I know what you’re thinking: is this a trick question? Well, you’re wrong – value judgements being applied to sexual experience are certainly subjective, and very much based on gender, place, time and culture. I’m only going to explore sexuality and gender here, primarily through my own experience as a mature cis hetero woman. So that’s the disclaimer over with!
When first I began this online dating experiment, I despaired at ever finding a good sex partner again. Sometimes even now I read the tales woven by other wonderful female bloggers about sexuality and relationships (eg Back in Stillettos Again, Dater Analysis and Sex, Sensuality and Something Else) and I wonder what’s wrong with me. Or with my town, my country? My choices? Or even my luck!
In truth, which I have gleaned from hard-won experience and much thought, I suspect that there are numerous factors at play when it comes to fun between the sheets. My own choices when I started afresh as a frisky fortysomething likely skewed my success rates, when it comes to how I judge sexual success. Those choices started with fancying the young ones (cubs between 25 and 33) and not being very skilled or experienced at judging who might be a good bed partner.
For starters, if you have been in a monogamous partnership since you were a teenager and always pretty satisfied when it came to orgasms, you probably expect that the rest of society lives like that. But they certainly do not – it’s harrowing to read the stats about how few women enjoy sex in marriage, or even in dating, and when it comes to orgasm equality women don’t fare very well, as in many other areas of life.
The Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti quotes statistics suggesting that only 57% of women regularly climax with a partner, compared with at least 75% of men.
This data has been borne out many times over the last few decades, beginning with the ground-breaking book by Shere Hite in 1976, The Hite Report. I’m planning a whole article on what I learned from this book, coming up very soon! (For interested readers, here are a few articles I have found in Pamela Stephenson-Connelly’s sex advice column of The Guardian ‘I Can Only Orgasm With A Vibrator – And My Husband Isn’t Happy’, ‘I Rarely Orgasm With Sexual Partners’, ‘I’m 30 And Have Only Had One Orgasm During Penetrative Sex’)
The Good Sex spectrum
Let’s take a quick peek at my own success criteria for Good Sex. I guess, like everyone, I have my ideals and there’s a spectrum of how I’d rate a positive experience based on individual features such as how someone kisses, whether I like the way they smell, how physically attractive they are to me, and most of all, whether I feel a special ‘something’ for them. That’s not to say that I won’t try sex with someone if none of those boxes are ticked.
So, ideally on this spectrum of greatness, I could have a gazillion gut-wrenching orgasms but dislike their smell, or sloppy tongue or dry lips, or even their face or facial hair. If this is the case, I might want them to leave as soon as possible after sex.
In fact, one of my regular lovers is exactly like this – and he gives me the most intense and frequent orgasms of my life. I have learned, through experience and failure, that satisfying sex is not only the domain of the gorgeous or young. Said lover is mid-30s and what I would call unattractive, and yet he is sexually gifted, well hung and persistent. He will always give me at least one major orgasm, and he’s an intelligent person with good hygiene. In my book, that makes him both a rarity and a keeper.
Kiss me deeply and with heart
However, getting back to the issue of the spectrum of ‘good’ and judgement ideals we all hold, for me, the absolute number one is kissing.
To be in tune, with pheromones switched on and lips and tongues working in harmony is sublime, arousing and borderline spiritual. It has been said that kissing is more personal than intercourse. Things can go from ‘meh’ to ‘wow’ in seconds with a great kiss. Just look at what happened to me with my current ‘heart’ lover, E: which not to say he is was in any way ‘average’, but it was his kissing skills that got me melting into the sofa and wanting more.
Similarly, it was another young lover’s kissing tastes and our compatibility that made me fall for him, and the attraction lasted for just over two years, primarily based on kissing. When the kissing dropped away, I lost interest.
Unfortunately kissing is usually the first casualty in long-term relationships. Maybe truly amazing kissing simply cannot last beyond the honeymoon period?
That ‘weak at the knees’ feeling
Number 2 on the spectrum is pretty obvious – physical attraction. This encompasses a sense of curiosity in me to get to know this person better, and an openness – if not downright flirtatiousness – in them to get to know me. I’m not interested in being humiliated by someone who has no interest in me or who is rude or full of himself, all of which are major turnoffs for me. So, physical attraction that includes some positive pheromones, even if only hinted at during this early stage, is important but not essential. I’ve certainly met men who have ticked this box big time.
I’ve already shared a couple of those stories with you (this one about my first passionate kiss after marriage; this one about pheromones gone crazy and the one that got away; and this one about an explosive heart-body connection). For a long time, an attraction to nerdy shyboys ruled my choices, a double-edged sword that I’ve tried to put behind me after so very many bad experiences. More frank and intimate stories yet to come!
Physical attraction is ultimately personal and individual, but there are clearly universal standards or commonalities. In a recent article I quoted data showing that people considered attractive are more successful in dating, which is no great surprise. My particularly weaknesses are for dark hair, dark eyes, height, slimness, good teeth and a sensual mouth. However I am not a creature of habit and rarely stay true to my ideal type, plus I’m usually open to anyone whose appearance transgresses these boundaries provided they appeal to my other criteria listed here.
It’s also worth commenting that I don’t often meet men that I am genuinely attracted to. When I spent a couple of months on kik’s Match & Chat (which presents 100 new faces from around the world every day) I realised that I have more or less a 3% strike rate – this means that out of every 100 random male faces between 25 and 45 years old, I will only find about three who I find attractive enough to want to ‘tick’ or swipe right. This might be indicative of the dating pool and who happens to be single or looking at any given time.
Is it love? It might be!
Number 3 is the heart connection. I hesitate to mention this because my emotional response to a man is not related to how good the sex is, or has potential to be. In some ways, my emotional connection may indeed hinder sexual compatibility or openness. I am sometimes at my most sexual, passionate and exploratory when I don’t care what he thinks of me, and I don’t necessarily have to see him again.
I fervently hope, though, that I will get to experience an enduring heart connection with a man who fulfills numbers 4-6! I have also had strong emotional connections with men who were hopeless in bed, who only cared about their own pleasure, and who regularly hurt me out of incompetence or ignorance. So, I’m sure we all agree that loving and passionate feelings do not equal good sex.
It’s the attitude that counts
Number 4 on the spectrum of greatness is how keen they are to please me. I’d never have found this appealing (or in fact, noteworthy) when first I started dating, but getting explicitly back to the topic I’m exploring today, the reason why it’s such a turn on now is very much influenced by all the bad sex I’ve endured!
A willingness to step outside of their own mind/body and – even if it’s purely for their own enjoyment or their own ends – to give pleasure to their partner is an admirable and uncommon trait. At least in the world of online dating it’s rare, if not the world over.
Last Friday’s Bad Sex Experience (BSE) with tall-ish, good-looking mid-30s Simon is a case in point. It was our first time, although we’d met up for coffee once, and drinks and a long chat at his place the second time. He’d taken so long to kiss me then, that I’d needed to get home and so I left him with bedroom eyes and a lonely erection.
The third time we both knew what I was coming over for, and yet I still had to make the first move! Fair enough, I was his first encounter since his marriage ended a year ago, but I am talking about someone who is so passionless and incapable of expressing any form of emotional life or reading social cues that once again, that I really had no idea of his attraction to me or whether he wanted to proceed.
After a short period of awkward conversation, I asked him for a kiss. It was pleasant but distinctly lacking in fervour or expertise and so I asked him to show me his bedroom! (Yes, I was that blunt; I didn’t have long and I wanted to cut to the chase). Within 15 minutes he was done, leaving his condom inside of me after deflation post (his) orgasm. (Eugh, I hate that). The entire BSE encompassed undressing me (I undressed him), some rather forgettable breast fondling and, of course, immediate penetration after I’d given him some oral pleasure. I barely had time to register his smaller-than-average cock being inside of me before he’d climaxed and I was wondering if that was it. It certainly was it; he wasn’t the kind of man who’d turn to me and offer me some pleasure or even think to ask whether I might like an orgasm too.
I was briefly involved with a man right on the cusp of choosing to be celibate for a while, mid 2017. He was the trigger, but that’s another story. Dimitri was not a good match at all, except for the fact that I had an almost primordial reaction to him. Even before we met I got the tingles and was passionately attracted to him – and he wasn’t even ‘my type’!
He was a stocky, tall Greek mid-30s train driver who’d come from a vitriolic breakup and was part-time dad to three young children. We messaged heatedly for a week and then for the first time ever, I agreed to let him come straight to my house for our first date. I’d seen him on several videos and at least I was satisfied that he was the guy in his photos. However, that was a risky move and I’m thankful it didn’t go pear-shaped.
Strangely, in person we had the same magnetic physical attraction and within half an hour, I had him in my bed. The afternoon of sexual intimacy was incredible largely because of one factor – his vocal adoration of me. It was simply exhilarating to be with a man who was so enormously turned on by me, who groaned and whispered in my ear constantly how sexy and desirable he found me; who stroked and kissed my face over and over again, telling me how much he loved it and every component of it! A man who worshipped my breasts and my body, calling me beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. And a man who held me close for hours, and who needed to be pressed against me at all times.
Sex with him was a powerful experience fuelled by the chemistry between us and the build-up of desire and waiting during the preceding week.
None of these behaviours and expressions of his ardour were likely to have been sustainable, and indeed many would irritate me if they became a pattern. Ultimately it didn’t matter because I ended the fledgling relationship when he expected me to be faithful to him despite only seeing him one day a fortnight, and yet he didn’t feel those rules equally applied to him.
So it’s a partner’s attitude that speaks volumes – if he regards me as a sexual being worthy of pleasure, it’s not just equal – it’s wonderful. If he sees me as a passive receptacle for his sperm, I’d rather pass. Sadly, it’s not always possible to distinguish between these two polarities before sex.
But can we talk and have a laugh?
Numbers 5 and 6 would probably be ease of communication and the match of our personalities, and perhaps factors such as shared humour or ‘stuff in common’, including whether or not we’ve had a good rapport while messaging, and the length of time we’ve ‘known’ each other.
There’s one young guy I’ve been chatting with on and off (his name is Kale) for more than 18 months including a period of intense emotional sharing and sexting. We both feel a certain closeness because of that, and yet in person he’s shy and coltish as a virgin, and I struggle to find anything to talk about with him. We have nothing in our lives that crosses over and we’re worlds apart in education, age and experience. However, we’re both blatantly attracted to each other and I eagerly hope that one day I will get to have him in my bed!
When all of these factors I’ve listed here combine it’s what I would call a recipe for exceptional sex. I have yet to experience that divine combination post marriage, but I certainly hope to do so very soon! The closest I have come to physically satisfying sex has not ticked the ‘emotional’ connection boxes. I have two wonderfully competent, passionate and giving men in my life right now but they are definitely in the FWB camp and I can easily admit that I feel nothing resembling ‘love’ for them. I’m sure they feel the same way – we enjoy each other’s bodies when we get the opportunity. We respect each other, we cuddle and chat if we have time, but it’s the sex that brings us together.
And I get an orgasm every time – which is important to me.
Orgasm equality – is it a thing?
In fact, most men expect an orgasm and will have one regardless of the circumstances. Imagine how different sex would be if the tables were turned, and men could never rely on being stimulated to orgasm, and women climaxed easily and without much care or attention from their partner!
For the first time since being in a sexually satisfying marriage, I’ve had to think about issues such as equal rights to pleasure. The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti’s article Women Deserve Orgasm Equality argues that sexual satisfaction is a feminist issue. “Sexuality is a core part of human experience – why shouldn’t we demand equal orgasms for all?” She argues that, “for straight people in our society, sex is frequently built around male tastes and desires.”
Esther Perel makes a strong point in the context of the deficiency model applied to women’s (supposed) reduced libido in a relationship that, “in order to want sex, it has to be sex that is worth wanting.” Bloody good point, as an awful lot of sex I’ve been subjected to is eminently forgettable and definitely NOT worth seeking! The same could be said for the millions of women around the world who endure bad, selfish sex as a marital chore.
In 12 Reasons Why There’s Orgasm Inequity (And No, It’s Not That Women Are “Harder to Please), Suzannah Weiss mounts a convincing argument that men are socialised to buy into the myth that women either aren’t as sexual as they are, or that their sexuality is not as important.
“The view that women are hard to please maintains what sociologists call the orgasm gap… These statistics may appear to confirm the stereotype that women’s bodies are more complicated, but there are other forces at work.”
According to Weiss, these other forces include 12 pervasive female sexuality myths that influence both men and women: that people believe that women are less sexual, that pornography privileges male pleasure, the myth of ‘blue balls’ (build up of sexual tension), that there is more information available about pleasuring men than women, that hook-up culture privileges male pleasure, that sex education skirts the topic of pleasure (especially female pleasure), that self-evaluative thoughts can disrupt women’s arousal process, that sexual trauma can impede arousal and orgasm, that more women than men are on anti-depressants, that women are discouraged from asking what they want, that the normative definition of sex isn’t optimal for many women’s orgasms, and that people think the orgasm gap is biological. (Weiss has a treasure trove of articles on female sexuality.)
I must say, fervently, that I totally agree with every single of these myths – especially that women climax from penetration alone!
Each of these ‘myths’ is backed by research and social-cultural examples. Some of the research presented is astounding – for instance that almost a third of female undergrad American survey subjects didn’t know about the clitoris. In fact, according to Weiss, a higher percentage of male survey subjects were aware of its existence and significance than women! (For more see Lisa Wade, Emily Kremer, Jessica Brown ‘The Incidental Orgasm: The Presence Of Clitoral Knowledge And The Absence Of Orgasm For Women’ Pub Med and Research Gate accessed 24 July 2017)
Through the subject of pornography and its influences on coupling and dating in general, Weiss succinctly points out that female pleasure is an ‘added extra’ rather than important in its own right.
“Most woman-focused orgasms depicted in porn are merely incidental events on the path to a man’s pleasure….All in all, the message is clear: It’s imperative that a man gets off, and if a woman manages to in the process, props to him, but it’s just an added bonus.”
When it comes to hook-up (or one-off) sexual experiences, one man in a study boasted, “I’m all about making her orgasm.” When asked to clarify the word ‘her’, he added, “Girlfriend her. In a hookup her, I don’t give a shit.” (Elizabeth Armstrong quoted in Hooking Up and Opting Out: Negotiating Sex in the First Year of College, Lisa Wade & Caroline Heldman DOI:10.18574/nyu/9780814772522.003.0006 accessed 24 July 17)
I suspect that this is the reason why my own experiences, especially with cubs, has been so patchy.
Lisa Wade’s fascinating article The Orgasm Gap: The Real Reason Women Get Off Less Often Than Men and How to Fix It argues that, “Freudian echoes, anatomical mischaracterizations and gender stereotypes are part of the logic naturalizing the orgasm gap, but there is nothing natural about it.”
(Remember it was Sigmund Freud who said that the only genuine orgasms are ‘vaginal’ and that ‘clitoral orgasms’ are infantile and harmful. Fuck you, Freud! Thanks for messing up at least two generations of women!)
Much like Suzannah Weiss, Wade – an associate professor who holds a PhD in sociology and a masters in human sexuality – argues that rather than being driven by biology, women’s low rate of orgasm relative to men (roughly 1:3) is a function of social forces that we imbibe as citizens.
“For one, we often bifurcate the sexual experience in line with gender norms: men are sexual (they experience desire) and women are sexy (they inspire desire). The focus on men’s internal wants and sensations also draws our attention to his satisfaction. Thus his orgasm, but not necessarily hers, becomes a critical part of what must happen for a sexual encounter to be successful and fulfilling. This is part of why intercourse – a sexual act that is strongly correlated with orgasm for men – is the only act that almost everyone agrees counts as ‘real sex’, whereas activities that are more likely to produce orgasm in women are considered optional foreplay.”
Wade closes her article by summarising that the privileging of male pleasure over women’s is at the root of orgasm inequity.
“Both men and women tend to buy into these messages, neutralizing and justifying the orgasm gap.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ll give the last word on this topic to Suzannah Weiss: “Orgasm inequity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When men believe that women’s bodies are an impossible puzzle, they don’t try to solve it. Neither do women who are taught that their own pleasure is inaccessible.”
You might recall me quoting The Sex Myth author Rachel Hills. She agrees that our beliefs about sex and our resulting behaviour are influenced by social and cultural forces. It is this culture that relentlessly tells us that ‘everyone else is having more and better sex than you are. Worse, that ‘if you’re not sexually desirable, or aren’t having sex, then you might as well curl up and die’. (Read about her book here.)
This applies to men and women. While women may feel powerless or ignored, men may feel less potent and fulfilled if they can’t have regular sexual activity and touch.
I could write pages and pages about all the BSEs I’ve had – the inept kissing that led to a quick breast fondle then instant penetration followed very soon by his orgasm; the rough or jabbing fingers on my delicate lady parts or even the probing and painful tongue on my clitoris without sufficient warming up or arousal; the seemingly universal expectation that the mere sight of a penis (and certainly the insertion of one) is enough to produce a smouldering orgasm in me; and the countless times I’ve endured clumsy stimulation that ceases just as I’m beginning to feel like I might possibly be capable of an orgasm if he maintains it. Indeed, never knowing if your partner is going to suddenly stop or get bored is a common anxiety for women – it leads to an inability to relax and become engrossed in sexual intimacy if you are constantly fearful that your road to pleasure may encounter an imminent stop sign (or the driver will run out of fuel).
There is another condition I have experienced too many times that I have lost count – erectile dysfunction. Whether it be deflation at inopportune moments, premature ejaculation, or the inability to get or keep an erection, I have experienced a lot of it, much to my dismay. I believe that porn culture, or the pornification of sexuality is largely to blame, although I’m willing to be corrected. I know there are other factors involved, but when this has become almost a pandemic amongst Millennial young men, I start to believe that the assertions repeatedly made about the physical, emotional and cerebral effects of porn are on the mark. I will come back to this topic here in this blog, because it’s controversial and critically important.
Truth is, I have forgotten at least 80% of the men I’ve had sex with on this online dating journey. I have no wish to remember all those people who have disappointed me, left me unsatisfied, angry, resentful or just plain jaded. Thankfully, sex is also about the joys of touch and intimacy, and next time I will shine my analytical eye on that delightful topic, including some juicy detail about E’s lengthy oral pleasuring of me that lasted a full hour! Sometimes I am a lucky woman!
PS: I would love to read your comments about the BSEs you’ve experienced!
Here’s a late edit to this article. I just found this article that takes the issue of bad sex even further. The female price of male pleasure
And here’s another late addition – this one is by the sex journalist legend Susannah Weiss The Problem With ‘Feminist’ Sex Products