What Women Want (the "Grown and Sexy" Version)
This year, during my “Zoom birthday” catch up with my two best friends, (one male, one female), we started to have an interesting discussion about what women want sexually. This was certainly not the first time we have had this discussion but, we were now having a different type of conversation since I have had additional training in sex therapy. I had been planning to write this post for a number of weeks but, I wasn’t sure about its focus until this conversation with my two treasured friends.
For a lot of men, there are some interesting, (albeit often wrong), assumptions about female sexuality and what women do and do not find pleasing sexually. From numerous conversations I have had with men both over the years as a friend and most recently as a therapist in a work context, it seems that society has made them ill-equipped to “rise to the occasion” in an effective and relevant way to provide “fireworks” to their female partners. There are so many myths and misunderstandings about female sexuality that it would take an entire PhD dissertation to address them all. However, since I have no aspirations to acquire a PhD, nor do I have the time to write an eternally long blog post on the topic, I have chosen instead to clarify a few common points of misinformation.
For many people, there is a misconception that women seek sex as part of a relationship. This is not true. This is a function of society’s conditioning of women to centre male sexual needs while pushing their own to the periphery. In the period of time prior to the economic independence of women, survival relied on deferring to the male as to challenge the status quo and to indulge our own desires meant risking financial ruin. Flash forward to modern times when women in more democratic countries have far greater independence and autonomy as well as access to birth control and we see where the infidelity gap has started to close. In a recent article, findings from a study with a huge sample size showed that although 20% of men surveyed reported that they have cheated, 13% of women reported infidelity. This 2018 article reported that among 18-29-year-old Americans surveyed, the women were more slightly likely to be guilty of engaging in sexual activity outside their primary relationships and, in women in their 60’s, there is a report of the highest rate of infidelity among women over the lifespan.
Given the fact that in societies like Jamaica where the term “jacket” exists as part of the language, it stands to reason that women in Jamaica are not inclined to be monogamous. A “jacket” is the term given to a child who is being raised by a man who does not know that he is raising another man’s offspring. Such a child is the product of infidelity. The US Embassy now asks that persons filing for their relatives to immigrate to the USA do a voluntary DNA test to determine conclusively that a biological relationship exists given the prevalence of the jacket phenomenon. This devastating information became one Jamaican man’s reality when he found out that neither of his children were biologically his as explained here.
A major deterrent to women cheating on male partners is the threat of intimate partner violence resulting from the discovery of their infidelity. Women are clearly not the “frigid” or “eternally monogamous and faithful” figures society would have us believe. They are capable of seeking sex for perfectly individualistic reasons just like men do. In fact, the idea of a sexually liberated woman who celebrates her sexuality has existed for centuries. Even in the 1930’s, the bawdy lyrics of jazz singer Lucille Bogan communicate in raunchy honesty the capacity of women to enjoy sex. Cardi B and Meghan Thee Stallion’s W.A.P., Lady Saw’s Heels On, Spice’s entire discography and those of a majority of female dancehall artistes in Jamaica are all examples of women expressing their sexual preferences and prowess in ways that are far from frigid, conservative or shy.
Up until recently, female sexuality was presented both in medicine and psychology as a deviation from “normal sexual response”, also known as MALE sexual response. Women were supposed to experience “mature orgasms” from penile penetration and that most women do not enjoy sex anyway. One particularly misguided person who pushed this view was one of the founders of modern psychotherapy, Sigmund Freud.
However, the truth is that women possess the only organ in the human animal devoted exclusively for pleasure. The clitoris has over 8,000 nerve endings and has no actual reproductive function. It exists solely for sexual pleasure. Many people assume that women are “broken” if they do not orgasm from penetration however, this is simply an uneducated and patriarchal view of sexuality that has no basis in actual medical fact. Sex researchers know that approximately 85% of women never orgasm from penetration alone and that in order for most women to orgasm, clitoral stimulation is essential.
This brings us to the second misconception about female sexuality and anatomy; that the clitoris is an external organ. The truth is, modern technology has been able to rubbish this idea and shows that the clitoris is much larger than previously assumed. This video gives a more accurate picture (with narration), of the size and position of the entire clitoral organ. Since most women do not climax from penetration but from clitoral stimulation, men need to be encouraged to de-centre the focus on their phalluses and direct attention instead to where it actually would do the most good in providing pleasure to the other party. Using fingers to manually stimulate the external and internal parts of the clitoris can be very pleasurable. Most women, (notice I did not say all), find cunnilingus to be intensely pleasurable because of its focus strictly on female pleasure. For a more in-depth look at this act, here is an unlikely but excellent source of information.
I have heard many people suggest that the sure-fire way to know if a woman is sexually aroused is to check for vaginal moisture. There is also a myth that the degree to which she is aroused is directly proportional to how much fluid is produced. Unfortunately, this is simply not true. Many women experience what we call nonconcordance which is essentially that it is possible to have a physiological reaction to sexually relevant information whether one finds it arousing or not. Thankfully, people like sex educator Emily Nagoski explains this and other points of misinformation in her book Come as you Are. She also gave an excellent Ted Talk about this and other myths about sex based on science which you can access here. One of the important points she makes is that the woman with whom you are engaging in sex is perfectly capable of telling you whether or not she is aroused. It is absolutely your job as her sexual partner to listen to her. Please do not assume you know better than she does about what is going on for her. Any attempt on your part to convince her is coercive and wrong. A man worthy of respect will know that consent is ongoing and will respect the other party’s right to say no at whatever point she feels she wants to.
Nagoski also encourages the use of lube of which I am a firm proponent, as tiny lacerations can occur during sexual activity and generally, lube keeps everything nice and slippery and cuts down on the chances of any damage or discomfort. It is by no means a failure of the male to arouse her sufficiently for penetration to occur, it is simply a function of biology which changes over the life span. Women who are post-menopausal can turn to lubricants made specifically with their low estrogen levels in mind as women continue to engage in sex well into their eighties. I hope this overturns the idea that women “dry up and die” sexually. Most women want to engage in sex as comfortably as possible.
Finally, we need to stop using male sexual response cycles as the “norm” for all human beings. It isn’t. The male sexual response cycle begins with desire, progresses to arousal, continues to orgasm and then there is a period of resolution. For a number of years, women were pathologized for not adhering to this model. My good friend Stefanie Krasnow, in her Masters thesis, entitled What Helps, Hinders and What is Wished For Regarding Female Sexual Desire, lays out beautifully the idea that female sexual desire tends to be responsive rather than spontaneous. Simply put, if she is turned on, she will feel desire.
Krasnow explains that the current body of literature has shifted to include how environment, culture and context also affect female sexuality. Her study found that among the numerous elements that helped promote sexual desire playfulness, seduction, flirtation and the feeling of safety to explore sexual expression were mentioned by participants. They also mentioned that the kind of partner they were with impacted their desire. The more egalitarian a partner was, and the degree to which the woman felt he was attempting to better both himself and the relationship were also factors in increasing the sexual interest of the woman. Women ultimately want a man who pulls his weight and does not become complacent or childlike in his relationship with her. No one wants to have sex with someone acting like a son or requiring her to take on an unreasonable domestic and emotional workload.
In short, women want to be respected and seen as complete individual human beings rather than a homogeneous half of the population. Every woman is different so the best way to know what a woman wants is to ask that woman in particular. What works for one woman may be revolting to another. Please be prepared to alter your “game” based on the person with whom you are “playing”. You are never too old to learn new tricks.