Thinking About Condoms For The First Time In A Very Long Time – 1

Author’s Preface: I see each post in this series as one section of a single piece of writing, not as a discrete essay unto itself. As a result, while each section may contain its own argument, it is not really possible to know whether an issue that you feel is important will or will not be left out of the argument made by the entire piece if you’ve only read a part of the series. I certainly do not mean this caveat to be, in any way, an inoculation against critique, but given the modular nature of posting to blogs and of how blogs are read, it is a caveat I’d like you to keep in mind if you find yourself wondering, and commenting on, why I have not addressed something you feel needs to be addressed. Thanks.

///

To protect the privacy of the individuals involved, some names have been changed and some identifying details have been fictionalized.

Recent events in my life have started me thinking deeply, for the first time in many years, about condoms and what it means to use them. Not that I have failed to take condoms seriously. I have worn them when I needed to, refused to have intercourse when they were not available, and I have a ten-year-old son who knows what condoms are and why, all else being equal, everyone who has sex should use them. I am, though, also old enough to remember (and boy does it feel strange to use that expression) when safe sex was pretty much exclusively about birth control. I might have learned that using condoms would help keep me from catching or transmitting gonorrhea or syphilis, the only two STDs I knew about at the time, but I’m not sure. Instead, the focus in my sexual education when I reached puberty was on the need for a young couple planning to have non-procreational sex to do everything they could to prevent the woman from becoming pregnant, and that meant, for men, being willing to wear a condom unless the woman was on the pill, using a diaphragm or had an IUD.

It did not occur to me that there might be more to pre-AIDS male heterosexual responsibility than simply keeping a barrier between my semen and the body of the woman in whom I would otherwise have left it until I was having sex regularly with a woman I thought I was falling in love with–we were each in our early 20s and using only condoms–and I realized I did not know what she would do, or even what she thought she would do, if she became pregnant. Condoms, after all, do fail. I was as certain as I could be that I did not want to become a father, but I was also certain that the ultimate choice of what to do if she did become pregnant was hers. So, if a condom did fail, it suddenly occurred to me, and she decided not to have an abortion, I would be a father whether I wanted to or not. I knew I’d do my best to live up to the responsibilities that fatherhood would bring with it, but I did not think my relationship with that woman would survive. Not only would I have resented her for having made the decision that made me a father, but I did not yet know if the love I was beginning to feel for her was, as they say, a love that would last, and having to be parents to a child–forget whether or not we would have, or could have, gotten married–was not the circumstance under which I wanted to find out.

I will not retell here the story of what happened when I tried to talk to my girlfriend about my concerns, except to say that I was completely unprepared for her to tell me she had no idea what she would do if she got pregnant. It wasn’t that I expected her to know with 100% certainty what action she would take, or that I was looking for some kind of contractual agreement that would insulate me if she at first said she would have an abortion and then changed her mind; nor was I thinking that the only answer acceptable to me was the one I hoped she would give, i.e., that she would have an abortion. What I wanted, first and foremost, was that we should talk, openly and honestly, and then, once each of us knew where the other stood, we could make a decision about what we should do in response. It had never entered my mind, though, that the person who would be pregnant if pregnancy happened would even think about starting to have sex without some sense of what she would do.

Given that my girlfriend had not thought about this, or at the very least was unwilling to tell me what she thought about this, I did not see how we could continue having sex, or, to be more precise, how I could continue having sex, knowing first that our fucking put me at risk of becoming an unwilling father and, second, that if I did become an unwilling father, it would probably mean the end of our relationship. I’d been very happy with the sex we were having before we started fucking; I assumed my girlfriend felt the same way; and I saw nothing wrong with rolling things back to our pre-intercourse days until we were able to talk about this. I wanted to be with her, plain and simple, and that desire far outweighed for me the pleasures of putting my latex-covered penis in her vagina. So, more or less–at my insistence, not hers–we stopped fucking.

That “more or less,” of course, is important. Sometimes I was the one who initiated the sex we had, and sometimes she was; and I honestly don’t remember how many times “sometimes” actually means, but I am sure it was not a lot, at least not relative to how often we’d been fucking before we had this conversation. I also remember nothing of what we said to each other after these instances of “falling off the wagon,” though I am pretty sure that neither of us reproached the other. I do remember, though, that after each of those times I would tell myself it was the last one, and that I was disappointed in myself when that proved not to be the case.

Eventually–I don’t remember how much time passed exactly–my girlfriend told me she’d decided that if she got pregnant she would have an abortion, and we started having intercourse regularly again. Years later, however, in the fourth or fifth year of our relationship, in one of those let’s-talk-about-our-history-together conversations, she told me that she’d lied to me, that she’d always known she would not have an abortion if she got pregnant, and that she’d thought my plan had been to withhold intercourse as a way of pressuring her into having sex with no strings attached. She’d only said she would have an abortion, she explained, because she’d been convinced I was going to leave her if she did not eventually give me what she thought I wanted. She then went on to tell me that she’d realized a while back that she’d been wrong, that I had in fact been sincere in everything I told her, even if I had not always practiced what I’d been preaching. Indeed, given my behavior (I was not then, and I am not now, particularly proud of the “more or less” at the end of the paragraph before last) it’s hard to blame her for thinking the way she did. It didn’t, and doesn’t matter that I was not the only one who initiated the fucking we did when we were supposed to be abstaining. Every time I allowed it to happen, I was acting like the manipulative hypocrite she initially thought I was.

My girlfriend was right about one thing, though. I really wanted to mean what I said when I told her that it was more important to me not to put our relationship unnecessarily at risk than it was for me to have intercourse with her, and I really wanted to mean it when I said that stepping back from the fucking we were doing would not diminish either the pleasure or the meaningfulness of the sex we had. I was not a man who saw fucking as a way of accumulating notches on my belt; I did not, or at least I thought I did not, feel the connection between fucking and manhood that so many of my friends seemed to feel, whether they were out getting laid as often as they could or involved in a serious relationship. Sex, I thought I believed, was simply sex, a way of touching, of giving and taking pleasure in my own body and the body of my lover; and while genital fucking might be one aspect of that pleasure, it certainly wasn’t the only, or even the main way in which that pleasure could be shared. This, at least, was what I wanted my perspective on sex to be. Yet it very clearly was not, for I had been perfectly willing to put at risk a relationship I thought might develop into a real future so that I could fuck the woman I was in that relationship with. It didn’t matter who initiated it or that it was always consensual. It didn’t matter that when we did fuck it was a very rare exception to the rule of abstinence I had wanted us to follow; and , perhaps most important, in these terms, it didn’t matter that I wore a condom each and every time we did it.

Cross-posted on It’s All Connected.

This entry posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Feminism, sexism, etc, Gender and the Body. Bookmark the permalink. 

30 Responses to Thinking About Condoms For The First Time In A Very Long Time – 1

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    It had never entered my mind, though, that the person who would be pregnant if pregnancy happened would even think about starting to have sex without some sense of what she would do.

    Doesn’t this sound a bit naive? My observation is that people very often take actions without thinking through how they’d handle undesirable outcomes. Even very serious ones.

  2. RonF: Of course it was naive. But I was in my early 20s and I was very naive about such things. How naive will become clear in subsequent posts.

  3. 3
    Tara says:

    Two things:

    It bothered me, a lot, that you kept using the verb ‘fuck/fucking.’ I hadn’t expected it to but it really did. Is there some new convention where ‘fuck’ is a more specific shorthand for vaginal intercourse or something?

    Secondly, I also don’t know what I’d do if I got pregnant. And it’s not because I haven’t thought about it. It’s because I don’t know. And I think that I couldn’t really know unless/until I were pregnant. I can imagine situations in my life where I could say for sure I would have an abortion, or for sure I wouldn’t, but for myself, most of time, it would be lying for me to say I KNOW 100% what I would do. It would be, at best, a guess/prediction that I wouldn’t want thrown into my face later.

  4. 4
    Emily says:

    There’s a difference between not KNOWING but being open to explaining how you’ve thought about it, and giving the impression that you’ve never thought about it (whether true or not). Sounds like Richard was reacting to a woman saying she had no idea, i.e. – had never thought about it.

    My own thoughts on abortion have been complex and variable depending where I am in life (I once remarked to my then-boyfriend that I was glad I had graduated from college because now I wouldn’t have to have an abortion if I got pregnant. He didn’t exactly see the connection himself, and was a little taken aback).

    But for me, knowing that abortion was a choice, even if it didn’t end up being my choice (I didn’t end up having to make that choice, so this is still all hypothetical) meant that any child I had, it would have been my decision to have, and all the way through adolescence and my twenties that was something that I very viscerally appreciated and valued.

  5. 5
    chingona says:

    It bothered me, a lot, that you kept using the verb ‘fuck/fucking.’ I hadn’t expected it to but it really did.

    This bothered me, too, and I’m not sure why. I’m not particularly delicate, but something didn’t quite sit right with me about it. I’m assuming you were trying to distinguish between “sex” as a variety of the different activities people can do together and “sex” as penetrative vaginal intercourse, without using such a clinical word as intercourse every time. But maybe you have other reasons as well.

    Maybe you’ll deal with this in another part of the piece. You present this as a situation where you just wanted to have the conversation. If she had said she would not have had abortion (if she had told you the truth), presumably you would have continued to not have vaginal intercourse. Was she wrong to feel that something hinged on her giving the “right” answer?

    Also, and this goes back to the story you link to from “My Daughter’s Vagina,” why are you so sure her wanting to go back to having sex on a regular basis had to do with her self-image as a good woman, as opposed to physical desires?

  6. 6
    Silenced is Foo says:

    Introspective people tend to be naive about how non-introspective people think. I would bet that the average, non-navel-gazing, non-neurotic, normal teenager has never thought about it. 21 is a little late to start formulating ideas, but still, I’ll bet there are people in their 30′s who’ve put off thinking about that decision until after the dipstick turned up pink.

    I dated a girl who had the creepiest thought… she said if she were still a teen, she’d adopt out, because she’d like to avoid abortion if possible. However, once an adult, putting a baby up for adoption would be even more humiliating since people would wonder why she couldn’t keep the child herself, so she’d just abort to save her career prospects and her reputation. I mean, I can understand choosing to abort, and I can understand choosing to adopt out if you don’t morally agree with abortion… but that chain of logic creeped me out something fierce.

  7. 7
    Sailorman says:

    I’d been very happy with the sex we were having before we started fucking; I assumed my girlfriend felt the same way;

    I think you mean to say
    I’d been very happy with the RELATIONSHIP we were having before we started fucking; I assumed my girlfriend felt the same way…

    ?

    Oh, never mind; stupid me–after reading the comments and rereading this I realize that you’re using “sex” to include genital intercourse and other stuff, while you’re using “fucking” to mean only PIV intercourse.

    Having figured that out, I think it’s a bad idea. Not for any moral reasons, but simply because it makes the writing much more confusing to read and therefore obscures your point.

  8. Sailorman: Thanks! I thought I had made sure that all the spots where I used “sex” could not also refer to PIV intercourse. Your comment made me go back and look again, and now I see a couple places where I need to edit. Which I will get to eventually. Right now, memos need to be written. Yay!

  9. 9
    Lexie says:

    The whole use of the word “fucking” creeped me out a bit, too. It doesn’t usually, I don’t think? I guess I think of “fucking” in terms of people who talk about sex with someone they are not invested in emotionally and it is just a thing to do. (No moral judgments there, but you indicated that you did have a relationship/love this woman.) Or other times I hear it in terms of how men view women as objects to fuck.

  10. 10
    Lilian Nattel says:

    I think that the fact you were wanting to have this conversation in your early 20′s is commendable. My memory of my early 20′s was that I hoped for the best and one time when my period was late, panicked and wondered what the hell I would do if I was pregnant (I wasn’t) , but I never spoke about it to the man I was with at the time. Nor did he ever bring it up.

    As a woman, engaging in sexual intercourse means taking the risk of pregnancy, which will affect her body and her life ever after, whatever decision she makes. As a man, it means putting himself in a situation where his potential fatherhood isn’t in his control.

    That’s part of the package and talking about it is wise. Are people in their 20′s that wise, do they possess that much foresight? Often not. And the need and desire for sex is more powerful then than later.

    So they need to be forgiven, and when they’re younger, perhaps it would be wise for us as parents to talk to them about the conversations they ought have with their partners, just as we talk about birth control.

    I did have the conversation later, when I was older, with the man I am now married to. And we were able to talk about both of our concerns, our thoughts about what we’d do in the event, and make sure we were on the same page. Talking about that boded well for the future. We have two children now. And our home rocks!

  11. 11
    Emily says:

    When I was 24 and in grad school I was out one night with a group of friends and mentioned (no idea how it came up actually) that if I got pregnant I wouldn’t have an abortion (at that point in my life). ALL of the guys present were like – have you told your boyfriend about this? I hadn’t, not out of hiding or anything, but he had never asked and I had never thought to bring it up.

    I went home that night and called him and told him. Using the conversation with my friends as a starting point, like, “Oh, we were talking about this tonight and so and so thought I should talk to you about it.” It lead to a rather weird conversation where I had to explain more than once that I was absolutely NOT saying that I was TRYING to get pregnant, and in fact I was doing everything in my power not to get pregnant, but that I was just saying IF I happened to get pregnant, I would not have an abortion. Eventually he understood what I was saying and we kept having sex. But it certainly didn’t seem to be a conversation that he was expecting. And I don’t recall him really expressing any opinion or feelings one way or the other. He just seemed confused about what I meant, and then when he understood was basically ok with it.

  12. Chingona:

    I missed your questions while I was reading through the comments. I don’t have time to answer now, but I will when I get the chance. They are, of course, good questions.

  13. 13
    Sailorman says:

    and hey, i realize now that I commented on semantics, but in doing so forgot to say that i liked the post. Which I did. Sorry for not saying it before! :)

  14. Okay, now that I have finished the memo I had to write, I can turn my attention here for a few minutes.

    Clearly I need to rethink my use of the word fuck, which I did use to differentiate genital intercourse from other kinds of sexual activity; I prefer it to phrases like “having intercourse” because I don’t like the way those phrases frame sex as an object rather than an action, a commodity rather than a process. And I suppose part of my intention in using the word as much as I did was to try to desensitize people. But maybe it doesn’t work and I need to think about whether the impact of the word itself detracts from what I am trying say.

    chingona @5, you asked me some good questions:

    You present this as a situation where you just wanted to have the conversation. If she had said she would not have had abortion (if she had told you the truth), presumably you would have continued to not have vaginal intercourse. Was she wrong to feel that something hinged on her giving the “right” answer?

    Memory, of course, is a tricky thing, and so while I want to say that she was wrong, I cannot say for sure that there was nothing going on in me, in the way I spoke to her, whatever, that would have made her right to feel that she ought to give the “right” answer. What I can say is that my intention was, simply, to have the conversation; I had no conscious, overt, explicit desire to pressure her into saying she would have an abortion. But, as my later behavior indicated, my intentions and my actions did not completely jive, and so who knows what she read in me that I was unaware of in myself. Even as I say this, though, I also have to say that, in the conversation I refer to in the piece, she did tell me that her own assumptions about what guys would do to get sex with no strings attached shaped the way she understood what I was saying to her.

    You also asked this:

    Also, and this goes back to the story you link to from “My Daughter’s Vagina,” why are you so sure her wanting to go back to having sex on a regular basis had to do with her self-image as a good woman, as opposed to physical desires?

    I have not read that other piece in a long time–and I don’t really have time to go do so now–and, while I posted it in the fairly recent past, it is something that I wrote the original version of almost 10 years ago and that I did not revise significantly when I posted it. Which is just to say that it retains the flavor of where I was 10 years ago, and I think that your question goes to one of the flaws in my approach back then. Because of course it is possible that my girlfriend wanted to go back to having sex out of desire and that is something I did not even take into account when I first wrote “My Daughter’s Vagina.” What I was trying to do was work through to some understanding of how stereotypical gender roles and expectations worked against us, but specifically her, in that situation. Not taking the possibility of her desire into account ultimately removes some agency from her, I think, and that is an unfortunate consequence in the writing of that section of “My Daughter’s Vagina.”

    ETA: Thanks Sailorman!

  15. 15
    chingona says:

    Thanks for the response. (And I, too, neglected to mention that I liked the piece.) I have some thoughts on your responses that I think I need to mull over a bit before I write more, but in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about “fuck.”

    And I suppose part of my intention in using the word as much as I did was to try to desensitize people. But maybe it doesn’t work and I need to think about whether the impact of the word itself detracts from what I am trying say.

    I’ve been trying to figure out why it bothered or distracted me. I use the word a lot, though much more as a cuss word (fucking this, fucking that, what the fuck, etc.) than to refer to sex, and so on the one hand I am desensitized to it, but on the other most of my use of it is negative or harsh, so it still jumps out at me as sharp or harsh. I think for me, it contrasted so sharply with your writing style, which is very careful and intentional, that it was distracting. Now, your use of it clearly was careful and intentional, but to me, it’s just not a careful word, if that makes sense.

    Which brings me around to how I use it for sex. Like Lexie, I tend to use it for less emotional sex. I’ll still use it for sex in a relationship, but for me, it’s the sex you have just for fun and not the more emotionally connected sex. It would be hard for me to use it to refer to all vaginal intercourse. (Though sentimental euphemisms like “making love” actually embarrass me more than “fuck,” whatever that says about me.)

    I think one of the issues might be that you have a use you want to make of a word – a legitimate use of it – that bumps up against the way it’s understood by the audience/used by the general public, and then even within that latter category, there are a lot of variations in how people use and understand the word. The meanings of words are socially constructed, and we cannot undo that simply by using them the way we want to (not that you don’t understand that, just that I think that’s part of what’s going on here, that even as I think I understand what you’re trying to do, I still have all the associations and meanings for that word that I carry around and I can’t just put them down at will.)

  16. 16
    RonF says:

    RonF: Of course it was naive. But I was in my early 20s and I was very naive about such things. How naive will become clear in subsequent posts

    Ah! I see.

  17. 17
    Thene says:

    If we’re on the topic, I entirely liked and understood the way you were using the word ‘fuck’. It took a moment’s thought to get how you were making the distinction – ‘sex’ for any sexual activity, ‘fucking’ for PIV – but I found it easily comprehensible and not at all jarring.

    That said, in my other internet life I write slash porn. I probably toss these verbal knives around way too much.

    I like this article, and I hope it keeps looking into that gap between what we want to think we think about sex and the meaning of our actions in that regard.

  18. 18
    SheilaK says:

    Richard, I would like to read the whole essay, but it seems the link is broken?

    http://www.richardjnewman.com/publications/my%20daughter%27s%20vagina.htm

    ?

  19. Thanks, Sheila, for letting me know. You can find an early version of the essay here. You can also search using the title either on Alas or at my blog and read the sections that I posted, which are more recent revisions. I did not end up posting the entire essay, though.

  20. 20
    chingona says:

    In the original piece, you wrote:

    I was not a man who saw fucking as a way of accumulating notches on my belt; I did not, or at least I thought I did not, feel the connection between fucking and manhood

    and

    Sex, I thought I believed, was simply sex, a way of touching, of giving and taking pleasure in my own body and the body of my lover; and while genital fucking might be one aspect of that pleasure, it certainly wasn’t the only, or even the main way in which that pleasure could be shared. This, at least, was what I wanted my perspective on sex to be.

    And in response to my questions, you wrote:

    What I was trying to do was work through to some understanding of how stereotypical gender roles and expectations worked against us, but specifically her, in that situation.

    In reading this, I cannot help but compare your descriptions of your feelings and thoughts to my own feelings, thoughts and experience of sex. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t even bring this up because, obviously, the piece is about you and your relationships and not me and my relationships, but it’s the differences that caused me to have the questions I did and I have a few more now.

    I do not share your … I am unsure of the right word to use – indifference? neutrality? sense of equivalence? … toward the type of sex I have. If I had been in the situation your girlfriend was in, I would have felt like I was being denied my full or complete sexuality. And I know there is a strong sense in our culture that penetrative sex is the only sex that “counts,” but I don’t think that I what I feel is primarily the result of this cultural pressure. It’s not at all that I don’t think gender roles and expectations have tremendous influence over our relationships. I think they do. But sometimes you want what you want because you want it.

    So I guess I’m curious why you see wanting to fuck as opposed to having other types of sex as primarily coming from a man’s sense of manhood or masculinity. And I’m curious when you say that you “wanted” your perspective on sex to be that fucking was just one of many equal ways to have sex, why you wanted that to be your perspective. What was at stake for you in having that be your perspective? Is it actually your perspective?

    And if all of this will be answered later, I am happy to wait patiently for the next installment.

    (I’m getting the hang of this “fuck” business. One can only write intercourse so many times in a row.)

  21. Chingona:

    I just spent a long time trying to write a quick response to your questions, but I realize that since they are, indeed, something I will address later in the series, there’s no way for me to respond to you in a comment without actually getting into the things I will say later on, and I don’t want to do that. For now, I just want to say that I agree with you that sometimes you want what you want because you want it, but that the question of the connection between fucking and manhood is one that, certainly when I was in my early 20s–which is now more than 25 years ago–and among the people I grew up with, was a central one in how men and women both viewed male heterosexuality. So that while I would never argue that every time a man wants to fuck it is because he wants to prove his manhood, I would argue that the way in which a man values fucking in his life cannot not involve his stance towards the connection between fucking and manhood.

    I remember that when I told a girl friend of mine that I’d had sex for the first time–and it had not been a positive experience–her first response was something like, Congratulations! You’re a man now. And she meant it without irony. When I tried to tell her that was not how I felt, when I tried to tell her that, in fact, the experience had left me feeling pretty bad about myself, she at first refused to believe me, thinking I was just trying to make myself into a sensitive guy who didn’t want sex all the time–or something like that; in any event, her meaning was that I was denying a truth about myself as a guy, i.e., that like all guys, I wanted sex and would take it whenever and wherever I could get it.

    I was also struck by this sentence in your comment:

    If I had been in the situation your girlfriend was in, I would have felt like I was being denied my full or complete sexuality.

    I read that and found myself wondering why a man’s decision not to fuck because of concerns about what would happen if you were to become pregnant would feel to you like a denial of your sexuality. That sounds like you think fucking is something you are owed or entitled to. I recognize that a woman might choose not to enter into a sexual relationship with a man who didn’t, for whatever reason, want to fuck and that this might have nothing to do anything other than the kind of sexual relationship she wants to have. But that’s not the situation in the essay, and so I am wondering why a man’s asserting a particular sexual boundary for himself would make you feel like he was denying something in you.

  22. 22
    Liz W says:

    Good for you for asking. Although I support the right of other women to choose to abort, I would not do so myself – and yes, I can be sure of this, because I have had an unplanned pregnancy and made the choice – and since my early 20s I have always made sure prospective partners knew this. I’m now 39. Never once, before or since I made that decision, has a prospective partner brought the subject up before I did. Very few (less than 10%) have asked me if I use any contraception other than condoms (I do, but I’m surprised more men don’t want to know that for sure). Apparently most guys still think that’s more my responsibility than theirs – possibly because they know what I do with my body is my decision, but since it affects them, I’d expect them at least to want the information as part of their own decision-making.

  23. 23
    Ali says:

    Ha, Liz W, I actually had the opposite experience with several of the men I’ve slept with. They wanted to know if I was using birth control besides condoms, not to make sure all our bases were covered, but because they assumed that my taking BC meant they no longer had to wear condoms. They didn’t seem to get that the condoms would stay on until we were in a serious monogamous relationship (none of them lasted that long, gee I wonder why).

  24. 24
    Emily says:

    I agree with chingona that in your girlfriend’s position I would have felt like a part of my sexuality was being denied to me. Mostly because I think that the most common “other” forms of sex are just as intimate as PIV, but I like PIV better. The prospect of spending a lengthy or indeterminant period of time without PIV would mean spending more time doing things that I enjoy less. But that would depend a lot on the particular relationship and sexual practices. Maybe there would be a way to work it out that would still feel satisfying and complete, but at first blush I wouldn’t have necessarily thought so. Especially at a young age.

  25. 25
    chingona says:

    That sounds like you think fucking is something you are owed or entitled to. I recognize that a woman might choose not to enter into a sexual relationship with a man who didn’t, for whatever reason, want to fuck and that this might have nothing to do anything other than the kind of sexual relationship she wants to have. But that’s not the situation in the essay, and so I am wondering why a man’s asserting a particular sexual boundary for himself would make you feel like he was denying something in you.

    I do not think fucking is something I am owed or entitled to. And of course no one has a right to sex on their own terms, and everyone has the right to set their own boundaries. But people in relationships develop expectations and understandings that go far beyond the rights that each person has. I don’t think being upset or hurt or even resentful of an involuntary change in those expectations or understandings means I don’t ultimately respect and recognize the right that the other person has to make their own decisions.

    In the situation in the essay, it seems pretty clear that even though you may not have intended to create any pressure to provide a certain kind of answer, your girlfriend felt pressure. I think I would have felt pressure too.

    And by not fucking, I would have felt like sex – sex. full stop. – was being withheld in order to get a certain answer. That’s something I was trying to express. While not every sexual encounter has to involve fucking for it to be satisfying and if sex was only fucking, it would be less satisfying, ultimately, for me – and I understand you feel differently, but for me – fucking is so integral to sex that if the fucking stopped for a prolonged and indeterminate period of time, I would feel that the sex had stopped.

    Perhaps it sounds to you like I am just rephrasing what I said before. I feel like what I’m trying to get at is not quite the same thing as how you understood it.

    It’s not that I want or need to fuck at whatever cost to the relationship. I have mentioned before that I am married to someone who grew up in a very conservative religious family, and he did not come out of that unaffected. There were several times in the first few years of our relationship that I suggested to him that perhaps we ought to stop. He never took me up on it, so I can’t say what that would have been like, but I bring it up (perhaps because I feel a little defensive) to say that I have no desire to coerce or pressure someone beyond their own boundaries.

    But in the context of a conversation like the one you wanted to have with your girlfriend – and I commend you for wanting to have it, because I was never brave enough to have a conversation like that – I think it would have been hard for me to see it as setting boundaries, as opposed to wanting, as you said “no strings attached” sex. And because it would have been hard for me to see it as you trying to set a boundary for yourself, I would have felt like you were denying me something – specifically sex itself – to extract a certain answer.

  26. chingona:

    But in the context of a conversation like the one you wanted to have with your girlfriend – and I commend you for wanting to have it, because I was never brave enough to have a conversation like that – I think it would have been hard for me to see it as setting boundaries, as opposed to wanting, as you said “no strings attached” sex. And because it would have been hard for me to see it as you trying to set a boundary for yourself, I would have felt like you were denying me something – specifically sex itself – to extract a certain answer.

    Ah, now I understand. For some reason–my misreading, no doubt–I thought you were being more analytical, for want of a better word, than explaining how you would have felt in the same situation, which, as you explain in the comment I quoted from, makes perfect sense. I guess what’s interesting to me, and what I will be writing about throughout the rest of the series–and I guess also why I was so concerned with talking about gender roles and expectations rather than individual sexual desire in the piece I linked to on my blog–are the implications, etc. of the fact that it was hard for my girlfriend–as you are saying it would have been hard for you, as other women have told me over the years it would have been hard for them–to see what I was doing as boundary setting rather than trying to apply a very cliche kind of male pressure.

    Edited to fix blockquote – RJN.

  27. 27
    chingona says:

    I’ll take responsibility for the misreading because I don’t think I actually realized that I would not have seen it as you setting boundaries until you responded the way you did and I had to think more about my response and what I was trying to say.

    You are absolutely right that that is the result of a very gendered way of viewing sex and men and women, and that I couldn’t really see it clearly until you spelled it out says something.

    And the reason I brought it up at all was not to suggest that the way I think I would have felt in a situation I’ve never been in is the way your girlfriend felt. I understand that we’re talking about a real person you spent several years of your life with, and I trust you to portray her as accurately as anyone can portray the inner life of another person.

    I brought it up mostly to try to provide some context for my question about why you didn’t see your girlfriend’s position as coming from her physical desires. If the cliched type of male sexuality is fuck-at-all-costs and out for yourself and yourself alone, the cliched type of female sexuality is always emotional and psychological, never physical, and includes the idea that fucking is something women take or leave if other types of sex are available. And again, I’m not suggesting that you need to address that directly in your work. I’m just trying to articulate that part of my response to it inevitably comes from my own experiences.

  28. chingona:

    the cliched type of female sexuality is always emotional and psychological, never physical, and includes the idea that fucking is something women take or leave if other types of sex are available (emphasis added)

    So the first part of this is something obvious, I guess, but somehow I never actually made the connection that you make in the second part of what you say here–though once I read it, it made perfect sense to me–and so it makes me wonder the degree to which I held/hold that idea without even realizing it. Something to ponder.

  29. 29
    chingona says:

    I had to smile when I read your last comment because as I was driving into work and thinking about this conversation, I was going to post something very similar. What I had wanted to do is further clarify what I meant when I wrote:

    You are absolutely right that that is the result of a very gendered way of viewing sex and men and women, and that I couldn’t really see it clearly until you spelled it out says something.

    What I wanted to clarify is that it was very clear to me in the piece what your conscious intentions and motivations where, but somehow when I put myself in the situation as a hypothetical, I failed to see that what would have been my very likely inability to accept at face value your intentions here was the result of a very gendered way of thinking about male sexuality, until you spelled it out for me.

    I like to think of myself as fairly savvy about these things, and you showed me a blind spot I didn’t realize I had. But it sounds like maybe I showed you one you didn’t realize you had, so I don’t feel so bad.

  30. 30
    Elkins says:

    I read that and found myself wondering why a man’s decision not to fuck because of concerns about what would happen if you were to become pregnant would feel to you like a denial of your sexuality.

    I am not chingona, and my answer to this question is far different than hers. But I would like to answer this question for myself, if I may.

    Just as men’s sexuality is (damagingly, yes, but nonetheless undeniably) culturally constructed in terms of penetrating the female, so women’s sexuality is culturally constructed in terms of being deemed fuckable by men. We’re supposed to sexually attract — to be so attractive, in fact, that men cannot control themselves around us. That is the sick, sick role that we’ve been handed to play in society’s rape culture.

    And, just as common wisdom holds that a man is “not yet a man” until he’s fucked a woman, so there is an equivalent refrain that sings that a woman is not a real woman until she has been fucked by a man. Until then, she’s a child, a girl, or — if she waits too long — a spinster, a prude, an old maid, the pathetic, laughable, farcical figure of the aged virgin. It doesn’t matter what else she has done. If she’s never had “real sex,” then she’s failed in her mission to be deemed fuckable by a desirable man. And that makes her a loser.

    So, for a man to state that he does not want to fuck — no matter how rational his reasons for this may be — can come across as a sign that the woman has failed sexually. She’s failed to be sufficiently attractive. There must be something wrong with her.

    And no matter how much we may tell ourselves that this is totally and completely fucked up, those social messages still keep ringing in our heads, loud and clear.

    “Even your boyfriend won’t fuck you? OMG. What. A. Loser.”

    That, at any rate, is how I remember things feeling to me, when I was younger, and could not seem to rid myself of my shameful, shameful virginity for the life of me, and then finally got a man – a REAL LIVE MAN! – in bed with me…and then he refused to have PIV sex with me because of the protection issue.

    I knew he was being sensible. I loved him for being so responsible. But at the same time, I hated him for it — hated him, so much! — because with that one act of sensible, responsibile refusal, he had confirmed everything that I’d always feared about myself. That I was simply not up to snuff as a woman. That when push came to shove, I was really not at all sexually desirable. That I was, in some ill-defined but undeniable way, Just Not Good Enough.

    And that I never, ever would be.