Sex Positivity Is Counter-Cultural

A month ago I wrote an off-the-cuff Twitter thread about how most modern cultures that say they are sex positive really aren’t. It generated a huge response, probably putting into words what many people felt for a long time but hadn’t seen spelled out. I turned that thread into an article on the sex negativity of mainstream culture in Quillette. Go read that first, then come back here for some follow-up thoughts.

Fuckability

I’ve written before about people’s pursuit of fuckability, euphemized for Quillette as “sex-worthiness”, as opposed to actually fucking. I mostly focused on how it manifests in women, the prestigious degrees and impressive careers and yoga prowess and political activism that fail to conjure the relationships they believe they deserve. Since then I’ve heard from several women on the male version of this, like my friend whose ex-husband spent so much time working late and working out that he was always too exhausted to have sex.

It’s not that professional, intellectual, and physical achievements aren’t attractive for both men and women — they are! The problem happens when someone’s identity as a fuckable/dateable individual takes center stage. Then, any romantic rejection or even renegotiation becomes a threat to one’s whole laboriously-built self-image.

This is really exacerbated by the invasion of society and social media into the intimate space. Society is always judgmental, even when pretending to be supportive. And it can only judge on visible features and identity — fuckability — not on how someone makes you feel in private. Is he progressive enough? Is she thin enough? Will they post cringe and tag you in it? If you’re thinking about how a partner’s presence will affect your social media clout, you’re probably not really connecting.

And of course, if people are having bad sex then they’d naturally focus more on fuckability and less on fucking.

Bad So Often

Why is casual sex bad so often?, asked a woman famous for her sexuality. It’s bad because it’s casual, came hundreds of responses, people don’t try.

It doesn’t have to be this way. People could put effort into making their partner ecstatic, and take pride in it. People could tell their partners ahead of time what they’re hoping would happen in bed and what they don’t want to happen — this conversation in itself can be arousing and intimacy-building. Is it really more important on a date to talk about a Netflix show than about what makes you glow?

A big culprit here I think is the faux sex-positivity I wrote about, the “attitude that all consensual sexual activities are fundamentally healthy and pleasurable”. Couples on first dates spend a lot of time negotiating consent and signaling the appropriate level of chastity and promiscuity. But when sex isn’t pleasurable it’s because the people involved didn’t work to make it so, not because their attitude failed to magically produce pleasure.

Ambiguity

Another issue with the exclusive focus on consent is that ambiguity is an important component of sex and seduction. “Would you like to come up for tea” doesn’t mean either “I will fuck you” or “I won’t fuck you”. It can mean “I want to keep the option of sex open depending on how you behave, while also preserving the option for either of us to back out without losing face.” Or it can mean something else entirely. Forcing legibility on a sexually ambiguous situation can break the delicate spell.

I theorize that no matter how much a culture tries to impose legibility on seduction, ambiguity will tend to be preserved.

I’ve heard from several woman that being asked for sexual consent explicitly is a huge turn-off. Sometimes they realize this 5 seconds after giving their verbal affirmative consent, rendering the validity of their consent quite questionable! Consent is not the same thing as participation.

The preservation of ambiguity can work in the other direction too. Many (male) commenters on my article lamented that men are no longer allowed to flirt with women in the workplace. But that’s not the case at all, unless you count only minimum-ambiguity flirting as such.

In a Mad Men environment where men pinch women’s behinds in the office and yell “nice tits!”, any subtle flirting will be swamped by the volume of explicit sexual aggression. Once the pinching is outlawed, playful banter can speak much louder and the women are likely to be more open to it once they no longer have to fear for their basic body autonomy. Playful banter is much more ambiguous and requires more skill. Men who insist on their right to catcall are just trying to reduce ambiguity in a way that makes seduction harder for everyone, not easier.

Stop Reading

So what’s my advice for those looking for hot sex and deep intimacy? Instead of complaining about the ambiguity, try to get into a spirit of playful discovery both aimed at others and at yourself. You don’t know what will make your partner happy and you may not know for yourself either on a given night, but if you’re open-minded and actually try to find out you will.

What you won’t be able to do is to make both of you happy while satisfying the internalized judgment of outside society and culture. Movies, newspapers, Instagram feeds, high school classes and political platforms won’t get you very far. And yes, blogs probably won’t do so either.

Although if you’re going to read blogs anyway, you probably chose the right one.

15 thoughts on “Sex Positivity Is Counter-Cultural

  1. Some of my thoughts on both articles:

    It doesn’t make sense to be purely “sex positive” or “sex negative”. Sex is high-variance – it’s a gateway to both the most fulfilling human experiences and the worst nightmares one can imagine. It should be therefore properly managed.

    Being perceived as worthy and desirable is a valid goal even when considered separately from having a rich sexual life. Nobody enjoys being low-status, and high status feels good on its own. We probably agree that the world makes it harder to feel high-status for almost everybody, especially if big business can profit from manufacturing artificial needs.

    Given the current trends, many reasonable guys wouldn’t risk sex without obtaining a very unsexy, explicit, verbal consent. Very subtle, playful banter in the workplace is also way too risky. Men may be very gentle and read non-verbal cues carefully, and then still face false accusations many years later, when they can be utilized as a career move in the competitive environment. All parties could be better off with more humane norms of behavior, but as long as the current ones exist, risks are not worth taking.

    Vulnerability and talking about needs doesn’t take you anywhere if you’re a man below the top 20-30% attractiveness tier; you just expose a part of yourself that can be later exploited or used for emotional blackmailing, and you won’t obtain any deep empathy. Vulnerability is important for mental health, but that’s a luxury option for the lucky high-status guys who want to improve their long-term relationship, and even they have to be cautious with expressing it gradually.

    As with most of the systemic problems concerning contemporary relationships, it boils down to the irreversible abandonment of assortative monogamy and the disproportions is inter-gender choosiness, fortified by numerous other factors.

    TL;DR Dear bottom 80% guys: it is or soon will be over for you, preserve your dignity, you have one life, seek the beauty and fulfillment elsewhere.

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    1. Agree with Meghan. Our esteemed host is a successful finance professional with a full head of hair and a history in the military–even if (as I am sure) he doesn’t think of himself as a warrior there’s a level of physical confidence that’s quite powerful associated with financial success and a high IQ. Plus Israelis have balls. There’s the whole ‘we played nice and wound up in the oven, so f*** that’ boldness I’m sure is quite appealing to many women.

      Yes, I agree society is horribly sex-negative, often in similarly bizarre ways on both ends of the political spectrum. Andrea Dworkin and the medieval Catholic church have an awful lot in common, though of course the burden of sin is placed on a different half of the population in each case. PUAs are assholes, and politicians of any side of the aisle want to get elected.

      If you’re at all bad at reading signals, as Meghan says, a bad pass can ruin your career tomorrow or in 20 years. Feminism (at least the fourth-wave #metoo variety) is particularly hard on autism-spectrum men. For my part I didn’t date until I was getting close to 30 (and that was in the late 2000s when feminism had waned and PUA was in). I’ve had various liaisons (about 16 at last count) and I’m fairly sure I’ve given quite a few orgasms along the way, but I’ve never had sex with someone I’m actually attracted to. It’s not some weird hate-fuck thing–you take what you can get, and they’re a human being too, so you make them as happy as you can.

      I’m over 40 and kind of ugly, but I do have about $1M in a taxable account and $0.9M in various retirement accounts, so the possibility of quitting my job and devoting my life to men’s-rights activism seems kind of appealing. (I live on about $45K a year. You do the math.) Of course given the state of the movement I would probably be wasting it. There’s a bit more of an audience for fighting wokeness, I think, but even so I suspect I’d probably just be trying to fight a Communist takeover in 1920 Russia. They have the universities, the media, and now the corporations. (And I mean wokies, not Jacob’s and my extremely-distant relatives as a class, just in case. C’mon, what did they make of Philip Roth?)

      I don’t think the bottom 80% of guys should totally give up on love, though. (If nothing else, then it lets the feminists win.) I’m guessing it’s probably better to avoid stuff like polyamory that’s really only for the most attractive people–the sexual revolution is not for us–and try to join a church (or synagogue, mosque, etc.) to find people with similarly conservative values who value family formation. Then at least you’ll get one person and be able to start a family, which most people enjoy.

      Now our host has suggested polyamory may also be helpful for people at the bottom of the attractiveness distribution, as you can then gain a partial share in another partner. (It’s kind of intuitively obvious–poly is advantageous if you are attractive enough to attract 2-3 people, or 1/2-1/3 person, at equilibrium; if you’re attractive enough for 1 person, then monogamy is better as you don’t have to deal with instability and jealousy.) But some people may be so unattractive they are better off with nobody— the bottom tier of men may have violence or drug issues, for example. I suspect in nerd circles where you have a large excess of women and relatively unviolent men it may work. Different things work for different people.

      So, yeah, banter, exploration, whatever. I mean, talking about what turns you on is definitely good for sex in a relationship (the one good thing about kink is you get used to doing that), but the whole ambiguity thing is really dangerous now for the bottom 80% of guys, as Meghan says. Leave it to the good-looking guys. I’d say for most of you, your best bet is to give the last 60 years the finger and try to go back to the 50s and find someone who wants to do the same. An awful lot of women want families, even if it takes them a while to realize that with all the social programming.

      As for me, I’m too paranoid to get married with the divorce laws the way they are (and I’m probably past that point anyway). But hey, men have thrown themselves on their swords on the battlefield to escape capture. If you’re going to die alone in an old-age home at least you can say you lived out your lifespan.

      But like any rationalist-adjacent person, I am open to refutation. ;)

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      1. ^This man knows stuff.

        The issue with Jacob is that, percentage-wise, he’s easily in top 20%. White/Jewish, quite handsome, in his 30s, living in NYC, working in finance, with top 1% IQ, previous military experience, and a small celebrity status. Despite of all of this, the best he could secure is a “poly marriage”. At this stage, most of us are no longer in denial about what both “polyamory” and “legally binding marriage” mean for men.

        I get that he wants to skip the stuff that is true and important but very inflammatory, so he focuses on the possibilities of fragile local coordination, but that’s at the cost of having an accurate diagnosis of the situation, and rationality was supposed to be about telling the entire truth. Purple-pillish bothsidesism is, obviously, an incorrect diagnosis, and its inaccuracy can be proven with countless research papers and statistics Jacob omits.

        Regarding the MRA stuff, there is probably no better book than “The Boy Crisis” by Warren Farrell. Unfortunately, based on the past track record, I’m afraid that the pro-masculine activism is a lost cause; society never cared for men, it just respected them in the past. There is a significant probability that the best thing to do is to actually accelerate the current, fem-supremacist trends to the point when men get mass awareness, peacefully opt out of the society, and the system collapses at the rate that makes the decision makers pressured to do something.

        Joining tradcon communities and thoughtfully seeking partners in these spaces would make sense if we could separate them from the current woke infrastructure; in the present setting, men get the worst of all words due to the unholy alliance of traditional “women are wonderful” gynocentrism and progressive “the future is female” gender supremacy. There are countless examples of women joining the tradcon circles for opportunistic purposes, e.g. by pretending they’ve suddenly discovered their trad wife nature after the party years phase spent on promiscuous sex, abusing drugs, and losing a capacity for strong, satisfying pair-bonding. There are multiple cases of “born again trad women” switching back to hooking up with younger lovers, there are pastor ex-wives that re-discover themselves and start OnlyFans: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAAKwPuDs_Q

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        1. Thanks, but if I were all that smart I wouldn’t be sitting here arguing about MRA and feminism, right? ;)

          Being Jewish in America is a double-edged sword that’s better the larger the city you’re in. (In NYC it is of course quite advantageous, but in a small town I’d probably convert.) I agree he’s probably in the top 20% (top 5% even), but I think he’s probably one of the small fraction of men actually able to benefit from polyamory. I think he could have a monogamous marriage if he wanted one. I agree overall ‘poly’ and ‘marriage’ are a bad deal for men–ceteris paribus a woman has an easier time finding outside partners, and ceteris isn’t paribus–she’ll be able to use your metamours against you to the divorce court judge but get plaudits for her sex-positivity when she takes extra lovers.

          Got links to the papers? I believe you but it’s always nice to be able to point to these things. I think he is telling the truth as he sees it–the sexual revolution works for him, he’s having a good time, and why not help out all these depressed guys shooting themselves in the foot? I’m more magenta-pilled–the redpill guys exaggerate some things, but the truth is closer to the redpill than the MSM narrative. (I’m not going to get into how much closer, ie whether it’s magenta-pilled, cerise-pilled, rose-pilled, or crimson-pilled–that’s extending the metaphor too far and it depends who and where you are.)

          Do you have any good sources that can bring me up to date on what’s been tried and what’s failed? (I read ‘Myth of Male Power’ when it came out BTW.) I mean, when second-wave feminism came out everyone was saying women were too divided by competition against each other, that men had all the money and power, and so on.

          Hm, but once they’ve hit ‘the wall’ as the PUAs say their options diminish right? Taking the extremely cynical view that both sexes take the best deal they can get, at some point your attractiveness declines enough that starting a family is your best option. While it sounds like you have more trad-experience than I do, most people are not attractive enough to start an OnlyFans.

          What MRA or allied communities do you recommend? At the very least I could start talking to people who have tried this and failed. My partial-Ashkenazi ancestry seems to be a problem for most redpill groups if I ever uncloak. (I mean, I get that there are lots of Jewish feminists, but I sure as heck am not one, and I don’t want to increase immigration or force anti-white CRT into schools. I’m very much against that stuff.)

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        2. The issue with Jacob is that, percentage-wise, he’s easily in top 20%

          Sorry, but no.

          Rationalists/dorks/nerds are practically invisible to most of society. The only way they can “make it” is to run niche game, as you noted.

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      2. “But some people may be so unattractive they are better off with nobody— the bottom tier of men may have violence or drug issues, for example. ”

        Men with voilence/drug issues often do just fine at getting women…

        “..advantageous if you are attractive enough to attract 2-3 people, or 1/2-1/3 person, at equilibrium; if you’re attractive enough for 1 person, then monogamy is better…”

        Naively, most everyone is attractive enough for a full person or not attractive enough for poly (as a 1/3) – unless a person is paralyzed from the waist down or something similarly bad – in which case they won’t be attractive enough for poly usually – they can find a spouse they are attractive enough for, as different quality spouses require different levels of attraction.

        This breaks down if there is a cutoff point for men, say at 80 percentile, where below it women categorically reject them, despite the men having value. In this case, women may be willing to accept multiple men together below the 80th percentile.
        The problem with this scenario is that by definition any man above the 80th percentile is attractive enough for multiple women, and no oneis attractive enough for exactly 1 – unless you assume that the 90th percentile are attractive enough for ~5 women each, 80-90 is for 1 each, or similar but that doesn’t seem realistic.

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    2. Vulnerability and talking about needs doesn’t take you anywhere if you’re a man below the top 20-30% attractiveness tier; you just expose a part of yourself that can be later exploited or used for emotional blackmailing, and you won’t obtain any deep empathy.

      What emotional blackmailing could you be exposing yourself to? I honestly don’t understand this. Like, how can, “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” or, “It hurts me when you speak down to me.” These are all just facets of the speaker and they will exist regardless of whether one expresses them to someone else or not.

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      1. Yes, but expressing vulnerability openly is always a risk for men – the information you reveal might be used against you later, and if you’re not attractive enough, it may eventually lead to replacing you with a better option. If you really have to reveal vulnerabilities, it should be done gradually and intertwined with things that make you more attractive in the woman’s eyes. You may want to read about the feminine style of relational violence, so-called “shit-testing”, and the stories of men who “were vulnerable, spoke about their problems and shared their emotions” with feminists who encouraged them to do so.

        This is to some degree paranoid, but hey, we’re no longer under the influence of monogamous social contract that reduced the unhealthy burden of performance. Enjoy the decline.

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        1. Got any links?

          I remember reading Warren Farrell talking about how he did the househusband thing, got dumped for a more successful guy, and as a result became the only men’s-rights figure of any importance for two decades, but that’s it.

          I actually tried to use this in reverse to appear vulnerable to women I wanted to dump so I’d appear less attractive and they’d dump me (if they do the dumping there is less risk of retaliation as they got the last hit in), but it never seemed to work. So I’d say the model stands a good chance of being false in at least some cases.

          (This is why rationalism doesn’t work for romance–every individual’s situation is different. ‘Just be yourself’ works if you’re very attractive, but if you’re not you have to make money, work out, and think about tradeoffs.)

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          1. This is why rationalism doesn’t work for romance–every individual’s situation is different. ‘Just be yourself’ works if you’re very attractive, but if you’re not you have to make money, work out, and think about tradeoffs.””

            Rationalism clearly doesn’t mean what you think it means

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  2. I’m not sure what the article’s key takeaway is. It sounds like “communicate and collaborate”, but this is the generic advice we hear everywhere.

    Sex-positive (more and less attractive) women will keep on getting sex from the hotter guys, but rarely with commitment.

    Sex-positive hot guys will keep on getting sex from (more and less) attractive women, and it’s up to them if they commit or not.

    Sex-positive (less attractive) guys won’t get sex.

    Older women in their stabilization phase and dispossessed men of all ages won’t suddenly form the sex-positive alliance, because the older women won’t downgrade much from the hot college jocks, and the majority of dispossessed men don’t want to be a plan B for someone with a lot of baggage.

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  3. Do you know what is weird? To read your post in Patheos, in a christian column, taking it with poor textual understanding, just to turn the dish in favor of christian religion.

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