Who says men can't be raped?

A tabloid story about a German "nymphomaniac" makes an absurdly sexist error

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published May 3, 2012 8:30PM (EDT)

       (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-288499p1.html'>Matthew Benoit</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Matthew Benoit via Shutterstock)

You know what you call someone who demands sex after a partner refuses? Who forces a person to have sex? Whose victim has to escape out a window and call the police? Someone who, according to news accounts, faces charges of "sexual assault and illegal restraint"? You call that person an alleged sex offender. Or, if you're the UK Mirror and the assailant is a female, you just call her a nymphomaniac.

As first reported in the Canadian site the Province last month – complete with a snuggly picture of a happy couple in bed – a 43-year-old German man told Munich police he had met the 47-year-old woman in a bar, went home with her, and had sex a few times. But when he said he'd had enough, she demanded more and refused to let him leave.  He then fled out a balcony and called the cops. The Mirror then picked up the tale -- this time along with a coy image of a pair of feet in bed – and described the woman as an "insatiable lover."  She then allegedly struck again early this week, leaving a second man who'd gone home with her after a chance meeting on a bus "sobbing in the street" and pleading to police, "Oh God, it was hell. I can’t walk. Please help me." She has reportedly now been placed under psychiatric evaluation.

Even as the Mirror cavalierly describes the woman as "a German nymphomaniac" it also admitted – in a follow-up featuring stock photos of playful, scantily clad lovers -- that "the term nymphomaniac is no longer recognized in the medical world." So now they're calling her a "sex addict." Just like, the paper says, Lindsay Lohan or Amy Winehouse. Oh lord, my face. I can't seem to get it out of my palm.

Thanks to the Reddit community for pointing out this week that "sexism works both ways" and to Mediaite for calling attention to the tale. Now a fierce public reaction has rippled back into the comments on the original Mirror coverage. There, under what passes for journalism and among the pathetic, jokey pleas for the woman "come to me," are several reasonably disgusted responses to the Mirror and reporter Natalie Evans' reporting. As a commenter named Jake explains, "Say I, a man, took you back to my room after a few drinks. We knocked boots, and you got up to leave. I told you no, you had to stay. I told you the only way you could go was to do it a few more times. Then I wouldn't let you go after that. What would you write after that? Would you write an article talking about my nymphomania, and laced with an underlying current of how weak and pathetic you were because you cried? Would you write about me as a person who just wanted some action, and you were too much of a wuss to give it to me? Or the fact that I forced you to 'make love' over and over against your will (Which is r*pe, by the way, since you seem to not be familiar with the meaning of the word), and how horrific an experience it was?"

There's no getting around the fact that sexual abuse done to a man by a woman is not the expected version of events. But the swaggery myth that men are always rarin' to go, unstoppably eager, is not just absurd, it's harmful. It tells men that they cannot possibly be capable of saying no – especially after they've already consented to sex. It tells men who've been abused, no you weren't. Because a real man wouldn't wind up crying in the street, wouldn't call the police. Oh no, he'd love it!

So let's use this horrible tabloid hackery – and the more idiotic commentary around it – as an opportunity to remember that just because something is unusual, it doesn’t make it impossible. That men can refuse consent. And that sex without consent is rape. Period.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Media Criticism Sexual Abuse