You have to be willing to fight your way past a good bit of blatant misandry in this article to actually get anything worthwhile out of it (The Daily Beast, 9/2/09). But if you can stand the “men are selfish louts” attitude that pervades every quotation and that of the author herself, there is actually something there.
It’s about orgasms. Specifically, women don’t have enough of them – or maybe men have too many – and guess whose fault that is. A variety of feminist professors and opiners are herded together to condemn men for not giving women orgasms often enough.
Professor Paula England at Stanford has done a study that curiously seems not to have been published at the time the article came out, but which the author nevertheless refers to. (She doesn’t explain how she managed that, but maybe there’s a way. I emailed Prof. England about that, but have yet to receive a reply.) Among other things, England informs us that “the orgasm gap is an inequity that’s as important as the pay gap…”
Interestingly enough, I actually can agree with that in a way. Given that the pay gap is almost solely a function of women’s choices, it does indeed bear some resemblance to the orgasm gap which owes a lot to the same thing. Now the notion that it’s as important as the pay gap, I find to be just plain silly. Orgasms are great, but they don’t pay the rent.
And according to the article, it is at least in part women’s choices that lead to the paucity of distaff orgasms. New York Times Science columnist Natalie Angier encourages women to “take responsibility for their own pleasure.” Many of us thought that would be an obvious thing for anyone – male or female – to do. But as far as this article goes, Angier is a lone wolf howling in the wilderness. The idea that women can and should take some sort of responsibility for whether they have an orgasm or not gets buried in an avalanche of loutish male behavior.
England’s study was conducted exclusively on that captive resource that’s always available to professors - undergraduates. In short, whatever her methodology and whatever her findings, they can’t possibly be extrapolated to the society at large. So the article proceeds to do exactly that. England’s study found that the college men were twice as likely to reach orgasm as were the women, so the article’s first sentence represents that as true of men and women generally. It’s standard intellectual bootstrapping.
Not content with that, the article moves to self-contradiction. For example,
Surveying 12,925 undergraduates from 17 universities, researchers examined four sexual contexts–a first hookup, one to two previous hookups, three or more previous hookups, and a relationship–and found that in all cases, men were twice as likely to orgasm. (Emphasis mine.)
And then one sentence later,
In the context of relationships, women orgasm about 80% as often as men.
Not one of the people quoted in the article referred to the most authoritative study of sex in the United States to date, entitled “Sex in America: A Definitive Survey.” Its results were published in 1994 and its authors were public policy expert, Robert T. Michael, sociologists John H. Gagnon and Edward O. Laumann and NYT science writer, Gina Kolata. It has a fair amount of data on male and female orgasms, and, not surprisingly, they tend to contradict the claims of England and the others quoted in the article.
That study shows that men do indeed achieve orgasms more regularly than do women. But even in the age group studied by England, there’s nothing like the orgasm gap she reports. According to Sex in America, 92% of men aged 18-24 have orgasms “always” or “usually,” while 71% women of the same age do. That’s still a gap, but nowhere near the 2:1 ratio claimed by England.
In the same vein, the article quotes Dr. Elisabeth Lloyd as finding that ” a third of women never had an orgasm during intercourse.” That’s strange; the Sex in America researchers found that among women, in all age ranges, the highest level of ”never” having an orgasm was 8% (among 18-24 year olds), and the lowest was 2% (among both 40-49 and 50-59 year olds).
But to read the article, you’d never know that the Sex in America study had ever been done. I wonder if that’s because it fails to conform to the article’s preferred misandric narrative.
But I said there was a nut of worthwhile material, and there is. Wash away all the misandry and a diligent reader can find a few nuggets.
Here’s one: for both sexes, but particularly for women, relationships are better for sex than are hook-ups. I’ve never been a big fan of the hook-up culture. It’s always struck me as just totally missing the point of “boy meets girl.” I understand that, at a certain age, young men and women aren’t ready for serious commitment, but hook-ups just seem to completely lack any real involvement, any kind of connection at all. But for me, the bottom line on hook-ups is that if college age people want to do that, I won’t object as long as they move on to something more personal and involved later on. And of course the vast majority of them do.
Another nugget is that women need to be responsible for their own orgasms, just like Natalie Angier said. I still have difficulty grasping the fact that anyone has to tell them that, but apparently they do. It’s very simple; the man a woman is having sex with is not the same person that she is. He doesn’t feel what she feels; he doesn’t know what she wants until she tells him or indicates in some way. That’s not stupidity, ignorance or indifference on his part. He can’t know that any more than the woman can know what he feels or wants without being told. One of the very simplest ways for a woman to take control of her own pleasure is to be on top during sex. That allows her the freedom of movement to do what she needs to do to have an orgasm.
The final nugget is that guys have little excuse for not doing their best to give their partner an orgasm. A few of the women will never get there; a few more won’t on a given occasion. But generally speaking, they will and oral sex is the likeliest way to get them there. If there’s a woman out there who doesn’t like oral sex, I sure haven’t met her. So, while it’s true that a man can’t always know what his partner wants, cunnilingus is one of the safest bets you can make.
I never thought I’d say this, but I actually agree with what Michael Kimmel says on the subject of oral sex and a woman’s pleasure. Guys, one of the greatest sources of your own sexual pleasure is that of your partner. If that’s not there, if you’re only paying attention to yourself, you’re not only selfish, you’re missing about half the fun.
Thanks to Doug for the heads-up. (No pun intended.)