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Feminism: Online Dating, Sex, and the Empowerment of Women

Updated: Oct 22, 2022

I don’t know about you but, being born before Google (whaaaat!!?) and growing up at a time when internet wasn’t that established (in the 1990s), when online dating first appeared it suffered from quite a stigma! It used to be seen as the last resort for the desperate, a tool for the creepy undateable otherwise. Many even of my generation will remember here how we used to feel *ashamed* simply for using what was perceived then as a weird way to engage socially…

Computers? Really!? Youngsters will be surprised, but this was from a time before we had technological devices always at hand, and so, yes, if you’re one of these youngsters, then I can confirm that everything 'your-parents-told-you-about-but-that-you-may-struggle-to-believe' is indeed TRUE: households had only one phone, it was plugged to a wall, and if we wanted to talk to our school crush then we had to phone their parents first and then have both households listening to the whole conversation… Yep!

Obviously, things have changed a lot. I met my wife on, a platform which not only counts about 15 million active users but is also part of a multi-million-pound industry. It’s now estimated that, in fact, 1 in 5 relationships and 1 in 6 marriages begin online. In other words, even if you’re not part of one of these couples that began on internet, there still is a high likelihood that you yourself would have used such platform at some point or another.

The advantages of such dating tools are easy to outline.

First, they cater to our individual needs, interests, and values otherwise difficult to satisfy offline. LGBTQ+? Professionals? Religious? Elderly? Unhappily married? Disabled or having a learning disability? There are apps for everyone! They even embrace the whole spectrum of what constitute an ‘intimate relationship’, from platonic love to full blown sex with no strings attached...

The ease of being able to browse through the detailed profiles of countless potential partners from the comfort of our homes, all thanks to the simplicity of a few clicks, is also a welcome feature. It’s not laziness, but practicality if not plain efficiency. Some men may find chatting up women in bars an intimidating hassle, let alone -especially these days!- open to all sorts of crazy misunderstanding (offering a drink or to play pool is not expecting sex -please, stop the scaremongering…) like some women may be fed up being chatted up by random dudes not really knowing what they agenda truly are (is he just friendly? Or, else? Or… else? -no doubt, though, they are very creepy people out there too…) but online dating is an option which helped remove such gambles and hassles for all.

Women, especially, have been particularly empowered. Unlike grandma who was expected to play hard to get because saying ‘yes’ wasn’t lady-like, contributing to a whole toxic culture still plaguing us when it comes to consent (it will never be stressed enough: guys, ‘no means no’; it’s not the 1950s, and you’re not grandpa having to force yourself on her, like in the old movies where she then magically abandon herself to you in sighs of passion, simply cos ‘that’s-what-she-wanted-in-fact-but-couldn’t-say-it…’) women can, not only pick and choose, but make the first step too.

Here’s another thing: as gender equality has been firmly establishing itself within society at large, and as traditional gender roles have been questioned and reshaped, more than three generations after the Boomer’s sexual revolution online dating just pushed the envelope further. Heck! There are even apps for casual hook ups, where women, at long last, can fully express their libido, stifled and controlled for far too long!

Of course, more people available also means a pool to chose from which is nothing like what our traditional social circles could have ever offered! After my divorce, I personally felt very lonely. For men, this is not uncommon; as men have been shown to suffer more after a break-up than women are. My workplace back then was mostly comprised of women, yet they were just colleagues I couldn’t see myself interacting with as potential partners. Casual sex wasn’t for me. The fact I spent most of my spare time either with my children, or, doing volunteering work (for Coram Beanstalk, if you must know... -yeah, I'm giving them a shout out!) didn’t help either. Where on earth would I meet that special someone?! Setting a profile on changed my life for best…

Feeling-wise, obviously, it’s also different. Whereas offline you might be more likely to feel love at first sight, get the crush leading to butterflies, shaky legs, and trembling hands especially during that first kiss, online dating, because it’s more 'detached', feels a bit like browsing job applications while sending out job applications yourself! Meeting people online will be first about curiosity and attraction, not flying sparks, and, as a result, love is more likely to strongly grow over time. Here’s in fact a common criticism: ‘swipe left’ is everything but romantic, and it’s more than a fair point. Is it a bad thing, though?

As someone who wrote a whole poetry collection inspired by his wife met online (cover above, and, yes, it really is my wife on the artwork) I strongly disagree! But personal feelings aside, studies back me up.

According to recent research indeed, couples who met online are stronger, last longer, and have lower rates of marital breakups. It may be counter-intuitive considering how they start, but it makes sense. After all, it’s about picking and choosing from carefully screened profiles, on apps which also rely on various psychometric factors to ‘match’ people together.

Sure, you might question their algorithms! Many use the Myers-Briggs method, a typology which I personally subscribe to but as a template only (I am an INTJ, my wife an ESFP -by any means, we shouldn’t belong… so much for their ‘science’!) but setting your own criteria besides knowing your habits and preferences based on your personality does help stirring away from gambles. Flying sparks in the beginning are great (obviously) but they will fizzle out over time… What will remain?

Is safety an issue?

Murders, rapes, blackmailing, scams and else happen, but so do they with people met offline. They are also relatively rare (a thousand crimes reported to the police when several millions of people are using such websites doesn’t call for a mass panic… -please). Risk zero doesn’t exist, and we shouldn’t give in to scaremongering. If you’re a concerned woman, though, by any mean… suit yourself! There are dating platforms out there, set up by women, specifically to address your worries (e.g. Bumble, Pickable…). I have never used them, so I won’t delve.

If serious crimes are one thing, unpleasant experience, though, are quite another -and far more prevalent. It’s like on social medias, and we’ve all experienced it.

There are the crass and disgusting sexual behaviours. How many women received d**k pics? How many men were pestered by online sex workers, popping up, all tits out, in their message box with a ‘hey daddy!’ to advertise their OnlyFans? Sending d**k pics has recently been made a criminal offence, and that’s great. Sex work online, though, is still not regulated (think about that when your underage sons are on their social medias, getting randomly followed/ messaged by such ‘soliciting’ women…).

There are, also, the scammers, the deceivers, the liars, the manipulators. ‘Catfishing’ is a new word which has entered the vocabulary, thanks to a TV show exposing just such toxic behaviours. What do we do about it? We started to increase awareness about domestic abuse and that’s great, but such awareness is useful only when a relationship has been established. What about while a relationship is building up, especially online? Our youngsters are particularly vulnerable.

Beyond safety, though, isn’t it all about etiquette?

Traditional gender roles are being questioned, and cultural expectations have been blown apart. Men, when it comes to dating, are no longer in sole charge of the game. It’s great, but we males still are in that cultural transitional period when we must adapt, and it’s not easy.

I’m not talking about sexual harassment and the #MeToo campaign. Men my generation learnt the lesson: if you pay careful attention, the pests usually busted for being sexual harassers or worse tends to be Boomers, not Millennials or Generation Z… It’s not about castigating a whole generation (we owe Boomers the sexual revolution, after all), but about acknowledging that, feminism, when it comes to how younger men now perceive women, has made its point. As already stressed too, we’re no longer pre-1960s era. Token resistance cannot be used as an excuse –‘no means no’. Full stop. As for the pervs sending unsolicited and explicit text and pictures to women, that’s not flirting nor being ‘kinky’ but sexual offenses which ought to put them on a sexual offender register. That the law just catch up was more than about time!

No, I ‘m talking, here again, about etiquette: what do women want?

It seems hard enough offline. Should we make the first step, or is asking a woman out now a form of sexual harassment? Should we pay, or is this demeaning to women who want to be recognised as financially independent? Is holding a door an act of gallantry, or is it patronising? What do women being sexually liberated means for us in the bedroom? Amidst a growing fearmongering of men now all increasingly perceived as being ‘potential danger’, it can feel as if interacting with women has become, *cough*, to put it mildly (*cough*) a ‘tricky minefield’.

Or has it?

It's actually very simple: just ask the woman what she wants (do I pay for the meal, or do we go Dutch?), and if you disagree with her view then it’s a matter of clashing values and so let it go. It’s the same for women -if a man approaches you to strike a conversation, nothing prevents you to say ‘no’. He is more likely to go away than to drag you in a dark alley; no matter the sensationalist headlines peddling fear to sell sheets (please, just, please… -stop it).

The issue, here, is not so much that men are left completely baffled and confused. Women themselves strongly disagree about the relevance or not of chivalry, and sex has always been a hot topic of contention even among feminists themselves! You can’t expect us to get it better than you do. The problem is where men, completely clueless, are getting their advice from.

It has come to attention that we men were badly socialised. For too long we had been brainwashed into being strong (=tough like brick walls), self-reliant (=shut up and never ask for help), assertive (=always be a winner, whatever the cost even to yourself) and paragons of stoicism (=bottle up your feelings and your pains and just move on, ‘you f*ck**g puss*!’). The impact of what has been dubbed ‘toxic masculinity’ is now well-known, and, here again, that’s why my generation has been increasingly rejecting such ‘traditional’ model of manhood. Elders might call us ‘snowflakes’, but if opening up about our feelings means not turning to destructive and self-destructive behaviours to cope, then we’re good.

The thing is, ‘traditional model of masculinity’ might be flying off the window (and good riddance!) but our insecurities, them, still remain. And, our insecurities are not helped by online dating, having completely levelled up the playing field.

Men are used to make the first step. They therefore have no hesitancy messaging women for a chat. It’s great, but it means that women not only get bombarded by messages and so can pick and choose, but, also, that the power is now into their hands: they can ignore many guys, at their convenience. For men, it has in turn become very competitive out there! Oh boy, what do we do?

Besides the minefield outlined above, we too can be nervous train wrecks when going on a date (if you think guys are toxic macho walking in pumped chests and swinging shoulders, just watch ‘First Date’, ‘Dinner Date’, or ‘The Undateables’…). The confusion and insecurities also extend into the bedroom. A real man should perform, right? But what does it mean, ‘to perform’? Ladies, come on, why do you think we’re all worry about ‘size’? WE need advice. And so here we are, getting our dating advice from… men’s magazines. Oh. Boy.

Men reading this will know: the *nice* article on how to please the ladies, sandwiched in between adverts for sports cars (‘cos am the man! am a winner! Yeaaah! VOOM VOOM VOOM!’) and how to get a six pack (body image affects men too, and as toxically as women -seriously: we don’t talk enough about it…). Nothing wrong with that, but who write them? Women reading this will probably not know, so let’s enlighten them: men themselves.

I. Kid. You. Not.

Men aren't only confused and baffled, if not plain clueless, but, on the dating topic, they're also mansplaining each other. Of course, with all these insecurities built up through centuries of toxic masculinity (be tough, lead, *perform*) the whole subject has been stirred towards... sex. There's even best selling books about it (there, for your own enjoyment...)!

I have nothing against hanky panky, and I am not prudish. But, when it comes to please the ladies, if the only thing we have to offer is, well, a *performance*, then I worry about us having learn absolutely nothing from what women, well, truly want.

Somehow, we should be concerned: sex is important, but we men tend to magnify its importance to the point of toxicity. That's why we worry about, *cough*, 'size'. That's why we, also, watch porn. Women might be surprised, but for many men growing up porn wasn't merely about self-gratification -it was above all a guide to learn how to, well, *perform*. It's not new (nor is the addiction to pornography -how many relationships and marriages have been completely wrecked by it?) but, as internet has completely reshaped how we interact the danger is now two-fold.

First, we're past the era of Play Bunnies and the dirty page 3 boys used to gawk at in dorm rooms. Porn has become hardcore, violent, degrading, with even actresses themselves being subjected to what is but human exploitation (the documentary 'Girls Wanted' is telling enough). Then, in our culture awash with technological devices and access to internet at a mere click, our boys -as insecure as we were when growing up yet as willing to please- have access to such degrading violence and for the worse. The fact that online sex workers, all tits out, can just follow our underage sons on social medias in total impunity, randomly messaging them with ‘eh daddy, check my OnlyFans’ does nothing to help (honestly, shouldn't that be considered cyber flashing too, or at least grooming for financial gains?....). Don’t we deserve better than that?

And so, back to dating!

Guys: do you want advice? Do you want to properly 'man up'? Then ask women.

There are plenty of blogs out there, run by women, and from which we can learn a great deal about what it means to ‘be a man’. The Urban Dater, Emlovz, The Dating Divas are just but a few...

What about online dating, then? It has become part of the mainstream for sure. Some might regret the lack of ‘romance’ that comes with the ‘swipe left’ attitude, but it doesn’t mean relationships and marriage born out of online dating are any less amorous that those that began otherwise -far from that! Safety and else are a concern, but it’s like in the real world -we can’t live in fear, although education about how to stay safe online remains badly needed, especially among the younger generation. Personally, I think it all comes down to etiquette and how men and women interact. Toxic masculinity is flying off the window, with serious offences being at long last being addressed (e.g. d**k pics). We salute that! But how men, in future, will interact with women -online as much as offline- remains, in the end, fully reliant upon how women perceive men now. It’s up to you to see us all as ‘potential danger’, and, in light of the actions of a few (the murderers, the rapists, the abusers) to be warry of our whole demographics (#NotAllMen vs #YesAllWomen!). As males we have to warn you, though: the self-conscious, kind, respectful guys will acknowledge such concerns and not come up to you (students thinking that asking a girl out is ‘sexual harassment’ is emblematic of such emerging behaviour…) and the only men that will are the jerks with no respect for boundaries, who might hit you, and hit you hard (from pestering you in public -and not by kindly trying to strike up a conversation- to d**k pics still ending up in your mails). Is it really what you want? Is it really what we want? I will leave you to ponder on that…

Meanwhile, and to end up on a positive note, if you like cheesy love and romance with a dash of vanilla erotica, then please feel free to check out my own poetry collection (here). And, if you don't want to miss on future posts, please subscribe here.subscribe here.

Thanks for reading!

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