I recently binge watched The Goop Lab with Gwyneth Paltrow on Netflix and she did an episode on female pleasure and sexuality. This episode got me thinking about so many things, and why it’s so hard, as women, asking for what we want in the bedroom. I also appreciated how Gwyneth shared that as a young woman, she was mostly concerned with pleasing the guy. And only in her 40s did she start thinking about her own pleasure. I felt so validated by her honesty. And up until that point, I really thought I was the only woman who felt that way.
As women, when we are young and having our first sexual experiences, many of us often focus exclusively on pleasing our male partner. I don’t know why this is the case, it’s just something we all do. It would be too mortifying to know that we turned him off in any way. We are, after all, objects of beauty and sexual desire, and not much more, right? So, if we fail in that category, our apparent inherent area of expertise, what else are we good for? I don’t know about you, but I always felt this way as a young woman, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
I was also terrified of pissing a guy off, especially when naked.
WE OFTEN LOSE OURSELVES SEXUALLY AS YOUNG WOMEN, BEFORE WE EVEN KNOW WHAT WE LIKE, AND WANT, AND NEED IN THE BEDROOM
Our wants and desires are definitely put on the back burner when we first start having sex. It’s hard to focus on learning how to please our partner, and at the same time, please ourselves. And if we have any remote amount of insecurities about our bodies or our sexuality (who doesn’t?), it’s SO much easier to focus on him. It’s also best to have our techniques of pleasure on lockdown, so we never have to risk the mortification of sucking in bed. But we often do this at the expense of our own pleasure.
There is also so much shame around a woman’s sexuality. And I don’t believe we possess this shame because we are fundamentally insecure creatures. I think we are born quite shameless. But we learn really early all the ways in which it’s just not okay for us to say and do what we want. So, at some point, we start to change. We might not even realize we are doing this. But in subtle ways, we anticipate another’s reaction, and silence ourselves accordingly. Or pretzel ourselves into what we know will be more acceptable to others. We do this in life, in school, at work, with friends, with family, and 100% in the bedroom.
WHERE IS THERE ROOM, OR A SAFE SPACE, FOR US TO HONESTLY EXPRESS OUR SEXUALITY?
To make matters worse, we have unfair standards and expectations put upon us, constantly. We have expectations from society, as well as from our partners, and it’s so much pressure. I know men have their own pressures with regards to sex as well, and I don’t mean to take that away from them or leave that unacknowledged. However, since this is an article about women and goddesses, I must stay the course.
If we are too confident (aka love ourselves enough to ask for what we want), many men give us some indication of their distaste for this kind of “aggression.” And if we’re not confident enough (aka human), or fail to “own” our sexuality in any give moment, then our insecurities come across as a huge turn off, apparently.
In this Goop Lab episode, the Goop staffers worked with pleasure teacher, Isabella Frappier. And as she was speaking to the staffers, she said something that blew my mind, and that I had never thought of before.
“For hundreds of years, men have been painting and sculpting and photographing women. And the second you put a camera in her hand, it becomes vain. Because people are uncomfortable when you say ‘I feel beautiful.'”-Isabella Frappier
It’s statements like these that really hit me and get me thinking of all of the subtle ways in which women are denied their own power. Although this quote isn’t as much about women asking for their needs and wants in the bedroom, Isabella does go into that more deeply in the episode, and I highly recommend women (and men) have a watch for themselves.
If you are interested in reading more about female power, you might also enjoy my article THE WORLD IS PETRIFIED OF STRONG FEMALES.
REASONS WHY WE DON’T ASK FOR WHAT WE WANT
I also recently binged watched Girls on HBO with my partner. He’s a millennial and I’m more of a Gen X gal, and I couldn’t believe that he had never seen the show. Girls is kind of the millennial equivalent to Sex and the City, which I would say is more from the Gen X era. These are pop culture shows that seem to have a pulse on the generation they were created for, and I find both of them fascinating. Granted, I find both shows quite problematic as well, but I also think both are worth watching, as they are so telling of our culture and the sexual times we live in.
Anyway, I recall a scene from Girls in which one of the characters, Adam, is dating a new woman, Natalia. Hannah, the main character of the show, played by Lena Dunham, is Adam’s ex-girlfriend, and is always portrayed as much more “sexually free.” She’s “experimental,” although one could also say passive and eager to please, and Adam misses this. By contrast, Natalia is portrayed as a bit more “demanding” in the bedroom (aka comfortable with her sexuality).
Film still of Natalia and Adam from Girls. Image obtained from here.
WE MIGHT GET OUR ASSES RAPED IF WE’RE TOO DEMANDING
After dating for a few months, Natalia and Adam have their first awkward (aka realistic) sex. In this scene, Natalia starts expressing her needs to Adam during sex. And with each passing second, the scene gets a bit more tense. The viewer begins to get the sense that this kind of partner is new for him and that he prefers Hannah’s much more easy going attitude. And ultimately, the scene concludes with Adam essentially raping the “high maintenance” (aka confident) Natalia.
G-RAPE / GRAY-AREA RAPE
Stand-up comedienne Amy Schumer often talks about GRAPE or Gray-Area Rape, where a woman is sexually assaulted by someone she knows or cares about. Afterwards, a woman can feel confused about the act and not immediately define it as rape. Even though it was not consensual, it was an act performed by a boyfriend or husband. Deep down, both parties often know what just happened was fucked up. But it’s a different kind of rape than a random stranger tackling a woman to the ground on a dark and empty street. And it can put her in a terrible position of having to comprehend such a level of betrayal. Often times, a woman can either blame herself, or let him off the hook, not wanting to ruin the relationship. However, she carries that level of trauma around with her for life.
The scene is Girls is a disturbingly realistic scene that I think so many women can unfortunately relate to. The scene depicts a woman trying to express her discomfort and displeasure in a sexual situation. And as the scene unfolds, the man becomes more frustrated and more aggressive. Understandably, the woman becomes more passive. She is innately aware of the fact that her partner is physically bigger and stronger than her. And at a certain point, her survival instincts kick in.
She thinks to herself, “Do I keep expressing my discomfort? He doesn’t seem to be listening or caring. He might get angrier if I speak up. Do I put up a fight? How will he react if I do? It’s probably better to just stay quiet and get this over with.” So many things run through a woman’s head in moments like these. But ultimately, more often than not, we as women eventually submit. We let the guy have his way. Or we read his body language and energy, and often infer that he’s determined to have his way no matter what we do anyway.
WHAT ELSE CAN WE DO IN THOSE MOMENTS?
Is it our fault that the mother fucker refuses to consider our comfort and pleasure levels, even after we try to verbalize them? NO! At a certain point, our fear overtakes our courage, and we do what we must to get ourselves out of the situation in one piece. It’s a fucked up reality and happens to women more than we even admit to ourselves.
I’m so sorry for every woman who ever received this kind of fucked up treatment from a man. You did nothing to deserve this abuse. Nothing you could have ever done or not done warrants this kind of aggression. You are beautiful and lovable, and he’s a fucking asshole.
IT’S BEST TO JUST NOT SAY ANYTHING
I talk more about sex and fear in the dating world in my article GODDESS DATING GUIDELINES.
I once dated a guy I was super attracted to. It wasn’t always my pattern to date guys I actually liked, oddly, so I thought I would mention this. Anyway, during one bedroom instance, in the heat of the moment, I verbally expressed something quite complimentary to my partner. His response in all seriousness was, “Shut the fuck up.” And not in a playful, role playing kind of way, even if you’re into that kind of thing. Which I’m not. But in like a silencing way. He was super pissed at me in the moment. He was so horrified by his own sexuality, that my complimentary comment disgusted him. But regardless of his reasons, ultimately, in a moment of sexual expression, he silenced and shamed me.
I know this was just one instance, but damn. That was hurtful and humiliating. So, why would I ever risk feeling that way again, with any partner? I’m only human and am not made of metal armor. And don’t worry, if you’re wondering, we’re no longer dating. He was crazy. But that kind of shit sticks with you.
DON’T EVER BRING THAT UP AGAIN, WITH ANY MAN
I dated another man one time who was a real jerk. Just putting that out there. And I’ll say up front that certain things he did in the bedroom did not bring any physical pleasure my way. And in an attempt to exert some sexual confidence and self-care, I thought I would carefully express this to him. In the moment, I gently said something along the lines of “Can you try this instead of this?”
His response was anger. He stopped what he was doing and scolded me for the way I criticized him. He placed all of the blame on me. In my mind, I couldn’t have said this with any more loving care. But because his ego was wounded, he shamed me. He was also physically bigger than me and had a temper. So, as I lay there naked, vulnerable, and horrified, I made a decision. Don’t ever bring that up again, with any man. I also dumped his ass a week later.
I know that was just one traumatic moment in time. But again, how many negative, hurtful, and threatening messages are we expected to take and still remain confident and comfortable in the bedroom?
When I was young and in my twenties, I was in a long-term relationship with a man. He and his best friend, whom I spent lots of time with, both suffered from a bit of toxic masculinity. His friend used to share with my boyfriend and I, stories of his sexual exploits with his girlfriends and other women he dated.
A WOMAN’S SEXUAL CONFIDENCE IS DISGUSTING AND DISTURBING TO MEN, GOT IT
He was dating this one woman at the time whom he was incredibly in love with and very serious about. She was also quite stunning and very confident, in my opinion. Apparently, one morning, she had walked into the bedroom, while he was getting ready for work. She was completely naked and in a rather seductive mood. Okay, I don’t know the circumstances, and maybe it was terrible timing on her part. But still, all I recall is the level of horror he expressed to us in telling the story. He was mortified by her sexual assertiveness and legitimately turned off. And in his moment of retelling this tale to us, he seemed to be looking to us to comfort him and validate his feelings.
I was super confused by this entire situation at the time, not really understanding what his problem was. I also recall feeling really sorry for her. This gorgeous girl had way more confidence than I ever had, and she was super shamed for it. She was expressing herself sexually to her partner, and he HATED it. I think he did say in fact that he got really mad at her for her behavior and kind of stormed off that morning. Luckily, for her, that relationship did not last.
So, this is an instance that didn’t even happen to me. But from hearing the male perspective, and being a young woman in my twenties, I took his feelings about the situation as ultimate truth. And I deduced that men are super turned off by female sexual confidence. I didn’t have enough confidence in my own sexuality (I was in my 20’s, give me a break), and so absorbed this information like a sponge, and retained it for safe keeping.
HOW THE HELL CAN WE BE EXPECTED TO FEEL COMFORTABLE ASKING FOR OUR NEEDS IN THE BEDROOM WHEN WE ARE TOO BUSY TRYING NOT TO GET RAPED, VERBALLY ABUSED, OR SHAMED?
I do believe that in order to even come close to being able to ask for what we want in the bedroom, we need a good partner. We need a parter who makes us feel safe and who encourages communication. And in this world of toxic masculine takeover, this is REALLY hard to find. But there are definitely also loads of men out there who just want their female partners to be happy and feel good. And they would be horrified to know that something they were doing, inside or outside of the bedroom, was causing us discomfort or displeasure.
So, once you find that trustworthy partner, how do you go about expressing your bedroom needs?
I think it can take women lots of time for us to even admit to ourselves what we like and don’t like. I know for myself that I am still in the midst of this process, and I’m 41 years old. In some ways, I consider my current partner, my first partner. Because he is the first person I have been with who has made me feel comfortable enough to even consider my pleasure. So, I am seriously no expert. But so far, here is what I have learned.
ASKING FOR OUR SEXUAL NEEDS TO BE MET IS PART OF A LARGER HEALING PROCESS, SO BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF AND YOUR PARTNER
- It’s not helpful to spell out a laundry list of likes and dislikes. It’s too much to keep track of, and best to tackle issues one at a time, as they arise (pun intended).
- Express your need or want in the bedroom during times of intimacy. Even though it might make the intimate moments a little more awkward, the hands-on experience is much more effective.
- It’s super helpful to express what you liked and enjoyed, just after your intimate sesh has ended. And be sure to ask him as well. He has his own wants, needs, and preferences.
- Spend sexual and/or sensual time with yourself, discovering on your own what you like and don’t like. Before or during sex, feel free to make a suggestion and just see how it goes.
- Be honest. I know it’s hard, and I struggle with this myself. I never want to hurt my partner’s feelings, or kill the vibe. But he’s always so happy for the direction. Not only does he appreciate the clarity, but it can be a turn on for him as well. It’s a win-win.
- If you like something your partner is doing, you can let him know verbally or (what’s an LY word for sexual moan?) through pleasurable-moan-and-groan sounds. However, moans and groans are always going to be less clear than actual words. So when in doubt, just tell him in the moment that you like what he’s doing.
- When your partner is doing something that you don’t enjoy, you don’t need to be harsh or hurtful. Just gently say something like, “I don’t really like how this feels, can you try this instead?”
YOU GET AN A FOR EFFORT
Seriously, this stuff is so hard and I am without question, a complete novice. But I’m trying. And I think given the years and years of terrible messages and horrendous behavior I have received from past partners, it’s just going to take some time.
Honestly, I’m proud of myself for even having the courage to consider opening myself up to more pleasure. It’s a super scary thing for me, and I am seriously not comfortable with it at all. But as human beings who just happen to be of the female variety, we have just as much right to pleasure as men.
Can you relate to this article? Do you struggle with expressing your needs in the bedroom? How have you overcome your inhibitions?
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Featured photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
Selfie photo by Apostolos Vamvouras on Unsplash
Woman in the bedroom photo by Daria Litvinova on Unsplash