Today, the Daily Beast enlists two sexperts to answer an age-old question: Is it harder being a slut or a stud? The query, inspired by a report finding that there are "more sexual limitations on men," results in a battle of the sexes. In one corner, we have Susannah Breslin, author of the Reverse Cowgirl blog, arguing that women have it worse. In the other corner, we have Grant Stoddard, author of "Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert," arguing that it's men who get the raw deal. Le-et's get ready to ro-oll between the sheets!
Breslin -- who, full disclosure, is an e-mail pal of mine -- comes out swinging: "Take a look at the young women who write openly about their sex lives online, and what you’ll find is that trailing along behind them is a line of rabid attackers looking to punish them for doing so," she writes. "What, exactly, are these women being ostracized for -- being sexual, experimenting sexually, or having the guts to put themselves out there as representatives of a generation of a women who don’t want to fit into preconceived boxes of 'how they’re supposed to be' in bed?" It seems to me they're being punished for pursuing their own desires, being publicly sexual and announcing their sexual pursuits without shame." She concludes, "Sure, women are freer to explore their sexuality -- as long as it doesn’t threaten the male status quo."
Stoddard takes his gloves off: "While I'm supposed to honor requests to slap, restrain, throttle, and enable any Sapphic whim a woman may wish to actualize, a libidinous digression from me means putting an already tattered reputation on the line." Unlike women, men are not permitted to ask for their hair to be pulled or to be called a "dirty little whore" during sex, he argues. I'm not so sure that the freedom to be verbally denigrated in the bedroom is the most compelling argument for how good women have it, but his ultimate point is a good one: A straight man isn't supposed to suggest any sexual play that challenges his manhood -- whether it's inviting another man into bed or being tied up and dominated. He's also expected to be perpetually horny -- if he fails at that, he's declared to be gay or a failed male. Women, however, have been "getting freakier, particularly in more casual hook-ups." He concludes that "women seem to have carte blanche to express every hue of their sexuality."
But, the study that inspired this face-off didn't compare how sexually free or empowered either sex feels; it surveyed attitudes toward the acceptability of various sexual activities, like experimentation with submission and same-sex experimentation, for men and women. The results did indeed show that more of those activities were A-OK for women. Here's the thing, though: The acceptableness of a greater number of freaky sexual activities for women doesn't necessarily equal greater sexual freedom. I'd say, based on my unscientific observations of the world we live in, that women are allowed more "freakiness," so long as it doesn't challenge their role as the sexual temptress. (Or, as Breslin puts it, things that don't "threaten the male status quo.") Women might be able to make out with another girl at the bar, get spanked, called dirty and demeaning names -- but those things are hardly transgressive in our (pornographic) sexual culture. Is it OK for them to want to spank and demean a man? Is it cool if they expect their boyfriend to perform oral sex, but don't return the favor? What about if she expects an orgasm every time but doesn't care a whit about giving them?
It seems to me that both men and women are forced into limiting sexual roles, and both are equally unsexy.