How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every week, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I have been reading your column for a while, and because of that, I have gradually come to the conclusion I never want to have sex with a feminist. There was the letter by a 22-year-old woman who was told by feminists she could not possibly consent to sex until the age of 25 because her brain was not cognitively mature, which means the college rape crisis is way worse than anyone can imagine because everyone having sex at college is being raped. There was the letter by the man who had a mutually enjoyable sex life with his wife until she went to a seminar and came back with the belief their sex life was oppressive to women, which sure sounds like brainwashing.
Then there was the letter by the woman who didn’t enjoy receiving cunnilingus, and was happily dating a man who didn’t enjoy performing cunnilingus, and was told by her feminist friends that this was misogyny and she needed to start enjoying cunnilingus immediately. Likewise, the bisexual woman who was told she was a “bad feminist” because she didn’t enjoy performing cunnilingus on her lady lovers. Even worse was the letter by the woman who was lectured by her feminist friends because she didn’t enjoy masturbation, and was scolded for not loving herself, and was told she needed to start masturbating immediately for her own emotional well-being.
The whole bunch of them sound like a pack of uptight authoritarians looking for a reason to ruin everyone’s sexual happiness, regardless of gender or sexual persuasion. Am I the only one who sees this pattern of manipulation and misery?
—No Feminists Allowed
Rich: My first question after reading this was: Did the writer read our answers? We both identify as feminists and neither of us are “uptight authoritarians looking for a reason to ruin everyone’s sexual happiness.” In fact, we generally argue against those who wield that perspective. I think there’s a difference between feminism and what people claim to be doing in the name of feminism.
Stoya: Thank you. I was torn between feeling like this might be a “gotcha” kind of letter, maybe even a troll, and wondering if I needed to start every response with: “As a feminist …” I have feelings about those kinds of feminists. I’m a career sex worker. The SWERFs, TERFs, Andrea Dworkins, and others can make it complicated to identify as a feminist. It’s like: “Hi, I’m throwing in with a group where a subsection vocally opines that I and my kind are beneath contempt.” So, feminists can suck too. Just like women in general can suck, and men can suck.
Rich: There are obnoxious, dictatorial feminists. It happens.
Stoya: You also identify as a feminist. It’s clear in your advice and the things you write. You’re sex positive and pro–good treatment of humans, including women.
Rich: Well, thank you, and likewise. The inherent equality of women isn’t something that I ever even have the impulse to question. The maternal thinking that sometimes manifests in the name of feminism is a real challenge for me to take seriously, because I believe the denial of a woman’s agency or of benign sexual variation is an inherently antifeminist stance. Regarding the impetus of this letter: I appreciate loyal readership! Here is someone who is connecting the dots. But the examples chosen represent a biased sample of supposed feminists because people come to this column with problems. You could cherry-pick examples of shitty, coercive and/or abusive male behavior from other questions and conclude that you never want to sleep with a man again using this logic.
Stoya: People with awesome sex-positive friends they feel comfortable bringing their questions and troubles to probably tend to turn to those friends, not us.
Rich: And also, consider the women (and men) who’ve written to us with problems that have arisen as a result of their feminist belief in women’s right to pleasure.
Stoya: So many!
Rich: So yes, you can pick out the extremes and weave together a narrative, but it’s just not the full picture. And not to sound like a whiny feminist, but it’s unfair!
Stoya: And if this writer is sexually active, they may already have had sex with a feminist.
Rich: Right, feminism doesn’t always present as militant or even detectable. The simple belief that women are equal to men is something one can carry around quietly, at least for a period of time and in certain situations.
Stoya: I think for a lot of us (progressive, major-city dweller in the U.S.), we presume feminism.
Rich: It’s the default. Blatant anti-feminism is true extremism to me. Also, among the many feminist rights is the right to be wrong! The extreme viewpoints that have made the column as guidance from concerned feminists are from humans who are capable of learning and changing their minds. Their ideologies don’t speak for all feminists, and they may not even speak for themselves at some future point.
Stoya: A hundred percent. Now, to answer our writer’s question—they aren’t the only person to see a pattern of manipulation and misery. Which is why I initially wondered (and still kind of do) whether I should be taking this question at face value. There are absolutely people in the world who want to dismiss gender equality as an attack on male rights. Or discredit feminism for some other reason.
Rich: Right, so connecting these dots amounts to a confirmation bias to a misogynist.
Stoya: Not to say that this person is a misogynist—but this does feel like dog whistling, even if inadvertent.
More How to Do It
I am having a hard time reconciling my wife’s feminism with her desire to be dominated and submissive. My wife is a very attractive woman who doesn’t suffer chauvinism or objectification. Her strength of character, and fearlessness to confront an unequal power structure, is one of the characteristics that I love about her. As she has been able to advance professionally, she has become even more confident, which only increases my desire for her. I have been finding myself confused, however, because while she will not tolerate being objectified by anyone in public and is very adamant about her agency, in private she wants me to be quite aggressive and seems willing to be very submissive. I find myself acting with great skepticism during sex, as though she’s testing me and that if I actually do become more physical, that I will have failed this test and ruin our relationship.
Listen to the women of Thirst Aid Kit discuss the PG-13 virtues of Netflix’s Steel Magnolias.