Seduction and Its Nasty Implications

[Trigger warning for sexual assault.]

When I posted How to Seduce an Asexual, I left out a lot of things about seduction that I have a problem with. Namely… well, the entire system of ideology that’s behind it.

I had an extended conversation with C about it after I made that post, and the conclusion we both came to is that ultimately, seduction comes down to placing blame. Or credit, as the case may be—boys patting themselves on the back for having “scored” with so-and-so, bragging about it to other boys.

Historically, it has probably been more about blame than credit. Here are the definitions of the verb “seduce” given by the OED:

1. trans. To persuade (a vassal, servant, soldier, etc.) to desert his allegiance or service.

2. In wider sense: To lead (a person) astray in conduct or belief; to draw away from the right or intended course of action to or into a wrong one; to tempt, entice, or beguile to do something wrong, foolish, or unintended.

3. trans. To induce (a woman) to surrender her chastity. Now said only of the man with whom the act of unchastity is committed (not, e.g., of a pander). Cf. DEBAUCH v.

4. To decoy (from or to a place), to lead astray (into). Obs. exc. with notion of sense

5. To win by charm or attractiveness. Obs. rare

Inherent in most, if not absolutely all, of these is a value judgment: sex is bad, it is the wrong course. For the seduced, having sex is foolish or at the very least unintended. According to C’s way of thinking, you cannot be seduced if you set out originally to have sex with whomever you happened to have sex with. You might say that you were seduced, but I think most people would agree that if you intended to do it from the outset, you weren’t actually seduced. So that means that at least in some sense, having sex would be something negative. Maybe that means you have “chastity”—some kind of innocence or purity which can be given away. A virginity, whatever the heck that means, that you are protecting by not having sex. You’re trying to hold to these principles, and you wouldn’t normally do it, but someone came along who was just so amazingly tempting that you had to give in. He seduced you. Notice who is both the subject and the agent of that sentence. It’s not you, it’s him.

Or maybe you’re not a virgin. Maybe you’re married. If you’re committed to a monogamous relationship, then it’s wrong to have sex outside of that relationship. You do it anyway, and when your partner finds out, you say, “She seduced me.” Whether or not that’s true, if you can get your partner to believe it, it may shift some of the blame onto the “seductress.” While you may not be absolved of blame in the public eye, the focus shifts. Google Michelle McGee, for instance, and you’re likely to find blog posts about her where people have had to use a disclaimer: “Of course Jesse James is also in the wrong, but…”

Seduction is inherently about manipulation, even if the result is framed as something which is liberating. It is about strategizing, cajoling, overcoming resistance—even if that resistance comes from “unfounded fears” or negative ideas about sex, and results in a welcome removal of such fears. It is a choice made under pressure deliberately calculated by the seducer, if it does constitute a choice at all. It’s not really even framed as a choice; it’s framed as something that was done to someone.

And it’s scary, because a person in “seduction mode” will likely not recognize very obvious signs of non-consent and back off. M laughed at me once for pulling his hand out of my underwear, and then put it back. He thought of my actions as if they were a move in a game, apparently, when really I wanted him to stop, and it would be hedging to say I was merely “uncomfortable” with what he was doing. I was scared. I could tell he would be able to overpower me, and most likely nobody would take my side. He didn’t respect me or the knowledge I had about my sexual orientation—not that he even listened to me when I tried to explain and make my boundaries clear. I thought that if I could just communicate to him what asexuality really means, he would stop violating them, and start to take me seriously. That never happened. He was convinced that I was “not really asexual” and apparently thought that he was sweeping me off my feet, getting rid of my “unfounded” fears, and so on.

Why is it that consent is allowed to be implicit—indicated by anything from the clothes a victim is wearing to his/her previous history and character—but there is no room for implicit non-consent? Why does a lack of a no apparently mean yes? Why does Cathy Young say that requiring initiators to seek explicit consent for sexual activity:

“infantilizes women (while the policies may be gender-neutral on their face, they generally presume men to be the initiators in heterosexual encounters). Are women so weak that they can’t even say ”no,” or otherwise indicate their lack of consent, unless the man takes the initiative of asking?”

Hey, I tried to indicate my lack of consent. It didn’t work. And having heard from 90 people so far (and still counting) about their experiences with rape and sexual assault, I realize that it is a common phenomenon to have one’s boundaries treated like they are a joke, even in cases where the victim very explicitly said no.

Actually, up to 88% of those who have been sexually assaulted experience some degree of involuntary temporary paralysis during the assault. It doesn’t make them weak or infantilize anyone, male or female; that’s just the way that most people (and other animals) instinctively respond to such a threat. In fact, it is probably adaptive and helpful, since resistance may only make an attacker more violent, and do more damage.

Treating sex like it is a game to be played out, especially a game wherein one party is expected to be the gatekeeper, and show resistance that is supposed to be overcome… well, I think it’s awful. Especially so for those who are assumed to be consenting when they are not. And even when the sex IS consensual, framing it as seduction removes the implication of free choice from the “seduced” and places the blame/credit on the “seducer.” And I wonder why, if you really made a fully informed and free choice to have sex, you wouldn’t want to give yourself credit for making that choice.

I just wish that we could get away from a manipulative model of how sex works and put everything out in the open. There is nothing wrong with having sex if you want to, and there is nothing wrong with not wanting to, either. I mean seriously, what is with all this sneaking around? Why is it such a huge problem to just outright ask if someone wants to do it or not, and then honor their wishes?

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6 thoughts on “Seduction and Its Nasty Implications

  1. Your comment about removing a hand from somewhere you didn’t want it, only to have it placed back again reminds me of Hugo Schwyzer’s stoplight metaphor. If you haven’t read this post, you should, it’s fantastic.

    What you describe is much like Schwyzer’s “yellow light.” Instead of treating a yellow light with “slow down,” many guys treat it as “gas it before she says no.” Because boys are taught “no means no,” your removal of his hand isn’t a sign to stop in his mind, like you intended it to be. Because, to men, that just means “keep trying” or “she’s playing hard to get,” because the word “no” wasn’t muttered.

    Also, I’d never actually looked at the definitions of “seduce” before, and not one of those sounds even remotely positive, or really even consensual.

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    • Thanks for that link–that post is totally awesome. It really is a lot like treating it like a stoplight. When I did actually say no (the times I did), he stopped. But he would also put me in situations where doing so would have immediate social ramifications, so that actually saying no was discouraged… and of course he didn’t ask before doing anything, ever.

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  2. Why is it that consent is allowed to be implicit—indicated by anything from the clothes a victim is wearing to his/her previous history and character—but there is no room for implicit non-consent?

    Amen to that, bigtime!

    I hadn’t really thought about the concept of seduction before, but it’s sort of a circular headache, isn’t it? “Seduction mode”, at least to me, sounds like the least seductive thing imaginable. On the level of language, it’s hard, because “seduction” can mean that a person got someone else to have sex against their will, but it can also mean something that you really DO want, at least in popular usage. Like, “a seductive opportunity”.

    In your “how to seduce an asexual” post, the idea of seduction seems to take away the fact that different people want different things out of sex. And that could change on a daily basis. That all women want to be “taken” is ridiculous, in small part, because there’s no one thing all women want. Maybe someone could seduce me if they knew me extremely well and were very respectful and aware of my boundaries. But then maybe that wouldn’t be seduction anymore. Because you’re not winning by “charm” alone, but some other deeper qualities.

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    • Yeah, it is a circular headache! It’s like… well, did you want it or didn’t you? If it was consensual, but then you say it was something you were manipulated into doing… then isn’t it not *really* consensual? I find it troubling that people use a concept like that to refer to consensual sex at all, really. Any way you look at it, it’s not good.

      I’d probably opt to say it isn’t really seduction if I were you and got into a situation like that–in fact, I DO opt to call it something other than seduction myself, when I’m with C. Because she does know me extremely well and is always very respectful of my boundaries. I’m not pressured into it, it’s the two of us both genuinely making our own informed choices to have sex… or not.

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  3. Pingback: How to Seduce an Asexual « Shades of Gray

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