Trending in The New York Times “Health” section last week was a story, audaciously titled: “In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns.” Readers may have been shaken (though certainly not surprised) to find the Times spilling another thousand words bemoaning our generation’s taste for casual sex.
The root of the finger-wagging this time? In hookups, women orgasm a lot less than men.
The claim hinges on two recent studies, revealing a gendered “orgasm gap” during casual sex. One study suggested that women were twice as likely to reach orgasm in serious relationships than in hookups, while another found that about 40 percent of women had an orgasm during their last hookup compared to 80 percent of men.
As the Times dryly interpreted these statistics: We are doomed to “mediocre sex.”
But wait. Hold the sexual scaremongering right there. If women aren’t orgasming during hookups, should we readily assume that they aren’t having a good time?
To explain sexual relationships by looking only at the ending, we’re missing the bulk of the story. If we wanted sex simply for the purpose of getting off, then we would all be diddling ourselves in our dorm rooms, no partner required. Instead, hookups fulfill something else: excitement, intimacy and, yes, pleasure (with or without the climax).
Imagine rating a film like “Shutter Island” by skipping straight to the end — what’s the point of the ending if you ignore the thrill of the plot?
Championing a more holistic view of sex, sex educators like Al Vernaccio — who gave a riveting talk at Penn last year — advocate moving away from goal-oriented models of sex and viewing hookups instead as a process.
Researchers from The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction recently echoed that model in their announcement of the developing Quality of Sexual Experience scale. On this metric, orgasm is only one component.
To be fair, the Times rightly notes that “sex without strings has carnal and emotional benefits that don’t depend on reaching orgasm.”
But let’s not make the Freudian mistake of assuming that women are simply worse at getting off. The problem is that intercourse alone is not always going to do the trick. While men receive oral sex about 80 percent of the time in first-time hookups, women only get it half the time (according to another sex study by Dr. Paula England, one of the researchers mentioned in the Times’ piece).
Why aren’t women asking for what they want? Debra Herbenick, one of the researchers involved in the study cited by the Times, compared hooking up to having dinner at a friend’s house. “You wouldn’t be like, ‘This is what I want and this is how I want you to make it, and I want you to use only this amount of basil.’”
“It’s not someone serving you something, they aren’t hosting you,” scoffed Gabriel Ojeda-Sague, a College sophomore who read the Times piece. “In sex, desires should be expressed so that both parties are understanding of what each wants from the experience,” hinting at a communication problem.
And sure, sometimes those desires fall on deaf ears. “I don’t think he tried at all,” bewailed one woman quoted in the piece, recalling a hookup from her years at Brown University (let’s be better than that here at Penn, boys).
But having an attentive and pleasing partner still doesn’t guarantee an orgasm, and by equating orgasm with enjoyment during sex, there’s a dangerous notion that if a woman says, “I’m not going to come tonight,” then her partner has license to ignore her pleasure altogether.
Ojeda-Sague was ruffled by the Times’ take on hooking up, noting that, “I don’t exactly think the orgasm is what we should look at for judging equality in a sexual experience.”
Sexual satisfaction comes from many channels, and orgasm is just one way to determine pleasure. When it comes to sex, it’s about the journey, not the destination.
Arielle Pardes is a College senior from San Diego. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her @pardesoteric. “The Screwtinizer” appears every Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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