Someone left a comment on my post about facials from a few weeks ago that really struck a nerve with me. In response to me saying that facials are just ejaculation on the face and don’t inherently have meaning, this commenter pointed out that actions that come from porn have never been empowering to women – the subtext being that consenting to being degraded is ultimately bad for women. I definitely believe there’s a worthwhile dialogue to be had about how society conditions our sexual preferences and proclivities. And that, especially as women, a lot of the way we perceive sex is influenced by what men want, and that often comes at the expense of stripping women of our dignity.
Sex has, without a doubt, been warped in a way that prioritizes the pleasure of men over the pleasure of women. This manifests itself in dudes only focusing on their own orgasms and neglecting to finish off their partners, in dudes refusing to go down on women, on women’s magazines printing article after article about “how to pleasure your man” and, of course, the massive proliferation of porn that reduces women to their skin colors, ages and the size of their boobs and butts and normalizes acts like facials and rough sex. To pretend that we aren’t shaped by cultural norms and societal narratives around sex would be clueless and kind of dumb of me, and I absolutely believe that a lot of us, both men and women, only like the things we like because of the larger cultural forces at work here. That maybe, if we had grown up in a more egalitarian society that talked openly about sex, where popular porn featured themes that went beyond “let’s see how much c*ck his woman’s mouth, vagina, or anus can take” and there wasn’t so much emphasis on women being submissive, I’m sure sexual dynamics would be different.
However, I also feel like it’s patronizing to insinuate that women only perform their sexuality in a way that is pleasing for men and that we don’t derive pleasure from things like giving BJs or receiving facials or whatever. We have agency and the ability to think for ourselves, and if we get off on humiliation, that doesn’t mean that we’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy. Sexual submissiveness, degradation and humiliation are not practiced exclusively by women. There are dudes who would be over the moon if a girl squirted in their faces, would love nothing more than to go down on a woman for hours and would totally appreciate a woman taking the dominant role. Maybe instead of criticizing individuals for making certain choices, we should criticize the cultural narratives that shape and inform them. Would a facial be considered gross and un-empowering if women weren’t constantly subjugated and objectified outside of the bedroom? Doubtful.
If anything, playing out degrading and submissive themes in a safe space, where you have control over the things that are done to you, is a way of exercising power. It’s a mantra in kink communities that the submissive is ultimately more powerful than the dominant, because their boundaries are the final word. And really, what’s more empowering than doing something you like, that brings you pleasure? Even if it’s something that reinforces certain social dynamics. No one, even the most socially conscientious of us, lives their life in a way that always challenges the status quo, and that’s okay. Abstaining from certain sex acts isn’t going to eradicate misogyny, and just because you prefer certain acts in the bedroom doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t expect the utmost respect and dignity outside of the bedroom.