By Francine Sporenda
The argument of the uncontrollable sexual urge is a stereotype of the patriarchal discourse that excuses and justifies male violence. Answering the question : « are male sexual urges really uncontrollable ? » is a no brainer : no, they aren’t. Because—unless they are drunk, or demented—men don’t rape women when the conditions are not favorable. If they are not almost guaranteed impunity (or believe they are), they don’t act on their urges : they don’t rape in public places, whether in a restaurant, at work, in a railway station or a supermarket. The decision to rape takes place after an assessment of the risks and chances of success—there must be no witnesses (unless they are accomplices), relative weakness of the target, she must be incapacitated by alcohol or drugs etc. If the risk is too big, the acting out is suspended. Johns who speak of their uncontrollable urges don’t spend their whole salary on prostitutes : their uncontrollable sexual urges are controlled by their limited budget. The argument of the uncontrollable urge is just as invalid in the case of battered women : according to violent men, when their partner triggers their anger, they just can’t help hitting her. But when they are angry at their boss, they can. Rape is not the result of an urge, but of a calculation, or even of a strategy.
What must be analyzed in this hackneyed argument is the role it plays in patriarchal ideology and the message it conveys regarding male sexuality.
The Rape of Lucrezia (Titien)
The assertion that male sexual urges are uncontrollable is paradoxical : it suggests at the same time that these urges are highly dangerous, asocial, possibly criminal but that they cannnot and should not be repressed : it’s bad, but nothing can be done about it, boys will be boys. The normal conclusion being that it’s out of the question to reallly punish rape, incest and pedophilia–at most, one can try to channel these urges towards prostitution, which is presented by patriarchal discourse as protecting women and children from all out male sexual assault. Of course this ancient justification of prostitution is totally bogus, since not only the proof of such « rape reduction » has never been produced, but on the contrary, different studies seem to indicate that it’s in the cultures where prostitution is most widespread that rape is most prevalent. And it makes sense : wherever women are most disrespected, sex is least consensual. it’s interesting to note also that there is no other crime—murder, theft, etc.—of which the dominant discourse says : « it’s a crime that should not be punished, it’s an « acceptable crime ».
« ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS »
This is not what « misandrist » feminists say about men, this is what men say about themselves when they talk about their « uncontrollable sexual urges ». They describe themselves as basically sexually predatory and they define virility itself as intrinsically wild, amoral and above the law. And they tell us that we should not even try to repress their sexual urges, because it’s impossible : these urges are presented as natural, biological, hormonal, unchangeable ; according to them it’s nature calling, and one cannot go against nature.
If these urges are identified as « natural », it’s because the patriarchal discourse wants to pass them off as real natural urges—like eating, drinking, sleeping etc—in other words, as vital physiological needs that must be satisfied unless the survival of the individuals concerned is endangered. Men like to insist that the non-satisfaction of their sexual urges is painful (the « explosive balls » syndrome) and would cause anemia, wasting muscles, mental problems and depression. Equating male sexual urges to basic physiological needs is received as such an evidence that it is used to justify providing « sexual services » (free access to prostituted women ) to male invalids at taxpayers’ cost.
In the argumentation that justifies providing prostituted women to invalid males, the male sexual urge is not just naturalized , it’s medicalized : getting laid becomes necessary to men’s health. And who could deny sexual access to horny males when it’s medically prescribed?
This argument of the uncontrollable sexual urge aims to present as natural what is in fact a social construct : masculine desire is defined as « need » to make it non negociable. As a general rule, dominants like to naturalize their dominance to conceal its historicity and thus pass it off as unchanging. Because if something is believed to be unchanging, there is no point in trying to change it.
Who, confronted to such a major health concern affecting the all important male, would dare to recall that ejaculating is not a need and that no man ever died of chastity ? And even if one admits the pseudo-scientitic hypothesis that emptying one’s testicles regularly is necessary for good health, all men can take care of this operation themselves, including invalids—unless their hands have been amputated.
But this is not what men want. In order to stay healthy, they absolutely must ejaculate in bodily orifices—vagina, mouth or anus—and not in any kind of bodily orifices, only female ones. Although males are endowed with two orifices, perfectly identical in terms of functionality to female ones, it’s out of the question for heterosexual men to consider using those to satisfy their urges : only female orifices are sexualized, whereas by definition male orifices escape sexualization. On Facebook, a man was speaking of « sanctuarizing the vagina » because he thought feminists made too big a fuss about women forced to have sex against their will. In fact, if there are bodily orifices that are « sanctuarized », it’s definitely not female orifices (made readily accessible to males through marriage, prostitution, rape, pornography, incest and pedophilia)—but héterosexal males’ orifices—heterosexual males refusing to be penetrated just as obsessively as they insist on penetrating women.
And of course, the notion of uncontrollable urges is used first and foremost to erase male responsibility–when they assert the uncontrollability of their sexual urges, men are telling us : whatever our sexual behavior, however atrocious our sexual crimes may be, we cannot be held responsible : « it’s not us, it’s our urges ». This argument being even more of an excuse since women and girls can be held responsible for these urges by being portrayed as temptresses and cockteases.
There is also an implicit threat and blackmail contained in this notion of uncontrollable urges : if these urges are wild, a-social, and can be directed at any kind of target, they can be dangerous if not satisfied, to the point of threatening law and order. Lurking behind this assertion is the fantasy of herds of horny men running wild in the streets, assaulting anyone they’d come across, even « respectable » women and girls, thus damaging the so-called « property » of other dominant males, or worse : attacking other males and raping them !. Therefore, the satisfaction of these sexual urges is presented as necessary to keep society orderly.
The message is clear : male uncontrollable sexual urges are defining characteristics of masculinity that should be accepted without discussion. Therefore, the best that can be done is to organize their satisfaction so as it doesn’t disturb social order too much. Of course, this implies also that most women have to resign themselves to being raped as a matter of course: no point trying to resist, submit to the male sex right, it’s nature’s bidding, your lot is to be penetrated. Biology is destiny, said Freud.
NOT FOR EVERY ONE
Except that these uncontrollable urges are not uncontrollable for all males : one observes that sex crimes and misdemeanors are severely punished if the perpetrators belong to certain social categories, in particular non-white and poor. It’s interesting to note that, in Southern states before the Civil war, the case of black slaves raping white women (planters’ wives or daughters) was extremely rare, despite the fact that these men lived side by side with white women as house slaves (the notion of the black rapist was propagated after the abolition of slavery, as an argument against it). And if masculine solidarity entails a certain tolerance toward the sexual urges of the men belonging to non-dominant categories, it’s on the condition that these urges target only women of the same group. Were these sexual urges directed toward the wives or daughters of males of the dominant class, they were to be controlled and severely punished. Whereas rich and powerful men can perpetrate sexual crimes without experiencing any serious consequences, neither judiciary nor social or professionnal—as demonstrated by Roman Polanski and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
And of course, only male sexual urges are uncontrollable. When it comes to women, their sexual desires are never presented as « needs » or « urges », on the contrary, patriarchal men have gone to great lengths to control and repress female sexuality–and still do.
In fact, male sexual urges are not uncontrollable, they are only uncontrolled. And they are uncontrolled because those who hold power don’t use it to control themselves but those they wish to control. If the people who belong to oppressed categories have internalized early on that they can’t get what they want, must accept frustration as their lot and keep a tight lid on their urges in order to avoid getting in trouble, the members of the dominant castes can give free rein to their sexual urges : those who make the laws punishing sexual crimes don’t have to abide by them. Sexual desires presented as non-negociable needs are characteristic of « masters’ sexuality ». Only dominant’s desires are imperative. To be a dominant is about passing off one’s desires as needs, and one’s needs as rights. The notion of « sex rights » being null and void anyway because sexual intercourse involves a partner, and there cannot be a «right to sex » anymore that there is a « right to own slaves »–because there is no such right as to dispose of another person.
The Rape of Prosepina (Rubens)
In a nutshell, sexual urges are only controllable and punishable for subordinate categories. And women having been at the very bottom of the ladder for millenaries, one can assume that the more patriarchal a culture is, the more female sexual urges will be repressed—to the point of having become nearly inexistant in a number of cultures where what is called « female sexuality » is just about servicing men sexually.
But most of all, if male sexual predation is presented as a « good crime » that must not be punished, it’s because this statement conveys a major stake for patriarchal power over women, for a number of reasons.
First we must recall that the notion of « crime » is not absolute nor unchanging, it’s essentially relative : there is no crime per se, the criminal character of a particular action depends not so much on the action itself than on the value granted to the victim and to the perpetrator and on their relative place in a hierarchy. To kill a woman or a black man—a fortiori a black woman—is not the same as killing a white man. To kill an animal is not considered as a crime. Male sexual predation, when it concerns women, is at best only « formally » criminalized. In real life, one observes that, even if rape and pedophilia are legally crimes, they are often judged as misdeaminors, the sentences are lenient and the vast majority of these crimes never even reach a court.
On the other hand, when it targets other men, male sexual predation is not socially tolerated. By « feminizing » males by subjecting them to penile penetration, it symbolically undermines the very definition of male dominance (that males penetrate but are not supposed to be penetrated). The notion that each man could become a sexual prey for other men, in other words be treated like a woman, is unbearable to the patriarchal mindset. This panic breeding fantasy, the vision of a state of complete sexual anarchy where men would penetrate each other, thus destroying the sexual hierarchy that founds social order, is warded off by homophobia, which stigmatizes strongly these behaviors in men. Male sexual agression must never be directed toward other men, as this would destroy the bonds of male solidarity which are key to keep women subordinated. One sees statistics mentioning that, in the US, a woman is raped every 3 minutes. This does not stir up any indignation and does not threaten the social order in any way. But can you imagine what would become of male supremacy if this statistic concerned rapes of men by other men ?
In patriarchal societies, laws, institutions and social customs guarantee and organize the unconditional right of men to heterosexual sex. This unlimited and garanteed sexual access to females is founded on the two institutions which are the complementary cornerstones of patriarchy : marriage and prostitution, the virgin-mother and the whore, female bodies as private or public property. And this legal sexual access is completed by « illegal » forms : rape, pedophilia and incest.
But this right to sexual access must not be construed purely about satisfying males’ sexual « needs », the real stake is political : each time a man penetrates a woman, he reasserts himself as dominant and defines the person penetrated as submissive—I don’t need to recall all the familiar expressions that equate being penetrated with being submissive : to be screwed/fucked meaning to be had, to be ripped off etc . In the patriarchal view, penetration is THE act that establishes who is master and who is slave: a woman penetrated is a woman submitted. The 20th-century sexologists prescribed married men to have penetrative intercourse with their wives as often as possible, these regular penetrations being the way to render them docile inside and outside the bedroom. The Munducurus of the Amazonian area in Brasil never heard of sexology but one of their sayings conveys the same idea : « we tame our women with the banana ». Like Marilyn Fryes states : « fucking is a large part of how females are kept subordinated » (1).
Hence, each PIV is not just a reasssertion of the dominant status of the person who penetrates but it consolidates patriarchy in general. Each time a woman lets herself be penetrated, she implicitly recognizes her individual subordinated status, as well as her belonging to the collective category of the subordinated. Each PIV is the ritual re-enactment of the patriarchal balance of power existing between men and women, and it ensures its continuation by puting back each partner in their right place : the woman beneath, the man on top (the catholic church imposed the « missionnary position » as the only « hierarchically correct » one). As the founding paradigm of male domination, sexual intercourse is the ultimate hierarchizing act. Hence the question : can male domination be abolished as long as heterosexuality remains the norm ?
Evidence that sexual intercourse is not just about sex is the fact that, in porn, many non-sexual acts are also sexualized –as long as they defile women : insults, humiliations, tortures : this is run of the mill pornography. Porn is thus the ultimate expression of this hierarchy- creating « sexuality ». And of course, since it has been recently undermined by feminism, male supremacy must go further and further to regain lost ground. To this end, hierarchizing acts must be diversified and multiplied ad infinitum : to bring back women to their proper place, all their orifices must be penetrated and new ways of debasing them must be invented—and this is what porn does.
In response to the modern erosion of patriarchal power, there is a now a two pronged counteroffensive to restaure it : through religious revival, which seeks to send back women to their rôle as private property : the mother/breeder. And through pornography, which assigns them to the role of public property : the whore/sexual object–the formerly clear borderline between these two archetypes becoming somewhat blurred.
PIV IS POLITICAL
The message conveyed by the argument of the uncontrollable urge is that male sexual access must be unlimited and unconditional and that nothing should restrain it—even if this access implies the perpetration of destructive violences both for the persons targeted and for society. And correlatively, that it must be practically impossible for women to avoid being penetrated. As we have seen, this statement obfuscates a very important fact : that this unlimited sexual access is not primarily a question of satisfying sexual urges but is key for maintaining male power over women. If the sexual criminality implied by the notion of uncontrollable sexual urge must not be repressed, it’s because men are keenly aware that it’s a prerequisite to their supremacy–in more ways than one : « a great deal of fucking is also presumed to preserve and maintain women’s belief in their own essential heterosexuality ». And this belief is vital to patriarchy since it conditions males’ exploitation of women.
Behind the excuse of the uncontrollable urge, the coded message sent to men is, « don’t control your urges, on the contrary, give them free rein, because they are the instrument of your power. The more you penetrate women, the more they’ll defer to you ». In fact, in order to maintain males’ hold over women, it’s crucial they are subjected to « penile bombing ». And correlatively, if the acts that confer dominance are PIV and all other ways of invading female bodies, men must be able to perform them readily. Hence the extensive use of Viagra and pornography, thanks to which males’ erections are artificially stimulated to maximize penetration of female bodies, while pornographic images provide also an instruction manual on the many ways to penetrate them. Performing PIV as often as possible is men’s patriarchal duty.
Persephona Abducted by Hades
SEXUAL ACCESS IS PREREQUISITE TO MALE DOMINATION
Besides keeping themselves ever ready for penetration , the other condition of male control over women is to make sure that no woman can escape penetration. The fact that men become enraged when women deny them access, for instance by advocating separatism and single sex spaces, is testimony to the importance of the stake of sexual access to patriarchy. From this point of view, the trans movement can be seen as a patriarchal counterstrike aiming to prevent women to keep men out—their task as patriarchy’s « Special Operation Forces» being to invade female spaces at any cost.
RAPE AND PROSTITUTION, KEY ELEMENTS OF UNLIMITED MALE SEXUAL ACCESS
Marriage is an instutionalized, legal way to guarantee male sexual access ; in traditional marriages, the husband is entitled to have sex with his wife whether she wants it or not and he can demand his « conjugal right » by resorting to rape if necessary. Rape was therefore part and parcel of marriage, and since traditional marriages were arranged, the wedding night was legal rape. And it still is in a number of countries. Even in Western countries today, sex between husband and wife may be presented as consensual but it’s in fact compulsory.
But marriage is not enough to provide unlimited sexual access to males, it must be completed by other forms of sexual access, so that no women can escape PIV ; prostitution, rape, pedophilia and incest.
The purpose of these practices is obviously to Increase the pool of sexually available women : by definition, rape provides access to all women, whereas pedophilia and incest include children as well.
Another reason for these practices is that, since virility is about penetration and violation, sexual intercourse with consenting women doesn’t give enough of a feeling of power to some men : they must have non consensual intercourse to feel the totality of their hold over women (the sex dolls industry understands that well since there is a « rape » setting on these dolls). In order to really enjoy full-fledged dominance, the male supremacist must force himself on women, not just physically by fucking them but by overpowering them and breaking their will. If the woman wants what the dominant wants sexually, the will of the man cannot be expressed fully. « Consensual » sex doesn’t procure this feeling of hubristic dominance, only prostitution and rape do (some johns don’t want the prostitute to appear to be enjoying the sex or even to be « consenting », what they like in prostitution is precisely that the prostituted woman doesn’t want to have sex with them)). Prostitution reveals the hidden reality of heterosexuality : that sexual violation is central to patriarchal sexuality, this being openly stated in traditional patriarchal societies where male violence is absolutely legitimate. In these societies, men don’t bother to pretend that prostitution is consensual (or marriage for that matter), they know it can’t be and they don’t try to hide it. It’s only in « equal rights societies » that this sexual violation has to be presented as « consensual ».
The Rape of Proserpina (Alexandro Allori)
RAPE AND PROSTITUTION
So rape guarantees that no woman can avoid male sexual access : all women can be raped—whatever their social rank : by the mere fact that a man has a penis—and even if he comes from the lowest social class—he has the power to make a queen inferior to him by raping her. As such, rape is a key instrument of male domination : first it’s a policing tool that is used to terrorize women and to scare them into submission. And since no woman can protect herself totally against rape, no woman can be really considered as men’s equal since at any moment, a man can rape her : rape locks the asimmetry of power between men and women. Rape, paid or not, also gives back to men their lost power over women : when they hire a prostitute, they can experience again full-fledged male supremacy as their forefathers knew it. Prostitutional rape opens to men a space where all the women’s rights gained by feminism are abolished. Johns often say that prostitutional sex is disappointing, that they don’t really enjoy having paid intercourse—but that buying a female body– bypassing the fact that she does not want to have sex with you by paying her, ignoring her physical boundaries, humiliating her, getting her to accept painful, disgusting or dangerous sex acts, ejaculating on her like a pissing dog—this gives them a shoot of pure dominance, like sniffing cocaine.
But rape can be complicated and somewhat risky to achieve, and privately owned women should not be raped. Prostitution offers rape without plannig or risks by making a whole category of women—poor, non-white, foreign– rapable without any consequences. Anytime, anywhere any man can rape a woman—for a fee. Prostitution also boosts the hierarchic gap between men and women : besides being dominant just by being males, johns are also superior to the prostitute by being white and having money : in prostitution, gender inequality is reinforced by race and class. This is why men respond with rage to abolitionist claims : doing away with prostitution would deprive them of a huge share of patriarchal power, the right to degrade and abuse women legally, as well as to racist and classist abuse —power without the abuse of power is not power. Only prostitution and rape procure men with « universal phallic access ». They resent criminalizing the purchase of sex as denying them their birth right on women’s bodies and utterly « castrating ». When men say : « I am a poor lonely man, it’s only with prostitutes that I can have sex », the hidden meaning of this statement is « I cannot find women because I dont want to bother with women’s consent—which I don’t have to do with prostitutes. »
Finally, the argument of the uncontrollable urge is used to remind women that the threat of rape hangs above them permanently : if men could control their sexual urges, women wouldn’t be scared of them. It’s a case of men controlling women by their lack of control : this argument of the lack of control of sexual urges is in itself an instrument of control.
Male sexual access must be unconditionnal because it is central to female control, therefore it must be constantly defended against female attempts to limit it. And pornography retaliates against these attempts by encouraging men to step up their violation of women and by providing new ways to do so.
But these are not the only reasons why men need to constantly re-assert their virility. In patriarchal ideology, male dominance is justified by the assertion of the « natural » superiority of men. If this natural superiority must be constantly reasserted, it’s because it’s an empty concept, without any objective content, a pure assertion based on a specious postulate : the confusion between « superior » and « dominant ». In patriarchy, one is not superior because one possesses qualities that other people don’t have (intelligence, education, integrity, courage etc), or have to a lesser degree, it’s the mere fact that you control other people that proves your superiority : men are superior because they are dominant (because they oppress certain groups), they are not dominant because they are superior. In fact the « qualities » which are necessary for a group to oppress another have nothing to do with any kind of superiority, on the contrary, success in controlling others derives usually from lack of empathy, violence and manipulation. Patriarchal men’s dominance over women is not due to their qualities but to their flaws and their vices—it’s their very ethical inferiority that procures them dominance.
The Abduction of the Sabines (Pierre-Paul David)
Male superiority must be reasserted constantly because it’s based on a sham. Patriarchal discourse naturalizes it so as to make it appear unchanging, but if it was really natural and unchanging, there would be no need to reassert it constantly. When stating the uncontrollability of male sexual urges, patriarchal discourse tells us: « our dominance over women can’t be changed but don’t try to change it ». Likewise, if women’s subordination was so natural, there would be no need to organize male control over them so thouroughly. Male superiority is a performative statement which operates as a tautology : we are superior because we have the power to say so : « things are true because he says them, he does not say them because they are true » (2) .
Finally, men who declare that they are unable to resist their uncontrollable urges know full well what they say : they know that patriarchal virility is criminal per se and that it’s this very criminality which is the source of its power. What’s behind the argument of uncontrollable sexual urges is not biology but patriarchy.