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Do I have a right to sex?
Rarely Certain is back to normal
Some meta preamble:
The most recent edition of Rarely Certain was awful. I hated it and took what meagre comfort I could from the fact that there have been 115 others, which range from quite good to really good (in my subjective opinion).
Not much of a pitch, but hop onboard anyway if you end up liking this one
It got a couple of polite likes, which is the blogging equivalent of no review for your Airbnb because someone didn't like it much, but didn't want to say so.
As an obsessively curious and deeply introspective type I found running out of anything much to say last week interesting. Because, in truth, I always have quite a lot to say. The only problem being that it might be unpopular with some people.
Normally I don't care about this but personal circumstances drained some energy and this made me play safe by avoiding contentious stuff.
It seems that refusing to follow the rules of deference to particular groups requires a certain vitality. Easier to stay quiet, when you’re somewhat preoccupied.
For example, as last week wore on I kept realising that my thoughts on various things were problematic.
Here's one: why were young women overrepresented in pictures and videos I was seeing of pro-Hamas/Palestinian protests? What does this tell us about who drives the west's student politics and its response to the October 7th massacres? Or was it just a sampling error? Was I imagining it? Do I just notice annoying young women more than annoying men?
After a quick canter through Google Image records of recent anti-Israel student protests the original intuition persists. Try it. I might be wrong.
Or maybe I'm just a misogynist. Because what follows is doubtless also problematic.
Entitlement to sex
I used to identify as a feminist. This was partly because I had an idea of feminism as obviously important and necessary for overall human wellbeing. Plus, I wanted women in particular to know that I am a nice modern liberal man.
Back then I thought that feminism was just a set of obviously necessary principles espousing equality of intrinsic human value, which obviously demanded equality of status and opportunity. And an equal voice in decision-making everywhere.
When the Manosphere began leaking into the mainstream it seemed ridiculous, unreasonable and whiney and as much of a gift to man-hating feminists as Donald Trump was to the broader social justice network. And both of those relationships seem real to me still. Protest movements run out of energy when the things they want are achieved, so unreasonable opponents are a blessing.
It took the 2017 #MeToo moment to make me realise that as well as there being plenty of reprehensible behaviour among horny men, just being a horny male was itself becoming pathologised, whatever you were doing about it.
And that there was - in all seriousness - an argument being mounted by some feminists that men needing to have sex meant that they felt (or ‘society’ thought they were) entitled to have sex, which of course makes men and ‘society’ bad.
Scott Alexander's 2014 piece Radicalizing The Romanceless is a helpful guide to the worst faith arguments on all sides here. It’s a joyless read.
So, entering something of a sexual drought in my world, I was urged to listen to a podcast discussing the question of whether men have a right to sex. (A classic suggestion from P, my ever sympathetic éminence grise).
It was strange because it has never occurred to me that sex (beyond the solo act) might be any more of a right than having a nicer car or a more comfortable sofa. But then I'm sceptical of 'rights' in general, which I'm still trying to figure out how to write about.
As well as listening, I later read the transcript, just to check that I'd been following properly. Because this undoubtedly clever woman seems resistant to the notion that biological sex differences justify differences in desire and it confounds me a bit that there persists a gap between what is understood through evolutionary biology and feminist thought.
To be fair, she doesn't deny biology (or 'natural predispositions' as she terms it) as a driver of desire, but does seem to suggest that recognising those realities automatically entails a risk of "forming societies that simply allow us to express our most quote unquote natural orientations."
I don't know. I think we've got things about right when we recognise that people want what they want and will pursue it, confined by the strictures of law, respect and reasonableness. I haven't heard any of us men suggesting otherwise. A lot of feminist discourse often seems 'straw manny' in this way.
It's hard not to detect a seed (no pun intended) of resentment in this field that men often labour under a hormonally-induced kind of abstract horniness, which comes (no pun intended) and goes at will and is often quite annoying to us. If I didn't need a woman's help in this department I'm sure I'd be slightly happier - especially given that I am capable of loving deeply and fully without exchanging bodily fluids anyway.
There is a moment when Srinivasan seems to mis-hear Cowen in a way that seems revealing of this resentment of male sexual desire in particular.
He asks her about "disabled individuals" in the Netherlands being given vouchers by the government to give to prostitutes in exchange for sexual relief. It's an interesting exchange until she insists that "we are working against a patriarchal backdrop on which men routinely (her emphasis) think that they are sexually entitled to women's bodies."
This seems to be a common thread in the discourse. And yet, apart from some religious communities apparently emphasising wifely 'duties' - which is a problem with those religious communities if you ask me - or some internet subcultures filled with frustrated men who can't get laid and want to vent about it - I have never been aware that 'society' expects women to sort us out.
Then she asks him "Tyler, let me ask you this: Why are you interested in the question of disabled men having state subsidies?."
But he hasn't said men. He has only - he's said it twice in fact - used the word 'individuals', because he's including disabled women who aren’t having sex too. He even apologises at this point, for something he didn't say, presumably in response to her finger-wagging tone.
After a few years of delving into the weeds of the feminist dialectic (the posh word that leftishists use to mean to-and-fro exchanges and critiques) I can't get past the sense that you can make everything 'problematic' if you want.
Also, that most ideological rhetoric always seems to involve accepting some premises that aren't proven. Often because they couldn't be proven.
Does it matter? Aren't lots of people just having sex, to their mutual benefit, while all this navel-gazing about how unjust it all is proceeds in the background? Well, yes, but I can't shake a certain resentment that there are people who pathologise what I - as an ordinary man with desires that are best met by a woman - want as entitlement.
It also bothers me that evolutionary factors in the differences between men and women's experience and requirements from sex are often overlooked.
You see a lot of motivated reasoning in the (I hesitate to call it this) 'science' of things like rates of achieving orgasm. A paper last year made headlines in all the usual places by claiming that because men apparently report having more orgasms from partnered sex than women, this means men are more entitled to orgasms.
Again, I don't know. But what I do know is that we are all the products of natural selection and literally exist only because at some point a man ejaculated. None of us exist because a woman had an orgasm. I hesitate to say this, for obvious reasons, but I really can't help feeling 'cheated' in my primitive reptile brain if sex doesn't include an orgasm for me at some point.1 Maybe, just maybe, this is how I'm wired. And ‘entitlement’ doesn’t feature at all. There really is a difference there, however you'd like society to be engineered differently.
The funny part here is that the study suggested that women agreed that men were more 'entitled' to an orgasm. And, of course, the intuition being shared by women that there is some kind of necessary quality uniquely connected with a male orgasm, was seen everywhere as - you guessed already - problematic. I saw this described as 'internalised misogyny' in one place.
Anyway, I'm deeply sorry for the injustice my unconscious biological drives perpetuate for the women out there in the world. But I can assure them all that I really do not think I have anything like a right to any part of their body and I do not believe for a moment that any civilised person thinks differently.
I also feel quite unsatisfied if the woman doesn’t either, but my particular sexual preferences aren’t relevant here.