Men have been lectured for a long time about how ladies need a bit of foreplay before getting it on. But that is an axiom that rubs both ways – because men tend to like a long, slow build-up too...
Ladies and gentlemen, gather around. This is a column about men and foreplay. Don’t worry – it’s not that column about men and foreplay. You know the one I mean — the one where men are berated for not doing enough of it. If you are of the straight, and male, persuasion, chances are, you’ve read that column – probably far too often at this stage!
Here’s an interesting thing about foreplay – when the topic comes up, in books or magazines, on radio, television or online, it is almost always discussed as something men do for, and to, women. It’s one aspect of sexuality where sex therapists, magazine writers, relationship counsellors, advice columnists, bloggers and television shrinks are unanimous – women need foreplay, they’ll say, and for the most part, they are not wrong.
How much foreplay we need, well, that’s a different, more contentious, matter. Hell, I am a woman and I couldn’t give you an ideal figure, other than to say that we need “enough.” Enough is good; sometimes “more” is better. But what exactly constitutes enough, in the first place, depends on the particular woman and the context. Women are individuals! If you have had sex with two or more women, you don’t need me to tell you that.
Billy Crystal famously remarked: "Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” By and large, that is our attitude to sex, at least in the English-speaking world. Women, we are told, need to be romanced, kissed, caressed and cajoled; men just need you to turn up and get naked.
It seems to me that our cultural understanding of foreplay as something that men should, and need to, do for and to women is a microcosm of how we think about the gendered aspects of heterosexual sex and romance.
Giving foreplay is active; receiving it is passive – and for the most part our culture tells us that these roles should be followed in many, if not all, aspects of our sex lives.
Women are told that men like the thrill of the chase and therefore it a man’s prerogative to make the first move – or not. We expect men to push for sex, and women to resist. We expect men to take the lead in a relationship, both inside
the bedroom and out. Men get to decide if a sexual relationship is a one-nighter, a short fling, or has long term or even marriage potential. We expect men to do things, and women to have things done to or for them. Given that it is 2015, this is kinda odd, don’t you think?
I got to thinking about men and foreplay when my friend Cian complained about feeling a little hard-done-by in the foreplay stakes. It wasn’t that he needed it, he explained, but rather he enjoyed it, and preferred it if his partners spent some time kissing and caressing him before proceeding to oral or penetrative sex.
I wondered if other men, like Cian, wanted more foreplay, or if they preferred to get down and dirty with a minimal of fuss. So like any good sex columnist, I asked, and the question I asked was this: “How important is foreplay to you personally?”
It is possible that I phrased the question ambiguously because each and every man gave me exactly the same response initially – bumf about how much they enjoyed giving foreplay and how turning on a woman was itself a turn on. Their answers were almost word for word the same.
I don’t think they were being insincere, or simply telling me what they thought I wanted to hear. In my experience, most men do genuinely love getting a woman excited. However, the importance of foreplay to women is reiterated over and over and over again, that by this stage it is practically sexual dogma. No smart straight man would admit to being uninterested in foreplay, especially not to somebody with the power of a sex column at her fingertips.
What I wanted to know was how men felt about being on the receiving end, and when I made this clear, their answers became more considered. Jack thought it was "hugely important” and said he liked nothing more than spending time on mutual foreplay. Damien said that this was the most enjoyable part of sex for him, and that foreplay, being turned on, teasing and being teased, was better than either sex or orgasm. Humphrey and James both believed it was more blessed to give than receive, while Ben wasn’t particularly bothered either way as long as a happy time was had by all. What a revelation! Men, like women, are individuals and have individual preferences. Stop the presses!
One of the few places where men’s sexuality is seen as in need of... let’s call it ‘management’ is ladies’ magazines. Cosmo, Glamour and their ilk frequently feature articles purporting to help hapless ladies decode what men “really want” in bed (hmm... mostly pizza) and advice on how to “drive him wild.”
For the most part, the advice tends to tread a well-worn path – talk dirty; be open-minded; nibble his balls; plus a reminder that men are supposedly visual creatures and so you should give him a private strip show or lap dance, while wearing this outfit or that lingerie, which is available from our advertisers. Every now and again, they will throw you for a loop with some genuinely good advice. More often, however, it is batshit insane. Cosmo famously suggested eating a doughnut off an erect dick, which sounds like a recipe for a disaster – or a bladder infection.
However, none of these tips and tricks are seen as intrinsically necessary to a man’s ability to get excited, erect and ejaculate. In fact, sexual pleasure is rarely the goal in and of itself. Instead, the idea is that by following this advice, a lady can distinguish herself from the millions of other ladies who have read exactly the same sex tips, which will “lock a man down” and stop him from straying. It’s not sex so much as relationship manipulation.
Magazines, blogs and sexual advice manuals tend write about male sexuality through the frame of evolutionary psychology, with its obligatory references to hunters and gatherers and the need for men to spread their seed far and wide. It’s an interesting theory, I’ll grant you, but none of it is actually proven.
Heterosexual male sexuality is a little more complicated than just a desire to hump as many women - preferably with big boobs – as humanly possible, because men are human beings, and human beings are infinitely complicated. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t because healthy male sexuality can, in the words of Walt Whitman, contain multitudes. It probably doesn’t contain a well- spring of untapped desire for doughnut dick though.
Whatever your feelings about foreplay, I think we can all agree on that.
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