During my interaction with students as a part of sexuality education classes in schools, one frequently asked question by boys is,“How to charm a girl?”
There is no equivalent issue that the girls are curious to know about. It probably doesn’t even occur to them then to make a special effort to please anyone. But this question from the boys persists even at a later age, refracting into different forms like “how to date”, “how to be attractive”, and “how to perform in bed”. These are genuine concerns, as boys are conditioned to be performers in various walks of life and just being a performer does not suffice; one has to be a good one at that, if not the best.
Largely, our system has been able to keep a check on the good performers and reward them by the grading system in schools, streamlining at the top-brass universities, demarcation between different collar jobs, appraisal and promotions at work, and also through their social relationships such as being married and having children. While we may have developed a rather well-defined mechanism to numerically identify successful performers in most public spheres, it could be challenging when it comes to assessing them within private bedrooms. Nevertheless, there is a larger acceptable discourse about sex and its performers.
I: So who would be a good performer in bed?
Me: Actually, it is not very difficult to answer, it is the cisgender heteronormative man. Because he is supposed to be, he is capable of, and he is entitled to.
I: Got it! But does that mean that all men are good performers?
Me: They better be…or they learn to be!
I: Where do they learn it from?
Me: Come on, don’t be so naïve…they just google it. There are all kinds of advice, tips, and rules on how to be the best in bed.
A closer look at these articles (visuals available too) will give a fair idea of which sex position will be more pleasurable during which times of the day, in which kind of setting (whether it be bed, couch, tub, table, wall, indoors, outdoors, etc), after which kind of foreplay, spicing it up with which kinds of kink with which kind of women. It’s all there, everything that men want to know on how to pleasure women. After all, it is a moment of great pride to see his women (best performers don’t stop with one) shudder with pleasure because of him.
I: Sounds good….but do the women need to do anything at all?
Me: Ofcourse, they have a major role to play….to get laid first.
I: Come on, that isn’t going to be difficult!!
Me: Hopefully not. But yes, they can always add value to the show by looking their best and being eye candy.
Moreover these days, modern men prefer active partners who can ride like a cowboy, squirt like a sprinkler, scream and squirm at the most appropriate intimate moments and validate the man’s accomplishment by having a mind-blowing orgasm.
I: Wowie!! This surely is fun.
Me: Told ya…it is that simple!
With this kind of understanding, the ultimate goal of “good sex” means reaching orgasm. Unlike their earlier counterparts, one can appreciate that there has been a shift among Gen Z in perceiving sexual pleasure as including women’s pleasure. However, it is still viewed within the bounds of two-partnered heterosexual engagements unless it is a threesome with two women making out with each other, not for their own but for the man’s pleasure. Usually the Gen Z women may finally hope for an orgasm as the men have been told that “nice guys finish last”! Therefore, the analogy of “good sex” goes beyond not just one, but one and all engaged in the act of reaching at least one orgasm.
So contrarily,“bad sex” would mean no orgasm for any or all, thus making it a bad performance and declaring the man a bad performer. There is the likelihood of overlooking women’s performance as men are expected to be primarily in-charge of women’s pleasure. And men have taken this job of theirs quite seriously, and consider a bad performance to be a personal failure. They have also taken upon themselves to be the sole gratifiers of women’s pleasure as it is something they think women are incapable of attaining on their own.
In this game of expectations and assumptions:
The man has to perform well. The woman can choose to or not.
The man takes credit for the woman’s pleasure. The woman is grateful for it.
The man cannot talk about his bad performance for fear of shame. The woman cannot talk about his bad performance for fear of disappointing him.
The man continues to feel competent and have an upper-hand in matters related to sex. The woman continues to keep the man’s ego intact by faking orgasms.
All is fine as long as it ends fine!
One could say that access to pornography and other resources has opened up possibilities for pleasure and the desire to explore and experiment. Also, dating apps have expanded the opportunities to find a mate at the swipe of a finger. Pleasure-seeking offers new promises with easier access to availability of information and partners. Nevertheless, these conversations, in chat rooms or otherwise, remain at the surface level of “what and how to do” and hardly get into the more uncomfortable aspects of “how it feels to do what we do”. Will it feel good? Did it feel good? Was it any different for you?
We are not new to the rants of men being called indifferent after sex, with no time for after-sex cuddles, and women being the butt of jokes about perpetual “headaches” to avoid sex. For ages, there seems to have been a clash between genders in pleasure-seeking and pleasure-giving. Interestingly there is also a glaring difference in notions of sexual pleasure and pain among men and women.
Lili Loofbourow’s article on the female price of male pleasure points out how men tend to use the term “bad sex” to describe a passive partner or a boring experience, while when women talk about “bad sex” they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain.
What makes the sexual experience so different for a man and a woman?
In the debate of “bad sex” and “good sex” a much-needed conversation is lost in the narration. And that is the big C word.
I: You mean the Cuss words? Yeah, they can make the sexual experience titillating. No?
But we did speak about Cunnilingus if not the Clitoris, Climax if not the Condom.
What? Consent? What has consent got to do with good sex and bad sex?
There have been many deliberations after the #MeToo campaign on consent. The Aziz Ansari case has opened up a more nuanced understanding of consent being enthusiastic. It is important to have a common understanding and that is why talking about it cannot be shunned. A study on college men’s perceptions of women’s sexual desire and consent in hypothetical dating scenarios depicting a sexual interaction found that the participants tended to conflate consent with sexual desire or, in other words, assumed that if they thought the woman wanted to further the sexual interaction, that counted as consent.
The conditioning and the varying expectations that society has managed to place upon men and women could contribute to this difference of perception. The media has further distorted the idea of consent by its portrayal of men as toxically hyper-masculine and women as diffident and meek. The woman is objectified as a possession to be had and is conditioned to make way for the man’s desire to enjoy this property and not displease him. While it is an everyday story for a woman to feel violated starting right from her home, on the street, and at the workplace, this gets normalised extending to her intimate relationships where it is almost invisible, especially in cases where the violation is subtle, but present. We know of so many stories of women feeling “not so good” and also ashamed and disgusted after a sexual experience in spite of wanting the act. The blurring confusion of whether she wanted or let it happen is also deeply etched in the internalised misogyny of what she has been taught about consent.
Going back to the young boy’s question about “how to charm a girl”, do we, as a society, talk to him about flattering hairstyles and deodorants alone or also about bodily autonomy and respecting boundaries? Do we tell the girl to be a man-pleaser despite her discomfort or do we tell her to to express her likes and dislikes in an assertive manner? Do we encourage her to celebrate her body instead of feeling ashamed of it? Do we teach the boy how to deal with his emotions if he is rejected? While society might bombard the boy with various tips to charm girls (which might or might not work), has he been told that it is far more important not to have a sense of entitlement just because he might be good-looking or charming or just because he is born male?
Kathryn Stamoulis, an expert in adolescent sexuality, emphasises the need to address consent with boys to tamp down on “male entitlement” and says, “We have to teach kids, while intimacy is nice, no one is entitled to it, and no one owes anyone it”. She says that it is important to talk to children about consent at a young age so that they understand what it means and also make it a deeper conversation because the issue of consent, harrassment and rape is gendered.
In her article The Horizon of Desire, Laurie Penny shares that consent culture means treating one another as complex human beings with agency and desire, not just once, but continually. As she puts it, one of the fundamental operating principles of rape culture is this: men’s right to sexual intercourse is as important or more important than women’s basic bodily autonomy. If we accept the idea that a woman has the absolute right to sexual choice, men must also wrestle with the prospect that she might not make the choice that they want. The men who want to be with women should learn a grown-up lesson most women learned long ago: Just because you want something doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get it.
As a course of action, it might be less of a burden for men to set aside male entitlement because with a sense of entitlement comes the pressure to “man up”and perform “like a man”. Taking away the focus on performance in sexual interactions to prove oneself and instead expanding the possibilities of sharing honest respectful sexual experiences without feeling entitled or obliged, whether in casual or committed relationships, can go a long way to having “good sex”.