Note: I’m going to use the words man and woman in this article. I recognize that the people I’m mostly talking about are cis, hetero men and women. There are thousands of experiences other than the ones I’m talking about here, and trans or genderqueer or gay folks may have very different experiences. But as our culture understands “male sexuality” and “female sexuality” as distinct and clear things, I’m going to address those conceptions here.
This morning I was going through my normal blog rounds and I moseyed over to The Quail Pipe, an online feminist magazine. The article up today was about how sex education needs to do a better job of facilitating discussion between the sexes so that guys can get some idea of how to actually please a woman, because otherwise they’re lost and frustrated and embarrassed.
Overall I thought the point was entirely spot on (yes we need more communication, and yes it’s hard to get what to do with anatomy that’s not your own), but there were a few lines that stuck out to me as indicative of a larger societal attitude that is pretty damaging to young women trying to explore their sexuality. Specifically, the way that the article framed men trying to understand women’s sexuality as SO DIFFICULT but women trying to understand men’s sexuality as easy peasy is absurd and awful.
It says “male sexuality is a relatively primitive business. You can pick it up” and “identifying (or indeed generating) the signs of male arousal is like playing a game of ‘Pin The Tail on the Donkey’ without a blindfold in a well-lit room”. These two sentences seem to be part of a larger societal trend of saying that men’s sexuality is extremely easy to figure out and that women require no help to understand it, but that women’s sexuality is confusing and foreign, causing “men in the bedroom [to] sometimes find themselves in the position of a worried homeowner tentatively exploring a fusebox”.
It seems to me that this comes from the perspective in which a woman is the other who is foreign and confusing, and men are simply the norm and make sense, which is all too common when talking about sex. It also relies on the tired stereotype that all men are desperate horndogs who will get turned on by looking at linoleum whereas women require some sort of intricate passcode to even make them think about granting a kiss. We have decent evidence that these stereotypes aren’t true in the form of non-horny men and extremely horny women, and we also have literature available from the perspective of women, but here I’d like to focus more on how the stereotype of easy male sexuality is extremely damaging.
The first problem with acting as if men are so easy to figure out because they’re so horny all the time is that it implies men are always turned on and always want sex. There really isn’t a whole lot of evidence for this, and it’s easy for it to slide into even worse tropes, like the idea that a man can’t be raped, or that if a man cheats it’s because the woman wasn’t pleasing him. Shit.
Part of this is that it assumes that all men are the same and that they don’t have individual wants and needs. It implies that women should just have an understanding because all men have a clear and simple switch that will turn them on, and that none of them are different in any way. Not only is that wrong, it’s also really damaging to any men who might behave, feel, or think differently from the stereotypes about male sexuality.
In addition, this assumption gives our world excuses to not educate young women about their partners. If all men are exactly the same, and male sexuality is so easy to understand, why bother giving women resources? Why would women ever need help making sex pleasurable for their partner? Sure, we put a lot of pressure on women to be good at sex and make it great for their partner, but we act like it should come naturally; a formula with an easy answer.
From personal experience, these messages can make sex terrifying. Say you’re hanging out with your boyfriend and he starts doing things and acting like he wants you to reciprocate, but no one has ever told you how. What would you do if someone started asking you to venture into completely unknown territory that involved being vulnerable and intimate? You might panic.
Young women are less likely to have watched porn than their male counterparts, so many times all they have to go on is vague descriptions or gossip and let me tell you, a vague description of a hand job is not helpful, and a vague description of a blow job is more likely to make you run screaming in the opposite direction than get you excited about trying it. How does lubrication work? Nobody tells a fifteen year old girl that. And things can pretty quickly get awkward or even painful if you don’t understand some of these basic functions.
Perhaps worse is that if you DO try something and you don’t get an immediate reaction, it can be incredibly disheartening. Men are trained to expect that they won’t get a reaction. Women are trained to expect that men should fall apart the moment they’re touched. This leads to a great deal of confusion, frustration, self-hatred, guilt, and low self-esteem when it turns out that getting a guy off might be a little more confusing than just touching a penis.
In addition, this can also lead to confused expectations between partners. Men have been told over and over that they’re easy to figure out, and of course to themselves they are. So if their partner can’t figure them out, they assume that either something is wrong with their partner or with themselves. The same goes for the young women who feel something must be wrong with them if they can’t figure out something everyone thinks is so simple. Feeling like you’re letting down your partner over and over again if you can’t figure out their supposedly easy sexuality can really damage a young woman, make her fear sex, and make her afraid that anything she does will result in frustration and disappointment. This is not a way to build a healthy relationship or a healthy sexuality.
It makes you feel incredibly stupid to not be able to figure out something that everyone else says is as easy as playing pin the tail on the donkey with no blindfold. And coupled with the message that it’s INTENSELY important to please your man, it can lead to all sorts of paranoia, fear of abandonment, and feelings of failure. Is it any wonder that girls might be anxious about their first sexual experiences if they’ve been given no information and simultaneously told that it’s of the utmost importance that they do things perfectly?
Men get all kinds of tips and tricks for unlocking female sexuality (because it’s so very confusing), and while we have other ways of giving them hangups about sex and sexual prowess, at least we recognize that sometimes it can be tough to make sex pleasurable for a partner. Women are expected to simply know, with no communication, no education, and no guidance.
So when we talk about better communication and more sexual understanding, let’s stop perpetuating myths that say men are sexual beasts that anyone can please. It hurts everyone.