I’ve recently begun seeing someone after getting out of a truly toxic LTR. The new guy is freshly divorced, so we’re both in the same place as far as keeping our relationship not-too-serious. That said, we really like each other and have great sexual chemistry generally. The main issue I’ve come up against is how we initiate sexytimes. I’m fairly forward and crazily turned on by him, so I generally think nothing of just sort of jumping him whenever we’re alone. He, unfortunately, does not respond super well to this. His marriage (like many that end in divorce, I suppose) involved him essentially pleading for sex and rarely getting it. As a result, per him, he’s more or less trained to be turned on by initiating and is really thrown off by me coming on to him so boldly.
So I’m torn. On the one hand, I can get behind the idea of playing pseudo-submissive and making it into a sexy game of playing coy. On the other hand, I feel a little uneasy about being placed in a situation where I shouldn’t initiate based on a whole host of me-way-overthinking-things: that this sets me up as a “bad girl” who needs to be “good” in order to please this guy (a dichotomy I reject), that I’m giving up some sort of agency by never initiating (I read too many feminist blogs maybe?), and sadly, some basic self esteem issues (don’t you want to bang me?!).
How do I resolve my desire with his preferences?
First of all, congratulations on getting out of your toxic LTR, and even more congratulations on having such a healthy and positive perspective of sex so soon out of the gate! I like you already!
I’m going to forge ahead, although I’m not sure what “does not respond super well” means here. It’d be very different if he actually doesn’t get turned on at all by your advances (like, ED not-turned-on) than if he just doesn’t feel 100% comfortable taking a passive role, but still enjoys sexytimes once they’ve been initiated. Similarly, what you call his “training” from his previous marriage is a little fuzzy to me: does this mean that he only has substantial experience with being the initiator and therefore feels more confident that way, or is this his friendly code for the fact that he really prefers to be dominant?
I think the issue of dominance, and by extension that of sexual personality, is really what’s at issue here. This might be un-politically-feminist or whatever of me, but I’ve never been big on the “personal is the political” idea, especially when it comes to sex. I see what it’s getting at, and it’s not wrong, per se, but with a background in porn criticism, I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit and talked to a lot of people about said crazy shit. My anecdotally-derived conclusion is that people get off on what they get off on, whether it suits their public persona, personal politics, or anything else. As long as they’re enjoying it and nobody is being harmed for them to do so, I think it’s a big mistake for people to try to squeeze their sexual personalities into someone else’s idea of what’s PC. We’ve all got our personalities in the bedroom, and they’re often very different from our personalities anywhere else. And what it sounds like, here, is that you are both are more aggressive than recessive, more dominant than submissive, and more inclined to want things done your way when it comes to initiating sex.
But that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker. Since you both just came out of long term relationships, this could be a great time to play with those dynamics and see if either of you are interested in playing different roles than you’re accustomed to. It might take a little while to get to a point where you’re comfortable venturing out of your comfort zones, but I think it’s quite important to try to reach past what you’re used to. It could turn out that you both have lots of exploring to do. If your guy really was “trained” by his withholding wife to be the initiator, he may find that submitting to your whims is fun for him… but it might take some time for him to relax about it. Or, he might discover that he doesn’t like letting someone else have control. Either way, I think it’s worth having a conversation about it and then trying to do things your way, to see what the possibilities are.
But it’s not all on him, obviously. Like you said yourself, this might be you overthinking things.
You seem to have a straightforward approach to sex, which is great. You sound open-minded, and you expressed interest in playing with coyness in role-playing. So give it a try! It’s ok to call it role-playing if it’s not in your nature to be that way—and it’s ok to enjoy it! Stretching your muscles to try something that your partner thinks is sexy can be fun and exciting for both of you. It could turn out that you guys can take turns initiating and playing the role of aggressor, and enjoy it either way. Or, perhaps, your sexual personalities aren’t compatible. But you can at least give it a try both ways and see what happens.
And please don’t spend too much mental energy beating yourself up for not being a “strong woman” in charge of your sexuality if enjoy letting a guy take charge. It doesn’t sound to me like this needs to be about gender politics or bedroom identities as they pertain to feminism. Rather, it sounds like this is about figuring out what works for you two consenting adults in your private time together, and enjoying the shit out of it. Not every micro-action we take in our personal lives needs to be a reflection of our gender politics, and sometimes inverting the rules of those politics can be a huge turn-on, so long as nobody is taking away the wrong message from sexy fun-time. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, but it seems to me that if this guy is into an awesome, feminist, and outspoken woman like you, he’s probably not going to walk away from a sexual encounter thinking of you in terms of the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy.
I guess what I’m saying is, try not to worry about whether what you’re doing in private is the proper embodiment of your feminist politics. The way I’ve always seen feminism is that it should be a platform through which we aim to give every woman the right and the ability to do whatever she wants—even if that means doing and enjoying things that don’t seem to fit the “Girl Power” prerogative. Some of the most outspoken, politically active, and badass feminists I know are sexual submissives—check out Madison Young’s work for a prime example. She gets tied up and fucked on camera, but is an outspoken advocate of feminism and queer visibility. She also runs a nonprofit art gallery that supports and gives exhibition space to the LGBTQ community, and she’s just written a book about her subversive, pornographic feminism.
All I’m getting at is that what you do for kicks in the bedroom, as long as you and your partner are enjoying it, and discussing any potential issues that come up as a result of it in a grown-up way, is totally up to you. It may turn out in the long run that you guys are just both really into being “aggressors” naturally, and can’t get into seducing each other effectively because your bedroom personalities clash. If so, then that sucks. But I think you owe it to yourselves to explore your sexualities in ways that you may not have been able to in your LTRs, and see if anything clicks. If it does, you have nobody that you need to justify your actions to. Just lots of hot sex to be had.
—Your friendly neighborhood sexpert columnist, Lynsey G.
IMAGE: Winston Thompson Jr. for MPIS Photography.
Lynsey G is a writer, reviewer, interviewer, columnist and blogger writing for and about sex, feminism, and porn since 2007. Formerly a smut scribe for Fox, Juggs, and Tight magazines, she’s also written for xoJane, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Corset Magazine, TOSKA, MadisonBound.com, and WHACK! Magazine. She’s still on a high after winning a 2013 Feminist Porn Award for her short film, “Consent: Society,” and is now at work blogging at her own website and working on a few books of various types.