Society needs to stop thinking of men as slaves to their sexual urges, argues Holly Combe. She examines the damaging common idea that, once aroused, men become an unstoppable force that it would be rude – even immoral – to try to stop.
There’s been a fair bit of ‘freaking’ going on in rap, R&B, pop and soul music over the past decade. Missy Elliot, Adina Howard, The Sugababes, Another Level and Men of Vizion, to name a few, have all referred to it. (For those who may not know, to ‘freak’, in the sense of the verb, is to have sex and a ‘freak’, as I understand it, is a highly sexed person.)
You may also remember, back in May this year, a song called ‘Freak Mode’ by ‘The Reelists’. In all fairness, they’re a promising group and, musically, it’s a good track. The lyrics, however, left me feeling somewhat bemused. The whole thing, as I see it, is basically a paean to the way males are supposed to be completely beholden to their hormones, whether they like it or not. I haven’t seen the video but this customer review, which I recently found on www.amazon.co.uk enlightened me:
The video takes the prize, telling the ever old tale of how a man just can’t say no when its offered on a plate!!! Boys watch and learn, girls watch for plate throwing technique training.
I think this throwaway advice actually inadvertently reveals the truth of the matter. Boys are to learn to be incapable of saying no. I’ll explain the song further…
The scene is as follows; a guy meets a woman. He’s been seeing ‘a friend of hers’ (who, incidentally, is ‘everything you wish a girl can be’ and ‘the greatest treasure’ in his life). One day, his ‘baby’ comes home with her friend. In the next instalment, she receives a call and has to leave. Her friend then proceeds to seduce our protagonist, urging him to put his body into ‘Freak Mode’. It doesn’t take much for him to make the switch. One ‘sign’ from her, in the form of ‘flashing’ him ‘her behind’, and he’s right there, just like in the good old days when we were apes.
Throughout the song, our leading male’s frequent and apparently involuntary descents into ‘Freak Mode’ are further dramatised to the point of being comical. The music builds up during the bridge at a staccato pace that would not be out of place on ‘The Incredible Hulk’ as the central character hopelessly changes from man to beast. During this section of the song, the singer laments (in pained tones):
”This wasn’t meant to be.
Don’t know what came over me.
Now I’m ’bout to change my mind.
As I watch her from behind!’
All very old fashioned stuff really. But strangely enough, ‘freak’ is listed in the dictionary as meaning ‘abnormal’. Freak is an odd choice of word, when you consider what it usually appears to describe in most of the songs it crops up in. Was someone trying to give straight culture a makeover, I wonder? To make conventional sex appear marginalized and edgy, whilst simultaneously upholding it as the ideal? (I’m thinking of Adina Howard and the Sugababes singing about ‘the dog’ in them and that ‘a man has got to deal with it’. As far as I know, sex for dogs is pretty basic pro-creational stuff. They don’t bring each other off by hand or mouth or do anything much that a conservative might describe as ‘freaky’.)
What exactly takes place when the body is in ‘Freak Mode’? An altered state from which there is no return and the only possible outcome is to ‘freak’? Perhaps the bands name gives us some clue. In spelling the word ‘reelist’ differently, they are implying that, despite not appearing proper or correct, there is an authenticity to their outlook. It hints that they tell-it-like-it-really-is, cut the crap and keep things simple. Taken with the song lyrics it certainly all seems like a call for getting back to basics. Like the gloriously ludicrous Bloodhound Gang (remember ‘The Bad Touch’?), parading around in dog costumes and singing the praises of doing it ‘like they do on the discovery channel’, ‘The Reelists’ appear to be advocating a return to the ways of the animal kingdom, where the passive female gives the ‘sign’ and the dominant, yet paradoxically helpless male can only respond and set about his task (our man in ‘Freak Mode’ does try to ‘tell her no’ but it proves futile every time).
Society needs to stop thinking of men as slaves to their sexual urges, virtually incapable of refusing sex unless the person offering it is exceptionally unappealing (even then, often still expecting them to go ahead, provided the ‘beer goggles’ can be used as an excuse). Being turned down by a man is not necessarily an insult and, for a woman, could even be a sign of becoming liberated from one’s ascribed traditional gender role. It could also be liberating for the male who is doing the rejecting. After all, it must be quite exhausting keeping up the façade of being ever ready for sex in order to prove your masculinity.
The romantic notion of an unstoppable ‘masculine’ power, temporarily held in check by ‘feminine’ modesty, has been in place for centuries so it’s hardly surprising that it continues to seduce and persuade huge numbers of the population. That quaint phenomenon of being swept away by some greater force still holds the power to thrill. I admit that much of it does seem to me to be just a bit of hammy harmless fun or a game to be played out, if that’s what gets you off. There are plenty of strong women who are turned on by this set-up and I think it’s important that feminism does not become punitive or oppressive about this. None of us has the right to dictate how consenting people choose to conduct their sex lives or fantasies.
But then, It’s not people’s personal choices that are the problem. The oppression lies in society’s application of this ideal to virtually any sexual activity between men and women. What is truly restricting is our heterosexist culture’s willingness to accept this mythical uncontrolled power as the primary driving force behind male sexuality in general. The most significant concern is that this thinking may well be responsible for the excusing of rape.
I’m not about to denounce biology altogether, but the popular portrait of male sexuality often seems to be nothing more than ideology masquerading as scientific fact. Just look at the ‘Welcome-to-the-Real-World’ brigade (those who believe that a man’s sexuality can only ever really be driven by the prerogative to spread his seed). Have you ever noticed that they often show their true colours when they conclude that, if wilfully inflamed, a man ought to be able to access relief from the provocateur?
Sex education ought to be teaching teenagers that sexual intercourse is not somehow nobler than masturbation. It should not be considered humiliating to end up masturbating alone (however disappointed one might feel), when a partner exercises their right to change their mind. In fact, orgasm isn’t actually always strictly necessary anyway. For women and men alike, the feeling of arousal without orgasm, while uncomfortable, soon passes. Most of the sex education manuals or ‘Facts of Life’ books I’ve ever looked at have discounted any possible harm caused by ‘Blue Balls’. As a woman, I can report that I’ve certainly not become ill with pelvic congestion from those occasions when I’ve been thinking about sex and then had to redirect my thoughts, due to that unbearable stiff ache between my legs and the fact that I am in a place where I am too inhibited to masturbate (such as on the bus). Being ‘left high and dry’ during a sexual encounter can be frustrating for any of us but no one should ever become obligated to take responsibility for someone else’s sexual relief. The only reasonable thing to do, in these circumstances, is to take it like an evolved human being rather than an animal that knows no better.
But unfortunately, it still appears to be widely considered immoral, unfair and downright inhumane to deny the erect penis it’s right to ejaculate (and preferably within a vagina). If this sounds like an extreme claim, just consider that, logically speaking, the put-down ‘prick tease’ can only truly function in a society that upholds this moral. The term may not be as widely used as it was, but it’s a long way from becoming the laughably defunct term it should have by now. As Stevi Jackson says (in her 1999 ‘Trouble and Strife’ analysis of the findings of the Women Risk and AIDS research team’s book ‘The Male In the Head’), ‘a woman is not supposed to interrupt a man’s progression to orgasm’.
Of course, society still punishes the man who ‘loses control’ completely out of a correct context and rapes an ‘innocent stranger’. But then, it also berates the woman who incites a reaction within a sexual context but then resists a man’s efforts to see it through to its apparently inevitable conclusion.
If you can’t quite believe that this kind of attitude still exists, just take a look at The F-Word’s article on Irma Kurtz and Rape. You may remember, back in June 2001, a letter on Cosmo’s problem page from a woman who had experienced being ‘entered from behind’ by a male friend as she ‘pretended to be asleep’ (surely not a sexual signal by anyone’s standards?). She got a stern talking to from Agony Aunt Irma, who wanted to know what she was doing lying on a man’s bed if she did not expect him to ‘take it as an invitation.’? Even in the 21st century, we still have a long way to go.
The prevalent expectations and assumptions about what is meant to happen during a heterosexual encounter, or even just in the event of men and women being alone in a bed together, continue to be a huge obstacle for us all. We need to get rid of the commonly held idea that, once beyond a certain point during intimacy, men become an unstoppable force that it would be rude, even immoral, to try to stop. Where does this idea leave women who would like to enjoy casual sex without penetration? Sadly, attitudes like Irma’s make this kind of freedom seem almost impossible. It’s so disappointing to have to trot out the Virgin-Whore cliché but it seems as if we are still being scrutinised by these tired old standards.
We are conditioned to think that the sexual arena is not within our control and that if we enter into it, inevitable (‘male’) forces will take over from that point onward. We are encouraged to feel that if we put out sexual signals, we surrender ownership of our bodies and must accept what happens next. In other words, if we understand the consequences of putting a man’s body into ‘Freak Mode’ and accept the dominant definition of sex as conventional sexual intercourse, then we’re free to ‘flash our behinds’ all we like. If we don’t, then we’ll just have to play ‘virgin’.
Perhaps the way forward for us all, regardless of gender or sexuality, is to learn to check consent more effectively. It shouldn’t be seen as boring, or destroying the magic and spontaneity, to make sure everyone involved in a sexual situation is expecting or wanting the same thing. We aren’t mind readers. As more of us come out about our diverse sexualities, proper communication becomes essential. It’s no good harking back to a golden age when a man was a man and a woman a woman and we all, supposedly, hurtled towards our expected destiny quite happily, without a word or second thought. Times have changed. Our sexual manners just need to catch up.