Friday, 10 January 2014

No Sex Please, We're British.

It may seem at first glance that this article is about sex. It’s not. It’s about the beauty of communication and the many, many, and (let me stress again) many advantages that come from open, honest conversation.

I am not British, I’m Hungarian, but I've lived in this country for almost five years now. I love it here. I have made a number of great friends over the years, most of them British, and there are many qualities I admire in you guys: you are always polite, kind, fair, generous, you offer to help without having to be asked, you are open-minded, welcoming, and treat everyone equally and with respect. There is just one thing I haven’t been able to get used to and probably never will: that you are so extremely reserved. You refuse to talk about anything remotely personal, and not just the first time you meet but even after years of being friends. I have developed a ‘filter’ I use when talking to you: I avoid the things I am actually interested in discussing (politics, religions, sex) and stick to your repertoire of topics (weather, food, TV shows). When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Fair enough. There is one problem though, and quite a big one from a feminist perspective. I find that your super ‘reserved-ness’ has tangible negative effects on your sex lives and on how you perceive sex in general.

To put things into perspective, let me sketch out how conversations usually go with my Hungarian girl friends. After catching up on general events in our lives (studies, work etc) we crack open a bottle of wine and the real, woman-to-woman bonding begins. Who’s everyone dating? How is the sex? And when we talk about sex I mean the in-detail, Sex and the City-type of conversation. You learn what turns your friends on, what positions they like, what they love and hate in bed, and you share good/bad/often funny stories. In addition to the joy of sharing and knowing that other people go through the same stuff you do; you also learn a lot. I certainly have. For example, when a friend gives me a tip to make sexy-time even more enjoyable (be it with a guy or on your own) I try it out the first time I get a chance. In my experience, woman-to-woman bonding happens the same way in most countries. When I studied in an international language school I made friends from many countries in Europe and Latin America and with all of them, as soon as we cracked a bottle of wine open, the sharing began. Now, you can probably imagine the faces of my British flatmates during Fresher’s Week of my undergrad when, after a few drinks and after already thoroughly discussing what everyone’s absolute favourite foods in the world were, I attempted to start a more meaningful bonding session with a casual “So how’s sex in England?”

Now, I respect that there are certain things some people like to talk about and there are certain things they don’t. But what fills me with horror and makes my die-hard-feminist side furious is those little bits of details my (usually drunk) British friends have let slip over the years. Comments like “I only do it for my boyfriend” or “I don’t enjoy sex at all and am glad if I don’t have to do it” or “It still often hurts” started to make me wonder what on earth was going on here. Having had some experience with British gentlemen myself, I kind of get it. Now, my aim here is not to reproduce silly stereotypes but to try to identify the reasons why my British friends (both men and women) generally seem to enjoy sex less than my friends from other countries. I think the question arises that, if they never seem to talk about sex with each other, where do they get their information about it? My first guess is porn. As we know, porn has as much to do with real sex as melon-flavoured chewing gum does with a tropical fruit salad. So not much. But I think (or at least hope!) that most people already know that. I have a feeling that regular Hollywood movies actually do more harm in this regard than porn as many people (including myself I must admit) love romantic comedies, believing or at least hoping that they reflect real life. Unfortunately, the representation of sex in most romcoms is extremely unrealistic.

Setting aside the fact that everyone has sex with their bra on or under a blanket in movies (because you can’t show certain bits in a 12A film right?) it astonishes me how, without any foreplay to speak of, as soon as the guy enters the girl she starts moaning and after a few thrusts and a bit of ‘bang bang’ she’s screaming out in ecstasy. Which almost always happens in missionary position of course. Take one my favourite romcoms: No Strings Attached. The first time Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman have sex they kiss for like two seconds, he pulls her knickers down, climbs on top of her and within a minute she’s screaming out. Or in Love and Other Drugs, how Anne Hathaway seems to be having an orgasm already while Jake Gyllenhaal is tearing her clothes off. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t be very happy myself if Jake Gyllenhaal was doing that to me, but that scene is a bit exaggerated. Or in The Rebound, when Catherine Zeta Jones finally sleeps with her super cute man-nanny (who had done Gender Studies in college and has my heart eternally) and, surprise surprise, they do it in missionary position while she’s still got her bra on. I must also mention my latest sex-scene disappointment in an otherwise very sweet movie, About Time (yes, I do watch way too many romcoms), where that cute British actor and Rachel McAdams have their ‘first time’ several times as he goes back in time to do it again and make it a better experience. It is a universally acknowledged fact that the first time is always a bit weird, simply because both parties involved are a bit nervous. Therefore I fail to understand how he makes her ‘first’ time spectacular after a few ‘practice rounds’ when she is just as nervous each time. He may last longer and may have learnt a few new techniques but what about how she feels? You can have all the sex-tricks in the world up your sleeve but it is only going to work if you both feel comfortable and relaxed. Oh, did I mention that all these movie examples were of first-time sex?

Let me contrast these movie scenes with reality. I think we all know that it is significantly more difficult for ladies to learn how to enjoy sex, while it is something that comes naturally to men. There is an excellent book I have come across during my Sociology studies, Shere Hite’s “The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality” (2004), in which she explains why that is the case. Her research has found that only around 30% of women can have vaginal orgasms and the rest need her clitoris to be stimulated in some way. It’s not a surprising finding considering the often neglected fact that the clitoris is women's most sensitive erogenous zone and the primary source of female sexual pleasure, thus it is the same thing for us as the penis for men. Unfortunately, throughout Judeo-Christian history the main function of sexual intercourse has become reproduction for which only the man’s pleasure is needed. That means a lot of thrusting and missionary position so he can control the rhythm. This is how ‘sex’ has come to mean penetration; and all the other things that usually make women happy have come to be labelled ‘foreplay’. This is an extremely male-centred, phallocentric view of sex. It gives women’s pleasure secondary importance along with all things that lead to it such as kissing, caressing (women’s erogenous zones are more varied than men’s and are spread all over the body), clitoral stimulation and letting women control the rhythm during intercourse. The movie examples I described above clearly reflect a traditional, male pleasure-oriented view of sex.

Now, if my observation that British people do not talk about sex is correct, and if my assumption that their main source of information in that regard is movies holds, then what could be done to make sex more enjoyable? The magic word here is COMMUNICATION. Ladies, please let your man know what you like and what you dislike in bed. Don’t be shy and voice your desires. If sex is not an enjoyable experience for you, you should say something! Here’s a crazy thought: every single sexual encounter should be pleasurable for both the male and the female participant. Every. Single. Time. You are in it to win it too, if you know what I mean. You also need to realise that if your desires do not match those of the women you see in movies, it does not mean that there is something wrong with you, it just means that Hollywood is still a very much male-dominated industry with no specific interest in challenging the traditional phallocentric view of sex I described. Gentlemen, listen to your partner, pay attention to her, ask what she would like and aim to make sex great for both of you. It’s only fair. Most importantly, do not take your partner’s comments as criticism of your sexual skills. One universal truth I have deduced from all the woman-to-woman bonding sessions is this: every woman likes different things in bed. The main guiding principle may be the same for everyone but the specific details as to how to get there differ. So do not think that, as seen in movies, your mighty penis in itself is enough to do the magic. And if your partner is still unimpressed after all the thrusting and ‘bang bang’, please don’t feel ‘emasculated’ or lose confidence. Talk, share, communicate, explore, experiment, listen to each other, pay attention and have fun! Also, and I might be asking too much with this, talk to your friends about it! Just try it, trust me. Honest, open communication. That’s all you need.



  1. Valid point about communication, terribly executed argument

  2. 'Now, if my observation that British people do not talk about sex is correct, and if my assumption that their main source of information in that regard is movies holds'.

    Lol. I think you should clarify that this article is about your friends, and not 'British people'. I also wonder how many British people you have actually met. I actually am British and work in a supermarket. We talk about sex A LOT. When it comes to experiences involving farting 80 year old Glaswegian women, some may say too much. The point is, be careful about how you put this, because to be honest, it comes over as crass stereotyping.

    Actually, its more than that, it's patronising - ''You refuse to talk about anything remotely personal''. Although you concede at the beginning you have good friends who are British, the whole tone of the article - referring to British people as 'you' and 'your', is snide, bordering on racist. ''I have developed a ‘filter’ I use when talking to you''. Just wow.

    Your points on the negative effect of porn/media on people's expectations of sex are valid, but they've been made a million times before (and not just within the context of British people...). You take a bit of a one sided view that this just negatively effects the sex lives of women. As much as women can come under pressure to have screaming orgasms first time round, men can come under pressure to last for hours and produce those screaming orgasms.

    You call yourself a feminist, but this sort of narrow mindedness, based on your biased personal opinions, is a huge disservice to sexual equality advocacy.

  3. Dear Dora,

    As a British male, I assure you sex is ok. We talk about sex to people we respect, not to every woman on the street. Because, if done properly, it's something precious, and precious things don't have to be communal.

    The chemcial reaction of sex is similar to a cocaine induced sneeze. A little friction, the expulsion of mucus, a pleasant after effect. It's nothing big. Anyone can do it. What matters is the intimacy that forms before and after, which is something you seem to ignore completely.

    If sex is all about the high, try cocaine. You'll find exactly the same effect.

    But if it's about something more, then you need to work for it. Are you afraid of intimacy?

  4. What's up Dora, I'm a straight Canadian male, and you're totally right about communication being the key to good sex.

    One thing I'd like to address is what that British guy who works in a grocery store up there said: "As much as women can come under pressure to have screaming orgasms first time round, men can come under pressure to last for hours and produce those screaming orgasms."

    I don't think you mention that sort of pressure on men, so I'll take this one.

    Just like women shouldn't feel pressured to have screaming orgasms, men shouldn't feel pressured to last for hours or provide those screaming orgasms.

    If guys feel pressured to last for hours and always provide earth-shattering orgasms, then the point Dora made still stands; there isn't enough communication.

    Only 30% of women can have vaginal orgasms (as was mentioned in the post), so it doesn't really matter how long you're lasting because pumping away for three hours is going to have the same effect as pumping away for three minutes.

    It doesn't matter how confident you are in bed, if you ask your partner what they like and what turns them on, the two (or more) of you will have a much more pleasant experience.

    Instead of just assuming that the longer you bang, the more likely they are to cum, just ask if there's something that gets them off; maybe instead of trying desperately to last for hours, they can actually get off in ten minutes if you rub their clit.

    If you're going into sex terrified that you aren't going to live up to someone's standards, just take a minute, and while you're warming up, ask what their standards are.

    And to the dude who thinks sex is cocaine, I don't think you're doing sex right, you should maybe see a doctor.

    Of course intimacy is nice, if you're looking for that or you're in a relationship, but what's wrong with making that act of sex pleasant for both parties, regardless of the level of intimacy?

    I don't understand why there's so much negative feedback for a post that is essentially saying "If you ask your partner what they like, they will tell you what they like, and then you can do that to them."

    Even though everybody's getting their Union Jack all in a knot about it being aimed at British men, it's just anecdotal, and it's good advice regardless of what country you're from.

    1. heheh mate i totally agree with you, and with the main message of the article, about communication being key to a good sex life. This is nothing new. The point I was making was that as much as the media can affect women, it can affect men too - which is something the article neglects.

      But you're wrong if you think I objected to the stereotyping because of patriotic reasons. Yeah, it is obviously anecdotal, but the way it is written - and that's the important bit - suggests that it's about 'the British people', whoever that's meant to be. Lets say I went to Israel, made a few Jewish friends, then, as a British bloke, wrote an article called 'No sex please, we're the Jews'. Reaction may be different. Stereotyping like this is ignorant, in whatever context.

      The fact that it's being done by someone who's obviously been well educated and well travelled is pretty sad!

      That all said, I may have been too stupid to realise that this is all meant to be light tongue in cheek comedy. Like the play No Sex Please We're British. The poster for which is in the title. woops.

  5. Your point is interesting and I'll admit the article is enjoyable to read, but I found your argument awfully weak. Yes, I accept that living in this country for 4 years gives you some sort of idea of cultural and societal norms regarding sex, however to suggest that this enables you to make the broad assumption that you are now able to speak for the whole of Britain as incredibly naive.

    Additionally, I found the assumption that British people don't speak in large groups about sex ergo they don't speak to their partners about sex as incredibly simplistic.

    I do agree with many of your points; the dominant idea that sex equals penetration is a huge problem, the obsession with the logistics of lesbian sex (whose voice you ignored completely in your piece) ie. where is the penis demonstrates this, and you're right that this myth is perpetuated by Hollywood and porn. However, like the problem with your communication argument, I feel that you've again generalised and oversimplified. Yes, there is a problem with the mainstream depiction of sexuality, but that's not to suggest that "foreplay" is foregone. We're not mindless drones that are unable to discover our sexual preferences without the aid of the media?

    Finally, and this is a point that I strongly disagree with, I found that your article almost condemns the idea that women could enjoy the type of sex that's depicted in rom-coms, the "thrusting and missionary position" type of sex as you described it. I feel that in your desire to propagate communication and discussion of sexuality you have actually dismissed what for some is a healthy and happy sex life.

  6. Really great info you have mentioned on your blog post!!

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