How "sex tips for girls" are ruining sex

Is letting someone lick Nutella off your nipples really so different from ‘lie back and think of England’? Or are they just different ways of going through the motions?

Have you ever seen anyone having sex? And we mean actual sex, where at least one of the participants has cellulite, and oral more often produces jaw ache than cataclysmic mutual orgasms. One of us once caught a neighbour in the act. We say ‘caught’, but the circumstances surrounding the scene imply that our witnessing of said act was entirely intentional. We’re talking kitchen table, curtains wide open, house lit up like Blackpool pleasure beach - a delicately staged performance, in other words, as opposed to an accidental act of voyeurism on our part. The couple wanted us to see their Tuesday night session by the colander. And boy, did we all see.

The word ‘performance’ is key here. The randy couple living opposite knew that everyone was watching them getting jiggy with it in their kitchen, and behaved accordingly. Thus the (un?)fortunate inhabitants of a particular street in Finsbury Park were treated to the full shebang: hair grabbing, theatrical moaning, arse gyrating - the kitchen table received the humping of its life. In fact, the female part of this magical experience behaved with such enthusiasm that it really can’t have been necessary for the male to be there at all.

Anyone with a shred of sexual experience (and we’re talking the kind of rudimentary knowledge that can easily be gained from a quick teenage fumble behind the youth club bins) can distinguish spontaneous shagging from amateur dramatics: we all know the difference, whether we like it or not.

And as much as a well-planned - and expertly executed - carnal production may well do it for the Finsbury Park exhibitionists as well as a fair few others in the world, it’s not quite as convenient as a night in with a hot chocolate and a cheeky finger. Truth be told, the fingering over a warm beverage is way more spontaneous as well. So why is it that nowadays, we are increasingly encouraged to adopt the theatricality of porn and incorporate it into (‘improve’) our own sex lives?

Women’s magazines are especially to blame in this regard. They tell us, weekly and in slightly different ways, that the way to spice up our love lives is through role play, lap dancing, and double-ended plastic dildos. ‘Make his fantasy become reality!’ they scream - for it is, more often than not, his fantasy, or so we’re told.

How beneficial all this play-acting is to men remains something of a mystery - and nine times out of ten, they would probably find the truth behind the reason you introduced a seven-foot pole to the bedroom horribly disconcerting. After all, Harry wasn’t overjoyed by Sally’s demonstrably fake public orgasm; even last generation’s men were baffled by the things that women did to ‘spice up their sex lives’ without actually enjoying themselves any more than they previously did.

A couple of issues ago, a confused young man wrote in to Cosmopolitan, questioning their sex tip culture. ‘What’s wrong with a bit of a oral sex and then the missionary position?’ he asked, which turned out to be the equivalent of walking in on a pride of feasting hyenas and asking why they don’t give vegetarianism a try. He was told by the ‘professionals’ on the magazine’s sex tips panel, in no uncertain terms, that he would have to work harder should he want to truly please a woman.

The reply to his perfectly innocent question was an unequivocal ‘that’s just not good enough’. Poor lamb. Just for the record, Brett, 21, from St Albans (or whatever your name was): we’re with you. Cunnilingus followed by sex seems like a thoroughly enjoyable Tuesday evening activity - if everyone’s still cumming, don’t tear yourself apart that it was due to your tongue rather than the latest vibrating cock ring.

There’s a crucial difference between encouraging sexual experimentation amongst women as a form of empowerment, and telling us that we should be re-enacting a strip club in our bedrooms every night. The former involves an element of truth-seeking, of body confidence building and laying positive foundations for relationships in the future - what is it that I want, and, equally, what doesn’t work for me at all? – while the latter is basically a group of mainly female journalists trying desperately to second guess what men want.

Much of the so-called information that they sell is derived from pornography, fatally ignoring the distinction between porn’s fantasy land and Real Life Sex that men (and women) actually want to partake in. The unbelievable element is one of the things that draws an avid viewer to porn, just as we accept that chick lit fairytales are unrealistic and the likelihood of a Batman-style vigilante popping up to save Stoke Newington from mobile phone snatchers is sadly quite low.

In other words, a solid dollop of common sense will tell you that watching porn and shagging someone you really fancy are two very different activities. It’s when someone tries to blur the two that the whole thing becomes unnatural, staged, and frankly confusing for all involved. Sex becomes pre-meditated, an activity planned with military precision: ‘I need you to be at home on time this evening, because we’re doing spanking.’ And how many plastic implements do you need, really, when we’ve all been blessed with perfectly adequate genitalia for the act?

That’s not to say that donning a wig and pretending to be strangers who have just met doesn’t do it for some people every now and then. It’s when the assumption that it does it for everyone, all the time - that every sexual encounter should be mediated by pornographic shenanigans, and as such needs to be calculated, arranged, and ultimately worried about - that it starts to look less like freedom and more like a sexual circus. Before you know it, you’re hanging upside down from a trapeze every Monday after work and looking at your watch out the corner of your eye while he tries to kick start your ‘squirty flower’. It just sounds like so much effort.

Perhaps it was inevitable that sex would become just another form of labour, that we would all begin to bandy around phrases like ‘erotic capital’, and that our most intimate of activities would come to be defined through consumption and performance. But if enjoying each other’s bodies at a leisurely pace when you’re just plain knackered is seen as a bit of a sexual failure, it feels like we might have taken a wrong turn somewhere on the way to Liberation Town and ended up at Surrealville.

Because really, is letting someone lick Nutella off your nipples really so different nowadays from ‘lie back and think of England’? Or are they just different ways of going through the motions?

Cosmopolitan promises to destroy "sex myths".

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

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Jeremy Corbyn's fans must learn the art of compromise

On both sides of the Atlantic, democracy is threatened by a post-truth world. 

Twenty years ago, as a new and enthusiastic Labour MP, I wrote an article for The Observer in praise of spin. I argued that if citizens are to be properly informed and engaged in their democracy, politicians - and in particular governments - have a duty to craft their messages carefully and communicate them cogently. It was a controversial notion then but less so now that we have entered the era of post-truth politics. In the old days, we used to "manage" the truth. Now we have abandoned it. 

We’ve probably come further than we think, for when truth is discarded, reason generally follows. Without a general acceptance of the broad "facts" of any matter, there can be little basis for rational debate nor, therefore, for either the consensus or the respectful disagreement which should emerge from it. Without a commitment to truth, we are free to choose and believe in our own facts and to despise the facts of others. We are free too to place our faith in leaders who make the impossible seem possible. 

We condemn the dictatorships which deny their citizens the right to informed and open debate. But in our own societies, unreasoned and often irrational politics are entering the mainstream. 

The politics of unreason

In the UK, the Leave campaign blithely wedded brazen falsehood to the fantasy that Brexit would cure all ills – and millions of voters enthusiastically suspended their disbelief.  “We want our country back” was a potent slogan - but no less vacuous than the pledge to “make America great again” on which Donald Trump has founded his election campaign. On both sides of the Atlantic, people want to take back control they know they never had nor ever will.

Both campaigns have deliberately bypassed rational argument. They play instead to the emotional response of angry people for whom reason no longer makes sense. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, democracy’s critics have warned of the ease with which reason can be subverted and citizens seduced by the false oratory of charismatic leaders. Trump is just the latest in a long line of the demagogues they feared. He may not make it to the White House, but he has come a long way on unreasoning rhetoric - and where he leads, millions faithfully follow. He has boasted that he could commit murder on Fifth Avenue without losing votes and he may well be right.

But if Trump is extreme, he is not exceptional. He is a phenomenon of a populism of both right and left which has once more begun to challenge the principles of parliamentary democracy.

Democracy in decline

All over Europe and the United States, consumer-citizens are exasperated by democracy’s failure to meet their demands as fully and as fast as they expect. If the market can guarantee next day delivery, why can’t government? The low esteem in which elected politicians are held is only partly the consequence of their failings and failures. It is also evidence of a growing disenchantment with representative democracy itself. We do not trust our politicians to reflect our priorities. Perhaps we never did. But now we’re no longer prepared to acknowledge their unenviable duty to arbitrate between competing political, social and economic imperatives, nor ours to accept the compromises they reach - at least until the next election.

We have become protesters against rather than participants in our politics and, emboldened by hearing our chosen facts and beliefs reverberating around cyber space, have become increasingly polarised and uncompromising in our protest. 

The Trumpy Corbynites

Which brings us to Labour. Despite the obvious political differences between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump, there are striking similarities in the movements which have coalesced around them. For many of their supporters, they can simply do no wrong; each criticism provides further evidence of a corrupt establishment’s conspiracy against them; rivals, including those who share many of their beliefs, are anathematised; unbelievers are pursued across the internet; inconvenient facts are reinterpreted or ignored; rational, civil debate is shut down or drowned out. 

There are other similarities in these insurgencies: both mistake slogans for policies and mass rallies for popular support; both are overwhelming and quite possibly destroying their own parties – and both, ultimately, are movements without practical purpose.

Trump may give vivid expression to his followers’ grievances but, other than building a wall along the Mexican border, his plans for government are obscure. Similarly, while Corbyn and his supporters know what they’re against, they have not yet articulated a clear vision of what they’re for, much less how it can be achieved. For many of them, it is enough to be "anti-Blairite". 

But in disassociating themselves from a Labour prime minister’s mistakes, they are also dismissing their party’s achievements under his leadership. Their refusal to acknowledge the need for compromise may well enable them to avoid the pitfalls of government. But government’s potential to bring about at least some of the change they want does not come without pitfalls. In wanting it all, they are likely to end up with nothing.

The art of compromise

Democracy cannot be sustained simply by what passionate people oppose. And though movements such as Momentum have important roles to play in influencing political parties, they cannot replace them. Their supporters want to be right - and they often are. But they are rarely prepared to test their principles against the practical business of government. The members of political parties want, or should want, to govern and are prepared, albeit reluctantly, to compromise – with each other, with those they seek to represent, with events -  in order to do so. Parties should listen to movements. But movements, if they are to have any practical purpose, must acknowledge that, for all its limitations, the point of politics is power.

We have to trust that the majority of American voters will reject Donald Trump. But closer to home, if Labour is to have a future as a political force, Corbyn’s supporters must learn to respect the historic purpose of the Labour party at least as much as they admire the high  principles of its current leader. There isn’t long for that realisation to take hold.

In the UK as in the US and elsewhere, we need to rediscover the importance of common cause and the art of compromise in forging it. The alternative is a form of politics which is not only post-truth, post-reason and post-purpose, but also post-democratic. 

Peter Bradley is a former MP and director of Speakers' Corner Trust, a UK charity which promotes free speech, public debate and active citizenship.