Over the last few years, I’ve let myself get a little uncomfortable when talking with girlfriends. I’ve broached a subject that we usually don’t touch on much- sex (pun intended). Sure, we’ll allude to it or crack a put-upon wife joke, but details are generally omitted.
Men don’t seem to take issue with chatting about it, so why do we? It’s something we know all of us are doing but our veil of silence surrounding sex keeps us “pure.” Even the most progressive of us have subconscious associations about our sexuality- negativity, dirtiness, lack of control. We have several words signifying that a woman is promiscuous and basically one for a man who gets around- “player,” and it's relatively new. Whore, slut, tramp, nympho, and floozie have stood the test of time. This isn’t a politically oriented blog. I’m not going to blame the vernacular or hushed quality of feminine intimacy on men or delve into origins of female shame. As is human nature, people do what we allow. This is 2018, modern day business, we’re in charge of the dialogues we choose to have or not have, of desensitizing this commonplace issue.
What do we stand to gain?
Increased pleasure and decreased shame.
I’m going to get super personal here. I didn’t have an orgasm until I was over 30. You know what else I didn’t do until I was over 30? Masturbate. Those two are directly correlated to one another. (Yes, I just went there, and it’s going to feel really weird for all of us but mostly me.) Don’t worry, I figured it out at 31… and my quality of life increased for having done so. But guess what it took? An older friend who about lost her shit when I told her, and she had the courage to drop her veil and give me specific details on what to do. She told me that the female orgasm is something you need to figure out on your own and quickly directed me to the appropriate website to buy myself a toy. My life changed that day when she chose to get uncomfortable and speak up about something women just don’t talk about.
Growing up, the idea of masturbation evoked shame. Like any teenage girl, I was curious but too embarrassed to do anything about it (unlike teenage boys who manage to get past this without issue). Those physical sensations also didn’t come easily for me, so experimenting on my own would’ve taken a lot more work than my mortified self could’ve mustered. Some women feel that arousal with a crossing of the legs or mild stimulation, even as children (imagine the shame of repeatedly being told to stop touching yourself as a three-year-old). All of our bodies are different, a fact teenage girls aren’t aware of, aside from comparisons in the size of our thighs and breasts. I have several friends who can have orgasms from intercourse alone. They comprise a few of the 25% who can. 10-15% of us will never climax under any circumstance, and then there’s the rest, who can do it but it takes effort (I fit into this category and probably would’ve stayed in the previous category if I hadn’t overcome shame). Here’s some information that will blow your mind… and would be the answer to crossword puzzle clues if it was a male issue. The distance between your clitoris and your vagina determines your ability to orgasm during intercourse. The closer they are, the easier it is. Makes logistical sense in terms of friction, right? Get out your mirror and tape measurer, Y'all. Your friends who can come during sex are not doing anything special you haven’t figured out yet, they’re just genetically predisposed. The mental space we're in plays a huge role too, but some of it is just plain old anatomy.
So there was the teenage masturbation shame that carried into adulthood, coupled with the decision I’d erroneously made that my body wasn’t for me- men would show me how to feel good, teach me what I liked. I’d taken pride in my sexual openness and willingness to experiment but none of that was really for me, that was about me being whomever I thought a man would find appealing, stuff I’d learned from movies, smutty romance novels, and life observations. Of course, sex is a two-way street and exciting your partner is part of it, but my pleasure and experience are now tantamount to playing the role of society’s version of “sexy.”
I sometimes still feel embarrassed to be verbally specific with my husband about my desires because of the shame programmed in by the world. It’s an ongoing process of weakening those engrained defaults. But, in a sexual way, I feel more me and more fulfilled than ever, and that’s only going to increase with time and openness.
I don’t want my daughter to miss out on years of pleasure because the world silences us into submission. In due time, I plan to talk to her about sex and orgasms, to inform her that her satisfaction is just as important as her partners and that there is no shame in taking the reins of exploring what works on her own. It’s a conversation that may cause both of us to squirm, but my silence would propagate the stigma that she undoubtedly will encounter all around her. As mothers, and as fellow women, we can influence that by slowly whittling away at stereotypical shame, one daughter at a time.
I encourage mothers of daughters to pick up the book, “Your Daughter’s Bedroom” by Joyce T. McFadden. If I haven’t convinced you, hopefully she will.