Archive for the ‘womens’ Category
Published in CLEO, March 2011. Copyright Rachel Hills 2011.
Men and sex. You know how it goes. They’re only after one thing. They can’t go seven seconds without thinking about it. They get turned on by cottage cheese. According to folks like sex therapist Bettina Arndt, author of What Men Want In Bed, the male sex drive is relentless, uncontrollable and all-consuming. Except when it isn’t.
We’ve all been there. You’re in bed with a guy, hoping for a little action between the sheets, and… things don’t go the way you hoped. Maybe he’s tired. Maybe he’s not in the mood tonight. Maybe he is in the mood, but he just can’t get it up.
If you’re anything like a lot of women, chances are you don’t always take it that well. “Have you ever seen how a woman gets when she’s denied sex?” says Johnny, 29. “They’re horrible! They’ll pout, they’ll rub other guys in your face, they’ll call you gay, they’ll threaten to cheat. It’s awful.”
It’s not pretty, but it’s also not surprising. There’s a tendency to think of male sexuality as a “perfectly functioning machine – ten inches, hard as steel, go all night,” says Dr Michael Kimmel, author of Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. For guys, says Kimmel, sex – having it, wanting it, talking about it – is a “confirmation of manhood,” and it’s not surprising that women have internalised these ideas too.
“Women are used to being in the position of feeling desired by men who always want sex,” says Kimmel. “When that falters, they can take it personally.”
“They think, ‘If he doesn’t desire me constantly, maybe I’m not as desirable as I’m supposed to be.’ Alternatively, they might flip it around the other way – maybe he’s not man enough.”
Frances, 26, recently ended a seven year relationship, the last four years of which her sex drive far outstripped her boyfriend’s. “I really felt like it was his fault,” she says. “I felt that it wasn’t normal, that it should be the other way around.”
When she and her boyfriend did have sex – at first once a week, but later as rarely as once a month or less – Frances was wreaked with anxiety. “I’d wonder, maybe if I was doing a better job, he’d be more into it. It got to the point at the end where he couldn’t sustain an erection or anything. There was so much pressure whenever it would happen that we couldn’t enjoy ourselves.”
She says the situation made her feel isolated and alone. “I felt that I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, because they’d never said anything like that to me. I remember reading an interview once with a sex therapist, who said relationships where the woman wanted more sex than the man were so rare they weren’t worth talking about. I thought, if an expert is saying this, then what hope do I have?”
Feelings like Frances’ are common amongst women whose partners have a very low libido. But even women who are evenly matched with their partners can freak out when their boyfriend fails to live up to the machine-like standard of male sexuality.
Olivia, 19, says she and her boyfriend are “pretty sexually active”, but that doesn’t stop her from “sulking or getting angry” on those occasions he turns her down. Ana, 27, tells me she’s never had an orgasm, but the one time her boyfriend couldn’t come, she thought, “What the hell has happened here?”
“It’s pretty ridiculous,” admits Olivia. “The whole ‘why don’t you find me attractive’ thing never comes up when I turn him down, but every time he does it he’s ‘not paying enough attention to me. I don’t have awesome self esteem, so it feels like a rejection on two levels – a literal rejection of my advances, and a rejection of how attractive I am to him or how good the sex is.”
These misconceptions don’t just create stressed out women. They hurt men, too – especially when that anxiety channels itself into behaviours we’d have no patience for if the genders were reversed. Olivia admits that she sometimes tries to “guilt” her boyfriend into having sex. “I don’t think it’s right what I do,” she says. “But it’s an ongoing process of getting used to understanding how guys and sex really work.”
Explains Kimmel: “One of the best things feminism has achieved is empower women to say ‘yes’ to sex when they feel like it and to say ‘no’ when they don’t. By contrast, men still feel the only answer they can give is yes.”
The solution, Kimmel says, is to practice empathy: if you have the right to decide when you do and don’t have sex, why shouldn’t your boyfriend? “So much about sex is about pleasing the other person. If you can put yourself in your partner’s shoes, isn’t not that you’ll have more or less sex, but you’ll have a lot better sex.”