By Paige Thompson
When naivety begins to fade in your early twenties, so does the romanticised and rose-tinted idea of sex, perhaps through the realisation that the past 4 or 5 years of sex have taught you more about hurt, guilt, embarrassment and lack of consent and less about love, connection, and mutual acceptance.
From sex education during school, to first losing your virginity, to long term partners, it seems to be a prolonged WTF moment; the way sex is taught is not actually how sex works. The system does not have a clue when it comes to exploring and understanding women's sexuality.
Only 1 in 20 schools in the UK teach about female pleasure (Enright, 2019.) However, there are an estimated 33 million women living in the UK and the figures do not even come close to offering any kind of forward thinking or movement when it comes to teaching young women about their own bodies. Furthermore, the lack of education around masturbation, orgasms, and consent has led to a society ridden with shame and a horrendous amount of people being unknowingly sexually abused or assaulted.
Women wank too, we do not just exist for the male gaze, we enjoy sex, we love to orgasm, and systematic misogyny has distorted the conversation around sex education, insinuating that male pleasure, orgasms, and 'wet dreams' are socially acceptable and to be spoken about freely, whereas the silence around female pleasure incites the feeling of shame and taboo which engulfs the topic today.
For men to watch women masturbating on Pornhub but then cringe at the mere mention of a woman touching herself, or worse degrade her for capitalising off it (i.e., Onlyfans), is so incredibly harmful. Although views and opinions have changed over the past 20 years, it is still not enough and women do not have complete freedom or power over their own sexual autonomy. The idea that we exist solely for male approval is still engraved, somewhat subconsciously, in society's belief system. Women should be taught about how their own bodies work, how sex is not just a one-way street and is for both parties to enjoy safely and comfortably, as well as how sexual pleasure can be achieved alone (buy a vibrator, there are many benefits!)
This shame which is perpetuated during school years carries on through to adulthood and haunts many women throughout their sexual encounters, leading to feelings of immense guilt or shame either about themselves or somebody else.
“Why are we shamed for even implying that we enjoy sex, that we are able to take pleasure into our own hands through masturbation, and have multiple sexual partners the same way cis het men do?” (Given, 2019).
There is a cultural norm and held belief 'that women’s bodies belong to those observing them rather than to the woman themselves' (Wilson, 2020), warping society's understanding of respect and consent. This belief is allowed to flourish in a society held under the patriarchy, where there is a disparity of power between male / female before you even get to the bedroom.
An old trope is often projected during sexual intercourse- that the man gets to take control and own his sexuality whilst the woman lays there, acting as a sort of prop, subservient, yet eager to please. Although this is somewhat simplified, the issues are far more complex than this and it is still a reality for many women.
Sex is awkward and things will not always be perfect however, being uncomfortable and having a lack of consent can sometimes disguise itself as awkwardness, which is why an honest and open conversation needs to be had around sexual boundaries and desires. We are taught to understand that no means no, but not to read body language, or understand that persuasion does not equate to consent and that a person is able to change their mind at any point during.
If it is not a clear YES, anything else is a no. Assault and rape are not always crimes committed by scary men in dark allies, often these acts can be committed in relationships, even loving, healthy, relationships. Education needs to be improved dramatically in all areas, from female pleasure, to consent, respect and more.
Sex should be about vulnerability for both people involved, power should not exist (unless consented) and until these issues are addressed, and the patriarchy is dismantled, sex will not be wholly safe nor pleasurable, for many, many, women!
Given, F., 2019. Women Don't Owe You Pretty.
Enright, L. 2019. Refinery29.com. We Need to Rethink How We Teach Young People About Sex & Female Pleasure.
Curtis, S., 2020. Feminists don't wear pink and other lies.