Non-consent in the couple remains a taboo. - SUPERSTOCK / SUPERSTOCK / SIPA
- In the family lock-up, some women have unwanted sex.
- This is what sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann describes in his new work, which lifts the taboo on the mismatch of desires, the blurred communication of spouses…
Even with her partner, making love is not easy. And many women surrender their bodies to their partners without really wanting to have sex. In Not want this evening, * which comes out this Wednesday in bookstores, the sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, director of research at the CNRS, lifts the veil on these gray areas of the intimacy of couples, who sometimes turn red when the man knowingly denies the refusal of his spouse to satisfy his desire at all costs.
A fascinating work, beaded with a hundred testimonies from women and men, which invites everyone to question their practices and to release a word that is sometimes stifled for too long.
Why do some women give in to the desire of their spouse, forgetting themselves?
The vast majority of women have already had sex with their spouse without wanting to. They will force themselves to please him, so as not to weaken their relationship and for fear that their man will go elsewhere. What would be particularly unbearable for them, because the couple, who offers them protection, is the most precious thing in their life.
You insist on the notion of desire shifting over the years and you affirm that men have a more constant sexual desire than women. For what reasons ?
In the first meetings, the female desire is not inferior to that of the men. But once in a relationship, their desire often falls apart after a few years of living together. For a majority of them, this drop in desire is not linked to a progressive disenchantment, because they love their partner and say they form a good team with him. But they suffer from mental overload because they are at the center of the whole family organization. Which does not make them available for sexuality. Sexual activity is therefore perceived as a chore.
You say that the desire deficit in women is also explained by the transformation of Prince Charming into a “nice toad” slumped on his sofa…
The couple has a function of comfort and comfort today. There is a logic of regressive carelessness that we need, in today's society, to catch our breath. And men generally need it more than women. If the partner is only in personal comfort, he will be less the object of desire and will thwart the romantic dream of his spouse. During confinement, this was particularly evident: we got less dressed, washed less and made love less.
According to the testimonies you have collected, the non-consent of women is often implicit and goes through gestures or allusions… Why do men not perceive it?
Women think their message of non-consent is loud and clear. While it should be more explicit for men to understand their unwantedness. The lack of desire of women goes through bodily signals, as a form of passivity during the sexual act. But the man will not interpret it as a sign of refusal and will say that the reports always start a little like that.
Sometimes the woman declares that she is a little tired, will turn over on her side, but for her partner, this is not felt as a message of non-consent. Yet a majority of men are respectful of women. They do not understand that they are forcing them and falling from the clouds when they realize it.
How to explain such a taboo?
I have never seen such a weight of silence in couple relationships as on this issue of consent. Everything works on the unspoken, the repression, the misunderstanding. The couple have the illusion of easy communication while it is not passing. To get out of this pitfall, it would be necessary to discuss what happens in the bed outside the moments of sexual interaction, to clarify the communication and to listen to the way in which the desire and the pleasure come from each.
You distinguish predators, who commit marital rapes, from men who rather navigate in a gray area. Can you clarify their differences?
In France, 31% of rapes are marital rapes, and this figure is very underestimated because these acts most often go unpunished. There, we no longer speak of a gray area, but of a situation where the woman has clearly expressed her refusal and the man does not voluntarily respect it to hurt her on purpose. These are absolute dramas. It is necessary at all costs to free the voice of the victims and to make their complaints more heard and admissible by the police and the justice system.
Several women who have confided in you describe that they are awakened in their sleep by their spouse who caresses them or tries to penetrate them. And that they think their wife likes to be surprised like that. How do you explain such behaviors?
Many accounts point to "nocturnal attacks" by men who have a flare-up. Women have a hard time being awakened in this way and feel dispossessed of their own bodies. Most men who do this find this practice particularly sensual and do not understand the discomfort of their spouse.
Why is the notion of conjugal duty, inherited for a long time, still so prevalent in our society?
In the 19th century, women had to accept sexuality for procreation. We were married for better and for worse. You had to accept sex, even if it was painful. History always leaves traces which are slow to disappear.
Today, the conjugal duty is not imposed from the outside, it is an obligation that one imposes on oneself. Because women tell themselves that they must have a vivid desire like the one they imagine in other women. And they repress this non-consent.
How do you explain that many of them feel guilty and think they are frigid?
Women think that they should have more desire and that it is not very normal. Hence an inner discomfort that will turn into guilt. However, for those who end up cheating on their husbands, they realize that if they had less desire with their spouse, it was not their body that was malfunctioning, but the marital context. Because their sexuality explodes again.
Women who are assaulted by their spouses express their impression of being taken for an object. Some cry during the act. What psychological consequences do these unwanted relationships have?
The stronger the repression and the guilt, the more the suffering will be. The woman will enter into a logic of resignation which will end up destroying her ability to rebound, her vital energy and the self-esteem she sees for herself.
But according to you, since the Weinstein affair, more women have dared to express their non-consent ...
Yes, because with this case, the question of non-consent was asked very strongly. For young women it has become obvious, they want to enter the conjugal experience with the objective that their consent is explained and understood. For their part, the majority of men have been permeable to the #MeToo message. But they don't make the link with their own couple.
How to educate children about this issue of consent?
This is important for adolescents who are building their identity. Especially since young men are confused by #MeToo and are afraid of making mistakes with women. Parents, schools and certain associations can make them aware of this issue of non-consent.
Are we heading towards a society where the man and the woman will wonder verbally if they can touch the body of the other?
No, it won't be as cartoonish. But we must get out of the black box of silence on this question of non-consent in the couple. Each woman must ask herself: "Do I force myself a little, a lot? Am I missing a part of my life by having sex that I don't really want? " There are gigantic margins of progress in the explanation of couples on the subject. And these moments of discussion allow men to understand the signs of non-consent and to set up new rituals to capture the intention of their spouse. If they make a caress which remains without return, it is that there is no desire and the man must withdraw his hand.
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* Not tonight , Jean-Claude Kaufmann, The links that liberate, 19 euros.
- gender equality