Why can't we accept that women enjoy casual sex too?

According to an article in the New York Times, women only truly enjoy sex when they're in a long term relationship. But the piece appears to have a hidden agenda.

New Statesman
Max Whatley and Meg Zakreta watch pedestrians walk by as they lie in bed in a public artwork known as 'No Inhibition' in the window of the Blink Gallery. Image: Getty

According to the newest ground-breaking research appearing in the New York Times (as cited in an article by Natalie Kitroeff), women only get proper orgasms when they’re in long term relationships. Well jeez Louise, isn’t that just so incredibly convenient? All this time (read: in the last fifty years) women have been participating openly in hook-up culture and brazenly walking down aisles in white dresses on their wedding days without being proper, fully hymen-clad virgins, all in the name of pleasure and experimentation. And now science says that the silly slags haven’t even been having fun while they’re doing it. Time for a meek retreat into the world of formal courting for you, ladies – march right back into the Serious Relationship Only box with your tail between your legs (but not somebody else’s.)

Natalie Kitroeff’s piece starts off by way of an anecdote about Natasha Gadinsky, a woman who once had a one-night stand and didn’t achieve orgasm. Natasha ‘says she doesn’t have any regrets from her years in college,’ writes Kitroeff. ‘But the time she hooked up with a guy at Brown University does come close.’ And from this opening, which heavily and straightfacedly implies that one crap shag and absent orgasm could besmirch the entire experience of higher education for women, it’s all downhill. 

Despite the fact that many of us might have had much more traumatic orgasmic-failure experiences (an aborted wank when your mum suddenly walks in definitely scores higher in the humiliation stakes, surely), we’re all supposed to take Kitroeff’s article extremely seriously. At one point, she wheels out a 26 year old software technician (ironically, someone who is employed to push buttons the right way) who admits that he can’t bring himself to go through the whole embarrassing rigmarole of finding out what a woman he’s in the middle of having sex with actually wants: ‘with women he’s just met, he said, it can be awkward to talk about specific needs in the bedroom. “You’re practically strangers at that point.”’ (strangers who are rubbing their naked bits together for pleasure). But the awkward part is the chatting, rather than the sweaty, naked gyration thing. Gotcha.

But if you thought the software technician’s sexual manners were head-spinning, wait until you get to the views of Debra Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University. ‘She compared a hookup with having dinner at a friend’s house,’ Kitroeff informs us, quoting Herbenick as saying: ‘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.”’ 

But the thing is, you would be completely justified in a food-based, food-centric arrangement to demand from your host a particular amount of basil (bear with us.) If your only purpose for seeing your ‘friend’ and indeed the only basis of your relationship was the consumption of pesto, then you’d be perfectly entitled to stipulate specifics. Similarly, the booty call or casual shag is a sex-based, sex-centric arrangement between two people, and so, if anything, it can act as a vehicle for your wildest fantasies (sorry to go all Cosmo on you for a moment).  It is precisely for this reason that many women find one night stands and short-term casual flings a sexually liberating experience: not because an all pervasive ‘lad culture’ demands that they give the boys what they want, and not because they’re trying desperately to enjoy it when they don’t, but because they’re enjoying a space where they are free to experiment and make demands, no strings attached or relationship ramifications guaranteed. The willingness with which Kitroeff and her interviewees ignore this facet of women’s sexual experience makes for a patronising and horrendously conservative article that seems to do little more than to tell women to keep it in their pants while the boys sow their wild oats, and serves as an excellent example of how that bullshit sexual double standard still exists.

Despite decades of female testimony, the myth that women need romance and rose petals to get off, that they are somehow less sexual than men, still pervades the media. It’s a bit of an odd one, as most sexually active adults will know this not to be the case. While women who have only slept with their husbands are held up by right wing tabloids as curiosities to be admired and emulated, women who love sex and don’t mind too much who it’s with provided it’s good and it’s fun either don’t exist or are lying sluts. There are, of course, women out there who feel they have better sex when they are in a long term relationship, just as there are men, because, duh, people’s sexual desires and preferences don’t fit into conveniently constructed boxes. If that’s you, then that’s fine, though expect a knock on the door from a newspaper reporter pronto. And Natalie: if you ever want to write a truth-telling piece about the joys of casual sex, you know where we are. 

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