Love, Life Stories

Why do we keep teaching women that there’s only one way to be “good” in bed?

When I was 15, the Catholic all-girls school I went to brought in some "expert" to speak to us.

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There was nothing specific I wanted from the experience when I had sex for the first time. 

My accomplice and I were both 16-year-old virgins.

I had no idea what to do but had some latent expectation that my male partner would know and take the lead. It didn’t occur to me to use this as an opportunity to explore what I liked. I didn’t think about the pleasure I might experience. I knew it would end when he came. I didn’t know that women had orgasms during sex. 

I didn’t learn that until many months later.

What I’d learned about sex by that point — indirectly, of course — was that male pleasure signaled the start and end of the story. Any female pleasure that came about was a by-product that reflected the “quality” of the man’s performance.

I didn’t know that women had orgasms during sex. I didn’t learn that until many months later. Click To Tweet

When I was 15, the Catholic, conservative, all-girls school I went to brought in some “expert” to speak to us about contraception. She drew a triangle on a large whiteboard, labeling the corners of the triangle “You,” “God,” and “Your baby.” The three were interlinked within a non-negotiable, cause-and-effect arrangement. 

God will decide when it’s time for you to have a baby, she told us. 

As she spoke a laminated, color photo of a fetus was passed around to remind us what sex was really about: babies.

Between these narratives, there was nothing about us girls. Nothing about how we felt, what we wanted, what we liked. Sex was about what you, a woman, did in relation to a man or about whether you made a baby. 

There wasn’t space to consider sex as anything else.

I learned that there was a right and a wrong way to behave sexually, and if you weren’t included in the “right way,” you were a dysfunction. The fear of being a dysfunction prevented me from speaking openly about sex or focusing on what made me feel good. Only in my twenties did I start asking myself questions.

The way we spoke about sex among ourselves was equally problematic.

How ‘far’ you had gone sexually was directly linked to your social capital, depending of course on the value of the stock you shagged. We spoke about sex as things we did to teenage boys we knew and not in terms of our ourselves and our own pleasure.

It’s not difficult to understand why we did this.

At nearly all stages of her life, a woman is constantly defined by how she exists in relation to sex: how much sex is she having, and with who? Is the sex she is having fulfilling her in the right way? Is she good enough at having it?

A woman is constantly defined by how she exists in relation to sex. Click To Tweet

All of this contributes to the idea that there is a right and wrong way to have sex and to express your sexuality. For a teenage girl, the pressure this creates can have a profound impact in shaping her identity.

There is even an official medical term that refers to what “successful” sex looks like. 

Female sexual dysfunction is a blanket term used to describe various “problems” a woman might experience when having sex, including a loss of interest in sex, trouble achieving orgasm, or feeling pain during sex.

Placing the label “dysfunction” onto someone for experiencing these things — which are not necessarily problems — is like telling them that they have an illness.

This erases women who simply don’t enjoy sex and risks wrongly medicalizes others, such as, those who have trouble achieving orgasm but are perfectly happy the way they are.

Some women live with anorgasmia, a condition where they are unable to orgasm. One such woman, we’ll call her Megan, first realized something was wrong at age 18 when her friends started exploring and talking about sex.

Thinking she might be “missing out” by not climaxing, she tried masturbation and even when in a relationship was still unable to orgasm. She never felt this itself to be a problem, however. “The only problems came when I decided I wanted to talk about anorgasmia and my boyfriend received negative comments from friends suggesting that he couldn’t ‘please his woman’ which wasn’t helpful for him,” she told The Femedic. “But as an actual couple, it’s never affected us.”

The only problem was the fact that other people seemed to think it was a problem.

Other women who are on the asexual spectrum might not be interested in or enjoy having sex at all. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily stop them from worrying if they are abnormal or feeling like they don’t fit in. 

They are told they are abnormal for not wanting sex, even though for them, this is completely normal.

When the medical field and society tell women what they’re experiencing sexually is “wrong” it can have powerful negative impacts on their sense of identity. Feeling one way against a slew of “proof” that it’s not an acceptable way to feel can make us crawl inside ourselves for fear of being ridiculed or ostracized. 

It may make us believe we are incapable of being loved or of discovering our true self.

But once we realize all these forces are at play we can take a step back and get to know our libido on our own terms. We can learn and accept that there is no “wrong” way to approach or experience sexuality, as long as you’re not damaging yourself or others.

And if you don’t know what you like, you need to try everything to find out, right?

Monica Karpinski

Monica Karpinski

Monica Karpinski is the founder and editor of The Femedic, an educational website that seeks to normalize taboos surrounding women's health. She primarily writes on gender, sexuality, and libido.

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