discomfort during intercourse

The chapter “Occupation/Collaboration” in Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse has all the questions people should be asking before having sex.

There is no analogue anywhere among subordinate groups of people to this experience of being made for intercourse: for penetration, entry, occupation. There is no analogue in occupied countries or in dominated races or in imprisoned dissidents or in colonialized cultures or in the submission of children to adults or in the atrocities that have marked the twentieth century ranging from Auschwitz to the Gulag. There is nothing exactly the same, and this is not because the political invasion and significance of intercourse is banal up against these other hierarchies and brutalities. Intercourse is a particular reality for women as an inferior class; and it has in it, as part of it, violation of boundaries, taking over, occupation, destruction of privacy, all of which are construed to be normal and also fundamental to continuing human existence. There is nothing that happens to any other civilly inferior people that is the same in its meaning and in its effect even when those people are forced into sexual availability, heterosexual or homosexual; while subect people, for instance, may be forced to have intercourse with those who dominate them, the God who does not exist did not make human existence, broadly speaking, dependent on their compliance.

The political meaning of intercourse for women is the fundamental question of feminism and freedom: can an occupied people–physically occupied inside, internally invaded–be free; can those with a metaphysically compromised privacy have self-determination; can those without a biologically based physical integrity have self-respect?

There are many explanations, of course, that try to be kind. Women are different but equal. Social policy is different from private sexual behavior. The staggering civil inequalities between men and women are simple, clear injustices unrelated to the natural, healthy act of intercourse. There is nothing implicit in intercourse that mandates male dominance in society. Each individual must be free to choose–and so we expand tolerance for those women who do not want to be fucked by men. Sex is between individuals, and social relations are between classes, and so we preserve the privacy of the former while insisting on the equality of the latter. Women flourish as distinct, brilliant individuals of worth in the feminine condition, including in intercourse, and have distinct, valuable qualities. For men and women, fucking is freedom; and for men and women, fucking is the same, especially if the woman chooses both the man and the act. Intercourse is a private act engaged in by individuals and has no implicit social significance. Repression, as opposed to having intercourse, leads to authoritarian social policies, including those of male dominance. Intercourse does not have a metaphysical impact on women, although, of course, particular experiences with individual men might well have a psychological impact. Intercourse is not a political condition or event or circumstance because it is natural. Intercourse is not occupation or invasion or loss of privacy because it is natural. Intercourse does not violate the integrity of the body because it is natural. Intercourse is fun, not oppression. Intercourse is pleasure, not an expression or confirmation of a state of being that is either ontological or social. Intercourse is because the God who does not exist made it; he did it right, not wrong; and he does not hate women even if women hate him.

Liberals refuse categorically to inquire into even the possibility that there is a relationship between intercourse per se and the low status of women. Conservatives use what appears to be God’s work to justify a social and moral hierarchy in which women are lesser than men. Radicalism on the meaning of intercourse–its political meaning to women, its impact on our very being itself–is tragedy or suicide. “The revolutionary,” writes Octavio Paz paraphrasing Ortega y Gasset, “is always a radical, that is, he [sic] is trying to correct the uses themselves rather than the mere abuses…”

With intercourse, the use is already imbued with the excitement, the derangement, of the abuse; and abuse is only recognized as such socially if the intercourse is performed so recklessly or so violently or so stupidly that the man himself has actually signed a confession through the manner in which he has committed the act. What intercourse is for women and what it does to women’s identity, privacy, self-respect, self-determination, and integrity are forbidden questions; and yet how can a radical or any woman who wants freedom not ask precisely these questions? The quality of the sensation or the need for a man or the desire for love: these are not answers to questions of freedom; they are diversions into complicity and ignorance.

After noting that orgasm doesn’t usually come from intercourse, she continues:

Intercourse occurs in a context of a power relation that is pervasive and incontorvertible. The context in which the act takes place, whatever the meaning of the act in and of itself, is one in which men have social, economic, political, and physical power over women. Some men do not have all those kinds of power over all women; but all men have some kinds of power over all women; and most men have controlling power over what they call their women–the women they fuck. The power is predetermined by gender, by being male.

Intercourse as an act often expresses the power men have over women. Without being what the society recognizes as rape, it is what the society–when pushed to admit it–recognizes as dominance.

Intercourse often expresses hostility or anger as well as dominance.

Intercourse is frequently performed compulsively; and intercourse frequently requires as a precondition for male performance the objectification of the female partner. She has to look a certain way, be a certain type–even conform to preordained behaviors and scripts–for the man to want to have intercourse and also for the man to be able to have intercourse. The woman cannot exist before or during the act as a fully realied, existentially alive individual.

Despite all efforts to socialize women to want intercourse–e.g., women’s magazines to pornography to Dynasty; incredible rewards and punishments to get women to conform and put out–women still want a more diffuse and tender sensuality that involves the whole body and a polymorphous tenderness…

…We are poorer than men in money and so we have to barter sex or sell it outright (which is why they keep us poorer in money). We are poorer than men in psychological well-being because for us self-esteem depends on the approval–frequently expressed through sexual desire–of those who have and exercise power over us. Male power may be arrogant or elegant; it can be churlish or refined: but we exist as persons to the extent that men in power recognize us. When they need some service or want some sensation, they recognize us somewhat, with a sliver of consciousness; and when it is over, we go back to ignominy, anonymous, generic womanhood.

Because of their power over us, they are able to strike our hearts dead with contempt or condescension. We need their money; intercourse is frequently how we get it. We need their approval to be able to survive inside our own skins; intercourse is frequently how we get it. They force us to be compliant, turn us into parasites, then hate us for not letting go. Intercourse is frequently how we hold on: fuck me.

How to separate the act of intercourse from the social reality of male power is not clear, especially because it is male power that constructs both the meaning and the current practice of intercourse as such. But is it clear that reforms do not change women’s status relative to men, or have not yet. It is clear that reforms do not change the intractability of women’s civil inferiority. Is intercourse itself then a basis of or a key to women’s continuing social and sexual inequality?

…Women have also wanted intercourse to work in this sense: women have wanted intercourse to be, for women, an experience of equality and passion, sensuality, and intimacy. Women have a vision of love that includes men as human too; and women want the human in men, including in the act of intercourse. Even without the dignity of equal power, women have believed in the redeeming potential of love. There has been–despite the cruelty of exploitation and forced sex–a consistent vision for women of a sexuality based on a harmony that is both sensual and possible. In the words of sex reformer Ellen Key:

She will no longer be captured like a fortress or hunted like a quarry; nor will she like a placid lake await the stream that seeks its way to her embrace. A stream herself, she will go her own way to meet the other stream.

A stream herself, she would move over the earth, sensual and equal; especially, she will go her own way.

Shere Hite has suggested an intercourse in which “thrusting would not be considered as necessary as it now is…[There might be] more a mutual lying together in pleasure, penis-in-vagina, vagina-covering-penis, with female orgasm providing much of the stimulation necessary for male orgasm.”

These visions of a humane sensuality based in equality are in the aspirations of women; and even the nightmare of sexual inferiority does not seem to kill them. They are not searching analyses into the nature of intercourse; instead they are deep, humane dreams that repudiate the rapist as the final arbiter of reality. They are an underground resistance to both inferiority and brutality, visions that sustain life and further endurance.

They also do not amount to much in real life with real men. There is, instead, the cold fucking, duty-bound or promiscuous; the romantic obsession in which eventual abandonment turns the vagina into the wound Freud claimed it was; intimacy with men who dread women, coital dread–as Kafka wrote in his diary, “coitus as punishment for the happiness of being together.”

..The role of fear in destroying the integrity of men is easy to articulate, to understand, hard to overstate. Men are supposed to conquer fear in ordre to experience freedom. Men are humiliated by fear, not only in their masculinity but in their rights and freedoms. Men are diminished by fear; compromised irrevocably by it because freedom is diminished by it…

…But women are supposed to treasure the little grain of fear–rub up against it–eroticize it, want it, get excited by it; and the fear could and does keep millions quiet: millions of women; being fucked and silent; upright and silent; waiting and silent; rolled over on and silent; pursued and silent; killed, fucked, silent. The silence is taken to be appropriate. The fear is not perceived as compromising or destroying freedom. The dictators do flourish: fuck and flourish.

Yes, the dictators:

Wilhelm Reich, that most optimistic of sexual liberationists, the only male one to abhor rape really, thought that a girl needed not only “a free genital sexuality” but also “an undisturbed room, proper contraceptives, a friend who is capable of love, that is, not a National Socialist…” All remain hard for women to attain; but especially the lover who is not a National Socialist…

…Being an object for a man means being alienated from other women–those like her in status, in inferiority, in sexual function. Collaboration by women with men to keep women civilly and sexually inferior has been one of the hallmarks of female subordination; we are ashamed when Freud notices it, but it is true.

That collaboration, fully manifested when a woman values her lover, the National Socialist, above any woman, anyone of her own kind or class or status, may have simple beginnings: the first act of complicity that destroys self-respect, the capacity for self-determination and freedom–readying the body for the fuck instead of for freedom. The men have an answer: intercourse is freedom. Maybe it is a second-class freedom for second-class humans.

I think current events demonstrate how much that’s literally true and not just rhetoric.


The pleasure of submission does not and cannot change the fact, the cost, the indignity, of inferiority.