Note: for the purpose of this article I’m going to be talking about heterosexual, cis-gendered men and women. Obviously there is TONS more ground to cover about understanding sexuality as a queer individual or a trans individual, but that’s just not my focus here. When I say man and woman I’m shorthanding for cis.
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.
The article focuses on men understanding women, however it takes a somewhat casual tone towards women trying to understand men. 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 seems to rely 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 problematic thing about these assumptions is that they seem to involve an implicit assumption either that men are built just for sex or that women are built just for man-pleasing. Neither one of these is supported by much evidence, and each one leads to negative consequences (like rape culture, victim blaming, or objectification). Each of us are complex individuals with different talents and motivations, and assuming that there is some magical fit which allows all women to please men ignores the many differences we have.
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. This is misleading, and hurts relationships. It also makes it easy to use “boys will be boys” style arguments about men’s behavior.
In addition, this assumption gives our world excuses to not educate young women about their partners. Women may have things like Cosmo available, but let’s be honest: those tips are not very helpful or realistic. More often than not, sex advice given to women is not about an equal and open relationship, but about secrets that are supposed to turn on every man. They’re about the requirement that a woman please her man, and about becoming a sexy, alluring object. When we assume that all men are the same, we don’t feel we have to take the time to teach young women to talk to their partners and explore sexuality. Instead we set it up as a formula that has 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 of acts 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.
Even if you can get yourself to explore a bit, if it doesn’t work immediately, it might seem confusing. 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?
Overall, the messages that women are sent are that not only should they have a basic understanding of how male anatomy works, but that they should be working to step up their game to something even BETTER (see crazy Cosmo tips). Men are never told that they should help out their partner, have individual wants and needs, or might even require a bit more effort than other men. We end up with little to no communication, particularly in relationships between younger people who may be coming in with misleading stereotypes of what they or their partner should do. It leads to a world of hurt in young relationships when a woman can’t do what she feels she is expected to do, or when a young man feels disappointed by his partner’s lack of skill. Yet again, improved communication on all parts, and better education seem to be the keys, but for some reason we don’t talk about it too often in regards to women understanding men.