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Your spouse mentions that you haven’t had sex in weeks. You’re not really in the mood but, hey, it has been a long time and you just don’t want to get into a thing about sex — again — so you give in. The person you’ve been seeing for a few weeks asks you to do a certain sex act; you’re uncomfortable with it, but you reluctantly agree to go along because you really want this relationship to work out. You got drunk at a college party and can’t make it home but you’re not sure you really want to sleep on the couch that you saw someone spill beer on earlier that night, so you cozy into the host’s bed thinking you might owe some action for “providing shelter.” 

Are you a man or a woman?

I’m thinking you answered correctly; most women would recognize themselves in those situations at least once, if not more, in their life. And the funny — or actually not so funny — thing about it is, women are constantly advised to have sex with their partner whether they’re interested in it or not.

Sex as relationship ‘investment’

Take psychotherapist and She Comes First author Ian Kerner’s post, Charity Sex vs. Pity Sex, on the Good in Bed blog:

You may be bristling at the phrase “charity sex.” If you’re a woman, perhaps it brings to mind past, award-worthy, faked orgasms. Or maybe it reminds you of that time you bit your tongue and had sex because you were sick of hearing him ask for it. If you’re a guy, you might be thinking, “better than nothing.” Or possibly, just possibly, you assume I’m referring to guilt-induced sex … the sort you engage in because you feel bad for not throwing your partner a bone lately … the sort you suffer through, only to feel resentment later on. But don’t equate charity sex with pity sex. Rather, see charity sex as a means of reestablishing a connection with your partner, and of making an important investment in your relationship. Think of it as a donation, rather than an assessment. tweet

Samantha Rodman, aka Dr. Psych Mom, may be the only woman I’ve heard of who insists the same of men: “I truly believe with my whole heart that women should have sex when they don’t want to. Pick yourself off the floor and get ready to faint with shock again, because I THINK MEN SHOULD ALSO HAVE SEX WHEN THEY DON’T WANT TO.”

I generally don’t hear too many people advising men to give it up when they’re not in the mood, so kudos to her. And kudos to a gay guy on Thought Catalog for admitting that sometimes he’s not in the mood but he’s had sex anyway:

There have been times when I’ve had zero interest in having sex but I relent because I don’t want to let my partner down. WTF? Why can’t I just say, ‘I’m not in the mood’? Why do I feel like my dick gets chopped off when I say that? Women deal with a major set of pressures when it comes to having sex but men do as well.” tweet

I don’t know if hetero men feel the same way. And, I’m pretty sure they aren’t being pressured by therapists and relationship experts to have sex when they’re not in the mood.

Often when our man isn’t in the mood, we gals tend to blame ourselves. As one woman writes in Elephant Journal, when a relationship with a boyfriend who had a much lower libido than hers ended, “for a long time afterwards, I felt I was largely to blame for the end of that relationship, and I lost one of the few men who loved me for me and wasn’t with me just to ‘get some.'”

Where were the advice columnists telling Mr. Low Libido to man up and fake it until he could make it, and give his woman some sexual pleasure?

Maybe we gals feel it’s our fault because some men actually think it is, which is what a CafeStir blogger found when she polled a bunch of guys.

And if he’s sexually bored, guess who’s advised to amp it up? Yeah, you know who.

Do you sense a familiar theme?

‘Thank you’ sex

But what was most disturbing to me was to discover in Lisa Wade’s new book, American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, how many young women feel that they owe a man sex because he paid for dinner or drove her home or because he was “providing shelter.”

Wade writes about Mara, a young woman whose girlfriends skipped out on her at a house party at which she drank too much and had no way to get home — clearly a bad situation. The party host offered to let her crash on the couch, but she’d seen someone spill beer on it earlier that night. “At this point it was very late,” she told Wade, “and I was very tired so I figured I just had to take my chances.”

Rather than sleep on the couch, she joined the party host in bed because, Wade writes, “she felt obligated to hook up with her host. In her mind, she owed him a hookup because he was ‘providing shelter.’ Sleeping on the couch was akin to having bad manners.”

Please just absorb that for a minute. A young man allowed her to sleep at his place and she believed it would better to offer her body — risking pregnancy and disease and perhaps self-esteem — rather than display bad manners (or, for that matter, sleep on a beer-soggy couch)?

I can’t help thinking that our efforts to “empower” (a word I hate, BTW) women has failed if a woman believes she has to give up her body to thank a man whose is doing something nice but not, you know, really going out of his way. It’s not like he had to struggle or suffer in any way — emotionally, physically, economically or all three — to make his couch be a reasonable bed substitute or, even, better, offer to sleep on the couch so she could sleep on his bed.

The idea of hookup culture — versus pleasurable casual sex — is disturbing. But more disturbing is the idea that women believe — and still are told — that we owe men sex.

We don’t. Not for a dinner, not for a drink, not for a ride home, not for a beer-soaked couch or a shared bed, not for any kindness. A heartfelt “thank you” or a reciprocal meal or drink is probably good enough.

And that thinking contributes to a society where men feel entitled to our bodies — to often horrific results (I’m thinking of Santa Barbara mass murderer Elliot Rodger).

Sex in relationships

While some couples are quite happy not having sex, most are not and an argument can be made that if you’re in a committed relationship and you’re not in the mood for sex for a length of time, well, OK — you might want to be open to exploring why; there’s probably a treasure trove of reasons, some complicated (a history of sexual abuse, religious upbringing, body shame, etc.) and some not (raising young kids, menopause, emotional labor, etc.). I don’t think it’s OK to let it continue without introspection and honesty; people who are stuck in a sexless marriage suffer, too.

But in times like this, when women’s reproductive rights are coming under assault, when men view women as “hosts” for babies and when even having access to contraception is threatened, it’s irresponsible and dangerous to tell women that they owe men sex — even if it’s “charity” sex to make an “investment in your relationship.” If that “investment” costs us our health, mental or physical, or results in a pregnancy we may not want, well, that’s a price we may want to pay.

Want to explore consensual non-monogamy? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon.

2 Responses to “Do women owe men sex?”

  1. Jono says:

    I only want to have a sexual encounter or relationship if it is mutual. If I have ever not been in the mood (it has actually happened on occasion) I have been okay with being talked into it. I have done without for long periods of time and finding a willing partner is not always easy, but the results are much better. I hope I have never made anyone feel obligated.

  2. Rob says:

    No woman owes me sex. However, if she is not hot for me and ready to hit the sack early on (say 2-3 dates) then there are plenty of others out there who will. That is the beauty of being single. You don’t have to put up with entitled, prudish behavior from women but if you are married you are stuck.

    Since so many women out there (esp. American women) expect you to pay their way these days I don’t spend much money on them unless I am relatively certain I am going to get sex earlier rather than later. If they put out then they get wined and dined. If not, then: next, please!! 😉

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