Does feminism make women bad at sex? Some “sexperts” would say yes, if being bad at sex means expecting to get pleasure out of it. In a blog for Yahoo’s lifestyle section, Dr. Pam Spurr, author of Sensational Sex, warns of the dangers of equality in the bedroom. “In the past few decades, women have learnt that orgasms, like voting and equal pay, are their right,” says Spurr. “This tide of female emancipation has led to a ‘princess-and-the-pea syndrome’: her ‘pea’ gets all the attention, while everything else gets sidelined… The pea’s demands will eclipse those of your penis.”
Like Dr. Spurr, maybe some feel horrified and intimidated at the prospect of empowered women seeking out and expecting sexual pleasure from their partners, but in reality, feminism and good sex are not at all mutually exclusive. One can even lead to the other, if you use feminism to examine your own sexual ideas and interests.
To be clear, having feminist views does not automatically make you “good at sex,” whatever being good at sex means to you or your partners. You can be bad at sex and also be [insert literally any descriptor here]. You can be good at sex without identifying as a feminist, although I’d argue that you cannot be good at sex if you are unable to respect others’ boundaries.
However, feminism can inspire us to challenge myths and stereotypes that can make sex scary, stressful, or boring. Thinking critically about gender allows us to abandon tired and outdated ideas about What Men Want and What Women Want and what they “should” do with each other in bed. Here’s what feminism can teach us about sex.
For decades now, feminists have been challenging dominant views of sex as something men must try to “get” from women, who can agree to “give” it by lying back and thinking of England. Feminism also challenges the idea that anyone of any gender ever “owes” anyone of any gender sex (though, usually, it’s women who are presumed to owe it to men, perhaps in return for a paid restaurant bill or a committed relationship).
Moreover, thanks to feminism, more and more people are starting to understand that consent is not just about “no means no,” but also about “yes means yes.” Being good in bed isn’t just about knowing the right things to do, but also about knowing when not to do anything at all. If you choose “YES, PLEASE” rather than “Ok, that’s fine” as the standard for consent, you’ll be a better partner, not to mention a better person.
2) What you’re into doesn’t have to depend on your gender.
A lot of people have anxieties about whether or not what they want sexually is “appropriate” for someone of their gender. Some women worry about being too dominant or proactive about initiating sex—or about enjoying it “too much.” Some men worry about being too submissive, or about not wanting sex “enough.”
I’ve had partners and friends say things like, “I’m a man, I can’t let someone tie me up” or “I shouldn’t be initiating sex with him.” Feminism can help us make sense of why we feel that some desires and interests are so “wrong,” and it can help us gradually abandon those knee-jerk responses.
Of course, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it. But if you do want to do it, you should never have to feel guilty or abnormal just because your desires don’t conform to gender roles. Sex is a lot more fun when you don’t have to measure yourself against invisible, constantly-shifting standards like “Real Man” or “Real Woman.”
3) Sex doesn’t have to follow a pre-written script.
As soon as you start questioning some of our dating and sexual scripts—Why does the guy have to make the first move? What if there are two guys or two girls?—the rest of them start to fall apart pretty quickly. Why do things have to proceed in the same pattern, from kissing to touching to oral sex to penetrative sex, every time? What if oral sex feels more intimate than penetrative sex to you? What if you’re not interested in penetrative sex at all? What if having an orgasm isn’t necessarily the goal every time? What if “finishing” means “feeling happily exhausted and satiated,” not “having an orgasm”? What if “sex” means “having fun with each other’s bodies,” not “putting a penis into a vagina?”
Not all of those possibilities will appeal to everyone, but all of them will appeal to someone, someone who previously thought that there’s only one way to “have sex.” Being able to imagine many different ways to have sex with someone means knowing that many more ways to be good in bed.
4) Safety is everyone’s responsibility.
In traditional scripts, it’s the woman’s responsibility to worry about things like birth control and protection. Women pressure their male partners to use condoms, women set boundaries about contraceptive use (hopefully, if and when they feel comfortable and safe doing so), women let men know what can and cannot cause pregnancy and how to tell when pregnancy may have occurred, and women bear the brunt of the financial, emotional, and logistical stress of acquiring birth control and dealing with unplanned pregnancy.
It’s probably easy for some men to assume that this is how things should be. After all, less for them to worry about, right? In fact, entrusting your sexual health and continued non-fatherhood to someone else can be terrifying, anxiety-provoking, and ultimately not very wise. Feminism upends these expectations by challenging the gender roles that create them. When men are encouraged to learn about how the reproductive system works and how STIs and pregnancy actually happen, and to take as much responsibility for their prevention as their female partners do, they can end up feeling safer and more comfortable—which means better sex for everyone.
The good news is that thinking through and challenging your own views about gender and sex is something anyone can do. The bad news—or bad news to some people, I suppose—is that it’s not as simple as declaring yourself a feminist and waiting for all the folks of your preferred gender(s) to come flocking. You have to actually do the work.
Of course, the most important thing about being “good in bed” is that it requires communicating with your partner—asking them what they like, letting them know what you like, making sure they know that it’s okay to say no to you.
By breaking down the gendered scripts we typically use to initiate and negotiate sex, feminism reminds us that this type of communication is necessary and that nothing can be taken for granted. That just because a woman takes her clothes off doesn’t mean that she wants to have sexual intercourse. That just because a man is interested in men doesn’t mean he’s interested in anal sex. That just because someone is masculine doesn’t mean they want to be sexually dominant.
“Talk to them” isn’t nearly as interesting and satisfying a suggestion as “Make them better at sex with this one weird trick,” but it certainly works better.