Policing sexual desire: The #MeToo movement’s impossible premise

Actually, it is not the patriarchy that makes sexual decisions “utterly complex”; it is sex itself. Sex is the realm of the inarticulate and irrational, inherently fraught with “fear,” “shame,” and “guilt.” Sexual seduction is carried on through ambiguity and indirection; exposing that ambiguity to light, naming what may or may not be going on, is uncomfortable and risks denial and rejection. “Dangerously outdated gender norms” are not what make it difficult to say no to sexual advances; contemporary gender norms have confused these already fraught situations. Traditional mores set the default for premarital sex at “no,” at least for females. This default recognized the different sexual drives of males and females and the difficulties of bargaining with the male libido. The default “no” to premarital sex meant that a female did not have to negotiate the refusal with every opportuning male; it was simply assumed. She could, of course, cast aside the default assumption; that was her power and prerogative. But she did not have to provide reasons for shutting down a sexual advance.

Sexual liberation reversed those default settings. The default is now “yes” to premarital sex; it is a “no” that has to be extricated in media res. No cultural taboos remain around premarital sex; those represented a repressive version of female sexuality, declared the liberationists. Males and females are now assumed to pursue sexual conquest with equal zeal. A contributor to the website Total Sorority Move described an instance of drunken college coitus several years ago that she, like the Times’ Bennett, allowed to happen simply because stopping it would have involved providing reasons. “We have sex with guys, because sometimes it’s just easier to do it than to have the argument about not doing it,” observed Veronica Ruckh. Ruckh quotes other females who have been defeated by the “yes” default for sex: “To be honest, it would have been awkward to say no, so I just did it.” “Sometimes you have to have lunch with girls you don’t want to have lunch with, and sometimes you have to have sex with boys you don’t want to have sex with.”