How Can We say yes if we can't say no

How much of the unfulfilling sex that’s had with cis het men is caused by lack of effort, and how much is bred by societal standards that lead to communication issues? How many fake orgasms have been performed out of fear?

Taneasha White
Faking It

recently read an article that listed the “types” of orgasm a woman can have. My partner and I stared wide-eyed when reading through this list, confused at how someone would publish an article stating that further research is needed to decipher what causes a “nipple orgasm.”

Apparently, it couldn’t possibly be because it simply feels good.

This article was written for a health-focused online publication, and my initial reaction was to be shocked. But then I remembered: all of my disappointing sexual experiences had been with cis-men, and it wasn’t until the acceptance of my queerness that I was fully sexually satisfied.

The issue is that I’m not special or unique in this. My personal circles have mirrored multiple studies, revealing that most womxn are dissatisfied with their heterosexual intimate relationships.

How much of the unfulfilling sex that’s had with cis het men is caused by lack of effort, and how much is bred by societal standards that lead to communication issues? How many fake orgasms have been performed out of fear?

As a cis woman who has previously engaged in sex with cis men, I can attest to the fact that those experiences were markedly different than my present-day experiences with AFAB (assigned female at birth) people. Disgruntled womxn oftentimes simmer these experiences down into catch-all phrases like “men are trash,” but just as often, there is pushback from men and masculine-identified folks.

Cis het sex is undeniably cis men focused. The deal we’ve largely forced into is the man is there to take and enjoy, which leaves little room for the womxn’s pleasure to even be considered, let alone centered. The clit wasn’t even fully discovered as the pleasure powerhouse until about 20 years ago. As wild as that sounds, as someone who has had men unable to even locate my clitoris, let alone bring me to orgasm, this makes a ton of sense.

There are published social experiments where both men and women are asked if they orgasmed the last time they came, and the “orgasm gap” is nothing short of startling. Almost as startling is the fact that 75% of women reported having faked an orgasm with a partner during intercourse and on the rare occasion that a man didn’t orgasm from sex, his most likely response is to masturbate. The majority of women women however? Their most common response was to “stay silent… and frustrated.”

Your climax isn’t at the forefront of their minds, because there’s both an assumption that you, the woman, are a, good with what’s occurring (or in many cases, not occurring), and b, men aren’t particularly concerned with ensuring said climax is going to happen.

(Maybe because women are so busy faking it so as not to bruise their man’s ego.)

This lack of effort coupled with blatant entitlement is what we call wack dick, folks.

“Why didn’t women just tell them the truth?” I’ve been asked. “Let him know that he didn’t measure up in bed! Communicate your dissatisfaction!” While this sounds and seems obvious, oftentimes it isn’t worth the potential threat to our safety.

The same oppressive system that leads to chronic sexual dissatisfaction is the one that perpetuates rape culture; womxn have been conditioned to please, and men have been conditioned to conquer. Women are physically assaulted or murdered on a regular basis for simply saying no, so push back in a sensitive area isn’t always a comfortable go-to.

There is the age-old conversation of men being applauded for their “number” or “bodies” — it’s an accomplishment, something to be celebrated — while womxn are expected to conceal their sex positivity, including but not limited to their number of previous partners. Even in 2020, there are expectations for womxn to be less vocal about seeking pleasure and being full, sexual beings. How often do you hear discussion about cis male masturbation? Now how often do you see cis female masturbation discussed in the same celebratory and casual way?

And this paradigm is anything but new.

We can look back to the 17th Century, especially showcased in literature, when the expectation was that a woman would always say no to sexual advances, as virginity was a highly upheld concept.

“When female virginity becomes a matter of life and death, a warranty of family honor and fortune, and a cornerstone of public morality and welfare,” writes scholar Kuo-jung Chen, “how it is represented in literature has constituted a collective historical memory not only of women but of all human beings.”

This is undoubtedly one of the precursors to rape culture, but also a clear step in the pathway of sexual repression.

Fast forward to 1944, and the infamous “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” To present day members of the #MeToo movement era, it sounds like coercion, plain and simple. Take into account societal expectations when you listen to the lyrics, and you’ll hear what the woman is really worried about is what her family and the neighbors will think.

Because womxn’s bodies are the prize, there’s no room for anyone to answer honestly.

We can and should acknowledge that this societal structure is damaging to men as well. Namely those that fit outside of heteronormativity or the gender binary, but also those that have low sex drives, or have chosen not to engage in sexual activity.

It also affects those that have been survivors of sexual assault themselves. There’s this Draconian and toxic concept that men are incapable of being sexually assaulted by womxn as men are always interested in sex, from anyone, at all times, at any age. This means that if you aren’t interested, obviously something is wrong with you, (and being gay or hetero-divergent is on the list of potential problems.)

ake Chris Brown as an example. He has gone on record discussing that he “lost his virginity,” at age 8 to a woman who was 15; he claims this situation is why womxn have no complaints about his sexual prowess. Brown is unable to even acknowledge this as an abusive situation. We’re all familiar with his anger issues and his behavior with womxn — why can’t we see that these two are inextricably linked?

My partner and I had a conversation with a family friend around the release of the “Surviving R. Kelly.” As common with heavy and controversial conversations, we found ourselves off-course, and ended up discussing the idea of emotional responses to sexual situations, namely those that are unsolicited. The friend blatantly stated that he would not only shield his daughter from having sex, but if she were assaulted by a male teacher, he would be ready to fight. Conversely, if his son “had sex with” his female teacher, congratulations would be in order.

When pressed on this line of thinking, he ended up saying, “My daughter would obviously be emotionally impacted by something like that. My son wouldn’t. Why would he?”

These perspectives are why womxn like me are both judged for expecting reciprocal effort and a respectable orgasm, and the Chris Browns of the world are unable to heal and maintain healthy relationships.

Can we build towards having open and honest conversations and complicating a long history of shadowed truths? There are undoubtedly situations where it isn’t safe to speak that truth — male egos are boxed up and shipped out labeled fragile, and womxn have continue to pay the price for it. (A Google search of, “woman killed for refusing sex” immediately populated over 260 million results for me.)

The answer isn’t simple. It is one part dismantling rape culture, a complex system, which would require (among other things):

Trauma-informed care

Trauma-informed care fundamentally shifts the focus from asking, what’s wrong with you? to what happened to you?

Trauma-informed care is a strengths based framework that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.
— Shelter from the Storm

Restorative justice practices

Restorative justice involves centering the person who has been harmed and determining a way to move forward in community. This approach is meant to be different from a punitive approach, because punishment isn’t the goal. Instead, the one who has caused harm is held accountable in a way that’s determined by the one who has been harmed, with the ultimate goal being harmony within the community.

Calling in

An alternative to conflict with the goal of accountability. Calling out tends to be a more public, less empathetic approach to conflict management. Calling is predicated on more empathy, and discussing the conflict with those that have done harm in private, in order to unravel the oppressive behavior.

In short? It will take a whole host of person-to-person interactions to significantly shift our repressive culture, which is where our cis men come in.

Dudes: let your dude friends know that their language and actions aren’t cool, regardless of how you think it’ll make you sound. (i.e. weak, too pc) or that it’ll make things awkward. (i.e., don’t sacrifice womxn for you or your friends’ egos.) Do you want to be “chill” about abusive behavior? It’s your choice, so choose wisely.

These call-ins need to happen in tandem with accountability. This can look a lot of different ways, as survivors may not want their abusers to have jail time, and they are the ones to be centered in this process. When in doubt, ask.

Femmes: we are worth receiving pleasure. Mind-blowing, earth-shattering orgasms are out there. If you aren’t getting them, go out and find someone (or many someones?) who care(s) enough to figure out how to give you what you deserve. It goes beyond the physical pleasure of a climax (which is worth it) but it’s about dismantling the harmful systems that we’ve adhered to for entirely too long.

Womxn throughout history have been treated like prizes to be won, our bodies treated like quests to be conquered. How adjacent we are to virginity has had a long-standing connection to our worth; in more recent history, being loudly discontent with that system has earned us another demerit.

It’s 2020. It’s high time men go past just listening to your sexual partners, but inquiring about how they’re feeling, and actually committing to improvements, sans ego. (Trust me, knowing you’ve actually satisfied her instead of fueling more lies will make your sense of self feel a hell of a lot better anyway.)

** Within this piece, “womxn” is used to denote inclusivity to gender variances, and includes AFAB folks that are non-binary.

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