At a private house party recently my (uncomfortable) high heels gave me much opportunity to sit down and watch the assembled company and how they interacted. What interested me especially was how quickly and keen the women were to get involved in BDSM play compared to the men. The women were by far being the most tactile, the most obviously available and actively interested in playing - at one point I had two very good looking women kneeling at my feet and another in my lap wriggling happily underneath my teeth. There were boys there who I would have happily played with and who I am sure would have liked to play, but they were clothed, in another room, talking to another boy about football (OK, I made the last bit up, but you get the picture).
The most obvious signifier of this "women only" situation was that the only naked people I witnessed were women. The men for the most part, were fully clothed, often talking to each other at the sidelines, except for those who, also fully clothed, were playing with their female partners.
Now, because I know that there were submissive men present who were interested in playing and didn't; I am intrigued as to why they were uncomfortable, unwilling or unable to express their desire as clearly as the women. This got me thinking. What is it about our group, our society or our gendered ideas about presenting sexuality that makes it easy for submissive women to make themselves available for play and hard for submissive men? For the record I'm specifically focusing on submissives for the moment because I was able to draw direct comparisons between the sexes that evening. There is a massive difference in expectations of presentation, and difficulties in attracting casual play partners for male and female dominants, but I'll just have to blog about that later, so watch this space.
Taking the most obvious point first: we are much more used to seeing representations of unclothed women than we are men. We (I'm talking about western culture here) are fairly well conditioned into being comfortable with the sight of female flesh, especially as meaning "sexually available". The connection between naked or provocatively clad women and consumption is, sadly, a much ingrained trope. Naked men are often viewed as dangerous or threatening, rather than attractive sexual offerings - unless they are gay. In which case they can be perceived as dangerous in quite another way. When considering the classic heterosexual "attractive" male they are almost always rich, powerful and clothed.
Naked men are a rarity: their naked torsos do not grace the third page of the country's best selling red top and their legs don't flash up in adverts for cereal. On a night out in any town centre, the average woman will be wearing less than the average man. Women find it easier to be naked and semi-clothed, or to wear revealing or provocative clothing - corsets, tight latex etc. They feel safe as well as sexy. Men are not used to doing this and are rarely seen semi-clothed or naked except in certain specific and often purely "men only" contexts. Spaces where society has stipulated an acceptable male nakedness: sports changing rooms, saunas, the beach and certain clubs.
Of course, there are exceptions, and we all know about the naked (often unattractive) man who wanders around the sex club, probably casually masturbating despite the notices on the wall. Perhaps it is fear of being that guy that stops men taking their tops off.
Another element of the "available for play" sign is demonstrated physical contact. In the situation I was in, women were touching each other and being obviously sexually open. The men were drinking beer, talking and taking sidelong looks at the girls. In my experience of BDSM I have witnessed vastly more girl-on-girl play than boy on boy.
I can only conclude that some form of socially contracted homophobia (it's a disease...) prevents them from touching each other, or of exploring each others' bodies. How many more men than women proclaim themselves straight and feign horror at the sight of another naked body similar to theirs? We live in a sexual culture that considers girls kissing girls as a normal, natural and indeed, it is an almost expected erotic staple. Yet we would not instantly think of those women as lesbians. It is viewed instead as a display piece for the attraction of men. The reverse does not happen nearly enough. Sadly. Although I am doing my best to try and turn the tide.
Summary: men just don't advertise the goods.
I realised I needed a boy's eye view. A quick IM with Dandy (my go-to-guy for chaps who take their tops off) sheds a bit of light on the subject. We chatted about how men have clothing that is generally comfortable, non-tight and does not reveal how they look, which means that on a day-to-day basis - unlike women - how their bodies look is not an issue for them. Something compounded by the fact that their worth is rarely judged on their attractiveness alone:
"Taking their clothes off suddenly means they have to acknowledge they have physiques at which point the man is subject to the most common male physical expectation which is an awesome six pack surrounded by small to large muscles. Dressed means no expectations. Naked means huge expectations."
So far, so scary. But it's a fear I can recognise, because I, and all other women are also surrounded by challenging body image expectations all the time, far more than men. Yet I do not have the same inhibitions. Why?
I think that women are perhaps more used to those body image expectations and have overcome them, either by ignoring them and/or by working damn hard to look good, to dress well and are therefore much more body conscious and ready to reveal. On a wider social level, it can be argued that women are following convention by shedding clothing, men are having to go against the grain.
In a play party scenario, men find themselves suddenly on the spot and having to be physically attractive. This is something that women have had all their lives to practice at and live under the requirement of being sexually attractive first and foremost. So they tend to be better at it - if not happier people because of it (I'd be the first to say that the focus on looks does enormous harm to women and young girls), but neither are men gaining anything in particular by totally shying away from the idea that their bodies might be conduits for desire within certain situations. Both genders have something to learn from the other.
Myself and a few ladies of my acquaintance are considering setting up a support group to help young men become comfortable with being more obviously sexually available. A doll project for boys, perhaps?
2 weeks ago