Over the course of the past couple of months some messages about men's and women's roles and responsibilities in the arena of sexual behaviour have coming through the media more and more consistently [or maybe I'm just noticing them more] that I find frankly nauseating. With stories such as that of the dropped case against Dominique Strauss Khan, the sex education plans proposed by MP Nadine Dorries and reports of pro-rape groups on Facebook and on campuses in the US and Australia, there have been a number of people keen to make points to which I am fundamentally opposed.
I am talking about the evolutionary psychology-inspired belief that men are hard-wired to fuck at all costs and anyone who stands in the way of that, irrespective of the impact on them, is denying them their right and should be ashamed. The view that if women are raped, it means they were depriving men of what they have the right to take and should therefore have just said yes in the first place.
As a counter to those views, I have a three truths I wish were universally acknowledged.
1. Not all men want sex all of the time
If the rape apologists and evolutionary psychologists are to be believed, men are only programmed to want sex. If they are to be believed, this is their primary drive and anyone denying them that is depriving them of the one thing they want.
If this perspective were true, I'm not sure how men would have made the contribution they have to advances in science, the arts, architecture, politics and such like when they're having to expend all their mental and physical energy controlling the urge not to rape the next woman they see. The assertion that all men want and think about is sex is absurd and disparaging to the entire gender.
Now I don't know about you, but I've known many men who go through periods of low desire and those are only the ones who've felt comfortable enough with me to tell me such. All kinds of things impact on sexual desire and arousal and that works for both genders. There are no absolutes.
I'm not a man, but if I were I would find it frankly insulting to hear people write me off as an animal purely driven by desire. Never mind the fact that it places all the responsibility on women to moderate male sexual behaviour, the idea that men are incapable of self control is derogatory and completely incorrect.
2. Not all men want sex with women
You'd have thought this would be self-evident, but apparently it's not. Some men prefer sex with men. Some men prefer sex with themselves. Other men would rather not have sex at all, thank you very much. The idea that not only are all men incapable of controlling their carnal urges, that those carnal urges will inevitably be directed towards women is wrong. What's more, it puts a disproportionate amount of pressure on women to be guardians of socially appropriate sexual behaviour when not only are men perfectly capable of controlling themselves, a considerable proportion of them may not look to women for satiation of their sexual desires anyway.
3. Men can be raped too
This seems to have escaped the notice of rape apologists, but it isn't only women can be raped. Admittedly, it's less common and probably very much under-reported. However, there is an inherent contradiction in this fact. If all men want sex all the time and men are raped - therefore not wililng - how does that stack up? It doesn't, and there is no way to reconcile these two positions.
It is also true that men can be raped or sexually assaulted by women. That seems to be a less frequent occurrence than male-male rape and is most likely even more under-reported, but it happens. There are ways of going about degrading a person that doesn't require penetrative sex and this is the point. Rape is not just about sex. I'm not going to get into the whole sordid debate about degrees of awfulness of sexual assault because it's vile and upsetting, but these facts - that men can be raped and not necessarily by other men - make a mockery of what the rape apologists are trying to make out is truth.
What some seem to have lost sight of in this debate is that rape is not primarily about sex; it's about power. It's the power exercised by a person to take what they want and to subjugate someone else to their will. It is done by sexual means and sometimes with the motivation of sexual gratification but it is power that's at play, not desire. Admittedly, the links between sex, power, desire and gratification are pretty complex but to say that rape is all about sex is downright wrong.
So next time we're considering tarnishing all men with the potential rapist brush or thinking that rapists are the victims of denied sexual gratification, please can we hold on to these three truths and regain some perspective on what rape actually means?