Calling All Women: Here's How to Enjoy Sex
In the decades since the years of the sexual revolution—from the 1960s through the 1980s—how many women really know their bodies? The answer, according to Sandra Stewart, a nurse from Stratford, Ontario, is not enough.
Stewart used to teach workshops about women's anatomy where she would bring a box of toys and books to people's homes to teach them about female pleasure. Now, though retired from the workshops, she believes the need still remains.
"Many of my women friends and I weren't enjoying sex," she said, referencing her first marriage. "It was like a task. At the time I didn't understand how an orgasm worked."
Stewart isn't alone in her experience. According to an Archives of Sexual Behavior study published in 2018, which looked at more than 50,000 American women's sexual experiences, heterosexual women orgasmed 65 percent of the time during sex, as opposed to the 95 percent enjoyed by heterosexual men. This demonstrates what researchers call the "orgasm gap," or the fact that men are disproportionately more gratified in heterosexual relationships than women.
However, experts and women agree on a handful of ways to bridge the chasm.
Breaking through societies' expectations
We are constantly bombarded with messages about what sex should be, look like and what kind of sex should turn us on. When our realities don't align with these expectations, we believe there is something wrong with us. This is particularly true for women.
There is an unrealistic expectation that women will orgasm from penetrative sex alone. A survey conducted by the medical site Zava looked at 2,034 people and analyzed 50 films with iconic sex scenes. The survey found that 39 percent of onscreen sex scenes showed a female orgasm, but only 19 percent of survey participants reported consistent climax during sex—24 percent never experienced climax from sex.
Stewart noted films such as "Fifty Shades of Grey" create unrealistic expectations about female pleasure. It can take a woman up to 45 minutes to be fully aroused, something "Fifty Shades" and other movies, don't make part of their fabricated reality.
Carlyle Jansen, a sex and relationships therapist and founder of Good For Her in Toronto, said pleasure is more full-encompassing than we might think: "It's not just breast, clitoris, vagina."
Jansen noted there has been some positive change in the film industry.
"The audience is demanding more, and films are facing criticism when sex doesn't live up to what it should," she added.
Ending double standards
Sexual double standards are not new. Women are typically judged much more harshly for engaging in various sexual behaviors than men.
Although sexual double standards are no longer as extreme as they once were, double standards in the bedroom remain. Jansen pointed out that in heterosexual couples, it's been normalized for women to perform oral sex on a man and yet, typically, the reverse is not expected at all. Some men cite nervousness around hygiene as the reason they abstain, but the odor and taste of vulvae and vaginas are not worse or even very different from that of penises and scrotums.
"At the end of the day, all genitals taste pretty much the same," Jansen said. "We're conditioned to think vulvae are dirty."
Do your homework and masturbate
Knowing your body and what you like is key to having good sexual experiences.
"I see Facebook posts about women still not having any positive sexual experiences. Sometimes it's a case of not understanding their anatomy," Stewart said.
Self-pleasure is a great way to learn about yourself. It's important to take the time to touch yourself, pay attention to your own body and understand what works for you.
"Once you know how to have an orgasm and know your body better, this will make it easier to communicate with a partner," Stewart said.
Don't fake it until you make it
In a 2010 report, 25 percent of heterosexual women reported faking orgasms almost all of the time and 80 percent reported faking orgasms half the time. In one sense, faking an orgasm shows the importance of female pleasure—but only so far as it satisfies the male ego, as faking an orgasm places more importance on spectacle over sensation.
A woman might fake an orgasm to avoid offending her partner, might be too tired or think it's necessary to keep her partner happy with their own performance. If a woman can't get aroused and reach orgasm from their partner alone, some partners may feel as if there is something wrong with them.
"We are conditioned to think we should get pleasure from what our partner likes," Jansen said. "But every person is different, everybody responds differently."
For women who have trouble orgasming, Jansen recommends investing in some sex toys.
"Sometimes people get worried because they aren't pure like Adam and Eve doing it in the garden," Jansen continued. "We are using all sorts of other technologies in every other aspect of our lives, but somehow sex is supposed to be devoid of any assistance.
"Some of us need vibration to orgasm, like some of us use a calculator to do math. Let's embrace technology," she added.
Oranges and lemons
"What's key is communication," Jansen said. "Sex is a sensitive subject, especially when people feel judged, stupid, or not good enough."
When communicating with a partner, take responsibility for your own part. Jansen recommends trying a "three oranges and a lemon" technique.
"You tell them three things great about their connection and one thing to improve on," she explained.
According to a 2019 study looking at women's sexual satisfaction, 1 in 5 women did not feel comfortable discussing their sexual preferences, and 1 in 10 women didn't feel their sexual pleasure mattered to their partner.
Despite the potentially uncomfortable conversations, Stewart seconds the importance of communication. "What I want women to know is to never be afraid to use their voice, and to be supportive of one another."