Female workers supporting the MeToo movement wearing black attend a rally to mark the International Women's Day in Seoul. Picture: AP

New York - Like all of us in the throes of #MeToo, I have been taking rigorous inventory of my sexual history, rolling back the tape on past highs and lows: the disturbing teenage experiences no longer chalked up to miscommunication, those times I gave in because it was easier, some unwanted advance successfully fended off.

And then there are the memories of being brusquely, and without permission, pushed up against a wall - and loving it. In fact, those were the steamiest moments I could recall. I wondered if I would ever experience such an unscripted embrace again, and then immediately worried: Did my secret desires make me a traitor to #MeToo and what it stands for?

No, according to Michaela Boehm, a sex and intimacy therapist and psychologist; they make me pretty normal.

Her 25 years as a counselor have taught her what many women and men privately know but are now too afraid to admit, the same truth that the success of Fifty Shades of Grey tells: Many women like to be dominated in bed. “Not in their lifestyle, not in their career, but in the bedroom, many women would like to surrender,” Boehm said. 

This may explain why, on Amazon’s list of best-selling erotica - a medium that, unlike pornography, is mostly produced and enjoyed by women - themes of male dominance tend to, well, dominate.

The last thing a woman wants to be worrying about while in the heat of the moment is whether her arousal is an expression of her own eroticism or a symptom of patriarchal oppression. Yet, in the #MeToo landscape, many 30-and-younger women and men - including me - are finding it harder to untease the two as we navigate dating and fledgling relationships. In a surprising twist, what began as a very public airing of powerful men’s sexual misconduct has come to cast a sinister pall over private intimacies that once seemed okay to enjoy.

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“After being exposed to so many accounts of different women’s sexual abuse or harassment, I was hyperaware and hypersensitive about it,” said Jessica Tallarico, 30, of Toronto, a newly engaged friend. “So on one occasion, playing around affectionately in bed, my fiancé got the tiniest bit rough and I had such an adverse reaction to what would normally be playful. Adverse as in, I became defensive, flooded with a bit of fear.

“This felt so strange to me because it happened with my partner who I love and trust immensely, and he did nothing wrong or really that out of the ordinary.”

A rape survivor, Rand is well versed in feminist theory; she understands just how vital a shift such behavior from a young man is when it comes to casual sex. Yet, in practice, she had mixed feelings. “It’s difficult because on the one hand you’re like, ‘Dude, if I didn’t want it, I would stop you,'” she said. “On the other hand, that can be used against you if it was assault.”

Rand is not the only one conflicted by the new standard of consent; men are, too. Miles Mobley, a 24-year-old college student in Fresno, California, remembered an experience with a close female friend last year. They were both naked and fooling around, he said, but when he went to initiate sex, she told him to stop.

He did so immediately but was confused because “it seemed we were going one way, and then all of a sudden we were not.” He asked her if she was sure she didn’t want to. “And then she said, ‘No, it’s okay,'” he said. They had sex. Now Mobley is plagued with a sense of uncertainty and guilt over the incident: “Was it wrong of me, to ask a clarifying question? Was that coercion? That wasn’t what I meant at all. I was just legitimately confused.”

Mobley said that post-#MeToo, he and many of his male friends have sworn off making the first move. “Now, I just sit back and wait for the girl to do it,” he said. “I know there’s been a lot of sexual situations that have not come to fruition because of it, and I’ve even had girls be like, ‘Why didn’t you kiss me?’ But I just really don’t want to overstep my boundaries.”

The New York Times