Let’s talk about sex. Or more to the point, let’s talk about women’s role in gender disparity in issues of sex and fair play. Maybe it’s time we picked up a shard of glass from the so-called glass ceilings purportedly breaking around the world and use it as a lens to examine myths we’ve operated under for too long. I believe awareness is always the first step to meaningful change. My hope is to raise perspectives that you may or may not have considered before, to allow you to peer through the looking glass, without falling down the rabbit hole, to make informed choices about how you want to negotiate your sex life.
Let’s start with the myth that men have stronger sex drives than women. This fable, with its fatally flawed moral, has adversely impacted women for eons as it passed down from generation to generation. I never met a man who had a stronger sex drive than me in the day. And many women had the same experience. By the same token, I met both men and women with low sex drives. The point isn’t whether high vs low sex drives are good, bad or indifferent. The point is that we’ve used this fiction about the uncontrollable male urges to excuse a myriad of offences to our detriment. From womanizing, cheating, and ogling to much more serious conduct including criminal sexual offences in some cases. One need only look at the throngs of women who excused Trump’s I can grab any woman by the pussy boast as mere ‘guy talk’. Or the concerning number of women who forgive Bill Clinton his Monica Lewinsky transgressions, but in a perverse twist cast Hilary as the bad guy in that affair.
The refrain that invariably haunts these inappropriate male forays is “that’s just the way it is”. I do not accept that. Or at least, I do not accept that just because something ‘is the way it is’ means that it’s the way it has to be. I invite you to reconsider your own views on the subject. History is replete with examples that refute that self-perpetuating point of view. Women never had the right to vote. That’s just the way it was. Not long ago, women weren’t allowed to hold property. That’s just the way it was. Heck, women weren’t even recognized as ‘persons’ in the eyes of the law. That’s just the way it was. Consider the more extreme example of slavery. Inconceivable human behaviour and unthinkable treatment of other humans was accepted on the same lame basis that it’s ‘just the way it is’. Until it wasn’t. Until a few brave souls spoke up and said ‘this isn’t the way it should be’. And in so doing change was born.
So, I invite you consider the possibility of changing your mindset on the male libido myth. Of considering what role you may be playing, as a woman, in perpetuating the broader debilitating myths that have plagued us. What if we don’t excuse inappropriate male behaviour as ‘just the way it is’? What if, instead, we hold men accountable for their conduct on its own merit – without excuses, justifications or rationalizations? What if we recognize that we deserve to ask for what we want and need without regard to how it might impact on the men in our life (or beyond)?
And when women hit menopause, and our hormones change, and we aren’t lubricating naturally in the same way, many silently suffer rather than speak up about their new and changing needs. Is it fear of not satisfying our men in case they look elsewhere? Is it fear of being too ‘high maintenance’? Or ‘frigid’? Or not sexually responsive enough? Is it that we don’t feel or aren’t made to feel sexy anymore and we’re not comfortable asking for what we need? Maybe it’s time we settle into the idea that our sexual needs are just as important as our partners. And here’s a novel thought – maybe it’s okay to know what we want and insist we get what we need. Communication is key in this area, but that’s a post for another day. Today, I’m addressing our mindset barriers to negotiating satisfying sex lives and relationship balance around preconceived notions of sex and sexuality.
Ironically, on the issue of sex drive, as men get older, many experience a sharp decrease in sexual drive. And how do we tend to handle that as women? We tiptoe around the issue, worrying about the fragile male ego, exploring what we can do to help rekindle their spark, get them Viagra – everything focused on their needs. Some women quietly, secretly masturbate. Some don’t even dare self-pleasure because for goodness sake above all we need to make sure we don’t make them feel ‘less than’. And if they have erectile dysfunction issues, whether short or long-term, here’s a newsflash. They can still service you! Just like women have been doing for men for millennia.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tend to the needs and feelings of our partners. Any relationship involves give and take. But there’s the key. Reciprocity. Instead of suppressing your own needs for fear of exacerbating any feelings of inadequacy your partner may have, by all means take whatever steps necessary to help your partner feel wanted, appreciated, whole and virile. But make sure that your needs are met too. Ensure that your partner makes you feel alive, sexy, desirable, appreciated and whole. And if he’s unable to get an erection for any period of time, there’s no reason he can’t still meet your sexual needs in any number of other ways. There’s no reason you can’t or shouldn’t still have romance and intimacy. There’s no reason that just because he may not be able to come, that you shouldn’t still have world-rocking orgasms.
Contrary to popular belief, men’s egos are not so fragile that we’ll break them by asking to have our needs met. Having said that, continuing to perpetuate the myths that have stopped us from doing that, makes it exponentially harder for those women who do. And frankly, it does men a disservice to treat them as so fragile. It deprives them of the opportunity to step up, to grow, to be better. Is it ever an advisable parenting strategy to make your kids think that their needs are all that matter, that the world owes them, to give your kids everything, without making them take responsibility for their own actions, without making them care about or tend to the needs of others? Of course not. Doing that raises spoiled, entitled children who are being deprived of the opportunity to become the best version of themselves. And so it is with the men in our life. We owe it to them, ourselves and our relationships to demand recognition and equality on this front.
They say knowledge is power, but knowledge without action is just good reading. So this article was intended to start you thinking about preconceived notions that you may have been carrying, that no longer serve you. No longer serve men or women. No longer serve humanity. Now it’s up to you whether you choose to act on it. Are you open to considering a mindset shift on this issue? Because as with most things in life, if you don’t change your mindset, nothing will ever change. And because you deserve it.
It sounds trite and over-dramatic, but it’s true. It’s a truth that needs to be spoken, held up to the light and celebrated. And that simple truth is this: The world owes you a debt of gratitude. Not only for the many lives you saved and the profound ripple effect of those spared lives. Not only for your uncommon bravery and courage. Not only for the role you played in ending slavery in the United States, one painful step at a time. Not only for the women who benefitted from your tireless work as a suffragist. But for the example you set just by being you. You set the bar high with your selfless devotion to doing the right thing no matter the costs. This is an attribute that is in short supply today.
It’s my fervent hope that in remembering you, in celebrating your life, we remind ourselves of the strength we all carry but too often shy away from, taking the path of least resistance instead. We remind ourselves that greatness was never achieved by taking the path of least resistance. We remind ourselves that we enjoy certain rights, benefits and privileges (in this lifestyle that we have come to take for granted) because others sacrificed on our behalf – and that we owe it to future generations to pay that sacrifice forward. Perhaps not in such bold landscape-changing sweeps as you achieved, but even in the little things. It’s my hope that in remembering you, it inspires us to be the absolute best version of ourselves. That we owe at least that much.
I confess that once in a while I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself – all the breaks I never had, the challenge of growing up with ‘nothing’. But then, I look to your example, the character you model for us, and I’m ashamed and embarrassed by my own self-indulgence. My life is rich and abundant by comparison and my hardships so trivial and pitiful as to be laughable. I pride myself on stepping up to do the right thing, on protecting the underdog, on fighting for ‘justice’, but my risk is petty and inconsequential when held up against yours. I was at a conference recently where Rachel Hollis suggested we pick a historical figure to talk to about our problems. I chose you. It was amusing how quickly it put things in perspective. How preposterous to be complaining about my daily tribulations and holding them out to you, who put yourself in peril for others, who lost so much, who was given so little, but still embraced the sanctity of life.
So, for what it’s worth, please accept my humble thanks. Thanks for everything I enjoy because of you. For pushing me to be better, stronger, more. For reminding me that adversity is an opportunity to rise up to become our best self. For resetting my calibration to ensure that everything you fought for was not in vain – that others will follow in your footsteps to be guardians of what is good, sacred and just in our humanity.
You get what you tolerate. What do I mean by that? Am I saying that everyone is responsible for everything that happens to them in life? No. History is replete with examples of people in absolutely untenable situations not of their own doing. Having said that, as a basic life lesson or starting point, you could do worse than embracing and operating from the philosophy: you will get what you tolerate. This holds true in life. It also holds true in negotiations.
Let’s start, as always, with your first negotiation: with yourself. What you tolerate of and for yourself is what you’ll get. So often, we stay in our comfort zone, afraid of the unknown; afraid of pushing our limits; afraid to challenge status quo, our own beliefs, the beliefs of those in our life. This is a mistake. Staying in the comfort zone inevitably leads to stagnation in one form or another. You won’t reach your full potential by staying comfortable. You won’t achieve your dreams or fulfill your vision by hanging back in your comfortable space. Few people reach the end of their life and feel relieved at having played it safe. Most end-of-life regrets are for chances not taken, experiences not lived.
The good news is that it’s not too late. It only takes a simple mindset shift. More good news? You control your own thoughts. Simply make a decision that you won’t tolerate mediocrity from yourself anymore. Demand more of yourself. Decide what you want in life and make a pact with yourself that you won’t tolerate anything less. Choose to push yourself outside your comfort zone. I’m not suggesting you need to turn your world upside-down overnight. But start. Take one step outside your comfort zone, towards a larger vision for yourself. And then another. Every journey, big and small, starts with a decision to take a step in that direction.
As you tackle your internal negotiation about what you’ll tolerate of yourself, also start the internal dialogue about what you’re prepared to tolerate of other people. If you want different results, you need to take different action. You set the tone for how you will be treated. Take ownership of that. If you find yourself thinking, “I wish so-and-so wouldn’t keep doing that!” maybe it’s time you turned the lens on yourself. Why have you been tolerating it? What can you do to stop tolerating it?
As women, we so often aspire to be (or at least appear) easy-going. We tend to people-please. Added to that, we suffer from the debilitating belief that it’s selfish to put our needs first. And so we put the needs of our partners, kids, co-workers, parents – the list goes on – ahead of our own needs. And guess what happens? Those people come to expect that you will continue to put their needs first. Maybe at first they’re really appreciative (or not) but invariably at some point it gets taken for granted. Why? Because you tolerated it. And what you tolerate is what you get.
I’m encouraging you to choose to recognize – NOW – that tolerating this pattern does not serve you. It stands in the way of you realizing your own dreams, aspirations, goals, vision, desires. It stands in the way of you becoming the best version of yourself. At some point, this tolerance typically leads to built-up tensions, resentments, anxiety, negativity – all mixed with a healthy dollop of guilt (because we women are so good at doing guilt). But also consider that not only does it not serve you, it doesn’t serve those around you. When you consistently subjugate your own needs to those of others, think of the role model you’re setting for your daughters or other young women – that their needs as women, mothers, etc. are less important. Think of the message you’re sending your sons or other young men – that their needs will be more important than any women in their life as they grow into men. You’re also training those in your life to devalue you. That it’s okay to take advantage of you. In so doing you not only sell yourself short, you turn them into a lesser version of themselves.
For what it’s worth, I’m not preaching from on high here. I come to you with these nuggets of wisdom having learned on the hard road of experience. I spent many decades training people in my life that I cared about to take advantage of me. It caused me much heartache. It cost me many relationships. And it also cost those I thought I was being generous to. They became smaller, uglier versions, unable to achieve their full potential.
So in addition to the tired old analogy about putting on your own oxygen mask in the plane first, next time, instead of playing that same old track in your mind that you’re selfish if you don’t keep giving more than you get, maybe you choose to recognize that it’s actually more selfish to deprive them of the opportunity to be their best self.
How do you change those patterns? After you choose to stop tolerating patterns that don’t serve you, start being clear about your expectations. Don’t assume or expect that people would (or should) know what you want or need, or what’s fair, reasonable or appropriate. Don’t let what you get depend on what others may decide. You need to be clear about what you want and need and communicate those expectations unequivocally. If someone doesn’t meet your expectations, don’t stew or simmer or let it go ‘this time’. Discuss the issue right away and reinforce your expectations. Make sure you’ve determined what the consequences will be when someone doesn’t meet your expectations … and stick to it! Otherwise, you’re on the slippery tolerance slope that, much like an icy ski hill, ends with someone getting hurt.
At the outset, I said that history is full of examples of people who ended up in situations they didn’t deserve and that were not of their making. But it should be a strong lesson to us that even in many extreme examples through history, the vast majority of tyrannies and atrocities didn’t happen overnight. There was typically a long lead up. Many warnings. People tolerated ever-increasing injustices, cruelties and intolerable behavior and in so doing, the tolerances became higher, the bar became lower and the way was paved for unthinkable end results. Don’t allow this to happen in your life – personally or professionally. Be vigilant to your own tolerances. Speak up when behavior doesn’t match your expectations. You get what you tolerate. So monitor your tolerance and don’t wait until a fatal tipping point is reached
I had a discussion with a woman at a Mastermind the other day and then the same issue raised its head in a conversation – okay, let’s be honest, a debate – with a guy in the group later over lunch. Apparently the topic is on people’s minds – or maybe I was just destined to write about it. Subtle calls from the universe. The question? Do households need one ‘boss’, and if so, doesn’t it make sense that it be the man. Their argument went something like this. Every business, or organization needs one chief. One commander. One decision-maker. Otherwise chaos would reign. When disagreements arise, there needs to be a clear line of authority – a top dog who is the undisputed last say. A household, they argued, is no different. In fact, with only two key players (apparently kids don’t count in the equation) it’s even more important to have a Big Kahuna, a tie-breaker if you will.
I disagree. And I confess it raised more than a wrinkle of worry that this mindset was coming from so-called ‘masterminds’. I don’t even accept their basic premise that a singular ‘boss’ is necessary in business. Thousands of board-run corporations would suggest otherwise. In fact, recent studies suggest that group consensus is infinitely more effective in coming to well-grounded decisions and long-term solutions. Even more interesting, are the studies that establish that tension brings better results. In other words, when you group like-minded individuals for brainstorming and/or decision-making it turns out that they are less effective and productive than inserting one or more individuals who are unlike the others. It’s the tension that creates better overall decision-making. Who knew?
Although, when you think about it, it only makes sense. Alike people are more likely to come up with similar paths, whereas introducing variety allows for new outside-the-box ideas to surface. So, it turns out that when the ‘old boys’ networks continue to govern corporations, they short-change themselves in terms of growth. When women were introduced into groups of cohesive men, tension increased, but the profitability and effectiveness of the teams and organizations markedly grew.
So what about in the home? Would those same principles apply? Of course they would. Mutual respect is a necessary cornerstone for any healthy relationship. This holds true regardless of the gender of the couple. I would note that the argument raised by my mastermind cohorts wrongly presupposed that a household would be headed by a man and woman but I leave that argument for another day. For the purpose of this blog post, the point is that consensus decision-making in the home will lead to better results. Yin and yang. Masculine and feminine energy. Having the ‘man’ be the sole or consistent decision-maker causes imbalance and short-changes the family potential.
Some would say that if there’s to be one boss, it should be the woman. But the reality is that this is not necessarily an appropriate solution either. As George Orwell cautioned us many decades ago, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Any single decision-maker will not be open to listen in the same way. Why? Because they won’t have to. As noted above, it’s the tension in a relationship that promotes growth and creativity. The push and pull, the give and take – the inherent compromise is where the strength lay.
“But how do we break a tie?” asked my detractors.
Simple. Negotiation, whether in the home, in business, or world politics, is a power balance. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should always push to get your way, or to get to the absolute bottom line. I learned that through experience. When I was younger, I remember travelling to Mexico and negotiating for jewelry or blankets on the beach. In hindsight, I was ruthless. Initially, because I had no money. Coming from my low rental apartment in Scarborough, and waitressing to pay my way through law school, I needed to be a hard-ass negotiator to get what I wanted or needed. I negotiated for a budget flight and hotel and I negotiated for the absolute baseline price on my souvenir gifts. But that habit stayed with me, and for many years, long after it was a financial necessity, I still bargained for the drop dead lowest price … usually walking away first to get it. But one day I suddenly realized, I don’t always need to get the upper hand in every bargaining situation. The people I was bargaining with needed those pesos much more than I did. And what’s more, they were hard-working artisans who deserved to be paid fairly for their craft. And so I paid more. Not stupid prices. Still something semi-commensurate with their economy, but more than I knew I could get if for. Negotiation is a power balance, but you get to decide when to exert the power and when to cede some.
So, how do we break a tie in the home? Perhaps it’s as simple as give and take. Whoever feels the strongest on a given issue, gets to rule the day. And that will shift. Both partners should have full, open and vigorous discussion, debate and brainstorming on the issue. Allow room for new and creative solutions to arise that wouldn’t if both sides just stuck to their guns. When that fails, after honest effort, then maybe allow whoever feels the strongest to carry the day. Next time, when at a genuine impasse it goes the other way. And if your partner always claims to feel the strongest, and never cedes power, then your problem runs much deeper than who gets to call themselves ‘boss’ in the home. But that too is a discussion for another day.
Feminism used to tout bra burning and Playgirl magazine. Anything men can do, we can do too. If they can exploit women, we can exploit men. Equality was mistaken for ‘same’. This is not to denigrate the feminists of that era. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude as they paved the way to push past longstanding oppression and limiting beliefs. They moved mountains, even if they had to do it one painful boulder at a time. An unfortunate byproduct of that approach, however, was that women also felt that in order to be seen, heard or taken seriously, they had to give up much of their feminine power in lieu of a masculine version. From big shoulder pads to aggressive negotiation styles, to balking at niceties like flowers or door-holding. Maybe now it’s safe to try to redefine feminine power and allow each woman to choose what that looks like for her.
I read an article today that chastised women for wearing active wear instead of dresses and heels. The author (a woman) seemed to suggest that wearing yoga gear or leggings was somehow a misguided feminist statement. I guess to the extent that women are able to wear what they want rather than fit into some expected box defined by men is a step forward, I’m not sure I’d call it feminist. It can be a comfort choice, a style choice, or to some women a celebration of their bodies regardless of shape or size. If her point was supposed to be that how we dress affects how we feel and accordingly our confidence, I’d agree. But to suggest that women need to ‘doll up’ to be taken seriously seems a step backward. Although an entertaining show, the hit T.V series, Suits, has not done us any favours in that regard. With the key women routinely donning 6” stilettos and second-skin pencil skirts, it’s a miracle they can move … or breathe. If any woman chooses to dress up to feel more empowered, more power to her, but judging other women for their choices seems disempowering and problematic. In fact, I’d say that the sooner women stop judging other women’s choices the faster we’ll be able to rise and step into our individualized power.
There is no one way for a woman to show up. We can be powerful and sensual at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive. But we can also be strong and vulnerable, or quietly influential, or softly commanding, or fierce and formidable. Any and all of these approaches can be highly effective. Sometimes we take charge, and sometimes we cede control. We are beautifully complex, multi-faceted and multi-talented creatures. Sometimes our approach is intuitive, but there is great power for us when we learn to choose, with intention, which of our many faces to adopt in a given negotiation. We need to learn to embrace and express all the various elements that make us whole for that is our strength. The key is choice.