Chapter 34 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Give example(s) of the various circumstances and attitudes or feelings about sex that would constitute using someone, or being used, sexually, and being able to distinguish them from circumstances which only mistakenly appear to be a case of one person’s using the other.
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Since sex between two people is usually a matter of mutual and mutually voluntary interaction, I would like to comment on the notion of one of the two partner’s being “used” or taken advantage of sexually. (I am speaking here only about sex that does not result in pregnancy; I will discuss sex involving pregnancy or reasonably possible pregnancy at the end of this chapter.) It at first seemed curious to me that girls or women usually seemed to be the ones who felt used or who accused boys or men of “using” them; curious, since they were involved in the same activity at the same time —a somewhat reciprocal activity that seems not to make one person a “user” and one a “used” subject.
I think there are a number of circumstances and/or conditions that would be appropriately considered as ones in which one party is used by the other. But in these cases it will also be quite possible for the male to be the one who is “used” by the female, and not necessarily the one who is doing the “using”.
1) I think that whenever one person has sex (whether kissing, petting, intercourse, whatever), intending it to be a part of a larger or fuller relationship and/or as part of a mutually affectionate, emotional relationship, and the other person knows this, but has no similar intention or feeling, and does not inform the first person about the one-sidedness or cross-purposes of the relationship, and instead has sex just out of a physical desire, ego need, or conquest mentality, then the person with the broader expectation has been taken advantage of or used.
This does not pertain to honest attempts by both parties to have sex as part of a larger relationship but having it (or having some insights, comment, or occurrence during it) instead ruin the relationship; nor does it pertain to such honest attempts where the relationship simply deteriorates after the sex for whatever non-sexual cause or reason. A relationship that dissolves in such a way or at such a time may make it appear to one person that they were cared about only for sex, when, in fact, that was not the case.
This also does not apply to sexual relationships where both people are seeking only a good sexual time as they enter into it. Under such mutual feelings, one could hardly be considered as being used by the other person (any more than they are using that person).
Nor does it involve honest misunderstanding where one person has made it clear to the other person that sex was not part of some deeper involvement and honestly thought the other person understood that, though the other person did not. There are cases of self-deception or naiveté, or lack of self-knowledge, where one party mistakenly believes they can have sex with another with no desire or need on their own part for a larger or fuller relationship. So I think there is some responsibility on the part of the one who is interested primarily in the sexual aspect of a relationship and who makes that interest clear to another not just to accept that other person’s word that they accept that or feel that way too, but also to judge from the other person’s behavior and demeanor whether that word is accurate.
2) I think it would be appropriate for one person to feel used if the other person achieved sexual satisfaction or enjoyment and made no honest attempt to reciprocate so that both would have enjoyment or satisfaction. And just “letting” someone have sex with you is not what I mean by reciprocating, unless, of course, that is enjoyment enough for them.
I am not talking here of cases where one person does not end up satisfying the other though the attempt was made, but of cases where one does not try to give the other person satisfaction or enjoyment and/or where he or she does not care whether the other person is satisfied or finds enjoyment or not. Environment, outside pressures, fear, other things on one’s mind, or either partner’s naiveté, ineptness, or lack of ability may cause one person not to enjoy sex very much while the other person does; but lack of success at helping the other person really enjoy sex at a particular time does not indicate lack of concern about trying to help them do so; and it is the lack of concern that is the hallmark of using someone in this kind of case.
Now, quite often, though not always, it is men who can more easily and quickly attain orgasm, sometimes leaving their partners unsatisfied and used, or at least feeling used. But there are cases where the reverse is also true. Further, orgasm is not the only kind of sexual satisfaction, and just attaining it, or allowing your mate to attain, orgasm is not necessarily to have or “give” even physically satisfying, let alone emotionally satisfying sex. Sometimes the amount and kind of foreplay and afterplay, and the kind of conversation, are as important as, or even more important than, whether orgasm is achieved.
3) A person can be considered to be (letting himself or herself be) used (and also to be using the other person, though in a different way) if he or she has sex with no desire for it but instead is doing it in order to get something else —money, status, job promotion, state secrets, a favor in return, marriage, the other person’s love, or whatever.
4) Under some circumstances, seduction or talking someone into sex or plying them with wine or drugs or maybe even just soft music and candlelight to take advantage of a temporary mood is to use someone. Similarly, taking advantage of such a mood even though one has not induced it oneself, but finds another person already in it —perhaps depressed, despondent, lonely, rejected by a lover, etc.— a mood that either is temporary or that can be somehow dulled or offset or temporarily satisfied by sex, but sex which will probably be regretted by the “victim” later, is to use or take advantage of someone else. I am talking about cases where sex is not a real solution but only a (temporary) masking of the problem. To be a situation of use, in this case the user must intentionally and knowingly be taking such advantage of such a situation. Having sex with someone who thinks he or she wants sex, but who really only wants companionship, when you have no reason to believe sex is not what they really want, is not to use them.
Also, there may be some cases in which sex works out for both parties even though something else might have worked out equally well. For example, two people can both be lonely and spend a night together that might work out well and memorably for both of them. I do not consider this a case of use, even of reciprocal or mutual use. (If this is use, all cases of relationship sex would probably be ones of use or mutual use. But what I am trying to examine here are cases of sex where one person feels used but does not seem to have used the other person.) Further, since sexual time spent together is not always just physical mechanics of sex, but often includes conversation, displays of tenderness, sometimes flashes of insight, humor, wit, reflections on the relationship or life in general, etc., sexual time spent with another may be important for many reasons other than just whatever physical or sensual pleasure that may be sought or that may occur. When this happens, taking advantage of a temporary mood is not always to “use” someone; it depends on what occurs when that advantage is taken, and what the experience might (ultimately) mean to the person in the temporary mood.
5) In marriage or some other long term, or committed, relationship, there will be times when one person is in a sexual mood, but the other is not. At such times, the second person may either be very opposed to having sex, or they may not be opposed, just simply not already particularly in the mood. In the latter case they may be willing to have sex as a favor for a loved one. It seems to me that the person who is in the mood should then try to help the other person also be in the mood so that there is some mutual joy and not just acquiescence. It is all right to have sex to let your partner enjoy it, but it is simply better if both can more enthusiastically participate, rather than one’s simply doing the other a favor. Doing someone else a sexual “favor” when one is not in the mood and does not particularly get into the mood, even someone you love very much, may lead to some resentment and a later feeling of having been used and of having “let oneself be used”. And contrary to popular belief, this applies to men as well as to women. A man might be willing to accommodate his partner sexually in a number of ways, and can even have intercourse without really being all that interested at the time.
None of these cases is gender specific; either the user or the one being used could be male or female. In a society in which men may be more sexually aggressive, assertive, or interested, and where women may deny, repress, or never have been encouraged to be aware of their own sexuality, it may be that men would more often use women than women would use men. But in a society where there is not inequality of assertiveness, sexual use might be more on an equal basis. It is not difficult to find cases of either sex using the other in any of the five categories described above. The numbers may simply be different for men and for women, but there is nothing about sexually using someone that makes it only possible for, or characteristic of, men.
There are two or three things, however, to discuss because I think they contribute to what I think are mistaken views about what constitutes using someone sexually and why it is men rather than women who seem to be the perpetrators.
1) Although the phrases “making love” and “having sexual intercourse” are intransitive or at least reciprocal verbs describing a reciprocal or mutual activity, the common verbs “screw” and “fuck” are transitive verbs requiring both a subject and an object; and in the normal heterosexual use of the word, the subject is male; the object female. In the heterosexual use of these words, we generally talk about men screwing women, not women screwing men (though there are times where the woman is very aroused or much more aggressive than the man, and she will use the terms in reverse, often to emphasize the strength of her desire or the fact that she wants to be the more “active” partner in certain ways). It is as if two people were not doing the same thing together, but one was acting on, or using, the other. If we spoke or thought more in terms of “having sex”, “having intercourse”, “making love”, there would perhaps not be such a mindset about subject and object. Women can be said to “have sex”, “have intercourse”, and “make love” with men just as readily as men can be said to do those things with women.
1a) (Numbered this way because I think there is a close correlation here with 1.) Accompanying this, is the language used that talks about penetration or insertion of the penis into the vagina during sex. There is somehow the image that the penis is “invading” or being “put into” the vagina. This may be true to an extent for certain logistical reasons, particularly if the woman takes a relatively passive role. But it is equally true (though you almost never hear it stated this way) that the vagina is surrounding and engulfing, even taking in, absorbing, or “swallowing up”, the penis. This way of describing the act would make it sound more like the woman is the one performing the act or taking the more active part, or somehow getting more out of the activity. When women do play a more active role in initiating or performing sexual intercourse, perhaps such language actually is a more appropriate description of the act. Since language sometimes affects perspectives, language of this sort might make women feel more in control or in a more active capacity, and it even might make men begin to feel they are the objects of intercourse and that they are the ones being used, particularly in cases where the sex is not particularly satisfying either physically or emotionally or when a relationship deteriorates after sex. The language of sex may not only be reflective of how it is perceived, but a factor in how it is perceived, and performed.
This is not always, of course. There seem to be some women (as some men) who have a dislike of sex, and these women could not see themselves as being the manipulators of men during sex, or in order to have sex, no matter what language was used. But there are many women who actively enjoy sex or who would like to, and who are perhaps often subconsciously influenced by language such as in 1 or 1a that makes them feel when sex or relationships have gone bad that they were the ones who were manipulated, instead of having participated in a potentially mutually active, mutually satisfying, and equally pleasurable activity.
2) Perhaps for accidental cultural reasons, but possibly for more deeply natural psychological or physiological reasons, many women do seem to take a more passive part in sex. They like to be stroked or touched and massaged but do not do much of that in return. Their idea of initiating petting or kissing is to assume a posture that obviously allows or invites the man to touch them, rather than maintaining a “defensive”, “closed”, or ambiguous posture. Some women do not want to take a more active role; some simply do not think they need to or that the male would not enjoy being the “object” of touching —that the thrill for the man is somehow his touching the woman, not the woman’s touching him. At any rate, if a person does take a more passive role, for whatever reason, it seems they are more the objects of sex than an equal participant in it. And, when they are not feeling good about sex or the relationship, they may see themselves more as an object of sex, and therefore the one to whom it “is done” and the one who is used. This is an unfortunate error, and it is also an unfortunate occurrence for those men who would like to be stroked or to be occasionally seduced or not have to always be the initiator or the more active “worker” during sex.
Social Ostracism, Pregnancy, and Tradition
In much of society there is a tradition that “good girls” don’t have sex outside of marriage. There may be a great many irrational reasons for how this view arose —such as male chauvinism and power dominance or male vanity about the “purity” of the woman a man marries. But there is one very good reason for women, in particular, not to have sex prior to marriage, at least in the past; and that is pregnancy. (Diseases, particularly fatal sexually transmitted diseases are another, but that applies to men as well, so I am not discussing it here.)
In a society where a man can avoid any financial or social responsibility for pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing, and where many do, and where the full burden falls on the woman, clearly a woman is risking far more than a man when she has sexual intercourse. (Of course, this is not true if the man is responsible and conscientious, or if society will make him be so, but the woman cannot always tell that. And marriage is also no solution to the problems of pregnancy and child rearing if the man is of not much help in the marriage or if divorce is easily obtained and puts more of a burden on the woman with regard to child rearing.) When it is said that “good girls” don’t have sex outside of marriage, perhaps it would be more precise to say that “prudent” women do not have (indiscriminate or particularly socially risky) sexual intercourse outside of marriage — if pregnancy is a possibility and if child rearing would be a burden beyond the “normal” difficulty of parenting.
It is, I believe, wrong for women to bear a disproportionally greater, or the entire, burden of child rearing, but when they do, they incur a risk about sex that men do not. And insofar as a boy or man may be irresponsible and cavalier about sex, especially if pretending not to be, he is taking advantage of, or using, a woman when he has sex purely for pleasure, regardless of how willing the woman is at the time or how much pleasure she takes in it, perhaps particularly if she reasonably believes him to be more responsible.
Furthermore, women often bear an even greater burden than mere single-parenthood, since social and workplace ostracism may be added to it. Such added difficulties are, I believe, reprehensible for the most part, but insofar as they exist, it makes the male’s callousness about sexual responsibility even worse, and his sexual treatment of the woman more of “use” than a mutual activity whose consequences are also mutual and mutually shared.
- Circumstances show the kinds of deeper considerations that need to be given to any situation where one might feel having been used, accuse someone else of using them, or feel guilty about a (former or soon to be former) partner’s accusation.
- The phrases “making love” and “having sexual intercourse” are intransitive or at least reciprocal verbs describing a reciprocal or mutual activity.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What is meant by sexually using someone, or by being used sexually?