Both sides of the political divide are turning on sex-positivity and blaming the antagonistic desires of men and women. But I wouldn't give up on common ground the opposite sex just yet.
The Times vs Sex
Oops, I think I broke sex-positivity™. Four months ago I undressed it, finding little that’s sexy or positive underneath the slogans. And today even the New York Times is out; Putanumonit is a tragic thought leader yet again.
Of course, the Times and I offer different analyses. I wrote that merely declaring a new narrative in which all consensual™ sex is positive doesn’t guarantee, and often inhibits, a positive experience for actual sex-havers.
The Times, however, is not in the business of positive experiences. It’s in the business of announcing narratives. Now that a sufficient number of millennials who’ve had bad experiences with hookup culture have been hired into the Times, their misery needs a narrative that blames it on the outgroup.
NYT quotes feminist writers explaining that a culture of sexual promiscuity and exhibitionism “caters to patriarchy and the male gaze”. Anti-porn activists write about men brainwashed by violent pornography, forcing young women to accept loveless slapping and choking in bed under the banner of sex-positivity.
Wait, young women are the demographic most into rough sex porn?
Mumble mumble false consciousness mumble
They start from the premise that men want “sex without emotion or attachment”, while women are looking for “love and commitment”. In this view men’s and women’s desires are conflicting and incompatible. This locks men and women in a zero-sum power struggle, a war engaged individually by every heterosexual person and collectively as feminism versus the sex-positive patriarchy.
Ironically, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was also framed as a rebellion against the patriarchy. Since men are by nature sexually jealous and possessive, the story went, they imposed strict sexual norms at the expense of women’s desires. These patriarchs are somehow always one step ahead, the sneaky fuckers.
We Have Always Been at War
The NYT op-ed was celebrated on Twitter by “trads” who’d normally grab an umbrella if NYT printed a sunny forecast. They often accept the premise of conflicting interests while simply shifting the blame — men lured to OnlyFans by gold diggers, or women brainwashed into delaying the marriage they ultimately crave by anti-family gender studies professors in the service of dual-income consumer capitalism.
Feminists treat sex as a reward to be withheld from men who misbehave. Trads argue that men have no interest in settling down unless granted complete authority over their wives. These are rather extreme positions, but their proponents would argue you need extreme solutions to deal with the irreconcilable conflict of desires between men and women.
Here it is in the data, the vast unbridgeable gulf between what men and women want in the realm of romance:
These data are from readers who took my survey on relationships and personality. If you’re reading this, that’s your dating pool. Surveys of other populations show similar results. Men (especially when younger) slightly prefer shorter-term casual relationships and vice versa, but overall the differences are just not that big.
There do exist real differences in mating psychology between men and women but they don’t imply mutually hostile needs. A lot of differences are complimentary. Women care much more about their partner’s income and men about age, but since men mostly get richer as they get older this works out well for everyone. Similarly both sexes have a preference for men to be more proactive in flirting and escalating to sex, and there’s also enough variance to allow shy guys and assertive gals to find each other.
Evolved differences are also constrained by society and culture. Some men want to sleep with a different stranger every night for years, and sign up for a PUA seminar. Some women want the long-term material commitment of several men at once, and start a camming channel. But most people who try this fail, and the few who succeed usually keep their success private to avoid admonishment. In fact Western society mostly has norms and laws (e.g. economic freedom for women, decriminalizing infidelity, outlawing polygamy) that reduce intersexual conflict while potentially increasing intrasexual competition.
Almost everyone else would do better not by trying to trick or coerce what they selfishly want out of reluctant members of the opposite sex, but by finding those of the other sex who want to give it to them. Almost everyone’s ideal romantic situation involves partners who want to be there, not who resent it. And yet there seems to be a great reluctance to accept this. Every time I write about dating as a game of inter-sexual cooperation I’m accused of optimistic delusion.
It’s true that my tone on this topic has perhaps been too glib, implying that this is easy. Sex-positivity™ also promised that once the barriers of puritanism are knocked down everything will be abundant and simple, and the failure of that promise is driving much of the backlash.
Dating selflessly is often unfair, painful, high variance, and much harder than it used to be. There are many reasons why people fail, although a lot of them are individually fixable and not a result of the “top 20%” stealing all your partners. And failing can feel worse than giving up and blaming the opposite sex for fucking it all up. But if you haven’t given up hope yet, stay tuned for part 2.