This article quotes a description of alleged sexual harassment.
An op-ed suggesting mothers should buy sex toys for their daughters has created a bit of a stir on the Right. How could any mom think that her best mothering includes encouraging this sort of thing? Standing athwart history and handing your daughter a vibrator seems a bit dramatic. Of course the piece published in the United Kingdom’s Mirror is meant to push buttons and gather hate clicks. Most mom’s really aren’t out there pushing this sort of thing on their daughters.
But perhaps if you are a left-leaning mom, it’s all you have left. How else can any mother get a message through to her daughter that how she feels matters?
Many, such as David French at the National Review Online, make a very good case that a healthy culture encourages formation of healthy relationships before serious intimacy happens, and that a culture of consent is not sufficient for these challenges. The minimum expectation that the two sexes spend time getting to know each other before getting intimate, which by definition can’t be had if you don’t know the other, seems perfectly reasonable.
But imagine if you are a liberal blue state mom, and those types of ideas are tied in your mind to political opponents, yet you fear for the dating world your preteen daughter is preparing to enter. You talk, you gossip, you ask other mothers and you all admit to worrying about how boys will treat your daughters. The conversation turns to digital concerns, how much porn boys are watching and how it will impact how they treat your daughter. Stats on the shocking amount of anal sex and other acts now the norm in high school might be a common topic of concern. These mothers might struggle with a conflict between a pro-girl power culture and real-world evidence that teen sex seems to be heavily catering to pleasing boys.
Now there’s lots of research on both sides of the fence regarding the impact of porn. The one thing that is clear is that porn has become significantly easier to consume at much younger ages, and it’s not the mostly innocent images that were in your uncle’s Playboy. Much of the research ties early porn use with an inability or reduced interest in forming relationships. Porn in vast quantities becomes a substitution good for actual intimacy. This has created two challenges for women who are seeking actual intimacy from men. One, they are competing with porn for men’s attention, and two, when they do get that attention they aren’t being treated in a way that gives them pleasure.
Compare this finding from Robert Weiss, the founding director of the Sexual Recovery Institute, to an anonymous woman’s account of a date gone wrong with comedian Aziz Ansari. Here’s Weiss:
If a young man’s sexual experiences have exclusively involved using online porn as his primary vehicle to learn about sex and relationships, this young man may well struggle to develop the required skill-set to maintain healthy romantic and sexual partnerships. … In porn, there’s little talking, less seduction, no romancing and minimal — if any — tenderness displayed. Usually there is little kissing or foreplay. There is, however, an ever-changing stream of highly-arousing objectified body parts and sexual images.
Now take a look at the woman dubbed Grace’s account. After a rushed meal, the first date ends like this:
He said something along the lines of, “How about you hop up and take a seat?” Within moments, he was kissing her. “In a second, his hand was on my breast.” Then he was undressing her, then he undressed himself. She remembers feeling uncomfortable at how quickly things escalated. When Ansari told her he was going to grab a condom within minutes of their first kiss, Grace voiced her hesitation explicitly. “I said something like, ‘Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill.’” She says he then resumed kissing her, briefly performed oral sex on her, and asked her to do the same thing to him. She did, but not for long. “It was really quick. Everything was pretty much touched and done within ten minutes of hooking up, except for actual sex.”
Whether you believe that the above date becoming the new normal for men and women is caused by porn, by a failure to retain courtship rituals, or just by poor communication, it’s stories like these that could lead blue state mothers to rationalize buying vibrators for their daughters.
What’s missing from the majority of porn, and from this terribly executed date between Grace and Aziz is a woman knowing her own body and mind and respecting it. As you read more of Grace’s cringeworthy account, one wonders why she hung around. It wasn’t pleasurable for her, and I can’t be the only one wondering what woman was supposed to enjoy “the claw.”
What is the point of fighting for a woman’s right to have casual sex if this is the outcome? It’s clearly making Grace miserable. It’s even driven many feminists, such as Jessica Valenti, to admit the culture is not working.
While it’s a leap to rule out conventional responses as more appropriate than buying sex toys, a blue state mom, desperate and isolated from alternatives that would look and feel too conservative, is probably struggling. A woman learning what makes her feel good and then demanding that as her basic expectation in any sexual encounter seems to be a move in the right direction, if you can’t concede any ground on gender differences.
It’s a trap, that may make a more right-leaning person snicker, but I’d offer it’s worth understanding that mother on the other side of the aisle is as afraid as you are for our daughters. Her solutions may seem alien, but they are a place to start talking about shared interests and to build trust. For a world with less of these stories, we will need to find a way to build solutions across political aisles. No political opponent is so far gone that they wish for a world where this is the reality for their daughter.
#Metoo has opened the floodgates on an industry that will now have to reconcile how its artists who sneer at the conventional rules or values of a more conservative culture need those very values to protect themselves from predators. Similarly, solutions from mom’s that highlight pleasure as their only weapon for their daughters will fall short, but let’s acknowledge that a woman expecting pleasure as part of an encounter should just be an opening offer. She deserves so much more.