ALL Men are Sex-Crazed Porn Fiends!

I have mixed feelings about Dan Savage.  On one hand, some of his advice and commentary is fantastic and sorely needed (it’s a good idea to talk about kinks and desires with partners, and to try to explore your partner’s requests if you can; people need to grow the fuck up and accept that queer people exist and want rights; monogamy will not work for all people all the time) and the It Gets Better Project, while limited in its scope, has helped a lot of people and brought a lot of visibility to the problems queer (or perceived to be queer) and gender non-conforming kids face.

However.  Savage has a pretty poor record regarding bisexuals, sexual obligations within relationships, trans folks, vaginas in general (I believe his exact quote was that they look like a “canned ham dropped from a great height”), fat people, and also, apparently, asexuals!  I saw this Poly in Pictures comic last week that linked to this letter from a Savage Love podcast listener, and even though the post in question is two years old (which I didn’t realize until I was mostly done writing this post, oops), I’m frustrated enough by his response that I think it’s still worth commenting on.  (My goal here isn’t to simply shit-talk Dan Savage, but Fuck No Dan Savage is a good place to start if you want to see how it’s done.)

Maybe the most infuriating part of his response, in my mind, is how it mindlessly reinforces the idea that men are sexually driven in a way that women aren’t, that it’s the underlying drive in their lives.  What about men with low sex drives, or whose sexual needs can be taken care of by masturbation?  Savage fucking loves to tell the people who write him that they should open up their relationship if they can’t get their needs met within it, so why couldn’t this boyfriend be with his asexual girlfriend and have a sexual relationship with someone else?  There’s no indication that this is the case, but it sounds like something he’d suggest so why doesn’t he assume that’s happening?  He doesn’t even mention it in his response.

Dan Savage spends a lot of time in his columns talking about male sexual desire and has several times said things like “all men look at porn” and “if your boyfriend tells you he doesn’t look at porn, he’s lying.”  My problem here is that these statements, like “all men want sex all the time and will never compromise on that,” are clearly not true – even if most men look at porn sometimes or have high sex drives, there’s no way it’s universal.  I’m trying to think of a universal statement you can make about any group of humans, but even something like “we want to not be horribly maimed and murdered” probably has a tiny handful of exceptions who would squirm happily in their seats upon hearing that.

What happens when this “men are driven by sex and porn” idea becomes the dominant one is that non-porn-loving men, or those with lower or nonexistent sex drives, are left out of the discussion.  When so much importance is placed on the male sex drive, can we really expect these outliers to accurately report their level of sexual desire? BEING A MAN is so closely tied into sexual prowess and conquest that when they’re asked to self-report their desires or habits, less- or non-sexual men might inflate or exaggerate their responses so they won’t feel abnormal.  Maybe they’ll opt out of self-reporting altogether.  Savage does little to acknowledge the huge spectrum of sexual desires and behaviors across genders, in this and many other contexts.  Instead, he just assumes that any man who forgoes sex in a romantic relationship is some sort of dupe or liar.  Classy, and also insulting to this person who is (presumably) an adult who is able to make his own informed relationship decisions.

So sure, this unnamed boyfriend may be closeted and relieved that he can have a beard and not need to fake sexual interest in her.  He might be a fool for compromising on sex to hold onto the relationship (although that’s his choice, so I don’t see how it’s foolish if it’s what he’s up for).  But maybe he’s asexual himself, or has very few sexual needs.  Maybe he likes this woman and the relationship enough that he’s willing to compromise on sex and will rely on masturbation or outside encounters for sexual fulfillment.  Maybe he loves sex but not in a way that makes it the driving force in his life.

Every relationship, no matter how fantastic, involves some amount of compromise; there’s no reason to think they couldn’t compromise on sex.  I enjoy sex for sure, but my sex drive isn’t that high; I could see myself in a successful relationship with someone who was asexual as long as that person was ok with nonsexual affectionate touch.  “No snuggling” would be more of a dealbreaker for me than “no fucking,” in most situations.

Also: one thing I’ve learned, after years of worrying about what words best describe me and seeing many friends do the same, is that you need to fucking respect other people’s identities.  If you say you’re asexual, it’s not my fucking place to tell you that you aren’t.  GAY PEOPLE GET THIS ALL THE TIME.  “You haven’t met the right woman yet.”  “How can you know you’re gay if you haven’t even fucked a man?”  “You just think you’re queer because you were abused as a child.”  Any of that sound familiar?

I would think that a GAY MAN (or so he says – how can he be trusted to know this sort of thing about himself?) might accept that a stranger he DOESN’T KNOW might be happy in an asexual relationship, or asexual himself.  I realize that part of his job is taking one-sided stories from readers and trying to come up with some insight based on limited information, but he has no reason to doubt this woman’s claim that she and her boyfriend are happy other than his own beliefs about the nature of male sexuality.

Considering how much identity-policing I see within the wider queer community, I can’t say I’m surprised by this reaction, but it’s still upsetting.  Folks need to learn to trust other people to represent their identities accurately and respect those identities, even if they might sound different from their own ideas of that identity.  Identity politics is a huge and thorny enough issue to warrant its own post, but there’s no way I could wrap this up without giving it a mention.

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4 Responses to ALL Men are Sex-Crazed Porn Fiends!

  1. Em says:

    Asexuality is, to me, seen even more of an abhorration than most people who consider themselves any other sexual orientation or identity. We admit that most of us like sex, but for someone to say “I don’t like sex,” or “I don’t want a sexual partner” is just weird in society, and people often jump to conclusions that they were molested or have sometype of horrible psychological issues that need to be fixed. The thing I think people need to keep in mind, is that as long as the person is HAPPY with their lifestyle, aka they don’t wish they could have sex and feel held back, then it’s no one’s business. It’s just like any other type of orientation or identity.

    • Sometimes I think the reaction some folks have to asexuals is like hearing someone doesn’t like something like chocolate or ice cream. You think “wait, ice cream is FANTASTIC and EVERYONE likes it! How can you not like it???” and maybe get so caught up in your own positive feelings about ice cream that you forget that it’s not a personal failing to dislike it.

  2. Geneva says:

    I completely agree with your blog post. Whenever I’ve listened to Dan Savage (many of my girlfriends have recommended I listen to his podcast) I get frustrated. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because my S.O. is very much *not* opened about anything sex related with friends. I’ll just say that differing sexual appetites DOESN’T mean the partner with the lower drive is “cheating” or watching copious amounts of porn. Everyone is different, and it frustrates me when people apply gender stereotypes to sexual appetites.

    Em, I agree with your statement on asexuality. Just because someone doesn’t want a sexual partner doesn’t mean there is something wrong. Everyone is different and beautiful and that is truly amazing. (I’m going to stop here before I start ranting about how beautiful the planet, existence, and science is. Yeah, I’m that cheesy. :P)

    • I’ve never listened to Dan Savage’s podcast but I’ve read his column for years. Somehow I am guessing he might sound smarmier on there than I imagine his voice in my head.

      I have dealt with having a moderately-to-extremely low sex drive for, um, several years now so while I do not identify at all as asexual, I am super-defensive about people dissing folks who are asexual or feel sexual less often or less intensely. A lot of communication, nonsexual physical affection, and fabulous sex when it does happen have kept it from being a real problem in my relationship, but it can still be tough for me when I feel like there’s this huge gulf between what I feel and what I want to feel.

      I agree that sexual diversity in all forms is pretty fantastic! High-fives all around!

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