I’ve been buying into the common falsehood that because the male orgasm is biologically simpler, male sexuality is as well. And I’ve been wrong.
“Because, you don’t have a penis, you may not be able to understand this, but just because men have orgasms doesn’t mean the sex is good.”
I got this comment last year in response to a piece I wrote about why women don’t have as much casual sex as we probably could and what “getting laid” really means. I asserted that if women had better odds at a satisfying and mutually enjoyable sexual encounter—instead of potentially unreciprocated orgasms—with random strangers, we might be more likely to go home with them. The commenter continued:
“I get your point that, for random hookups, men are more likely to ‘get off’ than women. That doesn’t take into account the fact that, for men, orgasm isn’t the only marker of a quality sexual experience, probably because it’s so easy to achieve. And honestly, myself and other men I know have come early in unsatisfying sexual experiences just to get it over with.”
Goddamn, I love it when a great comment unearths my own biases!
It’s not that I assumed that when it came to sex men were the uncomplicated cavemen that sitcoms and deodorant ads would suggest; I knew it was more complicated than that. But, I had been buying into the common falsehood that because the male orgasm was biologically simpler, male sexuality was as well.
Looks like I’m not the only one to fall into that trap. In a recent Atlantic piece called “Why is it so hard for women to write about sex?” Claire Dederer offered up one answer to that titular question: “Because it’s easier to titillate, shock, and lie than to get at the messy truth about female desire.”
With admirable skill, Dederer describes a certain uncertainty in her own sexual history,
“I loved the adventure of sex, and I loved the attention, and sometimes it felt great. But did I want it enough? How good did it truly feel? Was I doing it only because the other person wanted to? My desire was real, I could feel it there at the core of the experience, but if I let myself, I could also feel doubt braided tightly with the desire.”
That phrase kills me, “doubt braided tightly with desire.” I can instantly map it onto a few experiences of my own, times when I made sexual decisions for reasons of desire and. Desire and validation. Desire and frustration. Desire and boredom. Desire and celebration. Desire and nostalgia. I’ve tried very hard to make sure that the desire box is always checked—and yes, that desire can take many forms, physical and otherwise—but if I really look hard at my choices, there’s almost always an and.
Where Dederer goes astray is to conflate the simplicity of the male orgasm with a simple—dare I say simpleminded?—male desire. Female sexuality is complex, yes. But wouldn’t it be fairer to say that human sexuality is complex? Can’t we acknowledge whatever combination of emotions colors each woman’s experience and simultaneously allow for the possibility that men aren’t quite as easily “satisfied” as pop culture might suggest?
It’s true, as the commenter said, I don’t have a penis. I don’t know what desire and lust feel like from inside a male body. I’m willing to bet, however, that while some men might follow their junk like a dowsing rod toward the nearest water source and be amply satisfied by the sheer mechanics of orgasm, many have more feelings than “gimme” when it comes to sex.
Women are pressured to resist their sexuality, mask it, minimize it. We are taught that it is shameful and unladylike to speak our desires, even to our partners. We are taught to dress to reduce lust, except when we are supposed to be trying to inspire it. We all know how horrifying the double-edged blade of societal expectation can be when it comes to female sexuality.
But let’s not pretend that men are immune from pressures. Boys are taught that they are supposed to try to make it with everything that moves. They are taught that convincing girls to have sex with them is an important life skill (see: The Game). They are taught that blowjobs are elementary, but cunnilingus is either gross or reserved for truly intimate partners. The whole metaphor of “scoring” builds a false model of success around the act of getting off on top of another person.
And what of people whose wants don’t fit in the traditional boxes? BDSMers, LGBT folks, anyone attracted to anyone that isn’t deemed by others to be desirable? I remember the relief of an ex-boyfriend when we finally discussed minor kinks he’d always wanted to try but had never felt safe enough to share. Orgasms are one thing, feeling respected and heard is another, and only when they overlap should we congratulate ourselves.
Exploring sexuality is scary. It’s scary when you do it with an intimate partner, and it’s scary when you do it with a stranger. Second-guessing, shielding your true desires, explaining away your wants and needs, this stuff comes with the territory. Although the machinery for men is external, and often more obvious to operate, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same insecurities and doubts. And if they don’t, or don’t express them, maybe it’s because we’ve been telling them all along to just go “smash her out.”
Role/Reboot regular contributor Emily Heist Moss is a New Englander in love with Chicago, where she works in a tech start-up. She blogs every day about gender, media, politics and sex at Rosie Says, and has written for Jezebel, The Frisky, The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.