Anyone who has embarked on a first-time hookup with a man knows the following: it can be terrible, just OK, or great, but it’s highly unlikely you will get off. Is this a fixed truth of casual sex, or is there something we can do to change it?
While we may be experiencing some of the most laid-back attitudes toward sex in history, that doesn’t seem to have changed much on the sexual satisfaction front, at least for women. In other words, if an increasingly celebratory attitude toward the act as something both innately good and no big deal has finally trickled down to most of us, then why hasn’t the sex itself improved?
That is, in part, the argument Alana Massey presents in a Guardian essay in defense of “sex blahsitivity.” It rhymes with sex positivity; only it promotes a woman’s right to not be that into sex, because sex, particularly casual sex, is often not worth the trouble. Massey writes that while we mistakenly believed that sexual inequality was resolved by the Pill, feminism, and the sexual revolution, that simply isn’t the case. For one, sex will never not be potentially dangerous for women, but also, sex with men often just isn’t that good.
“Too often, sex positivity feels rooted in a feminism that secretly wants boys to like it,” she writes. “It wants to be cool.” Being cool with sex is great, but if we haven’t “decentralized men’s orgasms as the ultimate purpose of sex between a man and a woman,” then where does that leave us? Frustrated. We don’t teach men how to prioritize a woman’s pleasure. We don’t provide realistic anatomy charts. And, Massey writes:
The kicker? It is more emotionally laborious for a lot of women to explain why they don’t want to have mediocre sex than to simply have the mediocre sex. It’s just that the sex does approximately as much for us as making a cupping motion over our elbow over and over again. It doesn’t hurt, but why would we?
In part, I would argue it’s the nature of the act itself that works against women. Casual sex is often defined by the start and finish of a boner, but it’s also synonymous with instant gratification, sexually speaking—you don’t want to do the work of a relationship with this person, you just want to put your bodies together and feel good as a result. The feeling-good part won’t necessarily happen for the woman, though, because a hookup is, by design, somewhat impersonal; there’s not a lot of communication, and not a lot of effort.
So men tend to fuck until they orgasm, and women tend to fuck until men orgasm, too. Certainly a man can try to get a woman off first, or continue to try to get the woman off after he’s finished (less thrilling from his perspective I would imagine), but more often than not, that requires effort that sometimes feels counter to the free-spirited, impassioned, lust-driven charge of sex that “just happens.”
Here is where contrarians will argue that it’s on women to “say what they want” and the comments on Massey’s piece, which go hundreds deep, are littered with such protests. But this puts the impetus entirely on women to solve their own pleasure. There are so many factors involved in getting a person off, and for women, those factors are much more complex. Often, inexperienced lovers don’t even know what will reliably get them off, and therefore cannot communicate it explicitly all the way to orgasm. A woman’s body needs to be learned, and that necessitates an attentiveness that seems at odds with the very casualness of casual sex.
This is why so many women define relationship sex as the best sex they’ve had, and that’s not just because it involves being in love. It’s more often because only in more serious relationships do they feel more comfortable, and do men seem motivated in investing more effort in getting them off.
But we’ve written about women who are totally fine with casual hookups not resulting in orgasm, simply because it’s too much work, and, hey, that’s not always the best part about fucking, anyway. As Karly Sciortino wrote at Vogue:
But ultimately, being intimate with a relative stranger can be fun, freeing, and empowering, whether you come or not. And often, just rolling around naked is the most fun and most intimate part of sex. Taking a step back to remember this would be beneficial for both sexes, but especially for men, who often seem to be humping robotically toward the finish line.
A study looking at college hookups told us, to no one’s surprise, that it is harder for women to get off with strangers. Researchers found that women are twice as likely to get off in relationships, and in a poll of thousands of college students asked about their last hookup, some 80 percent of men had an orgasm versus only 42 percent of women. This is widely attributed to the men-giving-a-shit factor, which is a thing they tend to do less of when only fucking.
Given all this, it seems that when it comes to reaping the benefits of all this no-strings sex out there, women are stuck between a rock and a hard place that never results in their orgasm. That, at best, we have to lower our standards and focus on how nice everything but the orgasm feels, because we are shit out of luck regardless. Massey argues that so long as we “tell women to have sex with as many partners as they like, but then don’t vigorously encourage those partners to be any good at sex,” women have the right to be meh about sex.
But is it possible to reframe the idea of casual sex as the ultimate work of creating pleasure for both people? What does it look like when a man makes getting a woman off his mission?
I asked a male friend in his twenties who is sexually active and says he cares deeply about making sure the women he’s with have orgasms. He told me that in casual situations or first time hookups, that he does everything he can to make sure his partners get off, but that even after doing everything, that it almost never happens the first time. “It’s like riding a new bicycle,” he said. For whatever reason, the orgasms come later, after comfort and experience build up.
We know from studies that only a quarter of women are able to have vaginal orgasms. That the other 75 percent orgasm with a vibrator, their fingers, someone’s tongue, an iPhone alarm set to go off constantly, whatever it takes. Some research says 11 percent of women don’t orgasm at all. But the majority of women need beyond-dick assistance.
Of course, this is where we have to mention faking it, an unfortunate practice that isn’t helping anyone. Media depictions aren’t helping either, which make orgasms look so easy. In Heather Rudolph Wood’s 2014 piece at Cosmo looking at the “Orgasm Deficit,” she notes:
...looking at media and entertainment, you’d never guess women aren’t having orgasms — or that this is an actual problem. Women are spontaneously climaxing on talk shows. On cable TV, orgasms seem to be effortless even under the most ridiculous circumstances. For example, the first time Brody and Carrie have sex on Homeland — in a cramped car in the parking lot of an AA meeting — they both come. And advertising has been making women seemingly climax in ridiculous scenarios for years. A girl hasn’t been able to eat a hamburger in a Carl’s Jr. ad since 2005 without looking like she’s having an orgasm.
This is before you factor in porn, which Queen says just makes things worse. While some porn is produced as sex ed, most porn “leaves out significant parts of the sexual response cycle and arousal process,” she says. “It’s also a performance medium, which may mean people act out arousal and orgasm instead of experiencing and naturally depicting it. It’s like learning about love from a romantic comedy, and of course some of us do that too.”
We may learn sex and love from fake places, but we act it out in the real world, where casual sex is a thing we’d like to do sometimes, where orgasms are a thing nearly everyone likes to do, and where most of us agree that it’s high time women started getting them.
So now what?
Like everything that involves giving women pleasure or true equality—the wage gap, the domestic labor gap—we need men to pick up the slack. And hey, who knows; maybe this Hawaiian mushroom that allegedly makes women orgasm just from smelling it is the future. The bad news? The mushroom apparently “smells like week-old horse shit to men.” Looks like we’re still on our own.
Image via USA/Bridesmaids.