Please note: This piece includes some references to my personal sex life and sexual history. Family members and other who don't want to read that, please don't. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
This New York Times article has been making the rounds. The one about scientific research on what women really want sexually. I wrote about it myself, focusing on the more sciency aspects of the article.
Today, I want to talk about something else.
I want to talk about the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility.
And I want to talk about the fundamental flaw inherent in the very question, "What do women want?"
The Times article got me thinking about this very pervasive myth about sexuality, one that I held myself for many years. (I hate those, don't you? I always get more cranky about misconceptions that I once believed.)
The myth is this:
Lesbian sex is better than straight sex... because who knows better how to make love to a woman than another woman? Who knows a woman's body better than another woman? Who knows what sex and arousal and orgasm feel like to a woman, better than another woman?
Okay. So. Can anybody tell me the flaw in this myth? You, there. Making out at the back of the class. What's the flaw?
That's right. Gold star for you. The flaw in this myth is:
Women are not identical.
Oddly enough, different women are, you know -- different. We have different sexual responses, and we like different things in bed.
So being a woman does absolutely nothing to provide us with a magical golden key to the heart of female sexuality. There is no heart of female sexuality. There are only female sexualities. And they're all really different.
Example. Back in my younger days, I occasionally had sex with guys who prided themselves on knowing women's bodies... and in particular, on knowing how gently women liked to be touched. And I had to practically smack these guys across the nose with a rolled- up newspaper and scream, "Will you please just pinch my fucking nipples already? Harder. No, harder. No, really. Harder. Thank you. Sheesh."
And this -- incompetence? Cluelessness? No, that's too harsh. Let's call it temporary inexperience -- doesn't just apply to men. My own early fumbling sexual experiences with women were more than enough to demolish the myth of lesbian infallibility. The story of my first one- on- one sexual encounter with another woman would be depressing and pathetic if it weren't so funny.
And it'd be depressing and pathetic if it didn't have a happy ending: namely, the rest of my life, in which I've figured out a lot more about sex with women (and men, for that matter) than I knew in my early 20s. And in which I've gotten a lot more comfortable just asking my partners, "So, what do you like?"
Which is really the point here.
We aren't born knowing how to have sex. Or at any rate, we aren't born knowing how to have good sex. And we double certainly aren't born knowing how to have good sex with this particular person, the one we're having sex with right this minute.
Now, there is actually some evidence that lesbian and gay male couples may, on average, have more satisfying sex lives than opposite- sex couples. The Masters and Johnson study on sexual satisfaction in lesbian, gay, and straight couples (cited in the book "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex") is Exhibit A.
But if you look at that research, you'll see that the reason for this pattern isn't that lesbians have some sort of psychic insight into what other women like. (Or ditto for gay men.) In fact, it's the exact opposite. The research showed that same-sex couples -- of both genders -- were more likely to take their time. They were more likely to pay close attention to their partner's pleasure and sexual responses, and in fact to get their own arousal from it. They were more likely to lavish attention on their partner's whole bodies, not just their genitals. And they were much more likely to talk easily, openly, and more often about what kinds of sexual activities they did and didn't enjoy.
In other words: If lesbian sex really is better than straight sex, it's not because lesbians "know what women want." It's because lesbians take the time to learn what their lovers, specifically, want. (Why that is, I don't know. Harebrained speculation available on request.)
There are certainly some broad differences between female and male sexual responses. I wouldn't deny that. Women tend, on average, to take more time getting aroused than men. Women tend, on average, to take more time reaching orgasm than men. Women tend, on average, to be less likely than men to come purely from penis- in- vagina intercourse. If you believe the study reported in the Times article, women tend, on average, to have a greater disparity than men between what arouses them physically and what arouses them mentally. Etc. Male and female sex organs are different -- obviously -- and even if there were no psychological/ emotional/ cultural issues in how women and men are taught to feel and behave around sex, those physical differences are still, well, going to make a difference. If you're going to be a good lover -- whether you're having sex with women or men, whether you yourself are a woman or a man -- a little Sexual Anatomy 101 should definitely be on the agenda.
But these differences are generalizations. Tendencies on average. Overlapping bell curves. There are, for instance, some women who get aroused quickly. Who have no trouble coming. Who love to get fucked, and get off from it. Etc.
There is no universal "what women want."
And in any case... women aren't born knowing that stuff, any more than men are.
I think the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility tends to let straight men off the hook. It's like, "How can I ever know what my lover/ wife likes in bed? I'll never know how what sex feels like to her! I don't even have a pussy! It's hopeless!"
Well. Let's see. You could try doing what I did when I was first having sex with women. You could read up on female sexual anatomy. You could read up on common patterns of female sexual arousal.
But if you really want to know what women want, I suggest you ask the one you're in bed with.
Or the one you have bent over the kitchen table. Tied to the doorframe. Standing over you with a whip in her hand. On the floor with your face between her legs.
I'm not particular.