Male sexual entitlement is the belief that men are owed sex on account of their maleness.
Society normalizes this message. It’s a message that’s embedded in a lot of casual phrases about sex, including ones about men being “friend zoned” for being “nice guys”, women “giving up” sex, and men “getting pussy.”
But the truth is, no one is ever owed sex – not when they’re nice, not when they’re domineering, not when they’re manipulative, not when they’re attractive, and definitely not just because they’re a man.
If you really want to wipe out rape culture (the attitude that sex without consent is OK within certain circumstances), you need to understand how male sexual entitlement negatively impacts everyone, men included.
Why Does Sexual Entitlement Happen?
Because we think it’s normal. It’s normal to overlook the female orgasm. It’s normal to judge women’s bodies on appearance. It’s normal for women to “let” guys sleep with them.
It’s embedded in the way promiscuous men are idolized in Bond movies while promiscuous women get called sluts. Every action in our society that overvalues the sexual gratification of men reinforces male sexual entitlement.
All of these normal behaviors seem harmless when looked at individually, but they are symptoms of a larger cultural attitude that overvalues male sexuality and expects female sexuality to exist for male pleasure.
Female sexual pleasure in of itself and female consent aren’t really a part of the picture.
So even if you do not feel entitled to women’s bodies, it’s still possible to lapse into using the language of sexual entitlement because it’s so pervasive.
The pervasiveness of male sexual entitlement makes it hard for men who are sensitive to women’s needs to avoid being hurtful themselves. “Conscious” men may think that playing to women’s emotional needs exempts them from acting in a sexually entitled way.
But this is not the case. There are men who want to avoid hurting women that still don’t seen the normalized ways in which they perpetuate the culture of male sexual entitlement, such as men who think being sensitive to women’s issues gives them a dating edge.
This is in contrast to men who are considerate of women’s issues in of itself and not for any other ulterior motive.
Where Does Sexual Entitlement Show Up?
These are some ways it shows up but by no means are the only ones.
- In intimate relationships when one partner tries to coerce the other into sex. Some believe that it is a girlfriend or wife’s duty to have sex whether she actually wants to or not. In fact, marital rape only became criminal in all 50 states as recently as 1993.
- At work in the form of sexual harassment. Often times, when a sexual harassment law suit is covered in the media, people say things like “she invited the harassment by the way she dressed,” or “she shouldn’t flatter herself,” with little comment on the man making her feel completely unsafe in what is supposed to be a professional setting.
- Toward complete strangers. Guys who touch random women in clubs, men catcalling women as they walk by, men acting as if women should be instantly flattered by a compliment, even one as degrading and pointless as “nice ass.”
Such people are acting entitled to look at, comment on, evaluate, and use women’s bodies.
How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Women
Sexually entitled men sometimes feel like it’s alright to leer at women, make sexual advances to them at work, inappropriately touch them, or in one extreme case, ejaculate on them in subway cars (without getting a felony) sometimes even blaming women for being sexually attractive.
Sexual harassment, street harassment, sexually motivated stalking, and slut-shaming are all effects of male sexual entitlement that directly affect women. Guys who take sexual entitlement to the extreme believe that women owe them sexual favors in exchange for attention, aggressiveness, or just plain existing.
On the less extreme side of the spectrum are men who believe that being nice to a woman or acting out the role of sensitive friend earns him sex. I call guys like this “Good” men — the men that “aren’t like all those other guys” who yell crude things at women on the street. The men who complain that women only want “bad” guys who treat them like crap when they get rejected.
These men are also sexually entitled because they think not being outwardly obnoxious is synonymous with being good. In reality, if you’re only acting like a decent human being to get something in return (sex in this situation), you’re just pretending to be a decent person to get what you want.
Men who adopt the “I’m nice, do me” attitude toward dating may not be as violent as outright harassers, but they are perpetuating the idea that sex is something women should give up or put out to them regardless if they actually want to have sex with them.
Remember folks, sex isn’t a reward for good behavior, chivalry, or niceties. People should have sex because they want to have sex. It’s really that simple.
How Male Sexual Entitlement Hurts Men
Women are not the only people negatively impacted by male sexual entitlement. Men who sleep with men can also act sexually entitled.
Furthermore, men who feel entitled to sex are themselves negatively impacted by their false belief. They are living under a delusion and acting according to that delusion.
This means that instead of relaxing when they get rejected, their egos get wounded. Someone has denied them what they believe is their right and now they have to choose how to react to it.
Many men learn to be ok with not getting what they want (it happens in other parts of life as well of course). Many men also enjoy just being friends with women as well, even if they were initially sexually interested in them. Others learn that women fear rejection like men do as well as how male sexual entitlement can create fears of rape for them.
But the men who don’t know how to react to being denied sex can become a part of and reinforce rape culture (the attitude that sex without consent is OK within certain circumstances). Some also blame and get angry at women for not having sex with them and turn to misogyny in order to not be vulnerable.
I don’t believe that the majority of entitled men want to promote a permissive attitude toward rape or are actually happy as angry misogynists. Though they are accountable for the way they treat others, they are also a product of a society that constantly bombards them with images of women’s bodies as objects for consumption.
So we need to focus on both changing our cultural attitudes and modeling other ways of relating to women we’re sexually interested in as well as holding them responsible for their behavior.
How Can You Avoid Feeling Entitled?
In short, check yourself. If at any point in time you believe you are owed sex for any reason —including being a decent human being — you are thinking in terms of sexual entitlement.
Also, avoid viewing a woman’s role in sex as totally passive. Women are capable of orgasms, horniness, and sexual fantasy, even though women are traditionally stereotyped as having absent or mysterious sexualities.
So communicate, especially if you’re in a relationship or talking to someone you’re interested in. This keeps you aware of boundaries, and you can make a space to talk about your desires without demanding that they be fulfilled.
Because sexual entitlement is so normalized, even guys who care about respecting women can be guilty of it. Women can also enable it by passively supporting it or actively participating in this thinking and behavior. Both men and women need to check themselves around this.
So if you notice a sense of sexual entitlement in yourself or someone you know, remember the ways it hurts both women and men and ask yourself if that’s really how you want to act.
Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi.