content notes for sexual coercion, sexual assault, disregard for autonomy
My friend Melissa McEwan, of Shakesville, has asked me to address…well, here’s her question:
One of the positions Dan Savage has taken which has received widespread criticism is that romantic partners essentially owe each other sex. Can you address that assertion, and why it’s a total piece of shit?
One of Dan’s oft-cited rules is the “GGG”: a partner must strive to be good in bed, be giving of equal time and attention and be game for anything (within reason). There is some science out there that has been interpreted to back up Dan’s rule, and ostensibly, GGG is about being caring and open about your desires with your partner, and as such, is reasonable advice.
But it doesn’t stop there. Dan Savage is, as Melissa pointed out, in the habit of dishing out this advice to mean that we are obliged to have sex with our partners/dates, and we are obliged to indulge all of their fantasies and fetishes without regard to our own comfort.
To be frank: this is bullshit of the highest order. Melissa brings up the very real harm that Dan Savage’s crappy advice can do. The way Dan presents it, GGG means that no one has a right to say no to their partners, and if we want to be a good partner with a lasting relationship, we will acquiesce to all of our partner’s sexual desires. He is saying this without regard to the ways that abusive partners use language like the GGG rule to manipulate and control their partners, and without regard to a rape culture that privileges the sexual desires of men to the point of entitlement.
We are never under any obligation to have sex with anyone, at any time, for any reason. Nor are we under any obligation to have whatever kind of sex our partner wants to have.
To put it another way, my body belongs to me. I will choose how and when I am sexually intimate with anyone, including my partner. I am not being selfish if I don’t want to have sex. My partner’s body belongs to her, and she will choose how and when to be sexually intimate with anyone, including me. She’s not being selfish if she doesn’t want to have sex.
When I do relationship education with young people, one of the exercises I use is a collective brainstorm of the qualities we want in a partner. The lists are long and varied. Funny, kind, ambitious, smart, hard-working, etc. I help them see that we all have different lists, different qualities that are most important. But there are three that are non-negotiable: Respectful, Trusting/Trustworthy and Safe. If we want a partner to bring these things, we must also give them.
Expecting that our partners owe us sex is not respectful, and it’s not safe. No one is entitled to sex.
Repeat, for effect: SEX IS NOT AN ENTITLEMENT. Not even when you’re married, living together, have had sex 8,345 times, or you’re just really, really randy.
The other aspect of the GGG that disregards consent and autonomy is the idea that we should be game for anything our partner has in mind (which Dan adds a “within reason” to, but who is he kidding? I am sure a lawyer told him to add that.). Any kink they want to try, we should be open to trying.
I am not one to yuck someone else’s yum, unless it’s coercive, illegal or whatnot, but that doesn’t mean I am obliged to try out all the yums my partner might fancy. We are not obligated to participate in sexual activity that we do not want to, period.
A better piece of advice is to be game to listen to your partner’s desires. Be open to hearing what turns your partner on in his or her fantasy life. Don’t judge, but be honest with your desires. Express them, and respect your partner’s response. That’s safe, and trusting, and respectful.
Cardinal Rule: Sex should be fun, safe and consensual EVERY SINGLE TIME. Sex is not an entitlement, nor an obligation.