ColumnA recent piece in the New York Times called “In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns” really got my blood boiling. The premise is that college-aged women don’t get off on casual sex, while college-aged men always DO. I’m angry not just because my sisters are being deprived of pleasure and well-deserved orgasms, but also because of the ridiculously retrograde framing of the entire subject. I have to ask the Times – do you still believe we’re living in the Mad Men era?
Like generations before them, many young women… are finding that casual sex does not bring the physical pleasure that men more often experience. New research suggests why: Women are less likely to have orgasms during uncommitted sexual encounters than in serious relationships.
At the same time, researchers say that young women are becoming equal partners in the hookup culture, often just as willing as young men to venture into sexual relationships without emotional ties.
“The notion of sexual liberation, where men and women both had equal access to casual sex, assumed a comparable likelihood of that sex being pleasurable,” said Kim Wallen, a professor of neuroendocrinology at Emory University who studies female desire. “But that part of the playing field isn’t level.”
Instead of unpacking WHY many young women accept mediocre sexual encounters, the author of the piece defaults to evolutionary psychology for an answer. Apparently, there are only two types of sex in this worldview – sex within a committed relationship, which more often ends in orgasm, and casual sex, which is usually a regrettable mistake. Not because pleasure parity is lacking, but rather because straying beyond the Madonna/whore binary is always going to end in disappointment. The implicit suggestion is that sexual liberation has failed all the misguided, wannabe sluts out there. Women who have casual sex aren’t having orgasms because they’re only meant to get off with their husbands, or something. It’s ridiculous and it has me incensed.
A doctor quoted in the article believes lack of practice may be part of the problem in first-time hookups– women orgasm with their regular partners because those men have learned to please them. This just furthers the patriarchal notion that we complicated creatures with our hard-to-find clitorises will never be as easy to turn on as video game consoles – and men are too lazy to bother. It’s all well and good that some men (in relationships) are willing to learn, but that’s not what’s at issue here. The question that’s not being asked is so obvious: why don’t women demand pleasure in every sexual encounter?
Women can, should, and damn it, MUST learn what pleases them when they’re young. I repeat my call that we de-stigmatize masturbation for teenage girls. When girls enter puberty they become sexual creatures with libidos. Why do we stifle this? Why are we afraid of this? Why aren’t girls given a vibrator when they’re given their first box of tampons? Sexual agency should begin when sexual feelings begin: parents need to face that tweens are on the cusp of womanhood, and all that goes along with it.
Whether you orgasm from missionary position or require digital stimulation, cunnilingus, or a good old sex toy, you need to go into your sexual encounters fully empowered by knowledge of your body. The Times article is about college-aged women, but I know that some of you in your late twenties, thirties, forties and even fifties are still allowing this kind of inequality to reign in your bedroom, both in your long-term partnerships and with one-night stands.
If you’re taking someone home or venturing to his place for the first time, do so knowing what you want and how you want it. If you’re going out with the intention of hooking up, carry not just condoms (you’re carrying those, right?) but also any other pleasure enhancers that will fit in your purse. Jimmyjane.com makes a gorgeous mini-vibe that you can discreetly tote around. Hand it to him when you get between the sheets, it’ll surely turn him on. If a guy is freaked out by your polite demand for pleasure-parity, he’s not worth it. Go back to the bar or swipe through Tinder to find someone that is.
Sexual liberation, if the revolution is to truly deliver its promise, has to come further than it already has – and that’s up to us. We’ve got to know not just what we want, but when to speak up.
Keep in touch with Stefanie on Twitter: @ecosexuality
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