Caitlin Moran, photo by chrisdonia via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In The Cut, Caitlin Moran tell us what it was like to be 18, newly in the big city (in this case, London), interested in sex, and with zero experience of men. Unsurprisingly, she learns quickly that there are a not-insignificant number of men whose “actual desire was just to be unpleasant to a woman somewhere private.”

Every woman I know has had a man like this; they’re a tollbooth you must pass through into true adulthood. The Classic Bad Man is a rite of passage. He should not have to be — it is not to womankind’s betterment that we learn to survive these things — but he is. And what I have observed is this: There are some men who simply desire to see unease and fear in a woman’s face. It is as if they get high off it. They huff it like cocaine. This is their addiction: making women scared. And they will spend their whole lives doing it. Do you know someone like this? I bet you do.

To be sure, there are also not-Bad Men, but interactions with them are frequently troubling as well — they’re working from a different cultural playbook:

This category of bad sexual experiences comes down to the fact that, at this point in history, men’s tabula for women is completely rasa, too. Every problem I had as a teenage girl, noncriminal men also have. There are no manuals about being a man who wishes to have swashbuckling sex adventures with his peers. There are no templates for how to approach a woman in a jolly and uplifting manner, discover her sexual preferences, get feedback while you’re rolling around naked, and learn from her without feeling oddly, horribly emasculated.

While my knowledge about the opposite sex came from MGM musicals and 19th-century literature, men’s tends to come from pornography and best-selling books by pickup artists. Men are working on the assumption they must either look like Burt Reynolds and bum a woman across a landing or else psychologically manipulate women into doing things they wouldn’t normally do, because sex is about, somehow, winning, rather than a collaboration between two people who delight in each other.

Read the essay