A piece in today’s Sunday Times:
Q. I am a 29-year-old woman and, having spent the majority of my twenties in a long-term relationship, I have now spent the past three years exploring my sexuality. This has mainly consisted of sleeping with “cool” and “hot” men who are unattainable and completely emotionally unavailable. In a recent counselling session the penny finally dropped that I am, in fact, almost solely sexually attracted to misogynists. Ironically, I am a staunch feminist — misogynists represent everything I hate about the patriarchy. How do I stop being drawn to them and start feeling sexy with “nice” men instead?
A. Hello! Thank you for coming! Nice to have you here. Please help yourself to your free welcome drink and join us in Function Room 3 in five minutes along with the other confused feminists for the first seminar of the day: “How will I feel when they stop wolf-whistling really?”
Take it easy on yourself. This is an internal battle fought by many self-respecting women. God knows why. For some, it is a self-esteem issue — a subconscious belief that they are not worthy of kindness. Others might have become so used to objectification that it’s the only thing they recognise as romantic attention. Some confuse that attention with love. Maybe the rest of us are just into horrible men because we were signed up to the Patriarchy Cult from birth without our knowledge. [J4MB emphasis – you couldn’t make this s*** up, but Dolly Alderton has.] And even once we try to leave, its values are so destructive it takes a while to deprogramme ourselves.
But you can find a safe place to put these desires. You can keep it in a fantasy realm. You can want to be respected by a partner and you can also wish to not be respected when you’re in bed together. You can ask for both of those things and it doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It doesn’t make you a bad feminist. It doesn’t make you a messed-up person. It just means you’re a woman with a sexual appetite — some of which you understand and some of which you don’t.
Personally, I think our sexual identity is something we should all be allowed to enjoy and explore (safely, legally and consensually) guilt-free and without neuroses. I don’t think intricate analysis of preference and practice is required for most of us. I don’t think you need to complicate a sexual inclination with a quest to find its origins unless it interests you. And if you enjoy objectification or even degradation in bed, you should find a safe way to do that. And you should not give yourself a hard time about it.
You had the same sexual partner for most of the first phase of young adulthood — it’s perfectly understandable that you’re now trying out stuff. It might be that you’re attracted to dangerous or unknowable men as a reaction to having been in a loving relationship. Perhaps it feels like a novelty after being in something so steady and secure. I also wonder whether you’re enjoying being single, therefore you keep choosing to date men who you know won’t be a viable choice for a long-term relationship or who won’t commit to you at all.
If that is the case, allow yourself the possibility of being single for the foreseeable future and let yourself enjoy that. Don’t feel shame about it and don’t let it panic you about the possibility of love in the future. You have been in a stable relationship with a suitable man, you will be able to do it again. If you’re not ready for it yet, you can date casually or be promiscuous and do it in a way that doesn’t harm you or others. Join a dating app, be clear about what you’re looking for and find other people who also just want a fling, but who are nice to you as well. Please, please believe me when I tell you: it’s not just the nasty men who will know how to turn you on.
It’s great you’re being so thoughtful about how your choices reflect your beliefs, but I also think you don’t have to moralise your sexuality. What we find hot in fantasy is often an inversion of what we want in reality — transgression and taboo are a part of that. Honestly, I think everyone should be free to separate their sexuality from their politics, as long as every party has consented and is having fun.
What’s important is that you don’t confuse your craving for sexual objectification or domination with a need for a misogynistic or dominating boyfriend. I know you already know this, but just in case you need reminding: you deserve to be listened to, admired, championed, cared for, taken seriously and cherished. You don’t have to sacrifice sexual voracity for those things. Put simply: you need a kind, chill, respectful boyfriend in the streets and a filthy pervert in the sheets. They do exist. I hope you have fun finding one.
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