Kate Byrne: Can men feel discarded after a one-night-stand?
Published 05/06/2016 | 02:30
I didn't know how to react when a friend recently opened up about feeling "used for sex".
It's not that I hadn't encountered this standpoint before. I have - many times. The trouble is that it was the first time I'd heard those words come from the mouth of a heterosexual male.
He says it happened weekend after weekend during his 20s - a series of 6am post-nightclub rendezvous that ended with nothing more than a peck on the cheek and a taxi number. While my friend was hoping for a text message on Tuesday, it transpired that the women he had paired off with were only looking for a good time.
His eyes were big and wide and vulnerable when he told me this. And still I laughed.
This was partly because he kept saying he was "used and abused" in a drawl that reminded me of Dolly Parton, and partly because I found his use of the word 'abused' a touch dramatic when he was describing a consensual act.
Still, it was wrong to laugh. Had a female friend shared the same sentiment, I would have instantly launched into a kick-him-to-the-curb denunciation. And I certainly wouldn't have wondered why she was complaining about getting plenty of action - which is basically how I responded to my male friend's plight.
Women get used for sex, not men. The Shirelles sang 'Will you still love me tomorrow?', not The Spinners. The Walk of Shame is a female phenomenon. Anything else just sounds incongruous.
Besides, women are constantly reminded that men are 'after only one thing'. Hence every seemingly well-intentioned compliment or favour is mined for a sexual motive - usually by means of a double entendre. He'd give you one alright... I'd say he'd pump more than your tyre if he had the chance...
Wise aunts and older female friends tell us that men think with another part of their anatomy. Neuroscientists tell us that the male brain shuts down like a power cut in a fairground when they become aroused.
It's no surprise then that women second-guess and cross-examine every statement that comes out of a man's mouth. Even my friend's heartfelt revelation was carefully scrutinised - was he trying to elicit my sympathy before extricating my underwear?
We never really consider what happens when the roles are reversed. When a man betrays a sense of vulnerability and admits that he feels ashamed or degraded or discarded after sex, a woman's response is generally one of incredulity, followed by hearty laughter.
I lost oxygen when another male friend told me that a woman we both know had forced herself upon him. The fact that he said she had a "lizard tongue" didn't help matters.
Yet had it been a female friend, my response would have been very different. We seem to be wired with a cognitive bias that makes it difficult for us to think of women as players or sexual predators.
And it's a dangerous way of thinking. If we laugh at men when they tell us they feel sexually used, do they become less inclined to open up about more serious violations like domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape? Probably.
It doesn't help that an entire generation of women feel wholly justified about "playing men at their own game". Dozens of glossy magazine articles have perpetuated the idea that a man who uses a woman for sex is deceitful while a woman who uses a man for sex is empowered.
Meanwhile, received wisdom tells us that men offer love for sex and women offer sex for love.
This is largely true: the commodity model of sex - or 'putting out' as it is otherwise known - leads to all sorts of underhandedness. Yet it doesn't allow for the men who wear their hearts on their sleeves or the women who run circles around them.
Tinder has levelled the playing field to a certain degree. Everyone knows where they stand when the getting-to know-one-another stage is crudely condensed into a two-word question. Likewise, a photograph of someone's penis certainly helps a woman manage her expectations.
It's base and it's bawdy, yes, but it's considerably kinder than those who go through the motions of early courtship simply to get a notch on their bedpost.
The truth is that those who say they were used sexually are really trying to express their hurt about being rejected romantically.
In an ideal world, they could argue the toss over the ownership of a NutriBullet, but when there is no official relationship status, the power struggle has to be played out using the only thing a person in this situation can commodify: their body.
Casual sex between two consenting adults is rarely cut and dry. One person invariably wants more - and it's not always the woman.