Break the Sexual Glass Ceiling

We ask for equal pay at work, so why are we silently settling for second best when it comes to the bedroom? CLEO explores the taboo area where women are still coming last (if at all).

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
We ask for equal pay at work, so why are we silently settling for second best when it comes to the bedroom? CLEO explores the taboo area where women are still coming last (if at all).
Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

Sex is finished when he comes? This is the title of a thread on community-driven news site Reddit, and it gives a pretty insightful view of female pleasure in this day and age. The fact that it garnered 364 responses instead of one word beginning with “N” suggests the view isn’t looking all that great. “When we have sex, he doesn’t make an effort to get me off after he comes,” the 30-year-old poster writes. “If he gets there first, I’m out of luck. Am I really meant to keep saying ‘Oh, um, sorry would you mind touching me for a few minutes?’ But if I orgasm before him, I never assume we’re done. Have I just been unlucky?” The responses to this post indicate she’s not alone. “Men don’t usually care about a woman’s orgasm,” one user replied. “It’s frustrating to feel like his orgasm is more important just because mine may take longer,” added another woman.

Perhaps this is the reason why only three in 10 women here are satisfied with their sex lives. That’s what global research company TNS found in its poll of 800 women in Singapore aged 18 to 50.

The survey results, released in March 2015, also revealed that the most common reasons for this dissatisfaction are the loss of interest in sex and – surprise, surprise – not being able to achieve orgasm.

Psychoanalyst Dr Paul Joannides traces the him-first mentality back to sex education, which tends to focus on problems rather than pleasure. If you keep getting told that sex can only lead to an unwanted pregnancy and a damaged reputation, you feel there’s no room for you to relax and enjoy it.

In fact, women are often taught to feel shame about having a sex drive at all.

“It’s called gendered sexual positioning – we absorb messages that if a women is too sexual, too knowledgeable and too experienced... then she’s a slut. That’s the kind of terms people use,” says clinical sexologist Naomi Hutchings.

So who started this?

Naomi noticed something interesting when she looked at who usually initiates sex. Most assume it’s the guy, but she found that if a couple was more relaxed about gender stereotypes, they would be more likely to “just make it up as they go. In such cases, both parties more-or-less take turns to initiate sex.”

Back in April 2015, a study in Archives of Sexual Behaviour found that when you remove the slutshaming stigma, women are often just as interested in sex as men, and not just for emotional security.

Backing this up, a study by Yale University found that always sticking to very traditional roles can make people feel less comfortable sexually.

Men and women were taken into a private room and asked to fill in a sex survey, as they sat alone next to a bowl of free condoms. The researchers discovered that the men and women who strongly endorsed traditional gender roles in the survey also tended to describe themselves as being less sexually confident. They were also less likely to take one of the free condoms away with them.

Of course, just because you like a man to be traditional now and then, doesn’t mean you lack sexual confidence. Maybe he’s just being sweet carrying your bag on a date – he doesn’t think less of you when he does it. And you can be an independent woman, yet still enjoy being pampered now and then. Taking care of each other is part of the pleasure of being in a relationship, right?

But problems start when you feel you must always stick to strict gender roles in life (and in the bedroom).

May the odds be ever in your favour…

Let’s get one thing straight: if you like your man being the boss in bed sometimes, there’s no harm in that. But for Dr Paul, the issue is not sometimes – it’s always.

It’s The Hunger Games: Bedroom Edition – how can you win if you’re always playing by someone else’s rules? Likewise, if you always let the guy take charge in bed, you’ll have to put up with him always making love how he likes it.

And according to Dr Paul, unless you like exactly what he does “to you” all the time, you’ll soon become frustrated... particularly if online porn has been his instruction manual.

“Because most porn is catered to the way men become aroused, it shows women being ready for anything a guy wants. There’s no foreplay, no concern for your desires, and no way most women can win if porn is your model for lovemaking.”

Sexy talk to climax

And women aren’t winning. If sex is a game, women aren’t just coming second: we’re often not coming at all, judging by that Reddit thread, and the fact that just 30 percent of women in Singapore say they are satisfied with their sex lives.

Of course, you don’t always have to hit the jackpot to enjoy making love. And sex is not a contest either – sometimes you can get pleasure purely by going along for the ride. As long as the rules of your betweenthe- sheets game aren’t written only for men, it’s all good.

Let’s talk about sex

So let’s be brave and call the shots now and then. Come right out and say it, or smile, take him by the hand and lead him into the bedroom. Whisper a sexy suggestion on your dinner date. Move his hand to a better spot, switch positions...

Maybe we should listen to how we publicly speak about sex – men’s loud bragging, women’s self-conscious whispers – because these voices are shaping our most private relationships. So imagine what would happen if we altered this balance of voices and talked to each other instead?

“Feedback and communication are an important part of pleasure, because each man and woman is different,” explains Dr Paul. “It helps your relationship when you feel you can discuss what feels good and what doesn’t.” Let the games begin.

If you always let the guy take charge in bed, you’ll have to put up with him making love exactly how he likes it.

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