The Myth of the Female Orgasm in the Era of #MeToo

The Myth of the Female Orgasm in the Era of #MeToo

The Myth of the Female Orgasm in the Era of #MeToo

A #MeToo Essay by Alana Ballantyne

I warn every guy when we start dating that this (imagine Kristen Schaal frantically motioning up and down her body) is not going to be easy. I think that’s only fair. You can’t invite someone for a coffee and instead take them to a three course dinner at your parent’s house. That’s rude. 

I tried to be ‘easy’ once, in college. I took up smoking for a guy that used to make out with me when I was drunk at parties. He was actually kind of impressive. It was like he had his own, specialized homing beacon that could tell the exact moment I had consumed enough gin to suck his dick. I don’t mean to be crass. He was cute in that jocky, frat-boy way and I thought I was too old to be a virgin. Hence, my first college relationship was born. Who says romance is dead? 

I tried to be a good girlfriend. I really did. I giggled at all his dumb jokes. I pretended I had never heard of Vampire Weekend or literally any modern comedian. It was sort of like living in the twilight zone. Up until that point, I had always thought of myself as an opinionated and independent, but there I was, solo cup in hand, pretending to have my mind blown by the comedy stylings of Conan O’Brian. My apparent idiocy made him happy and making him happy was what I knew I was ‘supposed’ to do. 

This same dynamic, unsurprisingly, carried over into our sex life. I really wasn’t experienced in the whole ‘sex’ department. But I knew that as his dutiful and obliging girlfriend, it was my job to make sleep with him on a semi-regular basis. It seemed logical, therefore, to let him take the lead. I had no idea what I was doing- he did. I assumed that he would have some idea of how to make the experience a good one for both of us. I had big expectations. I’d read Cosmo. Sex was going to be mind blowing. Sex was going to be liberating. Sex was going to make me feel like a woman. It actually did that last one, but not in the ways I expected it to. 

Sex with Cute Frat Guy hurt most of the time. When it didn’t hurt it didn’t feel good. I was absolutely humiliated. I genuinely thought something was terribly, horribly wrong with me. Why on earth couldn’t I orgasm? Why did sex hurt? I didn’t have the answers, and I was too embarrassed to ask. 

It wasn’t until later, when I worked up the courage to poll my closest girlfriends, that I realized that my experience of semi-painful orgasmless sex was not unheard of. It wasn’t even uncommon. Most of my friends at that time regularly faked orgasms with their significant others. Two of them confessed that sex with their significant other hurt. One girlfriend said that she had experienced orgasms with her previous boyfriend, but was unable to with her current one. When she’d suggested that her current boyfriend change his technique, he flew into a rage and accused her of sleeping around. She hadn’t made any suggestions in bed since. 

College sophomore me was stunned. that all of my friends I wanted to know We all came from different ethnic backgrounds, different religions, different social classes. Yet, we had virtually the same expectations and limitations when it came to sex.  What was it that made all of us willing to go along to get along, or at least to pretend to when it came to the pursuit of our own pleasure? I decided to start with a basic question-how do young people-men and women-learn about female sexuality? 

The answer? The media. And how is the media portraying sex and  It seems that the West, ‘bedrock of freedom and cultural liberty’, still has a puritanical view of female sexuality and pleasure. Nowhere is this fact more consistently illustrated than in film and television. The women portrayed in these mediums are paradoxically hyper sexual and utterly sexless. When these women do engage in sexual activity, they are almost always portrayed reaching orgasm easily, often through penetrative sex. 

Take for example any sex scene from Game of Thrones. Women orgasm seconds into scenes with little to no discernible effort on the part of their male partner. During these moments, the camera is almost focused on the man, recording his viewpoint and experience. This phenomenon is popularly known as the ‘male gaze’. The women in scenes like the ones so often seen on Game of Thrones are treated as afterthoughts, as props, yet they almost always have screaming orgasms.  

So, maybe my friends and I are just not sleeping with the right people. Maybe According to a 2011 study by the American Psychological Association, as few as 8 percent of heterosexual women experience orgasm through penetrative sex. This means that Hollywood is regularly portraying what is, essentially, the needle in the haystack of human sexual experiences as if it's the norm.

Name a mainstream film where a woman stops sex, not because she doesn’t want it, but because it doesn’t feel good. Ok, now name a mainstream film where a woman instructs her partner on how to make her cum. I can’t name a film in either of these categories. I doubt you could either. I can name a million films that feature a man making a woman orgasm on their first date (think almost every romantic comedy from the mid-nineties onward). I can also list off half a dozen films where a woman is groped, sexually assaulted, or brutally raped. 

For example, the MPAA, the organization responsible for rating film, will almost always rate a film more harshly if it includes a sex scene where a woman is receiving oral sex. Famously, the film Blue Valentine was slapped with an NC-17 rating for the most unsexy oral sex scene in the history of cinema. Evan Rachel Wood unleashed a tweet-storm in 2013 after an oral sex scene was flagged by MPAA and subsequently cut from her film Charlie Countryman. In 1999, the MPAA demanded that director Kimberly Peirce tone down the oral sex scene between Hilary Swank’s Brandon Teena and his girlfriend, portrayed by Chloe Sevigny. The list goes on and on. 

Films and television often portray women as prizes to be won by particularly deserving men. Is it any wonder that some men, having been raised on these images, would grow up to then treat the women in their lives that way? We need to make is clear from an early age-women are not prizes to be won. Orgasms take work. They require communication with one’s partner, compromise, and Regularly ignoring that aspect of human sexuality is damaging. It sets men up for failure and can place women in uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. When the choice is either to hurt their partner’s feelings or fake their way through painful, awkward, or just plain bad sex, one study found that 66 percent of heterosexual women will choose to fake an orgasm. 

We are socializing women to stay silent and appease and men to assume their own prowess. Women are being trained to feel as if their bodies are wrong if they cannot orgasm on demand. They are being told that  they are frigid or that their standards are simply too high. It is a form of oppression just as insidious as a man inviting a coworker into a locked office for a ‘special meeting’. Men are not entitled to women’s bodies or women’s orgasms. 

Women face an impossible standard when it comes to sex and dating in general. We need to be cool, but not boyish; feminine, but not high-maintenance; sexually available, but not slutty. That is every woman’s story.
So yeah, now I warn guys that I’m not easy. Women shouldn’t  be expected to ‘make it easy’ for men. Not in relationships. Not during sex. The #MeToo movement to be truly effective, the dialogue around sexual relations needs to completely shift. Women need to feel that they can and should communicate how they feel during sex. Men need to be open to listening and responding to those feelings. That shift will be difficult. It will be uncomfortable. It may even be embarrassing at times-for men and women alike. But the shift is necessary in order for society to move in the direction we say we want it to go.
In the era of #MeToo, it is important to have conversations about sex, not just assult. Conversations about female pleasure are just as vital as conversations about female pain. It is important to change how young people learn about sex. We can start by changing how sex and espically female orgasams are potrayed in media. Women are not slot machines. It’s high time we stopped being portrayed that way. 

Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising