I don’t know a woman who couldn’t tell a personal story of being the recipient of aggressive male sexual conduct: whether rape, molestation, child sexual abuse, sexual harassment or intimidation, or sexual power-broking. I also know that women have generally been taught that they should somehow put up with this because it’s just a part of some version of “boys will be boys.”
Now one example after another of such conduct at high levels is daily news. And much is being said to analyze the issues in terms of power dynamics right along with attempts to somehow justify, dismiss, or minimize these actions.
But none of this has to do with something inherent in males as human beings. Our boys are not born with some impulse to treat anyone this way.
These actions spring from what is still mainstream male conditioning about sex and the male sex drive, conditioning that reaches its peak in junior and senior high school. And what that conditioning attempts to instill in boys is solidly behind the scenes in their lives at best – boys know it even if they choose not to individually act upon it.
Meanwhile our society doesn’t want to discuss, admit, or believe our boys experience it, especially where it needs discussion – in our schools. Any attempts are demeaned by labeling them radical, feminist, extremist, or something else.
Frankly, though, by puberty boys are learning what it means to be a real man, which includes how men “get laid.” So, it’s time to revisit the “Nine Layers of Getting Laid” that I fully discussed in Scared Straight, layers that are instilled through pressure - peer and otherwise – that’s based in fear of what not accepting them does or does not mean for a man’s “manhood,” machismo, straight-identification, and full admission in the men’s club.
The image of the “real manly man” found in media and elsewhere, and justified by some who just accept it, says that getting laid is:
(1) Compulsive. There’s something uncontrollable, overwhelming, or inevitable about male sexuality. Sexual activity should come naturally to men and men are in some way obsessed with it. Theories why are popular.
(2) Objectifying. It has to do with bodies and body parts. It feeds on all the stereotypes of what makes an object physically attractive and promotes the stuff that can be sold to women to make them look like Miss America walking down a runway in her swimsuit.
(3) Impersonal. When it’s first installed it not only doesn’t have to do with the person who is the sexual object, but actually is best if it’s not with a friend. Even sex with a committed partner later might be accompanied by thoughts of something other than what’s going on in that bed. And the more the object is impersonalized, the easier it is to ignore any consequences for the object of the sexual act including any violence involved.
(4) Manipulative and Coercive. Real men, the conditioning says, can manipulate any object into sex with them. And if the object objects, it shames the man as not manly enough or means the object needs more manipulation. “No” doesn’t mean “No” but “manipulate me more.” One’s manhood, after all, is on the line here.
(5) An Activity. It’s not a process of being with someone but a thing you do to or with someone. It’s a separate activity from all else in life that has a beginning and an end. It is not the foreplay or any after-glow.
(6) Goal-Oriented. Cuddling isn’t sex; making out isn’t. Real male sex has a goal – the big O, and it’s his. Even in this enlightened 21st century, this lingers on as younger women tell me.
(7) Self-Centered. It’s supposed to take place on his agenda. There are words men have for women who are too aggressive and they’re not “Self-Assured” or “Leadership Material.”
(8) Manly. Sex proves you’re a man and makes you feel like a man. In a world where men are not conditioned to feel much other than anger and triumph over others, this is the place a man can feel. It might last only a few seconds, and won’t be convincing in any lasting way, but that only means more sex is necessary or that the sexual object is at fault for not making him feel manly enough. So, better look elsewhere.
(9) With a Woman. Society has instilled this layer in men of all sexual orientations for centuries and it has therefore put down as not really a man anyone who would prefer otherwise.
None of this is the male sex drive or heterosexual sexuality. These are layers of distress installed for a lifetime through fear of what will happen to someone who doesn’t go along.
They are patterned definitions of sex for someone of any orientation who’s been scared into a straight role that’s usually enforced by putting down anyone who doesn’t appear to go along with it all. The demeaning of LGBTQ people has made it possible to use the fear of being thought of as queer to enforce gender roles across the board, and the boy in high school who comes out against this will at least be asked: “Don’t you like girls.”
It would be nice to believe that this conditioning is confined to older generations, that our boys today don’t get this from society around them. After all, so much has happened in the last decades to empower women and educate men.
I want to believe that, but when I present this list to college students, these 18-21 year olds (especially women) say it hasn’t changed and then add their own stories.
Conditioning is learned behavior, and what is learned can be unlearned. There’s no reason to give up.
Both our boys and girls need us to give words to gender-role conditioning around sex and to see it for what it is. Then we’ll all need to imagine what sexual relations would be without these nine layers. l