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All Heterosexual Sex Is Rape

Did she really say that?

At first, I misunderstood the premise of Andrea Dworkin’s book, Intercourse, to mean heterosexual sex is rape. I fell into the trap of believing her critics without reading the book myself, but when I finally did read it, I was angry how reviewers misled the public into thinking she insisted all intercourse between a man and a woman is rape.

It was 1994 and I was working as an English teacher for a technical college in Thailand when I began to read the book. Being a feminist, there was difficulty at times. When I asked the director of the college where I could learn traditional Thai boxing, he suggested I take a cooking class instead. Before traveling through Asia during school break, I shaved off my hair for two reasons. 1) I’d be staying in hostels without hot water and didn’t want the trouble of taking care of my hair, and 2) I didn’t want to be hassled by men in the predominantly Muslim areas of Indonesia. Long hair is feminine and beautiful. A shaved head gave me an androgynous look . I navigated through Sumatra indistinguishable from a teenage boy — camouflaged by my peach fuzz head and oversized t-shirts.

As the final date for my service overseas approached, I finished her polemic about sex in a male dominated society. I understood her position to be that the power dynamics in a patriarchal society creates a construct in which sexual relations between men and women are not egalitarian. It’s about taking the power privilege into the bedroom.

When I returned to New Jersey in 1995, I decided the personal is political and I would not be destined to inferiority through intercourse with a man. I wasn’t interested in sex with women so abstinence was my only salvation. My convictions made it easy. Plus, the fact I didn’t shave my legs or armpits deterred men from flirting with me. My parents chastised me for not shaving, saying I’d never get a date because I didn’t fit in. I didn’t care though. I would live a life according to my beliefs or I would be living a lie.

My outlook on sex softened when I started dating after about a year of celibacy. I enjoyed men’s company and fantasized about them. It had been so long and I became curious about how consensual, meaningful sex could physically feel. I was still a feminist and always will be, but I wondered if heterosexual sex has to necessarily feel like a violation as a woman.

I was angry about the inequities between the sexes. I dwelled on the advantages men had as physical beings, using their strength to manipulate situations. I ruminated about the advantages given to them in our culture just for having an XY chromosome pair. But I wanted to remove the political from my personal life. I swear it wasn’t about being horny. In fact, over time, desire waned and abstinence was easy.

I wanted a connection with man. I didn’t need to infuse a political statement in my sex life. I could be in control in the bedroom. For that matter, I could give up control and not feel violated. I took Andrea Dworkin’s words to heart and learned a lesson about myself. As a feminist, I would never stop challenging the status quo or forget the sacrifices feminist pioneers made for our future. I also defend Dworkin’s insights into how broken male/female relationships can be and her quest to uphold the dignity of women.

I am glad I came full circle and eventually created sexual relationships that harmonize with my essence and worldview.