One view is that women have become less empowered about sex and more inclined to satisfy their man. Not around here, buddy!
Women in their twenties are having bad sex. So says an opinion piece in the New York Times and so says a recent poll, which found that twentysomething women reckon that less than half their sexual experience have been “great”. That equates to a lot of ‘bad sex’.
Me, I don’t believe in bad sex. Not the same way I don’t believe in Mayan prophecies or the Book of Revelation. Rather I don’t believe in having it. Why would you bother? There are other things to do – read a book, eat chocolate, masturbate, whatever. Hell, I’d rather do the ironing than endure unhappy sex.
Obviously it’s not all chandeliers and champagne chez Sexton – only on Tuesdays and Saturdays – but I have only had bad sex a handful of times. And by a handful I mean exactly that – five times.
So what is bad sex? Women, unfortunately, are not guaranteed an orgasm every time we have sex. It’s obviously more satisfying when we do but because of its erratic nature, I wouldn’t use the lack of an orgasm itself as a yardstick. But if you don’t orgasm because a lover is selfish, inconsiderate or because you just weren’t enjoying the whole experience, that’s bad sex.
The first time I had bad sex I was in my early twenties. It was a Saturday morning and I was asleep in bed next to my boyfriend. Said boyfriend woke me up with nefarious purposes in mind and we engaged in cuddly somnolent early morning sex. Lazy, sure, but still good until he came, rolled over and went to sleep, without making me orgasm or even noticing that I hadn’t.
What annoyed me was not so much the lack of orgasm but that my pleasure had seemed inconsequential to him. As I lay there, awake and unfulfilled, I ran through the four stages of anger: annoyed; frustrated; infuriated; and hostile. The fact that he was snoring didn’t help.
Now you don’t know me, but if you did you’d be aware I’m a relaxed, easy-going kind of gal. I don’t lose my temper often, but when I do, it’s explosive. So you can imagine the shock on my boyfriend’s face when his normally mild-mannered female friend woke him from his slumber spluttering with righteous anger.
He offered to rectify the situation immediately, but by then I was too ticked off for any kind of sexual stimulation. Instead he did penance by making me a full fry-up for breakfast and the path of young love once again ran smooth.
Writing in the NYT Anand Giridharadas ponderously opined that the popular HBO show Girls tells us something important about contemporary sexual relations.
“The daughters of the sexual revolution are depicted without much agency: Far from being conquerors, initiators, even equals, the girls of Girls are reactors, giving in to an ex who changes his mind, or a gay man wanting to try something, or a financier seeking a threesome…” writes Giridharadas.
Does Girls reflect the 21st century female sexual experience, as Giridharadas suggests? Presumably not since there are plenty of young women who are not white, college educated and middle class; nor thankfully as narcissistic as the cast.
The point is that nobody has to put up with bad sex – and if you give up ‘agency’, well that’s your own fault. I don’t, which is why I’ve had so few bad sexual experiences. My desires are a primary concern of all my sexual interactions. If I’m not keen, it’s not happening! Refuse to pay attention to my needs, and you’ll hear about it!
Of course there are times when sex sometimes just doesn’t work. It’s nobody’s fault if the personal chemistry doesn’t translate into sexual chemistry, or if things go flaccid because you’re tired or have been drinking. It happens – but why see something through to the bitter end if it is not pleasurable?
Giridharadas argues that if women are having bad sex then men are at fault. We are, he writes, living in “a sexual dystopia…. Men now reliably get what they want, while women must often content themselves with scraps.”
I don’t think that’s fair. Do men always get what they want? Not according to my twentysomething male friends, who seem to be having disappointing sex on a regular basis too. Interestingly, my thirtysomething friends, both male and female, have far less complaints.
As you age, you become far more attuned to your body’s sexual needs, and less self-conscious about stating them. But very few of my thirtysomething friends would have put up with bad sex ten years ago, so why the change?
I suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the messy and contradictory attitudes to sexuality in contemporary culture. We live in a world that both celebrates and condemns sexuality, particularly female sexuality. There seems to be far more ‘slut shaming’ going on in 2013 than there was in 2003. What’s more, in the last ten or fifteen years minor differences between men and women have been vigorously reasserted into a depressing Us versus Them battle of the sexes.
Alternatively, twentysomethings may have lower expectations, or be just too damn polite to risk hurting a lover’s feelings. Whatever the reason, it is worth remembering that bad sex is not the norm – and if you’re putting up with it, then I’m afraid it’s partly your own fault.
Sex should be fun, pleasurable – and most of all it should make you feel good about yourself. If it doesn’t, do something – or perhaps, someone – else.
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