Know Your Norms: Sexual Scoring

The culture of gender-based violence (which includes sexual violence) is supported by specific gender norms and practices, such as the idea that gender itself is limited to a binary of woman and man, boy and girl. We all either participate in, ignore, or work to disrupt and transform those norms and the harmful culture they create.

FUN FACT: You do NOT need to work in the sexual violence prevention and response field to help end sexual violence. You’re already an expert on the culture of the communities you are a part of. If you want to help make a change, then the first step is to take a look at the norms and practices that support sexual violence.

So to start you off, here is one critical gender norm that promotes a culture of sexual violence we should all be aware of:

Sexual scoring (or how masculinity is all about lots of heterosexual sex)

One key component of what it means to “be a man” in society is having lots of sex. With lots of women. Only with women, never with men or folks of other gender identities. And only with “traditionally beautiful” women at that.

In short, being a “real man” means you are a player, a baller, someone with a whole lot of notches on your belt and bedpost, and wherever else you have to notch because you need extra space because of all the sex you are having.

Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with having lots of sex, or with being straight. But when men set their value and worth on how much sex they are having–and when we as a society police men and men’s behavior to make sure they are having enough sex to keep their “man card”–we have a problem.

It sets up situations where men feel pressured to have sex, even when they don’t want to, and it is a major factor in men doing whatever they need to do in order to get sex from women, including verbal and physical coercion.  

That right there is why this norm is such a pervasive and harmful one: it normalizes a culture where men are expected to do whatever they can to get sex. It sets sex up to be a game where the goal is a higher score at the expense of the women who become targets or obstacles that need to be overcome in order to get that higher score.

This norm is enforced and excused through “boys will be boys” and “men can’t control themselves” and “all men are dogs,” and many men feel constant pressure to up the ante and one up each other.

The idea that masculinity is about having lots of heterosexual sex and the environment that this norm creates are key factors in men choosing to commit sexual violence. Coercive and non-consensual behavior become accepted parts of the game. It keeps the burden of preventing rape focused on how women should act “safer” or “smarter” which leads to victim blaming and more, and excuses and defends men who commit sexual violence. This norm also makes LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence and male survivors invisible, and leads to a number of other harms as well.

Now it’s your turn to think critically about how this norm plays out in your life in order to disrupt and transform this norm into something healthier.

  • Have you ever encountered this norm in any of your communities/circles? (family, school, religion, work, friends, etc.)
  • How does it play out explicitly or implicitly? Have you ever talked with anyone about this norm?
  • Have you ever felt pressure to conform to this norm? In what ways? Have you ever pressured someone you know about this norm?

If you have a story about this norm and how it has played out in your life, share it at THE G WORD: Transforming gender norms, one story at a time.