When Men Value Sexual Conquest Above All Else

“Bro, we had an amazing date. She’s beautiful, hilarious, a chemical engineer, and binge watches obscure BBC crime dramas with me without judging. We found a goddamn table at Rao’s. On the way out, we met Nas, Derek Jeter, and Barack Obama, and I got a pic, their autographs, and Rao himself came out from behind the kitchen, gave me three jars of his marinara sauce, and is gonna save me another seat in 11 years. I can’t wait to see her again. We’re gonna go to the Highline with Nas cuz he ain’t been there.”

“But did you smash?”

A Real Conversation Happening Somewhere

In the The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Andy (Steve Carrell) receives a variety of conflicting and mostly juvenile input on how not to be a virgin anymore. However, Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal (Seth Rogen), actually drop a few tips that, on face value, are better than many of the other narratives men hear as they grow up and other trash advice that the exact same characters say within the movie.

For example, when I first saw the movie as a kid, I took Cal’s concept of “planting seeds and waiting for them to grow” as a slower, more holistic approach to dating than “just tryna to get laid tonight.” It implied patience — and even the notion that you might not be successful and that’s okay; something else will blossom. Even though later Cal takes all poetry out of this by reducing it to “and then you fuck the plant.”

But I thought the most important lesson was when Jay tells Andy to stop “putting the pussy on a pedestal.” While this advice is clearly in politically incorrect terms (as realistically many important conversations between men are in order to get the other party to listen), it sounded better than what I’d frequently heard: “main thing is that you nut.” As always, depending on your worldview, messages can be taken completely different ways. If you objectify women, you may read this message as: “don’t value women too much bro; they ain’t worth it.” But, if you see women as equal to men, you may read this as: “don’t make sex override everything else that makes you a decent human being.”

In retrospect, I think I elevated this advice some place else, and Jay’s real intention was somewhere in between like: “it’s just pussy.”

So it was in my copy of Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old-Virgin: Uncut Edition, in between the dick jokes, sexist jokes, and homophobic jokes that, for the first time in my 14-year-old recollection, I heard a man maybe suggest to another man that it was okay if sex didn’t immediately happen and that they’re possibly more important things.

Not in Sex Ed. Not anywhere else.

Recently, many Master of None fans, Aziz Ansari standup fans, and anyone who saw Aziz Ansari as an example of a genuine male (woke bae) feminist, were disappointed at the news that he harassed a woman during what began as a date.

Some writers are debating whether this qualifies as harassment or just a shitty date with mixed messages. In this case, I think both can apply.

I use the word harassment because I believe coercing someone into sexual activity when they have verbally or physically expressed discomfort with the idea, even within the context of a date, is a point on the harassment spectrum. In this instance, even though his date initially submitted to his requests, it was only after her repeated attempts verbally (saying it’s going too fast) and physically (moving his hand away and trying to get away from him) to reject them. Submission does not imply agency, comfort, or desire. Sometimes, it’s just viewed as the best option in a given moment to avoid further harassment.

However, the degree of harassment, the exact classification of this behavior, and where the act stacks up against the infinite instances of men making women uncomfortable, is secondary to the incidence of the behavior itself. These actions are an example of what happens when men, either overtly or subconsciously, value sexual conquest above all else.

In 2018, harassment isn’t being swept under the rug as often as it was in the past, and the accused are now in the public eye and face greater consequences. However, to this day, much of male sexual interaction with women is predicated on this concept of conquest. “Getting” a woman to do something, having her “let me” do something; it all takes much of the agency and desire away from the other person in the equation. With this mindset, the most important aspect becomes the result. Therefore, the act of sex is frequently detached from the sexual partner to become a prize, which many men strive for the bare minimum to achieve. If certain key words are not said, or aren’t said with a certain type of conviction, there is no reason not to continue the pursuit.

When I hear the argument: “she should have said how she felt more forcefully” the first thing that comes to mind is: why does it need to come to that? If you operate from a standpoint of wanting a reciprocal romantic interaction with someone, once they appear uncomfortable with what’s going on, you stop.

However, if missing out on an opportunity for sex is something that makes someone feel less of a man in the eyes of other men, women, and their own, then that standpoint moves inward, to a more selfish goal of masculine fulfillment.

This feeling is not random; it is perpetuated in a patriarchal society every time a parent congratulates their sons for being playboys, while demanding their daughters withhold their sexuality. (Which is also why some women may have a difficult time forcefully communicating their sexual desires, as they’ve been told they shouldn’t have any). It is furthered every time male friendships splinter when the men who purport greater sexual experience garner greater respect. It resurfaces every time a boy hears how important sexual experience is in a desirable romantic partner.

All this puts pressure, and a competitive nature, on men to rack up and optimize every potential sexual encounter.

This account reminded me of two experiences that helped shape my own view of masculinity and how to value sex.

I had my first girlfriend when I was 15. I felt very late to the game whenever I would hear my peers recount their exploits (because men begin lying on their dick as soon as they get one), but overall I tried to enjoy things and not compare myself to others. It was my first kiss, the first time I felt like I had a chance to express affection and have it reciprocated without all the “crush” nonsense from elementary school.

Two weeks into the relationship, I thought things were going great, but apparently they were shit, and we were already about to break up. One day during this rough period, her friend had the idea to have some sort of freshman couple’s therapy at her crib. She let us be alone on the couch, so my girlfriend could ignore me in peace and blasted “We Belong Together” to no avail. Her intentions seemed altruistic. At first.

After about an hour of minimal communication with each other, the friend’s mom stepped into the living room. And then suddenly it became Festivus, and I was the subject of the airing of grievances. Too nice! Not aggressive enough! He’s inexperienced! I’m his first girlfriend! After listening to my girlfriend and her friend rattle off all the things that made me wholly unfit for us to continue tap kissing and getting Baskin Robbins together, the mother gently sat next to me on the couch. She paused to look at me with kind, sympathetic eyes as if she was about to console me and give sage advice that would make me feel better about the whole situation. She said, “The man must have experience. The woman doesn’t, but the man must.”

I just sat there thinking, “I’m 15.”

At 15, I was already lacking “experience.” Someone’s daughter — not so much. Someone’s breaking a rule for this shit to work. But clearly, I wasn’t living up to the rules of what a deserving, sufficiently masculine, 15-year-old boyfriend should be. We broke up a few days later.

Three years later, I had a different girlfriend. Our relationship was a four month roller coaster. When classmates would ask me if I had a girlfriend, I generally would respond, “I think so.”

After deciding on plans to meet, she would usually make me wait up to an hour in her building before opening her door to let me in. She struggled with bi-polar disorder and her body image and was frequently unsatisfied with how she looked before we met. I wanted to be supportive of what she was going through, so I would text her she’s gorgeous and wait and read a book until she was ready. After going through this routine a few times, I got to know the friendly neighborhood drug dealer who showed me “alternative” ways to get into the building, so at least I could get past the lobby. He also took an interest in my book, Freakonomics, which ironically had a chapter comparing the business component of drug dealing to McDonald’s. That was the chapter I was reading when we met. Later, my girlfriend would tell me to stay away from said drug dealer. I agreed, as I waited another hour for her to let me stay away from him.

Anyway, after all this, one day she opened the door in just a towel. We had not been sexually intimate up to this point. I thought towel meant it was a good time to start, and dammit I had waited for many things that day. As I kissed her and touched the towel, she laughed and pulled away, telling me she wanted to take a shower. I wasn’t sure if this was one of those “teases” I’d been hearing about, so I kissed her again, and asked if she was sure. She laughed and said she needed to go, and the kiss back was more of a peck. I put these two things together and thought I should respect her wishes. I sat on her couch and turned on the Yankee game.

After a minute, I heard the bathroom door open.

“So you’re just gonna sit there and watch the game?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.”

Another minute passes. Girardi loses another 8 hairs. 5 more Yankees still can’t bunt. The bathroom door opens.

“So you’re just gonna sit there and watch the game?”

“Yeah, you said you wanted to take a shower, so I’m finna sit here and watch the game.”

“Okay.”

And then I basically saw a 3rd person view of myself with a light bulb over my head.

“UNLESS YOU WANT ME TO JOIN YOU!?”

I ran to the bathroom, started to open the door, but I felt push back. Now I knew she really was playing a game, so I pushed back too.

But then God hit the pause button on my life. I suddenly thought to myself, “if this door breaks, it’s all over.” No more Yankee games. No more relationship. No good baconeggncheese in prison. Even if she’s sending mixed messages now, it ain’t worth it to unmix em — for her sake and mine.

I backed away from the door. Sat back down. Almost threw a chancleta at the TV when Girardi removed CC, as I usually do, but then realized it was neither my house nor my chancleta, and waited, again.

Later that day, when we were chilling on the couch, unable to do much sexually at this point since her mom was nearly home, she told me: “you should have been more aggressive; I would have let you do anything.”

The real mixed messages aren’t the ones that Aziz’s date gave — as she described them, those were clear messages of discomfort. The real mixed messages are the toxic ones that many men like myself received growing up and too many people, even those who claim to be feminists, internalize through adulthood. I’m not making excuses for his behavior or anyone else’s. Part of being an adult is reflecting on the validity of these messages, being empathetic, and simply being attentive to needs that are not your own.

But for any behavior to change, we must identify its roots. And this will take work. Just like a carbon, patriarchy has a footprint, and it leaves treads even in places we thought were long cleaned. If we dig deep, we may find things that are tough to come to terms with. Much of the behavior we have normalized may actually be damaging behavior to which we became desensitized. Such as taking a woman home and immediately expecting sex.

Additionally, we can’t just tell boys what not to do and not give alternatives. The reason I was ultimately able to not listen to my friend’s mom or entertain the game my girlfriend was playing was because I felt something else was more important. Now, these were not easy decisions. I did question if I should be meaner, more aggressive, if it meant keeping the only girlfriend I’d ever had. I was upset that I missed out on a sexual experience with my later girlfriend — and one that I may not get again with her, given the instability of our relationship.

Because the hard part for me, and many other men, is coming to terms with the fact that, in situations like these, being more aggressive could actually yield a better outcome — as far as sex is concerned. But at what cost? Being someone who I wasn’t for the sake of placating an outdated, damaging patriarchal role in a relationship? At 15? Towards an impressionable 14-year-old? (Not to mention the statutory implications). Trying to guess what someone who has body image issues really wants to do with her body when she is sending two diverging messages? Forcing myself into someone else’s bathroom who was already changing her mind a lot that day? The dangerous thing is: for someone who values sex as the ultimate outcome, these, and far worse circumstances, are mere obstacles to that end. Only the memorized list of red, glaring flags can (sometimes) stand in its way. But for someone who sees the “obstacles” as directions, turning around is always an option.

Aziz Ansari may genuinely learn from this experience about his own intentions or ignorance, and if he truly does care about the cause, he will use his platform to share what he did wrong, and what he learned going forward, with other men. This wasn’t same thing as Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer. Under current laws, it probably wasn’t criminal. But does it have to be the worst thing, must it be criminal, before it matters? As Washington Post journalist Molly Roberts writes: “this experience says less about whether Ansari is a good or bad guy and more about how men see sex in general, and how women see [sex] at the same time.”

I could have easily been Aziz Ansari on his dates and mine. The same memos existed in our airspace.

What we should be teaching our young men, and reinforcing in practice, is that the worst thing is not to miss out on a sexual encounter; the worst thing is to make a woman feel uncomfortable and not care to notice. And that the alternative of sensitivity to women’s desires, empathy for their feelings, and valuing them as equal, actualized human beings first and foremost are not weaknesses, but tenets of masculinity. That’s the type of experience that should be valued most in a relationship. Additionally, we should be empowering young women to vocally express their desires in dating and sex, as opposed to repressing them, to create a foundation of equity and reciprocity in relationships. Once comfort and desire become the primary goals before sex, then all the mixed messages and lack of stern/angry/loud/negative enough nos become less important. The sex and the person’s emotional state are one. Getting it right becomes more important than getting it.

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Editor-in-Chief “There is no other pill to take, so swallow the one that made you ill.”- Zach de la Rocha.“My neck, my back, my Netflix, my snacks.”- Anonymous

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Evan J. Mastronardi

Evan J. Mastronardi

Editor-in-Chief “There is no other pill to take, so swallow the one that made you ill.”- Zach de la Rocha.“My neck, my back, my Netflix, my snacks.”- Anonymous

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