A few nights ago, I was out having drinks with a man I’d slept with once a couple of months ago. We started talking about queerness, and he asked me when I first knew I was interested in women. I told him I knew when I was in high school, but couldn’t be out for fear of retaliation from my then-boyfriend, and that I was finally able to come out to myself fully in my first year of college. I also told him that the first time I seriously dated a woman, in my third year of college, it changed my entire life.
And this is when our conversation began to go downhill.
As soon as I told him how my first queer relationship opened up my world, he started asking me details about what it was like to have sex with another woman. Alright, I thought, I can handle this. I’ve been a queer educator for years, and I’m used to people asking me all kinds of questions about queer sex and relationships. Usually they’re something along the lines of: “How does that work?” and “So, scissoring, am I right?” and “But… if there’s no penis… how is it really sex?” (Hello, cissexism! Get out of here with that shit.)
This man asked me no such questions. Instead, he looked me directly in the eye and said, “How could sleeping with women possibly be as intimate as sleeping with men?”
Oh, Christ. Here we go. He followed up this question by informing me (poor, ignorant me!) that face-to-face sex “means more” than other kinds of sex, so that when a woman goes down on another woman, it cannot be as meaningful or intimate as when a man and a woman have PIV sex. Furthermore, he so graciously explained that even if women engage in penetrative sex, a strap-on “isn’t really you” (as in your physical anatomy), so your connection with your woman partner still can’t be as intimate as it would be with a man.
First of all, holy shit, cissexism. I want to be clear that I do not support any of these claims, and that they represent an incredibly exclusionary view of bodies, identities, gender, sexuality, and relationships.
I could write for days just refuting his points: That there are many, many ways to have sex, regardless of your gender; that PIV sex is not the ultimate, “final” sex act; that queer people have amazing, mind-blowing, deeply intimate sex every damn day despite what straight cis men have to say about it.
I’m not going to do that, though. At least not now. This isn’t about one conversation I had with one man who happens to believe that when we had sex, it was more intimate than any of the sex I’ve ever had or will have with women (or, really, anyone who doesn’t identify as a cis man, even though he didn’t say that explicitly.)
This is about men thinking they can dictate, and are experts on, queer women’s sexual lives and pleasure.
Remarks ranging from belligerent questions about how queer women actually have sex to deeply personal comments getting at the core of queer women’s intimate lives all have one thing in common: Straight men who think they know what’s best for women, and that what’s best for women is men.
I am well aware that people of all genders and sexualities may have questionable things to say about queer women’s pleasure. I’ve encountered this with straight women who say they just can’t imagine being with another woman, and most often with queer men who openly and freely express their disgust over vulvas and vaginas. (Misogyny from queer men is very, very real. More on that some other time.) However, I have only ever experienced aggressive interrogation and a toxic “I know more about your pleasure than you do” attitude about my sex life from straight men.
This mindset among straight men is incredibly prevalent. I deal with it all the time, and I’d venture to say that most other queer women I know do as well. I experience it on Tinder and OkCupid, where men tell me daily that I just “need some dick in my life” to “turn me straight.” I experience it walking down the street, hand-in-hand with a partner, when I’m met with gross misogyny, harassment, and queerphobia. I experience it when a man I’ve slept with tells me women can never pleasure me the same way he once did; when he becomes threatened and reactive as soon as I tell him he’s wrong.
This attitude towards queer women is dangerous and harmful. While the comments and events discussed here may seem like outliers to those who haven’t experienced them, they are part of a toxic pattern of queerphobia, sexism, and misogyny that seeks to control the way queer women live their lives and express their sexuality.
Stopping this pattern is not queer women’s responsibility, but rather lies on the men who perpetuate it, and even men who don’t. Thanks to patriarchal ideas and standards of sex, toxic hypermasculinity, and heteronormativity and cisnormativity, many straight men claim to have a supreme knowledge about sex and have opinions about how everyone regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation should be having sex.
It is up to straight men themselves to break down these detrimental ways of thinking and start to truly listen to the experiences of queer folks as well as the needs, desires, and experiences of their women partners. For straight men who already understand that queer women’s sexuality is not owned and controlled by men, it’s essential to actively work on breaking down and calling out this toxic pattern when they see it.
I think by now it goes without saying that the only experts on queer women’s sexual lives and pleasure are, surprise, queer women themselves.