How Sexist Stereotypes Are Destroying Your Sex Life
How Sexist Stereotypes Are Destroying Your Sex Life
Sexism is everywhere. From peanut butter commercials and sitcoms to boardrooms and sex education classrooms, there is no escaping the dichotomy of men versus women.
While sex and gender inform our identity and behaviours, sex stereotypes only talk about the differences between men and women while disregarding the range among the sexes (including the fact that not all people identify as male or female).
The costs of this polarization in terms of income, politics and social mobility are obvious. But we often disregard the havoc sexism wreaks in intimate relationships.
Sexist generalizations may seem harmless on the surface, but the insidious nature of sexism positions men and women against one another and limits sexual exploration, expression and by extension, pleasure.
1. Gender Norms
There is absolutely nothing wrong with embracing gender norms that appeal to you, but many of us never had the opportunity to express gender beyond cultural norms. In some cases, sexism is so subtle that we don’t realize how it impacts our day-to-day interactions. Read through some of the top gender-based stereotypes and consider how you can rethink these assumptions to improve your sex life:
2. Male Sexuality Needs to Be Controlled
The notion that men are untamed sexual beasts ready to pounce at any moment is not only erroneous, but pretty frightening. It puts pressure on men to live up to the stereotype and this often leads to the expectation that men should always be the ones initiating sex. In male-female relationships this often leads to a familiar pattern of frustration, an imbalance in rejection, resentment and ultimately, dry spells in the bedroom. Men who don’t fall into this very limiting category may face additional challenges that can result in relationship and sexual functioning issues. What’s worse is the fact that framing male sexuality as uncontrollable often underpins aggressive behaviour. In cases of sexual harassment and violence, this ridiculous stereotype is used to scapegoat the victim and excuse destructive behaviour.
3. The Friend Zone
Does she just want to be his friend while he pines for something more? Though the concept of the friend zone can swing in many directions, it is often used to bemoan a woman’s sexual rejection of a man who has positioned himself as her friend. Rooted in the belief that women owe men sex in exchange for kindness and friendship, the entitled notion of the “friend zone” undermines consent, denies agency and damages both friendly and intimate interactions.
4. All Women Are Bisexual
Mainstream porn may suggest that all women are bisexual, but this misconception prevails on account of a particular lens of male fantasy that discounts women’s sexual pleasure and agency suggesting that women have sex for men as opposed to for ourselves. Porn may frame female fluidity as the norm and many television programs may have followed suit, but the reality is that not all women desire or are attracted to other women. In some circles, compulsory bisexuality has become the norm to the detriment of straight, bisexual and lesbian lovers alike.
5. Good Girls Don’t
Framing women as gatekeepers of sex is not only problematic from a health perspective (if women aren’t supposed to want sex in the first place, how are we supposed to prepare for it in the necessary emotional, physical and practical ways?), but also wreaks havoc on otherwise healthy relationships. When men are supposed to beg for sex while women resist and use this denial as a tool of manipulation, both parties suffer. This interaction can result in poor communication lines, inequitable expectations, anger and relationship dissatisfaction.
6. Women Are Emotional Men Are Simple.
If you’ve ever dated a man, you know that they’re far from simple. Men are far more complex than the sex and sport-obsessed Neanderthals depicted in most beer commercials, so let’s stop treating them like one-dimensional dimwits. And when it comes to sex and relationships, research actually suggests that men and women display similar emotional attitudes and same-sex couples face many of the challenges as opposite-sex couples. Even if you consider the women’s supposed emotional intelligence a positive stereotype, it can still create negative outcomes including unmet expectations and challenges specific to women who feel they don’t meet these unrealistic gender-based standards. Explaining conflicts as a matter of gender difference prevents you from resolving the root issue and often leads different versions of the same fight over and over again. Attributing sexual differences (e.g. desire levels, communication styles) to gender alone is equally harmful, as in discounting a discussion of your individual needs in favour of simplistic assumptions, your partner remains ignorant to your sexual needs, fantasies, concerns and interests.
7. Men Are Strong. Women Are Weak
For many of us, the allure of sex is rooted in escapism. Pushing and defying our physical, emotional, psychological and identity-based norms cultivates both excitement and intimacy. This is why it isn’t uncommon for high-power leaders to relish in the delight of submission in the bedroom. But rigid sex stereotypes that frame men as dominant and women as submissive limit the exploration of fantasy, roles and activities that defy these boundaries and often result in disappointment and boredom in the bedroom.
Gender roles can be a source of inspiration or contention in relationships depending on how you feel about your own role. You’ll likely find that some cultural prescriptions suit your needs, so go ahead and embrace those while making a conscious effort to reject the stereotypes that hinder arousal, intimacy and pleasure. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy sex and you’re always allowed to change your mind, so keep exploring, talking and learning from your missteps.