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.