"It's an experience, not a performance." Part 1.
“So go on, how was your night??..did you…?”
“How was it?!’
“Ah you know, good..yeh it was good – I mean I think I came.”
Oh no. No no no – you do not ever think you have had an orgasm – you know. The earth literally moves. This is another conversation I’ve had far too many times. Despite living in an age of seemingly female sexual liberation; Tinder, Love Island, Sex and the City etc etc– and with promiscuity no longer being socially unacceptable, I have come across far too many women either struggling to reach the elusive ‘O’ or not giving enough importance to their own pleasure in sex. At the very least you should be getting off too.
Anyway, so in this post, yes, I am going to talk about sex..; we all do it, we all want it and sexual attraction is one of the most powerful forces on planet earth. Yet when I look back at my Sex education as a young person, the conversation was very much focused on the ‘3 Ps’; Pregnancy, Periods and Protection – and even this was delivered awkwardly, and dare I say it, slightly shrouded in shame. (I mean I went to a Catholic girls school - so yeh). At no point did anyone even acknowledge the fourth and equally as important ‘P’– Pleasure. Conversely, in male sex education, the focus is on erection, ejaculation and masturbation - all, I believe, are strongly linked to the pleasurable side of the experience.... Add in the messages sent out from the media about the social acceptability of the male sexual appetite – and boys are pretty much taught from a young age that sex is definitely something for their enjoyment. Women, not so much. We’re getting there, but Mean Girls pretty much summed up sex ed perfectly for us females with the iconic line; ‘Don’t have sex. You will get pregnant and DIE’. At no point did anyone in my teenage years ever say to me, “Yes those other things are really important – but just to let you know, when you look after yourself and find someone great – sex is amazing - and you are entitled to really enjoy this area of your life.”
Perhaps the worry is that by telling young girls this, it would be encouraging sexual behaviour prematurely, but I don’t think so. Teenage girls are always going to have sex- regardless of what you’re telling them, (do you rememeber that time? ..exactly.), but if you also teach them they should be enjoying it, they may be less likely to think “yeh sure let’s just do it in a bush, when I’m feeling self-conscious and I think you secretly might like that other girl more.” If you are taught something should feel good, safe and pleasurable – you’re not going to accept anything else.
A survey interviewing 300 girls on their early sexual experiences from an American and a Dutch University found exactly this. The Dutch girls reported fewer negative consequences; disease, pregnancy and trauma, and more positive experiences including increased sexual satisfaction, good communication and really knowing their partners. When asked about what they were taught from their parents and teachers; the importance of enjoying themselves, pleasure - and trusting the person they were with had featured heavily in their sex education.
Peggy Orenstein is an American journalist who I stumbled upon a few months ago and she is brilliant. She spent 3 years talking to girls between the ages of 15 and 20 about their attitude and experience of sex and found something quite worrying; although many young women felt entitled to engage in sex, they didn’t feel entitled to enjoy it. (What the..?!) Female sexual pleasure should not be something only experienced by the lucky few who manage to work it out for themselves. There are also massive holes in sex education in the context of the rest of a womans life; the importance of sensuality and connection and deciding what’s emotionally right for you. In short – there is a serious tendency to reduce the female sexual experience to pure biology, which it is most definitely not.
So, in Part 2 of this post, I've put together a list of some of the things I wish someone had taught me about sex and the big bits that get missed out which I've observed often leave young women, lost, hurt and worst of all - having to recover from some of their sexual experiences.