Ann Marlowe's "No Intercourse, Please -- We're Enlightened!" hits some raw nerves with readers.

Published October 2, 2003 7:54PM (EDT)

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Where do I begin with Ann Marlowe's uninformed generalizations? Maybe with this: "Men in their 20s -- well, the Ivy League, professional sorts I meet, with their yoga classes and exquisite sensitivity ... "

Hmm ... Ann can't find a man who's "masculine" enough, but God forbid she should have to come in contact with someone who isn't a privileged, pampered Harvard man. Try hooking up with a guy who gets his hands dirty for a living -- you may be surprised to find he's not afraid of getting his hands dirty in the bedroom either.

-- Mark Knopfler

I was speechless after reading this. I never expected a woman to admit that a lot of the stuff -- good stuff -- that women have fought for has made such a wreck of our lives. I am one of the most sensitive, pussy-whipped guys I know. I act just as my mother and female teachers and professors have taught me to. I give head and try to keep a 2:1 orgasm ratio with my girlfriends. I treat women with total outward respect. But inside, I loathe them. I feel manipulated. I feel badgered. I feel that whereas in the past the home was woman's domain, now that domain has spread to the entire world. I dutifully nod in agreement with derisions of the bad old patriarchal paradigm imposed on women by evil men, while secretly suspecting that those men acted that way because their mothers and wives said they liked it -- just as today's men act like women because they've been told that women like that.

I absolutely believe in political/economic/educational equality. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe a woman is every bit as good as a man at doing anything that doesn't involve chasing pigs through jungles to feed villages. I don't, however, believe that means that we have to act the same in every regard. I'd kinda like to be a guy, if that's OK. And I'd kinda like to be with a woman who'd kinda like to be a girl.

Can we call a truce?

-- Aaron Batty

As a 25-year-old woman living in a famous college town (a college from which she and most of her friends graduated), I find my erotic and romantic life, and that of my friends, very different from what Ms. Marlowe suggests it should be. And I'm insulted for myself and my male friends.

As a very strong woman with a love of things often considered "masculine" and a need to be treated as an equal by both male friends and lovers, I find myself given a lot of respect by the men around me. I do not find that they "exhibit bad manners" or that in any way "respect and tenderness has disappeared." I am currently in a relationship with a man who is everything the writer suggests all men in their 20s are -- comfortable in androgyny, dresses in oversize T-shirts and baggy pants, and is no more macho than I am. And he's fabulous, a true friend.

And we have a very erotic sex life, which leads me to question Ann Marlowe's rather strange rant against oral sex. Where did she find out that oral sex is replacing intercourse? Or could she just be confusing the facts -- that more modern women than before are now feeling comfortable asking for oral sex, and do enjoy the fact that it allows a give-take exchange for giving head to men? But, in my very wide circle of friends, from ages 20-36, I find that there is not exactly an erosion of people having intercourse. Or enjoying it thoroughly. To be honest, the whole suggestion is rather bizarre, and feeds into the media-bred paranoia over how many teenagers are using oral sex instead of intercourse to get each other off. As the first generations who've never not heard about AIDS, is that so surprising?

I also find it fascinating that the author makes these grand claims about the unsensual, pussy-whipped young men of today, and yet doesn't pull out any masculine, all-pleasing older men to compare them to. This is probably because they don't exist, and if they do, they're highly flawed. I've dated a couple of men more than 10 years older than me, and I was very disappointed. Out of bed, they were faintly controlling and often subtly chauvinistic, sometimes suggesting that as much as they adored me they'd really like it if I was more feminine sometimes. The same was true in bed -- I had to ramp down my eroticism so they could be "in control" and they were rarely comfortable with the fact that I was just as sexually hungry as they were. I quickly went back to men in my age bracket.

This is hard to say without being insulting, but I think the writer is doing nothing more than showing her age in this article. The idea that women "put themselves in the power of men" during intercourse is just a rewording of the tired old idea that sex means women are "giving themselves" to men. And thus, to an extent, are victims. It's an outdated notion. Like the whole article it yearns for a nonexistent, romance-novel utopia where Men are Men and Women are Women but the men treat the women really well and give them mind-blowing sex while protecting and taking care of them.

History shows us this was not and never will be the case. She may also be taking a common occurrence -- getting older, looking at a younger generation way of doing things and finding it alien and unappealing -- and blowing it up into a whole conspiracy theory of why We Are Flawed, Unable to Trust Each other and Having Really Bad Sex to boot.

I'm sorry Ms. Marlowe is not satisfied by the men in their 20s these days, but, speaking for myself and my other female friends in the same age bracket, we are.

And we're getting great head.

-- Emily

Ann Marlowe's article sounds to me like she is blaming men for their feminization since the feminist revolution. She goes on to talk about the fact that many younger men are seething with resentment at women. Gee, I wonder why? I'm a 24-year-old man (man, not male, not boy, man) and articles like this are part of the reason I refuse to do anything more than have casual dating/sex.

The feminist "revolution" was nothing more than a self-appropriated license for whoredom. On top of that, it was a demand that men start acting more like women. Which we did. And now the women blame us for being feminine. Make up your little female minds already!!! The reason I don't want to date or marry lies with what has become of modern women. They act like they know it all and like they don't need men, so they treat us like commodities. They can't be trusted to be faithful because they are always looking for a better deal. And God forbid they put any effort into how they look. A little makeup and a skirt ain't gonna make everyone think you're a housewife, babe. But it will make me give you a second glance, and it will tell me that you care about how you look. But even if a woman does do that, how can I ever date her if the first thing I'd want to do after having a child with her is get a DNA test, just to be sure it's mine?

Modern science has, of late, proved that men and women are very, very different, and now, thanks to the premature enlightenment of the feminist revolution, generations of people my age, already scarred from a huge divorce rate, are even more confused as to what women want. So we give up. They are on their own until they can get their acts together and learn how to be women again and not faux men.

-- Greg Hevia

Fascinating article. It may explain some of the reasons why I feel like a 31-year-old enlightened atavism at times. I assume that treating a woman equally means assuming equal force of libido and desire, and that coming together as two aware individuals into mutual consummation is the ultimate in equality. More fool I.

I also like fucking, and I can't stand oral sex, of either kind. It's too impersonal and distant and mechanical and intellectual. I'm an intellectual under the worst conditions, and sometimes I just want to turn it off. It's when you turn off the intellectualizing and touch the core that tenderness and trust become an option.

I've had these relationships in the past couple years where nothing got accomplished except an endless round of politics and gender-based power struggles. I suppose I could have gotten what I wanted if I'd just assumed the role of the insatiable male begging for his crumb of comfort. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. I only like it when it's apparent that she likes it. I merely assume that if two people want each other they should have each other, and let Andrea Dworkin worry about the semiotics. Again, more fool I.

The only part about the article that I take issue with is the infantilizing of young men (those in their 20s). Have you seen the young women out there? If I have to play father as well as lover I might as well adopt, and short-circuit the only thing that ties our poor neurotic genders together.

-- Ted Ollier

Reading this article put me in mind of a friend of mine (we are both black and in our early 30s) who often goes on at length about how things were better in the days of segregation. Of course it's bullshit, but it sounds daring and outré to say so. And so it is with this whine tricked out as daring and outré analysis. Are men neutered and resentful? Probably, but equality is not what did it. It's the insane, shifting demands of women like Ms. Marlowe, who want to be equal (but not like that) and want to have options (but tell me what to want, Daddy) that's to blame. Her romanticization of cultures in which women are regarded as inferior at best is sad indication of someone who wishes to escape reason and accountability. Sorry, but we men have shouldered enough (rightful) blame in the past. We will not be indicted for the sin of your emancipation.

-- Reynald A. Perry

What kind of backlash crap is this? Could Anne Marlowe have possibly squeezed one more bitter stereotype into her piece? She needs to stop projecting her obviously biased (she has clearly never given nor received fantastic oral sex) experiences onto the entire sexual universe. It's like she has an underlying insecurity that some woman out there might possibly have a sensitive, respectful, non-manhandling partner and be having stellar sex with him. Well, those fears are confirmed -- plenty of us do!

-- Courtney Kerns

Funny how Ann Marlowe's article seems to set oral sex against fucking without ever mentioning them as one package. Seems the generation I come from -- no pun intended -- late baby boom, worked them together, with oral sex as high-grade foreplay. By the way, giving oral sex, for me, is like an aphrodisiac, a real physical one possibly based on pheromones running from my partner's juices, inciting primal strength and urges I cannot tap any other way. I ceased to feel like performing it was an obligatory form of submission to a political need so long ago that I can't remember if I really ever felt that way about it to begin with. Shit. Now I'm horny.

-- Peter D. Barry

If anything, the "new feminists" are more sexually free than their forebears. They're more confident in what they want (which is often fucking, to the delight of their partners). Just because Marlowe seems to prefer intercourse to oral sex doesn't make the opposite true for an entire generation of women. Since she didn't bother asking any actual women in their 20s to early 30s what they thought, here's a quote for her, from me, a 31-year-old woman: "I like men who expect to pitch in with washing dishes, and who are affectionate and considerate of my feelings. I like giving and receiving oral sex -- which, to me, is more intimate than regular intercourse precisely because it is about giving and receiving. I also like to talk dirty, wear slutty lingerie, and get thrown on the bed and seriously fucked. I don't see any conflict between these things, and frankly, neither do my partners."

-- Erin

Just because Ann Marlowe is having bad sex does she really have to project all of her own fears and insecurities on the rest of us? Her misanthropic diatribe tells us more about her own shallow, frustrated life than emerging cultural trends.

Marlowe uses her own personal misery as evidence that "radical feminists" have had their dreams realized, that all people prefer shopping over sex and that all men are lousy lovers because they've lost their dominance over women. There is absolutely no evidence for almost anything she's talking about, especially since she's making such ridiculously broad, superficial pronouncements that all young men are "pussy-whipped" and everyone is having bad sex because of feminism. Her piece is nothing more than "culture war" clichés strung together, scapegoating feminism for emasculating men to the point that modern men are too feminine to be attractive, and wistful pining for the days when men were "real" men and women were the weaker sex.

I'd like to know -- did someone at Salon actually read this piece before Salon published it? Salon has set much higher standards for itself than printing the rantings of an "upper-middle class" middle-aged woman glaring at society and myopically identifying how everything must mirror her own pathetic life.

-- Hedda Kniess

Believe it or not, there's a whole other world out there. A world where men didn't go to Ivy League schools, don't do yoga and like to fuck a lot. Hell, they probably like to fuck hard, deep and long, the old fashioned way that you seem to be pining for.

Unsatisfied with the men in your peer group? Well, try going somewhere else. Try meeting men who didn't go to college, don't have hangups about their masculinity and lift heavy things around for a living. You might be surprised to find a man who is not only exciting in bed, but also respectful, loving and intelligent.

I'm not suggesting you hang out at truck stops to get your kicks. However perhaps you should get out of the current grind. Maybe a trip to Italy would help?

-- James Davey

I don't understand Salon's reasons for publishing this article. Its hazy-lazy opinions (based on what? the personal experiences of a 45-year-old who doesn't want to have sex with guys in their 20s? Gasp!) are neither interesting nor enlightening. No studies are cited and no anecdotes (besides the author's) are related. After blathering on about the sex lives of 20-year-olds I'm not convinced that Ann Marlowe even bothered to speak to one. I'm a woman in her 20s, in a sexually satisfying relationship with a man in his 20s. Maybe because he affects the styles of the day he may appear "androgynous" to Ms. Marlowe. I don't see what that has to do with his lovemaking abilities. Men have been dressing androgynously for centuries. Were the pony-tailed men of the 18th century too "woman-identified" to "fuck" a woman? However, despite the fact that I fit into the demographic that Ms. Marlowe chooses to write about, I will not attempt to put forward my own generalizations about the sex lives of people in their 20s. Why? Because just like Ms. Marlowe, I haven't done my homework.

-- Elizabeth Clark

I just finished reading Ann Marlowe's "No sex please -- we're enlightened." When I was done laughing my ass off, I thanked the powers that be for making me a lesbian. My partner of 10 years and I still fuck and suck each other with joyful abandon -- and no bizarre hangups about who does what to whom and whether we should be enjoying it or not.

And if Ms. Marlowe is so upset about living somewhere where "women have won," she ought to consider moving someplace like Afghanistan. I'm sure she'll find plenty of men who would be more than happy to exercise authority over her.

-- Nina Cohen

By Salon Staff

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