Today’s guest post comes from Anaene Achinu (she/her) who has written for Coffee & Kink once before. I’m thrilled to be hosting her words here again! Today she’s talking about transactional sex and the ways in which it can be problematic.
Is All Sex Transactional? The Danger of Implied Terms in Sex
Very few things in life come ex gratia. Our basic needs – food, clothes and shelter – nearly always come at a price, regardless of the century, geographical location or culture you live in.
The world laughs at those who think life is a fruit tree, waiting to be plucked without a fee. The blurrier the transaction, the harder it is to get the best from it. This is why we have contracts, verbal agreements, implied terms and conditions, and so on.
When we fulfil our end of a bargain, we act in good faith, an interesting combination of hope and entitlement because, despite our finest attempts, the other party can still back out at the last minute.
Heterosexual sex is quite the phenomenon. Here we have two people, a man and a woman, in a position where they are to “consummate” their attraction to each other. However, in my experience, the bedroom tends to be more of a negotiation room. We are not inches away from the finish line, no, this is the climax.
Regardless of the physical stimulation experienced by both parties, society has never really considered sex to be anything more than an inconvenience for women, even when they proclaim otherwise. Pornography often teaches us that sex is a performance, a place where sex is acted upon a woman, a mere object and recipient to the erect pleasure of a man.
Even the LGBTQ section, especially lesbian content, is targeted for men; a virtual enactment of their fantasies. It is no wonder women, even the most libidinous, rarely have the luxury of seeing it from an uncomplicatedly carnal point of view. There is an imbalance somewhere.
The politics of sex shows us that sex is rarely solely about penetration. It is viewed as a prize awarded to the man for his efforts, his swaying and wooing and spending. In the case where a woman pursues it, it is empowering, flipping the script, asserting sexual autonomy, maybe even just an itch to scratch. Even when it is the other way around, the fact remains that sex is often viewed as trade-by-barter, a physical expression of a social, financial and at times emotional exchange.
I grew up with strong religious convictions, praying to the biblical God to wipe me clean, to rid me of my sex dreams, to aid me in my pursuit of sexual purity until marriage. And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for a childhood acquaintance five years ago.
Suddenly, the concept of lust, a sin I was told to flee from, felt like a cruel joke, something only a wicked person would say. I did not go all the way with him, because my virginity was a badge of honor back then, but I had tasted the forbidden fruit.
Of course, this was not a purely sexual arrangement. He had to wine me, dine me. Text me every other minute. Send a meme. Compliment me, unprovoked. Give and take. He gave me his time, his ideas, his encouragement. I gave him my body. And although pleasurable to the both of us, it was clear who was the one in control. No malice, no dark undertone intended.
When you receive, be it gifts or sex or something else entirely, without stating your desires before, during or even after, you will lick the crumbs and say thank you. It was not a coincidence that as soon as we started making out regularly, the other perks evaporated. No more movie nights, no more open mics. The compliments still came, but mostly as a result of the acts I performed, or my reception of his skills.
Is that a bad thing?
It could be.
Financial, emotional, or social vulnerability can disrupt the germination of a mutually beneficial relationship. He pays for all of the meals, you love him more than you love yourself. Your biological clock is ticking. You have too much at stake. Exploitation sets in. It can be subtle or it can be overpowering, but it is bound to happen.
For a long time, I assumed that by acting in good faith, by holding up your end of the deal, the other party would do their own share of the work, and we would all live happily ever after. Oh, the joys of naive intelligence, where you are incapable of seeing past the logic of “doing the right thing”.
Then I met him. A man in a long-distance marriage who thought I was remarkable, who couldn’t get enough of me. The relationship had been blurry from the start, arising from a mentor/mentee relationship to surface level parental-style guidance, culminating in an expression of latent sexual feelings for a young, fresh girl with a sharp mouth not saddled down by marriage and children and a competitive career.
To an extent, we were kindred spirits. I was who he would have been if he had not given in to the conventions of a nuclear family. I was unattached, no obligations, no raison d’etre other than to simply be. He was an embodiment of rags to riches, a walking parable of the looming fear of tasting all too familiar poverty once again.
He worked hard, although he was looking for ways to work smart. Meeting him in that hotel room was an act of curiosity, digging into what it really means when sex is a weapon of mass destruction. Bottom power. And it worked, when I did not demand much. The potency dwindled when I started asking for things outright. Suddenly, our text messages were filled with excuses.
But that’s not all. As I demanded more, he demanded I earned it by risking my safety, proposing all sorts of adventures, looking for adrenaline.
The ultimate was when he asked me to come to his family home, posing as an employee. It baffled me, the audacity. What can one say? Tit for tat. I will acknowledge that at the time, I was unemployed, flat out broke, financially vulnerable, all known to him. Yet, he had every intention to make me work for it, to the detriment of my personhood.
At first, I left the affair wounded. Had I been in love with him, or wanted something more from him besides the clandestine meetings or intellectual sparrings, perhaps one could have questioned my lucidity. But the terms and conditions were implied.
I present to you my youth, my freedom, my body. You buy the meals, the experiences, the gadgets. The obvious disparity in age, class and pedigree. You pay in part and in full. However, the other party in this contract showed that he was not in it for the long haul, so I dissolved the contract.
We live in a world where no matter the role you play, as a woman you take the heat for it. You owe it to yourself to be explicit in your wants and needs, to take control of whatever capacity you can, regardless of the nature of the sexual relationship.
Most women learn this with time and age. But we must document these things. Archiving our experiences will prevent a lot of unnecessary trauma in the future. It is an honor to discuss this, however morally questionable to some. I continuously look forward to the possibilities, of a life where women are confident, where they have less to lose, and ultimately, where the scale is balanced.
Anaene Achinu is a New York based writer.