Earlier this week one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.
The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”
So this is the first blog of what I intend to be an ongoing yet occasional series themed around “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”
Before we go further, I am going to add a content warning. This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.
I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.
And so, lengthy pre-amble complete, let’s get it over with.
“I wish we spoke more openly about…
Women’s masturbation, sexual pleasure & orgasms”
It’s pretty much accepted that boys wank. It’s a common trope in fiction and a frequent joke punchline. There are a million (hilarious) euphemisms for male self pleasuring, and you can make up a million more by just “Adjectiving the Noun”. Hugging the giraffe. Wrestling the one-eyed dragon. Marinating the sausage. Feel free to suggest your own. It’s most entertaining. While there’s a great deal of humour over the subject, male masturbation is generally accepted as a normal male act, part of healthy development and generally a pretty fun way to pass the time if you’ve got not much on and there’s nothing of interest on Netflix. But if you’re a woman, and you make a joke about “adding that to the wank bank” there’s often an awkward silence. Women’s masturbation, even in our relatively sexually enlightened culture, remains a taboo subject and jokes about women taking a walk in their own lady garden are OMG TOO SOON.
But yes, it’s true. Women do take themselves into their own hands. As with men, some will do so more often, some will do it a lot; some with a lower sex drive might not do it that often and some might just do it to pass the time and when there’s not much on Netflix. There should be no more shame in women having a solo joy party than a man doing so; but it’s so much harder to talk about. In part this is down to women often being seen as passive sexually; as not being sexual agents or having sexual desires of their own so much as being something on to which male fantasies or acts are projected. A woman getting herself off doesn’t fit into this idea.
But not only is it super fun, and totally a feminist act (it so is. You are demonstrating your sexual agency as a subject. Totally a feminist act. Not just because there’s nothing on Netflix.) it can also be really valuable for a woman to explore herself; to learn what she likes and how, how she wants to be touched and what gets her excited. If she learns her own body, she’s going to be able to better guide her sexual partners to what she likes, to mutual sexual satisfaction.
Mutual sexual satisfaction in a relationship isn’t something that just happens. Every one’s body is different, and people take pleasure in different things. So it’s really important if you care about your partner and their happiness that you both find out what you enjoy, what they enjoy, and what you can do for each other. The frustrating stereotype that women spend their time avoiding sex with their male partners that never get enough is not only pretty offensive but perpetuates the idea of a passive female object for the pleasure of men. For this chap buying his darling beloved a latte for Christmas, my main thought was “well perhaps if you were more interested in pleasing her than getting yourself off she’d enjoy the sex more, and you’d get more sex”. Sex shouldn’t be a transaction, bought with gifts and begging. If your partner isn’t totally into the sex with you, then maybe you need to be having a conversation about what you can do that will please him/her. And if you can’t have conversations like this without either of you getting embarrassed/awkward/upset/turned off it’s kind of a red flag. If you can’t communicate about what makes you both happy sexually, perhaps you need to think about whether you have a good relationship in the first place, as the key to a good relationship is communication.
One of the big problems here is the pervasive myth of the vaginal orgasm. It was in 1905 that Freud claimed that vaginal orgasms were something that ‘adult’ women had, while ‘adolescent’ women had clitoral orgasms. Freud had absolutely no evidence for this assertion whatsoever. No studies, no facts; it was all based on his own theories of sexuality. Despite our understanding of human sexuality, biology and psychology moving on significantly in the intervening one hundred and ten years we’re still clinging onto this outdated view of orgasms – which let’s remind ourselves was based on exactly no actual evidence. The theory has been heavily criticised ever since but somehow the myth clings on.
Movies, TV, books, porn, magazines; they all continue to perpetuate this myth that women have these big old screaming orgasms from penetrative sex when actually the vast majority of women simply can’t. It’s not because their male partner’s penis isn’t big or wide or hard enough, or because the man isn’t good at sexing enough; it’s because most lady parts are just physically not designed that way. Our culture is obsessed with the idea of P in V penetrative sex when that’s one tiny part of a whole range of super awesome fun times you can have, many of which are more likely to result in *mutual* pleasure. It’s no coincidence that lesbians tend to have more orgasms than women in straight relationships; it’s because they are engaging in a whole lot of ‘extracurricular’ activities that directly stimulate all of the best places.
If you’re a dude, and you’ve got this far (good on you!) and you’re looking sidelong at your girlfriend, wondering if she’s faked it, don’t be too hard on her. Many women will admit to faking it because they’ve had fun, but know they aren’t going to climax, and they know their partner is holding out for her, and she wants him to enjoy himself, and so will fake it to help him make it. If you get me. But if you’re only ever doing the P&V thing and your girlfriend isn’t up for it that often then leave off the sarky picture macros and the passive aggressive comments and just talk to her. It’s not your penis, it’s her vagina. Just because parts other than her vagina need need stimulation from things other than your penis doesn’t mean she doesn’t really like your penis (or the man it’s attached to.)
We need to stop thinking about sex as simply being “place penis in vagina and pump for a bit”, and thinking of it as a whole range of sexual acts which please everyone involved. Forget the word ‘foreplay’ – that suggests that all the other stuff is just the prologue, when for many women the ‘other stuff’ is most of the novel, with the actual penetrate part being the epilogue. Or maybe even the acknowledgement. And as with women’s masturbation, this all links back to society’s difficulty in seeing women as sexual beings in their own right, as likely to be horny, with desires and pleasures of their own, and wanting some sweaty love times as much as men.
(And if any of my family are still reading, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Part 2: Periods & Menstruation
Part 3: Sexual Health
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