Three Men Talk About Rough Sex With Women
by Alexandra Molotkow
When was the first time you had sex that involved some kind of violence, or aggression?
The first time — by violence, I assume you mean some kind of slapping or hitting, not restraining or something like that.
I guess we shouldn’t exclude any of the above.
It seems like something totally different. It’s one thing to play with restraint, another when you’re physically producing some effect. You’re more actively, potentially doing harm.
The former thing totally happened in my 20s and 30s, but only occasionally. And sometimes it would be initiated by me, to like, be hit. I was in some long-term relationships, and with one there was definitely some form of aggressive behavior, a little bit of choking, a little bit of hitting, probably mutually introduced. But it’s only in the last five or seven years that I’ve had more relationships where it comes up far more frequently.
So, when you started dating casually —
I was surprised at how much more frequently it seemed to be wanted. And it’s somewhat generational. When I got into my 40s, I was dating more people in their 30s and late 20s, and there seemed to be a preponderance of people who liked being choked, which surprised me at first. I don’t know if there are any statistics or surveys that back that up, but it does seem like there’s a greater predilection for it now than I remember there being in my 20s.
Can you describe the first time someone introduced that in a casual context?
Yeah, somebody basically placing my hand on their throat. With a woman, every time it’s happened, she’s either said it or, more often than not, had me place my hand on her throat. Hitting is not something that comes up very much, but definitely choking.
And how did you react when this first happened?
Uh — cautiously optimistic.
What does that mean?
Well, OK, this could be fun, but I think we should be cautions about it. [LAUGHS]
Was there any discomfort around it?
Yes, certainly, because you don’t want to hurt the person, obviously. Being very mindful of the implications of what you’re doing. In a weird way it enhances the sex, because it’s not about necessarily losing yourself as it is about being focused on what’s happening, and being aware of what the other person is experiencing, and what you’re experiencing. Which is not to say you get all rational, either, or you step back like, Oh, I’m going to be Mr. Safety now.
Did you ever feel any sort of conflict, reconciling your politics, and your desire to be decent, with what was expected of —
No. I think the partners with whom I’ve been the most whatever, outrageous, or extreme, there was such a level of confidence about it, I guess I’d say, with both parties. It had always been clear there was some sort of sexual chemistry. We’d slept together before this came into play, and from my vantage point it felt organic, and willed from both sides. And I don’t mind getting hit either, which makes it possible to turn things around. I mean, there are all sorts of nonverbal cues that we’re always picking up on, but consent is ultimately a verbal thing, and if at any point no is said, no is said.
So this didn’t come up as much when you were having casual sex in your 20s?
Maybe with one person, a bit of slapping, and dripping wax —
Dripping wax is so ’90s.
Yeah. Like dripping wax and light bondage. That’s just my experience. Maybe it was also, culturally, part of the late ’80s, early ’90s as well. I remember it was pre Madonna’s Sex, which was like ’91 or something like that, and sort of mainstreamed this idea of kink.
Do you remember the first time someone initiated some sort of roughness?
Yeah, I do. Very well. Very, very well. I was about 21, or 22. And I was visiting my girlfriend at the time, who I was head over heels in love with, and also extremely attracted to. I think she was kind of getting bored with me, and she asked me to pull her hair, but I didn’t. And she also told me to hold her down, while we were having sex, but I didn’t do that, either. She was kind of embarrassed to ask me, and I couldn’t tell if she meant it or not. I couldn’t tell what to do, actually. I wanted to do these things so badly that I couldn’t believe I was being asked to do them.
What were you afraid of?
I feel like there must have been a lot of subconscious stuff going on there, because I don’t really know, but I basically pretended not to have heard her. I was just too taken aback, I suppose. And I wasn’t taken aback because I was shocked at the idea. I was more taken aback because — I didn’t know that was allowed.
Had you ever had desires for that?
Oh yeah, pretty much constantly.
Did you feel bad about them?
Well, I didn’t think I was hurting anybody. It was me masturbating. So not really. I used to write dirty stories — I wrote long filthy stories on pieces of paper and used them as masturbation material and then tore them up. I suppose they were sexual scenarios where basically I’m all powerful, and I can fuck whoever I want, and I’m able to fuck whoever I want in the most selfish possible way — I’m allowed to be as domineering as possible. Some of them involve me being some kind of aristocrat. I did that throughout my teenage years.
And you were writing these in a vacuum, pretty much?
Pretty much. I didn’t really have access to any porn or anything.
At the same time, were you were developing a concept of like, gender relations?
I had female friends. I think I was verbally a feminist. Like, I think if someone were to ask me, I’d have said, Oh, of course. I’m a progressive guy. I don’t think I really knew what that entailed. I still don’t understand women, but I think now I know that I don’t understand women, whereas back then I was confused all the time.
How did rough stuff come up in a casual-sex context?
I would ask people if they liked that, and almost every time they would say yes. That was just my experience. Some women expect it so much that I’ve been called a pussy for not being rough enough. And other women say, Can you be gentle please?
I do think that kind of sexuality is tied to when there’s some kind of inherent sexual antipathy between — not antipathy, but like, this weird distance.
Distance — as in, men and women coming from separate cultures?
Maybe. Yeah, I think so actually. Behavior that reflects both sides getting off on a kind of semi-hostile interaction. Like a sort of lack of understanding, lack of commonality. A generalized hostility toward one another.
What appeals to you about it?
I would say it’s like, power, basically. It’s basically like a scenario of being able to satisfy yourself sexually however you want. I would say it runs pretty deep. I feel like there are lots of different kinds of sexuality, but my experience of men, growing up, anyway, the baseline desire is to have power in a sexual scenario.
Do you think there’s a relationship between what you want sexually, and what you want IRL?
I don’t know. I guess. I don’t particularly want to be powerful in life unless I was allowed to be extremely lazy, and I don’t think the world works that way.
Do you ever feel any guilt?
No. Why would I feel guilty about doing something someone wants to do?
When was the first time you remember having sex with some roughness, or aggression involved?
Probably in high school, although I’m struggling to remember a moment where suddenly that was in play. I had a relationship in high school where we explored a lot.
Do you remember how you felt the first time, being in that role?
There was probably a combination of — you know, wondering if it’s wrong somehow, but a sense of trust, particularly with that relationship, and some sense of the culture of this kind of sex.
Have you ever identified with that culture?
I think the formalized culture makes it feel less alarming, but probably the way I think about it is more in context of a biological thing, about aggression being part of our endowment as humans.
Do you remember the first it came up outside of a close relationship, in more of a casual context?
Yup. I can remember an early example pretty clearly.
…Can you talk about it?
Yeah — well, here’s an interesting thing, which is kind of personal. When I was younger, I was more prone to, like, not being able to control my orgasm.
That’s a very diplomatic way of putting it.
Yeah, exactly. And so sometimes, more heightened modes of engagement, like that had additional sensorial components, would kind of simultaneously enhance the feeling of eroticism but take away from some of the sensations that threaten to be overwhelming. So I remember that being part of the discovery actually — control, that’s interesting. Maybe something to do with control.
I remember with this woman, somehow understanding this, and it wasn’t spoken, it was my arousal and her arousal seemed — it was just expressed, you know what I mean.
So it’s not something that you negotiated verbally.
No. I remember just, having sex, and beginning to slap her ass — which, you know, when you’re younger, that’s a thing — but then it really kind of escalating, and then kind of grabbing her. And when we woke up in the morning she had really insane bruising. And she was fine with that. I’m sure I was like, Ahhh!
But it just happened, to answer your question.
So she was fine with it, but you were less fine with it.
It made me really, really want to check in and make sure it was OK. But then I masturbated about it for months. Years. I don’t know.
Was it something you wanted to bring up with other women after that?
I’d say that’s been part of a lot of the sexual relationships I’ve had.
And how would you say it usually comes up?
I would say it usually comes up in the context of, like, having sex. Somebody does something, or somebody makes a demand.
They make the demand, or you do?
Obviously both, and sometimes you can almost mark a gesture, like you can put your hand on somebody’s throat, but you don’t actually choke them. And then they like, encourage or discourage that. Or something.
Do you think a lot about establishing consent?
Yeah, for sure. And this is kind of the paradox, even though postures of rape seem to be a part of sex, and that’s arousing, rape isn’t arousing.
As you know. So consent is super important. And I think probably some people have a better — oof, this is tough. Have a better, like, intuitive capacity to understand what is happening.
What do you mean by that?
I know, because this is the kind of thing that someone would say who doesn’t have that capacity. It would be super important for me to understand that what’s happening in sex is not only consensual but mutually desirable. I don’t want to have sex with a partner if they’re only letting me do something to them. And I had a relationship for years where there was no dominance play, really, because that just wasn’t her thing. And I was fine with that.
Have there ever been instances where something happened and you worried afterward?
Yeah. A couple of things come to mind. One was in a relationship, and her and I were kind of going through a bad time, and we had sex and, you know, I did something kind of mean in sex that was part of our repertoire, but then in the context of that moment in our relationship was super hurtful, and I kind of knew about it. We didn’t talk about it for a little bit. The other time was similar.
What is the relationship between you, the guy, and you, the sex guy?
Maybe it’s clearer from the outside, but from the inside there’s something that feels a bit mysterious about that. I think of myself as pretty empathetic and caring. The idea of suffering is repellant, I don’t like that. But then, in sex — I’m in a relationship at the moment, and I really care about this person, but then we fantasize constantly about me being really sadistic. So, to me it feels less about personality and more about nature. Maybe that’s a way of distancing myself from it. But it feels like appetite, more than personality.
So this is some latent drive that just doesn’t get much airplay in daily life.
Yeah. Well — yeah. But maybe actually, it does, but in less pronounced, direct, pure ways. Or something.
Do you think about this stuff in political terms, like in terms of gender equality?
Of course. Oh my God, yeah.
In what way?
I feel like I’m a feminist, and the feminist ethos, in terms of the places I hang out in, is stronger than ever. And the dialogue over the past couple of years around consent has been incredible and super important, and a lot of the women I’ve been close to, the worst experiences in their lives have been when they’ve been sexually assaulted. So what I’ve found — what we’ve found mutually arousing seems to fly in the face of that. There’s a huge difference between rape and fantasy rape. But I suppose they both sort of point to the same drive.
When the Jian Ghomeshi stuff happened, I imagine a lot of men, good and bad, were going back over their own experiences and sort of taking stock of their behavior — did you find that?
Yeah, 100%. I think I stopped flirting. I suddenly felt way less comfortable with my sexuality, as part of my thing that I was throwing around in the world. Partly because my understanding of it, in a way, is as an expression of power. And then I made a specific phone call to check in with an ex-lover — I know we’re cool, I just want to say hi, and based on the kind of extremity that we went to…
How did that go?
She said the issue was that I’d broken her heart. I don’t know. In terms of the way dating happens now, actually, we’re more comfortable hurting people emotionally in a real way than fake hurting.