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More orgasms please!
An orgasm will help you sleep and keep you looking younger; it doesn’t cost money and isn’t a scarce resource. So why is it that, like the pay gap, there is an ‘orgasm gap’ between women and men?
The Hotbed Collective aka presenter Cherry Healey and writers Lisa Williams and Anniki Sommerville firmly believe that female pleasure is a feminist issue. Their podcast The Hotbed (the 6th season of which is sponsored by Mooncup Ltd) has given a platform to doctors, politicians and celebrities to talk honestly about female pleasure in all its forms.
And a book doesn’t fall far from the podcast tree: the debut book by the collective is aptly named More Orgasms Please. It’s an open and honest dive into all aspects of sex for women covering feminist porn, body image, menopause and many other issues impacting our ability to enjoy sex.
More Orgasms Please is now out on paperback, and to celebrate we are publishing an extract of the book below. No need to thank us, the pleasure is all ours.
Don’t Put Up with Bad Sex
It’s the late Eighties. I’m fifteen. I’ve been out at a nightclub with a bunch of friends. We’ve drunk Grolsch, and been chatted up by some students from St Martin’s School of Art. They are channelling the Levi’s 501 ads and wear white T-shirts and baggy jeans.
One of them asks if I want to go back to his room. My best friend Hannah accompanies me. He lives in a hall of residence in Battersea. To cut a long story short, the boy and I snog while Hannah sleeps in the same bed. This is not unusual as beds are often at a premium and we’ve become used to sharing this way. Without warning the boy clambers on top of me and starts thrusting. Hannah mumbles, ‘Can you please stop?’ but the boy continues.
Eventually after three minutes he groans. I am still wearing my thick Wolford tights. They must be at least 200 denier.
‘You are completely gross,’ Hannah says waking up. ‘I’m getting out of here.’
I don’t want to stay without her so we leave. On the early-morning bus up the King’s Road, I look down at my tights. There is a white sticky substance. ‘I can’t believe you had sex in the bed next to me,’ Hannah says.
The conversation ended right there. Had I had sex? Was that it? The problem was I lacked the necessary vocabulary to explain what had happened. My sex ed lessons hadn’t included a session on ‘dry humping’. ‘Could I be pregnant?’ I wondered. There were rumours that sperm was so powerful that it could survive outside your body and crawl up your leg if it was determined enough. I never talked about this experience with anyone – not even my best mate.
I also felt ashamed but wasn’t quite sure why. There was no one I could talk to about it. I spent many hours fretting that my future sex life would be one where I always had sex through a pair of tights because I didn’t know any better.
‘Bad sex’ experiences such as the one Anniki describes above unfortunately are the norm for many young women embarking on those first few formative sexual experiences. Without a meaningful, realistic idea of what to expect or useful education about how sex is supposed to be pleasurable, then it’s a miracle that we ever end up enjoying it at all.
If you don’t know your own anatomy, what a clitoris is, or the difference between foreplay and penetration, then having sex through a pair of tights can be the unfortunate outcome. Sex education lays the groundwork. It also encourages us to talk about our experiences so we don’t think we’re abnormal. It gives us the information we need to make the right choices (and these will hopefully lead to more orgasms and less worry, anxiety and ignorance).
Bad sex probably shares a few common traits (for us anyway).
FIRSTLY: no orgasm. Of course, you can have nice sex without an orgasm but if you are physically capable of an orgasm, it’s a bit like eating rhubarb crumble without custard. Or not having a bun with your burger. Or going out with trainers and no socks so your feet get blisters (come up with your own
analogy here). You can fake an orgasm (and sometimes it’s just simply the easiest thing to do: if it’s someone you haven’t had sex with much yet and you like them but you haven’t finished this book yet and are therefore still mid-journey to becoming a fully qualified sex goddess who can ask for what she likes) but this isn’t a sustainable way forward and the sooner you can put things right, the better.
SECONDLY: bad sex often hurts. This may be because you’re not lubricated enough and your sexual partner has no clue or has forgotten about foreplay, or because they’ve watched too much porn, and think frantic, crazy, Jack Russell-style action is what turns you on (maybe it does, in which case: thumbs up).
THIRDLY: bad sex sometimes entails something happening which is so humiliating that your face burns whenever you think about it, even when it’s twenty-odd years later.
If you have good friends who have at some point talked to you about sex, you will almost certainly have heard stories about bad sex. If you haven’t and all your friends have only ever had good sex, then please can you contact us via our publisher (address on the imprint page) and let us know their secrets?
We know from our own conversations and from feedback from The Hotbed that plenty of bad sex is happening each and every day. Here are some quickfire stories about bad encounters, shared with us by our listeners:
The time I tried to give a blow job but thought you had to blow instead of suck …
The time toilet paper was still stuck to my bum and I was really into a guy and he discovered it there …
I had to pee really bad and ended up weeing all over our sleeping bag …
My entire first relationship involved sex which was OK but which never made me have an orgasm …
His mum rang him while we were at it, and he answered and had a full conversation with her before carrying on again …
In Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham describes a bad experience of cunnilingus: ‘I felt like I was being chewed on by a child that wasn’t mine.’
Author and columnist Caitlin Moran refers to bad sex as ‘the straight-up awful hump – a tale you will tell for the rest of time’. She tells a story of going back to a famous comedian’s house in the Nineties: ‘As we began the “opening monologue” on the sofa, he reached around for the remote control – and put on his own TV show.’
Perhaps you too have your own bad sex story to tell. Often the accounts of these experiences share certain commonalities: we’re disempowered, passive, naïve and insecure. We do something stupid and embarrassing and we don’t have the guts to ride it out.
Our partner is too rough, not rough enough, too fast, too slow, rude, arrogant, or picks his toenails afterwards.
WHEN ‘BAD SEX’ CROSSES THE LINE, IT IS NOT ALL RIGHT
Bad sex, sex that makes you cringe or yawn when you think about it, is bad enough. There is another class of sex, however, that is never OK. Sex that is abusive and damaging, destructive and ego-destroying. Sex which makes you feel sick, unsafe, angry or sad. If this applies to you – and the latest statistics show that one in five women in the UK have experienced some kind of sexual abuse/assault – please consider seeking help with a professional who can give legal and medical advice and refer you for counselling and/or legal recourse. Everyone is entitled to sexual pleasure and help is available.
Samantha from Sex and the City famously declared, ‘Fuck me badly once, shame on you. Fuck me badly twice, shame on me.’ You will have noticed that we’re not blaming our sexual partners exclusively for our bad sex. Of course, they should get clued up: read about some techniques; buy lube; ask you what you like and dislike; and know that women don’t tend to get turned on by having their head forced down into the crotch area. But while they should be able to read your body language, they can’t be expected to read your mind.
Bad sex can happen when expectations are running very high. It can happen when you’re fifteen and it can happen when you’re eighty-five. Unless women take responsibility for their own pleasure and get educated about what pleases them, and have the confidence to tell or show their partners, bad sex can last an entire lifetime.
HOW BAD SEX CAN HAVE A LONG-TERM IMPACT ON OUR SEXUALITY
It’s well known that our formative years shape the way we feel about ourselves. The taunts about being overweight or the cousin who said you looked like a bloke; the boy who told you that your legs would be ace if you were a rugby player; or the fact that you never got picked for the netball team. Most of us have similar demons in our heads: the voices that say you’re ugly, useless and your body is fucking awful can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and make us devalue ourselves and our right to feel pleasure.
Add to this the lack of a decent sex education, and the fact that there are so many myths about sex floating about, and it follows that we approach sex with low and fearful expectations. For Anniki it meant she started off scared of the penis because it was automatically linked to pregnancy.
There was no mention of pleasure. In reality most of us were masturbating but we wouldn’t have talked to our friends about it. If nobody talks openly about sex, then bad sex will continue to fester in the background. If we can’t talk to our friends and share our experiences, both good and bad, we probably will find it even harder to be assertive and broach the subject with our partners. Our expectations are lowered, bad patterns become entrenched and, unchecked, bad, unsatisfying sex then persists way beyond our teens and twenties.
Twenty-five years later Anniki asked her friend Hannah if she’d masturbated when they were teenagers. Hannah had to leave the room for a couple of minutes. ‘Of course I bloody did,’ she replied on her return.
Did you ever talk to your friends about masturbation? Do you talk about it now? What about talking to your daughters? Do you raise them so they know that masturbation is their right if they want it? That it’s nothing to be ashamed of? Do you arm them with the information they need so they don’t ever settle for sex through a pair of tights?
The sad thing is, things aren’t necessarily changing for the better today. Yes, there’s more in terms of seeing sex on screen but now, if anything, girls have too many preconceptions of what sex should look and feel like, and they’re often learning from porn without knowing that porn is a fantasy and not a tutorial video.
Talking about porn in the modern age, Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex, points out that:
forty-one per cent of videos (porn) included ‘ass to mouth’ in which, immediately after removing his penis from a woman’s anus, he places it in her mouth. Scenes of ‘bukkake sex’ (multiple men ejaculating on a woman’s face), ‘facial abuse’ (oral sex aimed at making a woman vomit), triple penetration and penetration by multiple penises in a single orifice are also on the rise. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that in real life those practices wouldn’t feel good to most women.
Previous generations of women have been disadvantaged because they knew too little and were exposed to so little sex on screen or in the media, that they had limited means to find out about what they wanted. On the plus side, we had our imaginations and our partners were usually green as well. Now women are more enlightened in terms of seeing lots of sex, lots of a certain type of sex, but are limited by what the dominant male ideology tells them is sexy. Things that weren’t normalised before have become more commonplace – and some of these things simply don’t feel good.
We have to rewrite our own sexual narratives so that sex is more empowering and pleasurable and ensure that the next generation gets the right messages too.
Orenstein outlines what needs to change:
I recently suggested to a friend of mine, a woman who, like me is a feminist … that it was not enough to teach our daughters about the mechanics of reproduction, not enough to encourage resistance to unwanted sexual pressure. It was not enough to equip them with birth control pills and condoms … We needed to talk to them about good sex, starting with how their own bodies worked, with masturbation and orgasm.
It’s about talking to a generation who are growing up with more than a torn page from a porn mag or a well-thumbed sexy extract from a Jackie Collins novel. It’s vitally important that young women share their experiences and learn from them. It’s about discussing female pleasure and how good sex isn’t just about avoiding pregnancy. It’s about mobilising and empowering women so they are unafraid to talk about sex and the things that bring them pleasure. It definitely feels like the right time for this to happen: the younger generation are already redefining identity politics and we need to see the same thing happen for sex.
On a more personal level, however, how can we move on from bad sex? The he-shagged-me-through-my-tights sex, the he-watched-TV-while-we-were-doing-it sex, the sex that makes you want to join a nunnery, or at least buy a Handmaid’s Tale outfit and avoid eye contact with anyone you might find attractive. This isn’t just about young women being better informed and more confident in their sexuality, it’s also about older generations stepping up to the plate and shaking off their old, negative sexual histories and reclaiming their right to pleasure.
Here’s our Hotbed advice:
REMEMBER IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO REWRITE YOUR SEXUAL STORY. Just as we can change jobs and have multiple identities, so we can change the course of our sexual history. Have a frank look at your own sex life – look at the overarching narrative from teen to now. What percentage has been bad? Are there any patterns in terms of things you’ve put up with but would rather not any more? How can you build on the stuff you love?
THINK ABOUT THE BEST SEX YOU’VE HAD AND WHAT SHAPED THOSE EXPERIENCES. Was it a specific technique? A mood? Location? It might not be possible to recreate a summer in Spain when you were twenty-two, but there will be certain ingredients that you can integrate into your sex life now …
GET OVER THE IDEA THAT SEX IS BEST WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG. The reality is often quite the opposite. The Public Health England survey that we referred to earlier found that forty-two per cent of women aged between twenty-five and thirty-four complained of ‘a lack of sexual enjoyment’, but in the fifty-five to sixty-four age group this percentage falls to twenty-eight per cent (more on this in chapter 16: Growing Old Disgracefully). Bad sex can be edifying in that it teaches you what you don’t want from a sexual encounter, meaning you can learn and improve as you grow older (despite the media’s failure to portray any woman past thirty as fuckable).
TAP INTO FANTASY. When we’re younger we have rich fantasy lives. Usually these take the shape of imagining sex with pop stars and actors. How can fantasy help now? How can you tap into that teen mindset where sex lived in your imagination? (If you need some more help, we have a chapter on fantasy coming up, as it happens).
OF COURSE IT MAY BE EASIER TO FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT, ESPECIALLY DURING NEW ENCOUNTERS, BUT THERE’S NO REASON WHY YOU CAN’T HAVE GREAT SEX WHILE DATING HOT STRANGERS. Showing someone where and how you liked to be touched, bringing along a tube of lube, and saying ‘softer’, ‘this is amazing,’ or ‘ooh, that hurts a bit’, are all completely acceptable from the first bonk, and could spare you both some embarrassment and wasted time.
OWN YOUR BAD SEX STORIES. Talk about them. You’ll soon discover that they’re pretty much universal. A bad sex story shared is a bad sex story out in the open and you can have a good old hoot about it and relieve yourself of any shame. We’re talking about the sex-through-tights stories here, of course. If they’re about anything abusive or damaging in any shape or form then seek help from a counsellor or therapist. The experience of abuse can’t be brushed under the carpet and will oftentimes leave heavy imprints in your memory, but with proper support and therapy they don’t have to be a barrier to improving your sex life either.
Bad sex may be a rite of passage but as we’ve explained, it can also continue from our teens into our twenties, thirties and beyond. There may no longer be Wolford tights involved, but there will certainly be times when your partner can’t perform, or you lose interest, or the baby cries, or you’re too tired, or the quality of sex is just not there for you.
In order to stop the rot and make sure that it’s not happening all the time, look out for unhelpful patterns that emerge. Do you always tend to prioritise your partner’s pleasure more than your own? Do you feel grateful if your partner makes your orgasm a priority but then worry afterwards that you were being too demanding and pushy? Do you cringe when you tell your partner about what turns you on?
It’s also worth remembering that famous Nora Ephron quote about how you can turn embarrassing stories around so you become the heroine: ‘When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.’ That’s how Anniki feels about the whole tights story anyway. She’s ‘owning’ that bad boy.
Read more on the Mooncup Blog:
How 5 inspirational women practice self-love in their own unique ways
Top menstrual cup tips for a first-time Mooncup® user
“10 things I love about Mooncups!” Guest Post by Lily Phillips
No Shame. Period.