In last month’s column, I discussed the implications of a comment by an elderly gentleman with a white mustache who imagined that “most erotica writers are fat and ugly, fantasy based [sic] women with a serious case of penis envy.” In particular I examined the long history of using “fat” as a way to shame people with less power in our culture and also discussed the denigration of sexual fantasy, which plays a significant part in the sexual experience of those of us with brains.
This month I’d like to talk about the implied opposite of “fantasy-based” sexuality—Real Sex.
Here’s the main problem. We have very little reliable factual data on humanity’s actual sexual experiences. Kiss and Tell: Surveying Sex in the Twentieth Century by Julia Ericksen with Sally A. Steffen discusses the obvious reasons why this is so. Both men and women feel shame in being honest about sex, because the tradition is still strong that “decent” people keep sex private and besides it wouldn’t do to expose yourself to accusations of abnormality. Equally importantly, it is extraordinarily difficult to get funding to do a comprehensive study of any sexual topic, unless it is related to the “problem of sex” such as teen pregnancy. And even studies that have been done such as those by Kinsey and Masters and Johnson are likely skewed by the design of the study (nonrandomness, how the topics are examined, interpretation of data) as well as the usual cultural factors affecting and reflected in the research. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this situation will change anytime soon.
And so, in the main, we are left with voluntary surveys in magazines, honest, intimate discussions with friends (if you’re fortunate to have such friends), and public pronouncements that reflect as much how the speaker wants sex to be as what actually happens.
I cannot help but conclude that Real Sex is the biggest fantasy of all.
In my study of sexuality in America one hundred years ago, Real Sex was understood to be as follows. A man had a natural sex drive, which he must strive to control, but a good woman did not until her husband awakened her on their wedding night. Her body had no sexual feeling until a penis was inserted into it. If she didn’t experience pleasure even then, it was because she was especially pure and above lustful concerns. This was a tribute to her fine character.
As the elderly gentleman with the white mustache’s comment illustrates, our culture’s view of sex is not so very different today. Women must have “penis envy” because only the penis possesses and bequeaths sexual feeling, not, presumably, because they wish they had boners at inconvenient times or ejaculated prematurely, for example. Female sex organs are, on their own, without sensation, desire or pleasure.
I’ll leave each individual reader to determine the validity of that view for herself.
But there are advantages to this antique approach. Men don’t have to worry about the details of an erotic encounter because just having a penis inside her is enough to drive a woman to ecstasy. Again, rather unbelievably, this is still a common presentation. I was dismayed that the most vivid sex scene in the Christmas special of Sense8, a Netflix original series I watch, consisted of a couple on a Tinder date who do it doggie style, with the man pounding hard and fast with no other stimulation to the woman but an occasional slap on her ass. “I love it!” she cries as her whole body jiggles from the assault. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, she is on top for a while but again with that super-fast up-and-down movement, which focuses on penetration and no stimulation of her clitoris or other body parts.
Sense8 is a cool show. It has lots of creepy supernatural stuff, artful orgies and tender gay sex, but heterosexual sex is presented as a porn cliché. Yet for many viewers, our eyes and the Tinder date’s enthusiastic review tell us we’re being shown Real, hot, casual sex, right? Clearly something is the matter with you if you don’t get off on such a vigorous, frenzied pounding of your cervix.
Another advantage of “the penis is sex, end of story” is that any complaints from the woman are covered. If she’s experienced enough to be picky about your technique, then she’s a slut. If she needs more, you know, that “fantasy” stuff like romance, a scenario where her needs are important and she experiences pleasure and orgasm in the encounter--like most erotica offers, by the way--then again, she’s being greedy, fantasy-based, high maintenance. This is problem sex, not Real Sex.
Naturally, this view does not benefit men if the man cares about “reality.” It only does if you measure your prowess in bed by the number of partners alone, believing that the insertion of your penis into a vagina—whether that vagina belongs to a cognizant, consenting partner or not--proves your manhood.
What if sex only “counted” if the partner genuinely had a good time? How many guys would still be virgins?
The fantasy informing traditional female behavior deserves attention, too. A variant on “the man awakens the woman” fantasy of Real Sex is that you expect the man to be “good in bed” and do everything right without a word or a false move. He knows instinctively how to pleasure your body in ways you’ve never even imagined. The problem is that if you believe that mutually satisfying sex comes naturally, then the best lover (male or female or nonbinary) never needs to ask what is pleasurable, or make a mistake and learn. If you believe that ecstasy is immediate in Real Love, the traditional female variant of Real Sex, then you’re as much a victim of fantasy as the guy who thinks his dick is the center of the sexual universe and everyone wants it hard and fast.
Good Real Sex requires time, communication, trust, understanding, and most of all, self-understanding. This was true one hundred years ago. It’s true today.
Here’s to speaking our truth in 2017.
Donna George Storey is the author of Amorous Woman and a collection of short stories, Mammoth Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com or http://www.facebook.com/DGSauthor