Sunday, February 15, 2009

On the orgasm gap

by Molly Borowitz

Following on the heels of all the innuendos, the jokes, the email crush-finders, the lingerie shopping, and—of course—the Anscombe Society's Valentine's Day poster campaign, I think it's worth wondering why, after all that, we vilify people (and particularly women) with strong sex drives. In my usual fashion, I do want to clarify that dudes experience this phenomenon, too. We are a predominantly monogamous society, and on this campus pursuing many and multiple partners—regardless of sex, gender, or orientation—usually meets with general disapproval. Hence terms like "skank," "slut," and "man-whore," which we throw around a lot more callously than I think we realize.

But Valentine's Day, now a commercial holiday designed exclusively for couples, provides good reason to think about sexual dynamics within monogamous relationships. After all, it's a cold hard fact that not all sex drives are created equal.

I think our society is actually quite aware of that particular fact, but in a rather unilateral way. Think about all the jokes we have about how women are sexually complicated and temperamental, while male sexuality is essentially a binary (remember that cartoon with the captions "Her" under an elaborate switchboard and "Him" under a light switch?). And of course there's the "Not tonight, honey—I'm too tired" motif, which comes up on sitcoms and in movies all the time; the exhausted wife refusing kindly, oblivious to her poor horny husband's dismay. (It should be noted that in those scenarios, the man—while clearly disgruntled—always accepts his partner's refusal with relative good nature and never pushes the issue in an inappropriate way. Yay for pop culture on that front.)

Mainstream culture, then, would seem to imply that in monogamous relationships, it's always the man who has the stronger sex drive, while the woman's is more easily affected by stress, emotional turmoil, physical exhaustion, and so forth. And really, who's surprised? It's no secret that our androcentric culture has been frightened of the potent powers of the female sexuality for centuries now. Women with strong sex drives are intimidating because they're assertive and demanding, which can lead men to question their virility or masculinity. As porn theorists would have it, a significant portion of the American male populace nurses a persistent worry about failing to satisfy their female partners—perhaps because much of our societal construct of "the masculine" revolves around sexual ability, and therefore sexual dominance (which doesn't mean that the dude is always on top, nor that his desires take prevalence during sexual encounters, but rather that he is expected to be more sexually experienced and to "lead" the session).

Well, gentlemen, I have bad news for you. If you worry that you might not be satisfying your ladyfriend, it might be because you aren't. Hannah Seligson's recent post on the Daily Beast (found originally at Feministing.com) reviews a new study showing that women in relationships only orgasm 80% as frequently as their male partners. Part of the reason? Men receive oral sex far more often than they give it—sometimes, even in relationships, up to four times as often. According to the study, this imbalance is a big contributor to the uneven orgasm rates: "In 1976, the Hite Report on Female Sexuality empirically established a fact that's been confirmed by subsequent studies in the years since: Many women need oral sex, along with intercourse, to reach orgasm." Just sayin'.

My point here is not to lecture the naughty boysies for not giving their girls enough head, but rather to emphasize that WE NEED IT TOO. Don't assume that just because we come less frequently than you, we must not need to come as often. And while girls do like getting roses and balloons and teddy bears and chocolates and lingerie on Valentine's Day, maybe this year you should give her a promise instead of a present: orgasms in a one-to-one ratio. At least until you break up.

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