Sexperts: ‘Wearing the pants’ in a relationship

April 17, 2014 Columns, Opinion, Sexperts

He always lets me choose the movie—even if it is a chick flick—and he does not mind ordering the same pizza every time because he knows that “pepperoni and pineapple” is my favorite. I have been told that I “wear the pants” in our relationship. The American idiom “wearing the pants” was coined sometime in the late 19th century, according to The Phrase Finder. It appeared in The Manitoba Daily Free Press November 1880 in an article about the domestic household of Native Americans and their squaws:

“The squaws are very beautiful and are as fond of ornaments as Indian women usually are. The women are called ladies and they sometimes wear the trousers or boss the white Indians, their husbands.”

As the trouser-wearing male—pants were a garment exclusively worn by men at the time—typically assumed dominance in the 19th century household, the phrase “wearing the pants” is employed to imply that the standard order has been overturned: the woman assumes dominance over the man. While women are no longer strictly subject to submissive, subservient roles, “dominance” remains a trait strongly associated with masculinity, further endorsed by the higher testosterone levels of men.

However, the dynamics of power roles in the modern relationship are complicated by the bedroom. Inverting power roles during sex has become a trend among experimental couples: the typically dominant male may become subservient to his partner between the sheets while the typically submissive female may become the aggressor towards her partner, or vice versa.

This power role reversal has gained popularity and is quickly embedding itself in hookup culture. Role reversal is widely fantasized because it is an indulgence in the perverse: an inversion of the standard order.

Power roles are linked to control which connects to the pleasure center of the brain. During consensual role reversal, the dominant partner relinquishes power to the submissive partner; this release of power is a choice and thus merits control. Partners can therefore shift between power roles and still stimulate the brain’s pleasure center. While one partner may claim to “wear the pants,” all bets are off when those pants are unzipped.

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