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Diverse perspectives enhance discourse around sex

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APRIL 22, 2014

Over the course of the semester, my columns have been the subject of a bit of controversy: I’ve been praised for their content and, at the same time, have faced accusations of sexism and misogyny from friends, colleagues and the public. Generally, the reactions to my columns have been polarizing. People either love them or hate them.

As a heterosexual, cisgender male, my perspective tends to align fairly closely to some prevalent notions of sexuality, although I have my disagreements with the mainstream thinking about sex. So I initially thought writing a sex column would be easier for me than for past Sex on Tuesday columnists. That has certainly proven to be false. I began writing without seeking to focus on challenging societal norms regarding sexuality. I instead intended to spark a discussion about sex itself.

A few days ago, I received a letter — it’s printed in this same issue of The Daily Californian — signed by UC Berkeley students criticizing many of the things I’ve said in this column. This made me think that now is the time to respond to some of the general criticism I have received for my columns and elaborate on a few topics that I may have previously been unclear about.

It should be noted that online sex writing is one of the few media platforms where the cisgender, male voice is not only the minority, but it seems nearly absent to me. As noted by former Daily Cal sex columnist Vi Nguyen in “Where are all the straight dudes?,” a majority of sex columnists are women. Diversity of opinion is important to avoid groupthink or confirmation bias on any controversial topic.

I believe the lack of straight male sex columnists is not because men are too afraid of being vulnerable or exposing their life’s intimate details but because they are also restricted by gendered standards when it comes to talking about sex. Gender equality and the effort to level the sexual playing field is, obviously, a good thing. But the flip side of increased awareness about male dominance is that heterosexual male sex columnists are subject to increased scrutiny and criticism by people who may view their opinions as ignorant of their privilege — although I acknowledge such privilege exists and that I benefit from it. Because heteronormativity and patriarchy are so socially dominant, straight, cisgender men who write about sex and don’t expressly challenge that status quo are assumed to not understand the complexities, difficulties and inequalities in sexuality.

I acknowledge that, sometimes, I use my personal experiences to make claims that could be misinterpreted as declarations of universal truth. That was never my intention. To clarify, my article last week received some negative feedback regarding the relationship I described between sexual repression and instances of rape. I apologize if anyone was hurt by what I said, but I want to clarify my stance. I don’t believe sexual violence is solely a result of sexual repression or that it can turn a respectful, law-abiding guy into a rapist. Rather, I argue that sexual repression could make someone who may already be inclined to commit sexual violence more likely to act on it. Thus, I think the availability of sex through prostitution will reduce the number of rapes caused by perpetrators who are already predisposed to commit the crime. I was not excusing rape culture. It’s still true that teaching consent should be the top priority, but the intention of the column was not to diagnose why sexual violence occurs. It was only to suggest one way — although I acknowledge that it may sound quite radical to some — to reduce sexual violence.

I’ve also received comments claiming that I ignore the existence of female sexual agency and represent sex through a singular, male-centered perspective. This criticism fails to acknowledge, however, that I value female sexual desire and satisfaction. In my column “The pleasurable potential of going down,” I emphasize the importance of female sexual pleasure, despite the fact that going down on women can be looked down upon in patriarchal culture. I not only discussed the importance of oral sex, but I also helped educate readers about the most effective techniques.

In another column, I presented my own experiences with regard to the Victoria’s Secret underwear dilemma with the hope of exemplifying how people can be susceptible to negative body-image standards as presented by the media. Using my story as an example, I hoped to increase awareness about the harmful effects marketing can have on our conception of beauty and show why it is problematic. I sought to expose what I consider to be problems with mainstream notions of sexuality and to allow readers to decide for themselves if they agreed.

The criticism I’ve received is valid, but it doesn’t mean this column should focus solely on challenging patriarchal discourses surrounding sex. Fighting for gender equality is important, and I know my arguments could have been made a little clearer in my support of gender equality. But these issues aren’t the only ones relevant to the campus community in a sex column.

Brett Tanonaka writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact him at [email protected].

APRIL 17, 2015