Is sex dead? Or in a coma on life support, struggling to survive? The mainstream media says so. After #MeToo, straight women and men are supposedly afraid to interact — hug, give compliments, or even shake hands. Sex? That’s over, right? Wrong. #MeToo hasn’t killed sex. It’s birthed the next great sexual revolution, and women’s sex lives are the biggest winners.
I believe passion and romance are very much alive and well— maybe even better than ever. And that hand wringing that feminism and #MeToo “wrecked things” misses the point entirely. As a cultural critic who studies female sexuality, I see the signs everywhere. From questions at lectures I give, to anecdotal evidence among friends and personally, to pop culture, there’s arguably a significant shift happening around female-focused sex and pleasure. #MeToo shined a light on what women would no longer tolerate, and in turn, lit a floodlight on what women really want.
And there’s a new generation of men who seem newly curious to know and to please. After my presentations, young men stand up, voices quavering, and ask how exactly to keep their girlfriends happier and more sexually satisfied. What can we do? They really want to know. Friends in their 40s on dating apps show me messages from much younger men who write, and I paraphrase, “I really want to do whatever turns you on, it would be a huge turn on for me.” Men their own age tend to message them about… their accomplishments. The Tinder profile of a not atypical guy (John, early 30s), details how he wants to give women oral sex with no expectation of reciprocity. “I am here to give you what you crave, no questions asked.” Oh John who is three miles away, you have much to tell us about the landscape of desire in 2019!
The shift isn’t just happening in personal spaces such as apps and DMs, and quasi-public spaces like talks and lectures. It’s being spoken out loud. Men are writing songs like “With Your Permission” and tweeting, “As a man, I take pride in mastering ALL performances” at men who brag about not performing oral sex on women. They’re watching television shows where teenage boys encourage teenage girls to communicate what they want, and where the culmination of a seasons-long will-they-or-won’t they is cunnilingus. They helped make She Comes First, which more than one man in his late 20s has told me is his Bible, a perennial best-seller.
Studies show men are endorsing selflessness above “traditional male values” and have high ethical and social expectations, including of themselves. This can’t help but impact the way they have sex. For this emergent group of men who at least know they should care, and who are fans of icons of female sexual autonomy and sass such as Cardi B. and Lizzo, we owe thanks to Title IX, Audre Lorde, feminist moms and dads… the list is long. But we can’t discount #MeToo. Not because straight men are newly scared about getting in trouble, or because “affirmative consent” has entered the lexicon and our consciousness. But because #MeToo has altered how we give and receive pleasure.
The media’s myopic focus on #MeToo has been on women victimized by men, and refusing to take it anymore. Women have been indisputably and outrageously and systematically mistreated, so ensuring that women are no longer on the wrong side of power in the workplace is crucial. But #MeToo got stalled on victimhood in the media because female victimhood is familiar and mediagenic. It conforms to our cultural narrative that men are inherently more sexual and women are naturally more passive. They’re not. We’re not.
We want a LOT more than just to not be victims. We want a female President, equal pay, and equal respect. We also want orgasm equality and pleasure equality. We want to cease being viewed as extensions of straight male desire. We want to disentangle female sexuality from “women being sexy for men.” They’re not the same thing. It’s great to stoke someone else’s desire, and it can be sexy to be sexy to someone else, but one of the biggest messages of #MeToo, and one of the least discussed, is that we want more than to just be wanted. We want our own wants, and the fact that we’re beings with wants, acknowledged.
And it seems we’re making progress. Sexologist Gigi Engle says it plain: “#MeToo increased communication, reciprocity in sex, and focus on female pleasure” In her work, Engle told me, she sees that “women are becoming more empowered to ask for what they want and… men are slowly but surely becoming more emotionally intelligent and better lovers and partners.”
#MeToo’s other, less spoken, but equally radical agenda has been to put female pleasure front and center — finally. From the pin up girl to Jordache Jeans to Pornhub, the script was always that women looked good, men found them attractive, sex ensued at his behest, and it ended with his ejaculation. If he was a gent, she came first but come on, those orgasms were extensions of his ego and spoke to his masculine prowess more than anything else. Male desire was the engine that drove things, and testament to the “fact” that men were the vital, libidinous, and full-of-energy sex who molded and legislated and ran the world that women just lived in.
What did she need and want? What turned her on and made her tick? Beyond being someone he desired, who was “hot” and excited him, none of that really mattered before. This isn’t the first time women’s sexual pleasure and desires have come front and center. Second-wave feminists made much of them in the 70s, and sex positive activists and educators on social media have lit a fire for the last decade plus. But our thinking about sex has shifted in profound and perhaps inalterable ways, and we have #MeToo to thank for that.
With additional reporting by Jane-Claire Quigley.
Wednesday Martin, Ph.D. is the author of UNTRUE: Why Nearly Everything We Believe about Women, Lust, and Infidelity is Wrong and How the New Science Can Set Us Free, now available in paperback.
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