Untangling the gender knot, part 523: On withholding sex as a form of punishment

This concept sloshes through pop culture (see for example: The Lysistrata Gambit on TvTropes.org), and I've always considered it dodgy at best. The idea just seemed nonsensical to me (spoiler: it still does).

I've recently come to think about it some more, because a friend of mine told me that this has happened to him frequently in past relationships. I've found this curious but hey, just because there's something I can't relate to doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

But - yesterday, we somehow arrived at this topic again, and I asked my friend whether maybe the women in question didn't actually intend to punish him by withholding sex; instead, maybe they were simply upset with him and thus not in the mood for physical intimacy. Which turned out to be a completely new idea to him. This struck me as extremely odd and made me think of the old trope of female sexuality existing not in its own right but as a means to an end and mostly a tool for exercising control over men.

Figure 1: Random image that came up when doing a Google image search for "withholding sex"

I did some quick googling to see whether there were any decent studies on the topic, but I couldn't find any (apart from some surveys done by magazines with titles along the lines of "Good Housekeeping" - the methodology used there makes the results pretty much useless).

My guess is that there are (at least?) two aspects to this issue:

a) Possibility: The prevalence of women withholding sex from their partners as a form of punishment and manipulation is overestimated. This interpretation as "punishment" can stem from a combination of the triad 1) entitlement, 2) the above-mentioned belief that female sexuality does not exist in its own right, and 3) a certain self-centeredness: instead of assuming the woman in question does not feel like having sex with her partner because she's pissed with them, or there are trust issues, or whatever - which would be about her feelings and emotional state - the partner interprets it as a punishment, which is all about them. Also, the first interpretation would likely induce guilt in the partner, while the second would induce self-pity and a sense of being treated unfairly, and, well, punished.

b) In the cases where one partner does indeed withhold sex purposely, as a means of punishment and emotional manipulation, it's a flat out case of emotional abuse - a type of emotional abuse that seems to be accepted and taken for granted, especially if women do it. Which is bullshit and needs to be called out and confronted like any other kind of abuse, rather than accepted just because it's considered a pervasive behaviour.


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