Now that we’ve got the juices flowing a bit with a bit of foreplay, let’s talk about porn. Or, as many boys may now refer to it ‘sex education’. For the most part, I like porn and have exhausted it in my celibacy. I’m past the point of a Platinum Pornhub membership and I am one wank away from getting a concerned pop-up window referring me to a helpline. Or a brothel.
I find porn to be more representative than a lot of Hollywood sex scenes. A much more diverse range of people can find themselves in porn to some extent unlike in mainstream films where 99% of sex scenes are between a heterosexual, cis, thin, white couples. Everything outside of that is regarded as ‘other’ or ‘minority’. Even I, as a straight, white, thin, 30-year-old woman find the portrayal of sex in the mainstream media polarising, and I’m fully submerged in that ‘norm’ category. I was confused and frustrated for years about why I couldn’t cum from sex. I’d watched countless sex scenes in films showing the woman orgasm from sex. Sometimes multiple times. Sometimes at the exact same moment as the man for a perfect finish to a perfect depiction of sex. This sex did not exist in my world. It made me think something was wrong with me. Apparently, every woman in the world could finish during sex apart from me. If we can’t see ourselves represented in ‘normal’ mainstream media, we begin to feel abnormal. But these blinkers also let down the guys who actually do want to make women feel good sexually. If all they’ve known is that women orgasm from sex every time by simply thrusting away hard and fast, skipping foreplay, surely that’s going to put a dent in their confidence when they realise it isn’t true in a lot of cases. (If you are a woman this doesn’t apply to then I salute you). There’s an injustice in the way sex has been and still is depicted in the media and it’s leaving both women and men misled, unseen, and unsatisfied.
But porn has its own pitfalls and, like movies, should not be used as instruction manuals for sex. If they were, at the bottom of the back page you would find in tiny print ‘female pleasure not included.’ More boys (and girls) need to be made aware that porn is a form of fiction. But if (typically) boys are exposed to porn more than they are sex education in school then it’s not surprising what inspires the hard and fast approach of my disappointing past lovers. I feel let down by the educational system in this area. It should be taught more frequently and more in-depth. Some may argue that this might encourage kids to have sex younger but hey, I spent years learning about the Second World War and I have never once invaded Poland, after I got arrested that first time. I remember one sex education class. In Year 6, I think which talked through the theory of sex. I have zero recollection of having a sex education class ever since. So either, I never had another or I did have one and it was so lacking in impact that my brain has chosen to erase it. I vaguely recall the classic, how a condom works and that people make noises because they’re enjoying it. I don’t remember talk about any strategic methods of how to achieve those noisy pleasures. In fact, I wouldn’t learn about that until I was 19. First year of uni. I didn’t even know what the clitoris was or that I have one. No wonder guy’s struggle. My boyfriend at the time introduced me to my own anatomy and then bought me a beginner vibrator for Christmas. My world changed. Thank goodness for masturbation. Another hugely taboo topic amongst women. My uni boyfriend was my sex educator. But sex education obviously isn’t solely about pleasure. It’s about safety and respect and, most importantly of all, consent. Something I don’t remember ever being taught. My first ever sexual experience pays testimony to this and how little I actually knew about my body or sex at all.
I was 15. Had only kissed one boy before because I was paranoid my tongue would get stuck in people’s train-tracks and vice-versa seeing as 99% of us had them. The boy in question was two years above me. He winked at me across a crowded in room in school. At this point I had very little male attention and eyebrows that were plucked to a point of almost absolution. They made Édith Piaf look like she had a monobrow. It was only after doing the old subtle check over my shoulder that I realised, unless he was having a mild stroke, he was winking at me. So naturally I fell head over heels for him right there and then. Because winking, like smoking, is sexy and the foundation of any healthy relationship. This guy had a girlfriend at the time. Something I either didn’t fully register or didn’t understand because why would he be interested in me if he had a girlfriend? I was so smitten and naive I simply didn’t question it or stop to think how my actions could make her feel. Myself and this boy ended up in the same friendship circle and a group of us went on a summer camping trip. The first night of the trip we kissed for the first time and he used his fingers on me. I don’t remember anything feeling particularly revolutionary but I was okay with it. The next he tried to take my virginity from me. I use take in the harshest sense of the word. I’d told him that I didn’t want to have sex until I was 16. We were in a separate tent. He was drunk and started kissing me. Before I knew it he was on top of me. I had no idea what to do and felt like I couldn’t say no. It didn’t last for long because it was too painful. He stopped after I asked him the third time. I was crying by that point. His response to my first two requests was to keep telling me ‘it’s okay’. He got off me. One of my male friends had clearly heard everything from the tent next to us. After we were re-dressed, he unzipped the tent, pointed to the guy and told him to get out. The two of them went to the campsite loos. I sat alone, next to a pile of Wotsits, wondering what to do. Eventually, I went to find them. I pushed open the door of the boys toilets and saw my friend looking angry and the boy in question smirking. Blood stained the bottom of his jumper, which he hadn’t taken off during the ordeal. I knew I’d been in pain but had no idea I had bled or that it was normal for that to happen. The next day, he went on a family holiday. Happy as whoever happy Larry is. Leaving me with an Umbro t-shirt and an anxiety so potent it felt unbearable. My complete lack of knowledge on anything other than how to kiss a boy without getting a tongue stuck in my train-tracks left me panicking that I was pregnant. The good friend who knew what had happened graciously took me to the doctors. I distinctly remember the heat of shame creeping up my face as the male doctor’s fell when my friend asked him for the morning after pill. I couldn’t speak a word. In the end I learned it would have been impossible for me to be pregnant. One because the ripping feeling was so painful, he could only get a fraction of the way inside me. And two, he didn’t cum. Highlighting, once again, my complete lack of sex education at the age of 15. Not only physically but vocally. I didn’t want that and couldn’t say I didn’t want it, purely because I fancied this boy, whose own lack of sex education had led him to believe that women’s, not even women’s, girl’s, bodies were his for the taking.
What let me down here was less about my complete lack of knowledge about sex and my own body but my ability to say no. That’s how women are often conditioned to think. That it’s their fault. ‘If only I’d spoken up / worn something different / didn’t walk alone, this wouldn’t have happened.’ In reality, this is not a woman’s problem. It is mens. Though the patriarch may have us believe otherwise, we have not let ourselves down in this situation. Men have. Not all men of course. The majority are wonderful and kind and good. But this is all men’s responsibility. It is men’s duty to not put women and girls in a situation they do not feel 100% comfortable in. And if they see it happening, (this is applicable to women too), they need to have it in them to step in and stop it. This is something we need to work on together.
A recent (Mar 2021) YouGov survey reported on in The Guardian found four-fifths of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. And again, in that sentence, is a subtle problem festering underneath. The language used by all the mainstream media outlets and surveys say ‘this many women have been raped’. This seemingly innocuous phrasing hides the men and exposes already vulnerable women. In my opinion, it should be written ‘this many men have raped women in 2020.’ That way the ugliness of an aggressive part of male culture is laid bare in the cold light of day. Globally, the World Health Organisation recently (Mar 2021) reported 1 in 3 women experience sexual violence. These figures won’t include the women too traumatised to tell the truth, those in denial, or even, and I would fall into this category, those women who don’t actually realise that they have been assaulted. I certainly didn’t ever report it. I felt confused, alone, ashamed, and silent. Years later, a good friend of mine and I were talking about the situation with the boy when I was 15. She had known about it for a long time. But as we spoke of it as adults she said ‘you need to be careful with how you describe that sort of thing now, people will think he raped you.’ And that, in a sentence, is the problem with how men and women view these kinds of incidents.
Many, like my friend, would class what happened as something else. Something less harrowing. I certainly did for a long time. Because rape, in mainstream media, is violent, brutal, aggressive, and horribly graphic. Many people often think of movies like Deliverance, A Clockwork Orange, or more recently, 12 Years A Slave, all of which have incredibly harrowing rape scenes. It creates a dangerous grey area for those of us who experience sexual assault but not in the form depicted in mainstream media. It makes us feel like we’re over-reacting. Like it wasn’t that big of a deal. Confused but unwilling to ‘kick up a fuss’ and risk backlash. Not many films show sexual harassment in its insidious, camouflaged form. The type that happens more often than many of the women it happens to think, because they’re not even aware it is happening. In the recent TV series ‘I May Destroy You’, Michelle Coen writes and stars in a sex scene during which her and a man start having consensual sex with a condom on. While the man is having sex with her from behind, he stops, takes the condom off and chucks it on the floor. He finishes inside of her. The point about the condom goes undiscussed until she finds it on the floor and asks him about it. He acts coy, as though he didn’t think it would be an issue and she ends up giving him a half-hearted smack and a slightly annoyed ‘for fucks sake’. The following scene is of the two of them walking back from getting the morning after pill and she says, half laughing, ‘I’m still annoyed with you’. The incident is played off as something a bit irritating but not serious. It’s only later when she tells her friend about the ordeal and they tell her she was raped that the anvil finally drops on how serious what he did to her was. As uncomfortable as it is to watch, perhaps this is exactly what we need more of. Rape scenes are never easy so we might as well expose its various guises and subtler sides. The ones that aren’t aggressive or brutal but coercive, and confusing. Rape takes many forms, and the black and white depiction of what it is and isn’t can led women to believe they’re overreacting, which, in turn, silences victims and continues to let men believe that that behaviour is acceptable.
At the beginning of this year, Keira Knightly said she’s refusing to act in sex scenes now that are directed by men. Stating that when it comes to female experiences, she wants to work with female directors because she’s uncomfortable trying to portray ‘the male gaze’ – the act of depicting women in film from a masculine, heterosexual perspective as it can often represent women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. A phrase introduced by scholar and filmmaker Laura Mulvey in her now famous 1975 essay, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Many of the sex scenes we watch are written, directed, and filmed by men, portrayed in a way regarded as the socially established version of sex. Where foreplay is fleeting, communication consists of grunting and men make women cum from sex on cue. I applaud Knightly for her decision. We need more female writers and directors to show our version of sex. The non-established version that those Bridgerton (written and directed by majority women with an emphasis on female pleasure) audience figures (82 million views in the opening 3 weeks – Netflix’s most-watched series ever) show we’re all clearly, quietly gagging for. It’s good to feel sexy and turned on. We have every right to cash in on a long time of being starved of porn made for us. We need to see more female TV / film / literary characters talk about sex and masturbation openly and comfortably without becoming a ‘token’ caricature; a female version of Jay from the Inbetweeners. This will help unpick the long out-of-date slut shaming that women get landed with for enjoying sex or sleeping with lots of guys. Something that’s a negative attack on a woman’s character and remains a bragging right for men.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie words it perfectly in her book ‘We Should All Be Feminists’: ‘We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way boys are. If we have sons, we don’t mind knowing about their girlfriends. But our daughters’ boyfriends? God forbid. (But we of course expect them to bring home the perfect man for marriage when the time is right). We praise girls for virginity but we don’t praise boys for virginity. We teach girls shame. Close your legs. Cover yourself. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire.’ There’s a lot still out of kilter in the sexual world. Things that aren’t very fair for either women or men. As we’ve seen in hugely successful films like 50 Shades of Grey, female virgins are desirable. Male virgins are not. Women who don’t want anything sexual or romantic from a guy are regularly deemed to have ‘friend-zoned’ that guy, yet ‘fuck-zoned’ isn’t a regular term used for when men want to shag one woman multiple times but not commit to them. A woman who sleeps with a lot of people is a slut. But a man who sleeps with a lot of people is a player; a heartbreaker. The use of ‘slut’ or ‘whore’ or ‘slag’ to describe a woman negatively is obsolete. It’s time we reclaimed those words and transformed them into a celebration of the female libido.
But as well as female pleasure from a female perspective, we must also be shown the bad from a female perspective. The coercive, manipulative subtleties of men taking something from women they didn’t fully consent to and was never theirs to take. One of the main ways to erode the hazy confusion looming around situations like mine when I was 15 is for it to be seen and spoken about more. It shows men that their behaviour is not normal or funny or in any way acceptable and it shows women that it’s not their fault, nor is it something to feel ashamed about. Women have every right to dress so scantily clad that a ketchup packet would provide more coverage; they can grind and kiss and be ‘up for it’ and even be mid-shag but it is a woman’s right to change her mind at any point if she wishes. And if / when a woman does, she does not owe men a single thing. Not an explanation. Or an apology. Nothing. Because her body is her own. Not anyone elses.
When we are more exposed to relatable situations in books or on screen it makes us feel accepted, normal, and in turn more comfortable to start talking about things that were originally only to be whispered about in high school games of Never Have I Ever. More female representation in the bedroom will help unpick years of porn education that has given men access to whatever type of sex they want, whenever they want it, rather than showing real women with real bodies, real needs and a voice that should be used to vocalise those needs instead of being wasted on faking orgasms. It will allow for sexual nuance. Women will feel more at ease saying ‘no’ but also feel comfortable in the knowledge that being a sub to someone’s dom in the bedroom doesn’t detract from her feminist beliefs outside the bedroom. It’s your turn to do the taking, you just need to say it. But even with our other halves, I appreciate taking a pinch out of Stalin’s book and being a bit more dictatory in what you want can be a bit daunting. I recommend starting small. I stumbled upon a podcast called Thirst Aid Kit, which ended up leading to me to feel comfortable enough to write this article. It’s fun and silly and is just two women talking about sex and thirsting (sexually pining) after different male celebrities or characters each week. I listened to the first episode, not knowing what to expect, when walking through town, surrounded by people and immediately found myself blushing. It made me feel naughty and a little bit awkward at first. By the third episode I felt liberated. I was way more relaxed and confident listening to them talking about sex and found myself wishing I could get in on the chat. Material like Thirst Aid Kit, 50 Shades of Grey and Bridgerton aren’t new but the ‘permission’ they give women to be open and unashamed about what makes them feel good sexually is. We need to harness this until the shame and embarrassment around female pleasure for both women and men melts away. To do this, more positive and negative sex scenes from the female gaze need to be made. They will liberate men to listen and women to talk. Which will hopefully lead to better sex for all and who doesn’t want that? After my last two diabolical sexual encounters, I hope men jump on this sexual revolution soon. In the meantime, I’ll be watching Robin Hood. The 1973 Foxy version. With a cup of tea and a coaster that I will soon be betrothed to.