Not so very long ago, Ms. Flox raised the issue of discussing one's sexual interests on a date. Her own argument was that this was very much something one should do on a first date. After all, she wrote, your interests and desires are a critical part of who you are. Discussing them up front allows a potential partner to know more about who you are and about what a relationship with you would be like. It also, she says, opens up a process of negotiation and consent. A potential partner has an opportunity to discuss what you're looking for and explain how they feel about those things.
That's all of it very true. I can't disagree with Ms. Flox on this in principle. And yet...and yet...I'm not sure I can accept her thoughts on an emotional level. Or a tactical one. I'm finding it harder and harder to imagine discussing sexual interests on a date...or even in the bedroom. It's certainly something that's far riskier than it was back in my undergraduate days.
It may be that I've been reading too many websites like Jezebel and Gawker. I've been reading the comments at articles, too, and that's never a good thing. I need to pay more attention to the rule about never reading the comments. What I'm finding, though, is a world where you'd never, never risk discussing your interests and desires on a date. The "call-out culture" of the gender warriors is absolutely hostile to you doing anything like that. To raise the issue at all wouldn't be seen as presenting an important part of yourself, or as part of developing a relationship, or even as beginning a process of negotiating with a potential partner over what she'd like herself and what she'd be comfortable with.
I'm pretty clear that in the age of the gender wars, raising the issue at all would be regarded as aggression and condemned as assuming that sex would be part of a relationship or that the person across the table would have any interest in sex with you at all. Raising the issue or trying to discuss it would be seen as "sexualizing" both the situation and the person you're out with. It would be "called out" as creepy and pervy and an act of male privilege and aggression. I'm not going to risk being called out, and I'm not going to risk having a date suddenly launch into a politicized rant where I'm the villain.
I'm also not going to risk being laughed at. I don't know where the fear is coming from, but I'm becoming more and more reticent about admitting to any of the things I like or desire. At twenty or even thirty, I'd have talked about all those things with some kind of self-assurance. This is what I like, this is what I am, this is what I hope we can do together and both enjoy. Once upon a time, I could say those things. I wasn't afraid that girls would laugh at me or turn away in disgust. I took it for granted that experimenting was part of sex, and that both parties would be willing to try out new things or at least accommodate someone's interests in return for reciprocity. No one's ever made a disgusted face in real life, and no one has ever burst into derisive laughter. But suddenly I'm aware that they could--- that they might. That fear has come out of nowhere, or, well...it's come from reading the comments sections at web articles about dating and male sexuality. So much hostility there, and so much contempt for things a male might ask for or say that he likes.
Ms. Flox is right, I think, about what you desire and what you like sexually being a key part of what you are and a key part of any relationship. But somehow it's become a very risky thing to admit to desires and particular interests, and certainly risky to admit that you see sex as part of a relationship--- that you see a date as part of a social ritual where sex is one of the ends. The world here in the new century is a lot less open to desire than it was twenty years ago, and it's certainly more harsh and less forgiving.
I was never very good at job interviews, and I have this growing feeling that I can't do the kinds of interviewing that you do on a first date. I'm going to talk myself into a kind of paralysis about ever discussing what I like to do with partners or about ever admitting that I see being out with someone as involving desire and physical contact. The trick to things in the age of the gender wars isn't honesty or negotiation. It's silence and refusing to admit to anything ever.