal. To be concrete (and, sorry if this is squicky but I think it’s important to be as honest as possible about this stuff) for me, it tends to be a feeling of pressure or tingling in my vagina or the sort of lower abdominal region right above it.
I would also notice other physical or emotional sensations that came up with arousal (which is why I know shame and fear are two of my big ones) and then try to be non-judgemental about what caused them. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that your behaviors not your emotions are what makes you an ethical person. So, if you start paying attention to your arousal patterns and realize that 12 year olds turn you on, this isn’t a problem. If you go and fuck 12 year olds, this is a big problem. See the difference? 12 year olds don’t get hurt because of how pedophiles feel, they get hurt because of how pedophiles behave. So, feelings are never wrong. Only behaviors are wrong.
Anyway. It’s a well researched thing that most women lack conscious awareness of what turns them on, but what are the larger repercussions of that? How does this change how women feel about themselves? How does this change how people who fuck women feel about themselves? How does this matter to you?
I leave these questions as an exercise for the reader.
*There are aspects to lesbian culture that society finds deeply taboo, but I’d argue American society has generally not (as strongly) shamed as “disgusting” female desire for other women. Non-feminine gender presentation, for instance, is an aspect of lesbian culture that tends to be more controversial.