Alas, friend of mine, you have had an orgasm and are falling asleep. I have not had an orgasm and am not falling asleep, which means I am awake, which means I am now going to lecture you about feminism.
Who are you? (Big questions.) You are anyman, everyman, you are one of any number of lucky bastards with whom I have happened to roll into bed because baby, it’s been a few months and none of the cute activists are texting me back. Or maybe you are a cute activist who texted me back — in which case listen up, buddy, because this one’s for you, too.
Who are you? You’re a decent guy. You’re solid. I do not feel like you are going to rape me. (Yay! Let’s throw a party!)
No, you’re not a bad guy. The sex wasn’t particularly bad, either. And I know bad sex. I know sex that tastes like coercion and I know sex that tastes like endings and I know sex that tastes like hand sanitizer, which is a bad thing to put on your hands before you finger someone.
No, friend, it was not bad sex. It was normal sex. Normal, boring, vaguely dehumanizing hetero sex.
Which is precisely the point: The normalcy.
Believe me: I enjoy having someone mortar-and-pestle me for a few minutes as much as the next ornery bisexual. But friend, I feel that you can do better. I feel that we all can do better. Because there was something in the choreography of the whole thing that just struck me as, I don’t know — unsatisfying in a way only feminism can remedy.
Yup, I’m talking about the orgasm deficit.
Before we talk about orgasm, let’s talk about sex. What is sex?
Here, supposedly, is what you consider sex: We make out, you play with my boobs, I blow you, you do not go down on me even though I ask [*insert some bullshit on how “I only go down on women I’m in love with. Now put it in your mouth.”]. Penis goes in vagina, penis moves in and out of vagina, penis causes air to enter vagina and makes a lot of funny farting sounds, someone actually farts and pretends it is a funny vagina farting sound but it was totally a real fart, penis ejaculates.
You roll off of me, get up, take the condom off/pee/do whatever it is people with penises do in the bathroom immediately after they’ve come (world’s great, great mysteries), put your pants on, come back into bed, and fall asleep. Sex is now over. Sex is now over because you have decided it is over. You have decided sex is over because you are a man, and because this choreography that favors men with penises — man becomes erect, man penetrates woman, man ejaculates — is what we have been told sex is.
Because we’re brainwashed.
Ever heard of a thing called patriarchy? It’s a handy, fancy name feminists (we beautiful, beautiful people) have invented for systems of power (= societies) that favor men.
Bear with me now. Patriarchy is a system that works at every level. It structures not only overt instances of gender discrimination, but also the way we understand the world.
It affects the way we are taught to act and exist in the world. It affects our behavior. It affects our behavior at levels we can’t see or understand because we take them for granted. It sets a pattern of beliefs for how we understand and interact with the world. Thus we can say it comprises or structures our behavior.
Patriarchy, or a system that privileges men, is like food for our brains and hearts and social experiences: We ingest it in our homes, in public space, in school, in pop culture, in relationships, through the media. We digest it, and it becomes the building blocks of our thoughts, our behaviors, our beliefs about what is right and wrong.
It also structures sex.
There are a number of different ways in which this structure-favoring-men affects sex.
One big way in which this structures sex is in how we talk about consent and sexual violence — that is, the question of whether is sex is welcome at all. We’ve talked about this a lot at Feministing, and this is super important.
But it also structures consensual sex: It helps determine what we believe sex is, and how we experience it. It helps determine who feels entitled to sexual pleasure and who doesn’t, whose desires are met sexually and whose aren’t, whose desires are even assumed to exist. We’ve also talked about this a lot, and this is important, too.
So now, with this framework in place, we can talk about the orgasm gap.
Okay, disclaimer: Orgasms are fun. Orgasms are super fun! I am all for orgasms. I do, however, think it’s important to remember that for lots of people, sexual pleasure happens beyond the orgasm, besides the orgasm. Focusing only on orgasms makes sex frustrating for people who orgasm infrequently or never despite the best of everyone’s abilities. And focusing only on orgasm can promote a goal-oriented-ness that I think is part of the problem: The idea that sex is a race toward a goal, that goal being male ejaculation. I like the hippy-motivational-poster approach to sex: It’s about the journey, not the destination. A journey of a thousand nerve endings begins with one caress. That sort of thing.
But it’s important to think about the orgasm gap because orgasm, and specifically the male orgasm, is more often than not assumed to be the defining aspect of male/female sex. That is: We fuck until you come, I do not come, you do not ask if I would like to come or if you can help make me come, and then we’re done fucking, because you have decided we are done fucking, and everyone is supposedly happy.
By lecturing you about feminism well into the night (you’re welcome), I’m not only concerned with the orgasm itself. If I were so obsessed with orgasms I could go have one. More so, dear friend, I’m concerned with injustice. I’m concerned with the frustration and subtle dehumanization of a sexual system that is so overwhelmingly geared toward the pleasure of the structurally more powerful party (…men), the definition of sex itself is geared around your pleasure — all while easily disregarding mine.
We can think of several explanations for the orgasm deficit.
1. Penises and vaginas/vulvas are different, and maybe it just actually is biologically harder for vagina/vulva people (most of whom are ladies) to orgasm.
Yeahhh, that doesn’t cut it. We know that women tend to come less than men during sex, but we also know that — for example — women come more during lesbian sex than during heterosexual sex. This indicates that the problem isn’t vaginas, but what we do with them.
2. Penises and vaginas/vulvas are different, and the things people tend to do during men-women sex tend to be more compatible to male sexual pleasure.
This is more like it! To understand what I mean by this, we need to consider the fact that that definition I gave before of sex — this whole play with boobs/funny air farts/get up and do mysterious things in the bathroom business — is not inevitably what sex is. It’s not what sex is for many, many people; most of the time it’s not what sex is for me.
You see, when I’m not sleeping with numnuts like you, I’m usually sleeping with women. Lesbian sex and relationships have their own problems (oh buddy you better believe me they do), but we can think about the existence of lesbian sex (which often occurs without a penis or without the presence of a male) as disproving the idea that sex ends when men get off. One can have sex in ways that don’t inherently depend on male pleasure.
I don’t mention this because I think all women should just convert to lesbian, though by all means dear god do. I’m saying this because we need to know — you, human male lying next to me; you need to know — that the way you conceptualize pleasure and its choreography is not the way sex inevitably is. You can fuck differently.
You can fuck like a girl.
Because I don’t feel like the primary distinction between my lesbian sexual experiences and my hetero ones is a matter of anatomy. Rather, it’s overwhelmingly a matter of gender and the way we’re trained to get off. Women tend to be trained to think about other people more, to care for other people and to provide things to them, and to demand their own gratification less (this is why you think I currently sound like a selfish bitch for simply asking you to consider me your equal). The best partners I’ve had, of whatever gender (but step up your games, guys, because I mostly mean women) asked questions. They were creative. They were kind. They played with me. We collaborated. If one of us came and was so goddamn tired we needed to fall immediately asleep and could not bear to flick our wrists another moment, we said so, and that was okay, because it was not merely assumed as par for the course.
Dear friend lying next to me, drifting your pleasured way into dreamland, tomorrow I will leave your house.
Tomorrow morning I will take the metro home, and I will be very caught up in self-righteous orgasm anger and meanwhile there will be people all around me, laboring people, impoverished people. And it will feel ridiculous, then, to be a wealthy lady with freedom of mobility and an income and no pressure to marry whose biggest complaint is that dudes don’t give her enough sexual pleasure.
But here’s the thing: Gender ideologies, like other oppressive ideologies, work at every level. Because they structure or constitute our experiences of the world, we can see them in issues from basic right to food and shelter to these issues of sexual pleasure. We can understand them as affecting not only our right to life, but our right to beautiful life. Our right to pursue lives of richness, our right to embodiment, our right to lives wherein pleasure is possible.
Sexual equality is just one part of creating a world in which those with more power are trained to prioritize those with less power.
And now, if you will excuse me, I am going to go masturbate in the bathroom.
Check out the original piece at Feministing here