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Opinion >> Wednesday Hump

Who’s On Top and Who’s On Bottom: The Sex Politics of Positioning

It is with this article today that I wish to start examining the way that sex has shaped our culture, particularly as it is relevant to I.V., and I feel an excellent place to start this is by examining an interesting aspect of sexual psychology that is perhaps one of the most ingrained in our culture. It is an unfortunate aspect that shapes our world in a biased manner and has created inequality since its unfortunate conception in the age of patriarchal religion. And so, I wish to turn my eye upon this in hopes of making others reflect at least briefly on the subject and perhaps work to undo some of the damage this — and there is no better word for it — assumption does.

In sex, there is virtually always an active role and a passive role. Some sexual acts manage to get around this requirement — the one that comes to mind is a certain number (69) — but for the most part, one person is acting and the other receiving. In normal, coital sex, the active role is assumed to be the male and the passive role by the female. And thus in a single sentence I have managed to identify exactly what is problematic in our contemporary formulation of sexual power — that the passive role is passive, and the active role is active. In this terminology, power is inherently unbalanced, and it casts the woman in an immediately weaker light.

Now, one might stop here to say that they do not view women as weaker. That is good for you, I’m happy for you, but when we speak in generalities about sexual power, few will dispute that men (the active role) are widely considered to come out on top (incidentally, for you gay people, feel free to generalize this conversation to tops and bottoms). In a certain base way the imbalance of power seems to follow as a logical conclusion. Simply speaking, the active role is who is making the sex happen. For, without the thrusting, there is no groaning. But if we take this definition of ‘the most power’ as being ‘who makes the sex happen,’ then the model breaks down immediately after one issue is examined …

Consider oral sex.

Why is it that in a psychological formulation of oral sex, if the male is receiving he appears dominant — he is somehow forcing the female to operate on him — and yet when the female is receiving the male still,

subconsciously speaking, feels dominant — he is now just operating on her. So this idea that the one who is making sex happen is dominant is not strictly true. Our society seeks to hand the power to who has the penis or who is sticking their penis into someone else. Logically speaking, the giver of oral sex should be considered the active sexual participant. She/he is not only making the entire sexual event occur, but could quite easily demonstrate how much power he/she wields by biting down.

That would rather quickly demonstrate who is really holding the cards.

Thus, society clearly has not defined our power balance based on any logical consideration of who is making the sex happen. That argument is just a fallacy crafted to defend what is an essentially patriarchal power trip.

So, why do we argue that the man (or top) is the dominant aspect in the sexual yin-yang? Does it have to do with actual physical strength? Perhaps it once did. Physical strength and dominance have been mingled with sex acts since quite literally the dawn of social animals.

Examine lions, bulls or monkeys — he who sticks it in someone else is considered more powerful. But when humans introduced consciousness and law into the mix, this condition broke down. Rapists who dare use these base acts as a show of power go to prison, where they rapidly become the sexual recipient of a 300 pound man named Little Tinabell. In our civilized society, the power women wield as the passive sexual partner is so real that it was demonized by the Christians and made mystical by other religions. Women as witches, enchantresses and various magical beings all arise from this ability they (and by extension any attractive, passive sexual being) wield to compel their desirers into what is essentially slavery (marriage). And all because they are willing to take a penis into their body. This strikes me as quite a bit of power.

So when we consider a world where law holds — where a rapist is punished severely and painfully — one cannot say that being able to stick it in someone makes you any more powerful or dominant. And yet we still do it. The idea that the passive role is somehow less dominant is so ingrained in our culture that it has become a natural assumption. Insults are framed around who is fucking who, power balances are assumed from sexual configurations and speculations are made about relationship dynamics from singular facts.

Now, I will probably not stop saying ‘that midterm fucked me,’ in reference to a midterm that was particularly difficult. That form of insult is so ingrained into my lingual patterns that it honestly

doesn’t even carry the psychological implications I’ve stated here — saying something has fucked me is just a way of saying it did me harm in some way. But while I wouldn’t ask you to change your language

conventions, I do ask that you seriously think about where they came from, and if those assumptions are still an integral part of your psyche.

Because honestly, when a man hires a stripper, one person is walking away with $500 and another is just walking away with a boner.

Who really wielded the power there?

From 1 to 100, Anonymous always chooses 69.

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7 Responses to Who’s On Top and Who’s On Bottom: The Sex Politics of Positioning

  1. Name

    January 19, 2013 at 4:22 am

    Maybe the definition comes from the way sex itself is done- one of the people should be excited, the other doesn’t need to be and only the second may feel pain. But the differences would occur only in the case of rape(pain occurs in normal sex acts, but it’s different from the one in rapes and I don’t think people perceive pain as humiliation in their own sex acts).
    Maybe we don’t separate rape from sex.
    Men use sex acts on other men as punishment, so I wondered why. Is this only because the cause pain on shameful places? Then why would they always do it by starting a sex act, there are many other ways. So I guess that has something to do with the power associated with penetration when it comes to hetero sex. Some animals have these relations between the males, but I wonder if rape exist among them.

  2. ???

    November 12, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Am I the only one disturbed by these fluffy articles on sex? A few blocks from where I live a student fell off a cliff and plunged to his death. how old was he? 21? 22? where is the coverage on this?

    nexus writes more about the sexual musings of wannabe pop journalists. yeah, real insightful, please tell us more about this “69” position we know so little about. im sure most UCSB students are just totally in the dark in this sex-deprived university, we rely on the constant insight of nexus virgins.

    all this does is trivialize the nature of sex. if this author wants to really experience sexual enlightenment, the narcissism needs to end. here men and women have easy access to sex, good luck finding the same kind of opportunities in real life. time to grow up.

    • L

      November 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm

      The wednesday hump, I’m hoping you’re aware, is supposed to be a light and whimsical section of a paper that writes most of its articles on our school’s sports.

      Also, sex IS trivial to many people, and that doesn’t mean their opinion on the subject is invalid.

      One more thing: Check the paper today, you’ll find a front page article on David Propp. So don’t go using this tragedy as a way of expressing your distaste at a stupid article in a quasi-satirical publication.

  3. Russo

    November 8, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    I mean, kudos for approaching this topic, but it doesn’t really seem like you’ve done any research…

  4. Anonymous

    November 7, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I think I understand where you are going with this article, in that you are making a point that sex is not an unequal act. Yet by bringing rape into your discussion of power and sex, and in particular by juxtaposing it with the idea that a woman has the power to lure men into sex, you are veering into an argument that I hope I’m misunderstanding. Are you saying that a siren-like woman should be tried as a rapist (sure, makes sense), or that a rape victim was not really in a position of submissiveness?

    • L

      November 19, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      Yes. I’m so sure we have a rape denier writing for the wednesday hump, and he’s been allowed to publish it. Yes, you are misunderstanding.

    • Nate

      November 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm

      Many apologies for the later response – I did not look at this online post until now. I was aware even using the term rape in this article would bring a host of issues, so allow me to clarify.

      My point with this article is that the sexuality of those in the passive role, the receiving partner, is typically viewed as equal to being submissive. It is an assumption that is made in this society. My point with the rape scenario is that in most base society, rape is used as a show of power. This historical context may have given rise to what we have internalized as the passive partner as being necessarily submissive.

      However, in a legal circumstance of intercourse between two consenting adults, the receiving partner is not always in the submissive role. Women are capable of seducing men – this is a simple fact, and a testament to a power they hold. Our society tends to revile this ability, which, of course, originates from the patriarchy.

      So no, I do not believe women who embrace their sexual selves should be tried as rapists, nor do I think rape is ever acceptable. Rape is an archaic demonstration of power, but in a law-abiding society it is a foolish one because it should end with harsh and just punishment of the rapist. The rape victim will, in theory, receive justice and the rapist will end up submitting to the hammer of societal law.

      As a final disclaimer, I believe rapists are base animals of society, deserving the harshest punishments allowed by the legal system. I believe women are naturally and healthily sexual beings who deserve to embrace their sexuality and not be made to feel guilty about their ability to seduce men and/or sleep with men (or other women). If anyone misinterpreted this article, I apologize for any offense I may have caused and invite them to contact me on facebook or through this article’s comment section.

      -Nathaniel Charest