Getting Off Your High Horse
The latest feminist, sex-positive paradox holds that for hetero men, whether she orgasms or not, you’re a selfish lover. Here’s why that needs to change.
By Kayla Kibbe, Connecticut College
Despite nearly an entire western history’s worth of uncontested social and sexual dominance, the modern man has slowly but surely developed something of a bad rap, especially in the bedroom.
The narrative is familiar to anyone who has ever seen a sitcom. The husband and wife/mom and dad/annoying neighbor and guest-starring cousin characters exchange knowing glances, making some thinly veiled double entendre before they rush upstairs to the tune of the live studio audience’s suggestive “oohs” and the implication of raised eyebrows.
When the camera returns (or maybe it’s been there the whole time, depending on what channel you’re watching and how late your parents let you stay up), the heteronormative couple of choice are laying in bed in a state of vague post-coital dishevelment. Husband/dad/neighbor character is beaming and lets out a gratified sigh, completely oblivious to obviously unsatisfied wife/mom/guest-starring cousin’s disgruntled pun on the word “finished.” Parents watching assume it will go over their kids’ heads. End scene.
From sitcoms and movies to magazine articles, the trope of the selfish male lover is a staple in modern media. Between accusations of neglecting foreplay and a rumored inability to locate the clitoris, the pitiful stereotype of the oblivious straight man in bed is so ingrained in society that, as a child, I was able to make “men can’t find the clit” jokes well before I had even precisely determined its exact coordinates myself. According to these stereotypes, straight men can only be one of two things in the bedroom: either deliberately selfish, or just plain clueless.
Patriarchal Oppression…of the Clit
Ever a cutting-edge source for the latest in social justice—or at least social justice in the bedroom—“Cosmopolitan” has attempted to break down this problematic binary by instead reducing male sexuality to only one option: deliberate selfishness. In the recent article, “Why Guys Get Turned on When You Orgasm – and Why That’s a Bad Thing,” the magazine makes the groundbreaking announcement that men can not only find the clitoris, but they have learned to harness its powers for evil.
Subtitled “Of course guys manage to make YOUR orgasm about themselves,” this latest chapter in the magazine’s “straight men are inherently evil” series explains that men “derive a specific sort of masculine pleasure from making female partners orgasm,” and how—you guessed it—that’s a bad thing.
The article cites a recent study published in the “Journal of Sex Research” that reports that men feel “more masculine” and experience “high self esteem” related to the idea of a woman experiencing orgasm during sex with them. High self-esteem—sounds great, right? Wrong, apparently. According to the journal, this post-orgasm self esteem boost “complicates conceptualizations of women’s orgasms as women-centric,” thus condemning self esteem to the ever-broadening canon of patriarchal oppression.
In a separate statement quoted in the “Cosmo” article, the researchers go on to examine the problematic implications of men “giving” women orgasms at all, “as if orgasm is something men pulled out of a hat and presented to women.” In a tenuous squabble of semantics that would rival the commentary of even the most dedicated Gender and Women’s Studies major in your friend group, the study insists that this phrasing “ties into cultural ideas of women as passive recipients of whatever men give them.” To summarize, the female orgasm is now a manifestation of patriarchal oppression.
Damned if You Do, Selfish if You Don’t
Essentially, this article condemns straight men to a philosophy of inevitable psychological egoism in the bedroom. Either a man fails to make a woman orgasm, in which case he is a selfish lover, or he succeeds in making her orgasm, in which case—wait for it—he is a selfish lover.
This isn’t the first time “Cosmo” has launched a witch hunt for men experiencing any faint whispers of personal gratification during sex. Earlier last month, the magazine graciously outlined “15 Sex Things Guys Are Way Too Proud Of.” According to the article, “because the bar has been set so extraordinarily low, men expect to be rewarded for every teeny tiny gesture during sex that isn’t 100 percent selfish.” Moreover, the article seems to have it on good authority that “every man who isn’t solely focused on his own orgasm thinks he’s a feminist gift to all women, and low-key believes he deserves a pat on the back for every good sex deed he performs.”
Among the most heinous crimes from which men allegedly derive personal gratification are: “Realizing your clit exists,” “Making you orgasm one single time,” “Saying ‘I love it when you come’” and, god forbid, “Offering to get a condom.” Ladies, you’ve been warned. Behind every Tinder match is a monstrous sociopath who might try to protect you and himself from STDs and unwanted pregnancy.
Welcome to the Sex-Positive Movement: No Boys Allowed
This kind of rhetoric is an unfortunately familiar example of feminism clashing with the sex-positive movement. While in theory the two should be seamlessly compatible, feminist rhetoric frequently fails to extend its sex-positive mantra to men, often simply reversing double standards rather than eliminating them.
In theory, a situation in which someone orgasms and everyone feels good about it is the sex-positive ideal. However, classic feminist overreach demands that a straight male sex partner take only the most medieval, self-flagellating and ascetic approach to the female orgasm. Apparently, it only counts if the man derives no pleasure whatsoever.
The complicated approach of “Cosmo” to men’s attempts to close the orgasm gap is not even the most problematic example of this conflicting rhetoric. Also included in the above-mentioned list of fifteen sins of male sexual gratification is “Telling you they want to wait.”
According to the article, “Guys think women will throw themselves at them if they say some shit like, ‘I care about you too much to have sex with you on the first date.’” This, says the article, “is just another way of saying ‘I can’t respect any woman who would slut it up with me on date one, and I respect you, therefore we can’t fuck.’ That’s just fancy slut-shaming and I can see straight through it.”
This approach is highly disturbing in that it frames a man’s refusal to have sex in an archaic “no means yes” mentality.
The article stakes its argument on the assumption that men always want to have sex, and if they say no, it is still all part of some underhanded, patriarchal scheme to get a woman into bed. This kind of drastic overreach not only weakens feminist rhetoric, but also introduces some very dangerous—if largely overlooked—assumptions about male sexuality.
Everyone Is Selfish in Bed
Significantly, the study cited in the “Cosmo” article only included males; it presents no data as to the female psychological response to a partner’s orgasm. Thus, the study’s implication that the resultant ego boost is somehow uniquely male, and therefore sexist, is completely groundless. If anything, the study proves that interpretations of “gendered” behaviors and mentalities are often skewed.
The bottom line is, almost everyone—male, female, queer, straight, what have you—feels good about making their partner orgasm. There is no reason an experience of personal gratification means that is the only form of gratification someone is getting from sex. You can enjoy giving your partner an orgasm for your own benefit as well as theirs; that’s all part of the give and take of a healthy, happy sex life.
To some extent, everyone gets off from getting other people off. Call it selfish, but at the end of the day, someone still has an orgasm, and everyone feels good about it. Live and let come.