The XX Factor

Are Women Passive When It Comes to Sex? Yes, If the Risk Is Greater Than the Reward.

Photo by Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Earlier this week we asked female readers to write in telling us whether they experience their sexuality as relatively passive and male readers to write in telling us if they see female sexual passivity as the norm (or not). Many responded. We’ll be publishing some of these responses today and tomorrow.

From: Sarah

To be honest, I think there is folly in viewing the desire to be desired as being in direct conflict with the ability to be a sexual aggressor. My personal feeling is that they are very much interlinked, not necessarily opposed at all. 

Hopefully it’s not too gross a generalization to say that women, in general, tend to internalize things, where men externalize. That very much applies to rejection or unsuccessful results of advances made on a romantic prospect. Everyone wants to be wanted (I don’t see that as being inherently passive), but not being wanted can bring out extremely different responses between genders. Men are turned down and they brush it off, possibly decide that the subject of their overture is a b*tch, and move on to the next option or resolve to try again at some point. Unfortunately, women can find it more difficult to address that type of situation with a similar level of resilience. Instead, women are much more deflated, and we doubt ourselves and blame our physical appearance or personality or both. We look within to figure out what was wrong with us that caused the person to reject us; what was the offending personal flaw or shortcoming? In short, our risk versus reward structure when we consider whether to “make a move” is significantly different from that of men … and apparently from Deidrah the rhesus monkey. (Please correct if I’m wrong about assuming that primates don’t experience the same level, if any, of corrosive self-criticism and doubt.) So some of the strong desire to be and feel desired that we experience is really a form of fantasizing about an equation where we are free to be the aggressor because the risk variable has been completely removed. 

I can’t imagine how many times I might have been the aggressor in the past if I somehow had a guarantee that my action would be met with some degree of positive response. I’m a strong, assertive woman with plenty of high feminist ideals, but I never once initiated in a situation where I didn’t have a very good idea, or better yet, absolute certainty that the other person would be receptive and welcoming. When my husband and I were first dating, he would pull me into a hallway, press me up against a wall, and kiss me hard. In that scenario, I was passive, and it was an enormous turn on. But there were also times when I would reach under the table in a restaurant or bar and stroke him over his pants until he responded. I took great cheeky delight in my ability to arouse him, secretly, in a public place. I would steal away to the ladies room during my workday and take a picture of my chest in a lacy push-up bra to send to his cellphone. However, all of these “aggressive” actions held no threat of negative outcome because I had no doubt that I was desired. That assurance was required as a foundation for me to be the sexual aggressor. Whether this is evolutionary and natural or cultural, I’m not qualified to speculate.

Previously in this series:

Are Women Passive When It Comes to Sex? Yes, and It’s Biological, Not Cultural.