When Geoffrey Knight, 25, meets a woman at the bar, he’ll give her his number and wait for her to text rather than the other way around. He has thought about how men have the power in courtship, and with that, the ability to abuse it.
Knight still has his “Consent is sexy” T-shirt from freshman year of college. He completed a two-month discussion class on how to reject toxic masculinity.
This young male Washingtonian is well-prepared to date in the #MeToo era. Yet he is still thoroughly confused.
“It’s tough for me to know where the line is,” Knight says, “because it changes from woman to woman.”
Over the summer, he was in bed with a woman. When he put his hand on her breast, she swatted it away.
“You need to ask before you touch me,” he recalls her saying. Knight apologized, saying he had assumed it was okay because they had just had sex.
“You should never make that assumption,” she retorts.
A few months later, Knight has a different partner. He asked, “Can I touch you here?” “Can I do this?” every step of the way, and the woman wants to know: What is with all the questions? She prefers a more proactive approach.
Welcome to dating in 2018, when plenty of heterosexual men are confused about how to make a first move in a way that is confident and mindful of a woman’s boundaries. Even the guys like Knight who are pretty sure they are not harassers are walking on eggshells.
According to a survey conducted by MTV in December, 40 percent of male respondents ages 18 to 25 say the #MeToo movement has changed the way they act in potential romantic relationships.
Some men are even re-examining past relationships.
A 25-year-old single man in West Virginia, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concern over his job security, has sent a few “If I ever did anything, I’m sorry” texts to exes. But there are some he has not spoken to and worries they might have a different take on their time together. “Those are the ones I worry about the most,” he says, “the ones that don’t want to talk to me.”
Now when he hooks up with someone, he wants to be extra-sure it is consensual, saying something like: “Hey, you’re cool with this, right?” Asking for consent “can be a mood-killer,” he says, “but it’s the smart thing to do.”
For Allison Carpio, a 29-year-old single woman in San Francisco, the conversation about sex and consent with someone new can start long before she has set foot in the bedroom.
It might start at dinner, by talking about the recent controversy over Aziz Ansari’s questionable first date or situations their friends have been through. “Simply because you’re talking about it shows . . . what their idea of consent is,” Carpio says, adding she is not looking for a “right” or “wrong” answer in these conversations, simply a sense of openness and curiosity. “If a man will say something really short or deflect, that kind of turns me off. But if they dig in a little deeper and ask me questions about why I reacted that way, that’s really what I look for.”
The West Virginia man is still dating but prefers to meet friends of friends rather than strangers at a bar or on an app.
Thomas Edwards, a professional wingman who coaches singles on how to approach people in bars, says his male clients are quite conflicted about how to be both romantic and respectful when making a first move, which was already tough before. “Now it’s not just a fear of rejection but a fear of being harassing,” Edwards notes.
Some single men are so worried about coming on too strong that they will not be the one to lean in for a first kiss. “If the woman doesn’t make the first move, they’re not going to,” Francesca Hogi, a dating coach in Los Angeles, says of the single men she has spoken to recently. “They say: ‘I’m going to take that as she’s not interested, and I’m going to move on.’ ” Hogi said she thinks this is a lot to ask, especially when so many single women do not even want to send the first message online, much less make the first move sexually.
But so what if these men are scared and confused? For ages, sex has held heavier consequences for women.
Perhaps we are just getting closer to gender parity, to a place where women’s desires in sex matter as much as men’s. “Nothing is going to change with men until we hold them to a higher standard,” says Jaclyn Friedman, a sex educator and author of “Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All.”
As she talks to men in her life, Carpio, the 29-year-old, has realized that a lot of men do not have “perfectly clean records.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” she adds. “I’ve made mistakes myself.”