The Underbelly of Sexual Harassment

Women who speak up are heard and believed. And the men courageous enough to own up also need to be heard, not as a defense, but as a reality check. I want to know what happened to all those men whose sexuality reduced them to become degraded perpetrators. We should all want to know.

The Underbelly of Sexual Harassment

Women who speak up are heard and believed. And the men courageous enough to own up also need to be heard, not as a defense, but as a reality check. I want to know what happened to all those men whose sexuality reduced them to become degraded perpetrators. We should all want to know.

I spent five years writing a book about how to make sex work in your life, but since its publication, I have had endless conversations about how the sex that permeates our lives actually doesn’t work.  Some of these discussions centered around non-consensual sex among college students.  Others involved sexless marriages and increasing dissatisfaction with hookup apps that confuse sexual license with true sexual freedom. 

All of these stories have a direct connection to today’s unfolding revelations about rampant sexual abuses. The sexual catharsis is quickening as women of all ages, from all walks of life, are replacing the shameful silence of their histories with the power of their voices. 

Each story shakes the shadows loose, shining light on how the fundamental inequity of power between the sexes has played out in millions of unwanted sexual acts.  The stories of women like Diana Nyad, are so heartbreaking, in part, because they are so achingly familiar.

Everyone knows a victim, a perpetrator or both. For my part, I have never forgotten the night that I learned about the sexual molestation of my best friend in high school. I listened through the night as she shared the stories of over a decade of her father’s sexual predatory behaviors after the first time he tried it on me. I was astonished that my friend had kept these stories secret for so long and that she was sure no one would believe her. No one is questioning the truth of these accounts anymore

On hearing these stories, the inclination is to demonize the perpetrators. We believe we can somehow exorcise their behavior by castigating and ostracizing it.  Dismissing the newscasters, reporters and politicians who have transgressed and making them whipping boys for the cause makes us feel better, or if not better, at least distant from them.  

What’s missing, however, is an acknowledgement of the root cause of sexually inappropriate behavior. In my view, it grows out of both a lack of real sexual education and lingering shame about sexuality that perpetuates a deeply unhealthy relationship to sex. The common misunderstandings and discomfort with our sexual selves frequently result in an inability to develop and sustain healthy intimate relationships, forcing us to search for other outlets to express our sexual needs. 

In the absence of real and constructive conversation about sexuality, we are forced into silence and in some cases aberrant behavior. Often there is little to no conversation about sexual needs even with those with whom we are most intimate.  Of all the hurts we inflict on one another, sexual transgressions create their own kind of hell, caging both the victim and the perpetrator. Even the bystanders who see and say nothing are caught in the trap, forever feeling guilty for their silence.

An authentic and evolving sexual conversation has to include not only how we address the damage of sexual abuse, but also the brutal sexual impulses that create it.  In order to move toward real change, we need to ask hard questions about how we inherit our sexual behaviors, and how what we witness and watch shapes our capacity for desire. We need to face the truth about how power both energizes and subverts sexual urges. 

Perhaps the biggest key to shifting these behaviors and the consciousness that is behind them is having the courage to face them together. 

Women who speak up are heard and believed.  And the men courageous enough to own up also need to be heard, not as a defense, but as a reality check.  I want to know what happened to all those men whose sexuality reduced them to become degraded perpetrators. We should all want to know.  

To be sure, building sexual openness and a willingness to fully embrace our sexuality is a tall order. Our collective sexual history – filled with centuries of rape, sex trafficking and stifling of our sexual urges – does not bode well for change. But without it, sexual harassment is destined to continue unabated even in the face of today’s hue and cry. Boys will unfortunately be boys because they don’t know how a sexually mature male should behave. It’s time for sexual healing, a la Marvin Gaye. Nothing less will give both women and men the sexually healthy and respectful relationships we all deserve.


Note: Wendy Strgar is the author of Sex That Works and Love That Works as well as the blog “Making Love Sustainable.” www.wendystrgar.com