Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sex Advice Columns, and the Altar of the Orgasm

There is no right way to have sex. The only wrong way to have sex is when there is a lack of consent or capacity to consent. And there is no right way to conclude sex, either. No result which must be present. No script which must be followed. No specific actions necessary.

Which is why I get so incredibly upset at the advice some sex columns give. I know I've read similarly dismissive, condescending, or just plain off-topic columns from other writers before, but the latest in the mother/daughter Susie and Aretha Bright series over at Jezebel has set me off afresh. In part because, as some commenters pointed out, they don't really seem to pay attention to the attitude of the writers, or give advice that addresses the actual question.

But mainly, its because their response to a woman who is having anorgasmic sex and who wants to know how to go about telling her partner she's been faking it is that she is mistaken about her own enjoyment of the sex. That's right-- these two women (or one girl and one woman-- I have a hard time considering a dependant 19 year old in college to really be a "Woman" since it implies a certain attitude and responsibility, not just a certain age) think they know more about her experiences of sex than she does herself. Based on one letter. From a woman they've never met.

I'm sorry, but what?

Aretha questions why the letter, and so many others, begin with the author saying she has " great, wonderful, passionate sex!" My guess would be that the author of the letter wants to make sure the columnists know that the sex itself isn't the problem-- she doesn't ask a direct question, but its clear from her letter that her concern is that the lying is undermining the relationship.

Instead, Susie Bright takes another angle, and talks about the woman's lack of orgasms during sex:
"You think you're going to be happy this way for the rest of your life? No. You've been rationalizing and trying to "make do.""

Um, what? Look, its great to consider other possible issues that could be affecting the relationship-- and if they addressed that she might possibly be unhappy not having orgasms during sex, that would be one thing. But they didn't. Susie Bright made a blanket statement that essentially says that, because this woman isn't coming, she cannot stay happy with her sex life.

One of my big pet peeves is people worshipping at the altar of the almighty orgasms. It's up there with people who think straight sex is the only right sex, or that anal is the only right sex, or that oral always has to be tit-for-tat, or that everyone should give polyamory a try or that no one should give polyamory a try. Wait a minute... those all have a common theme. Oh! I get it! I don't like when people talk about sex in absolutes, and say that one certain method/outcome/style of sex is the right way to have sex! And it seems pretty damn clear that Susie Bright is advocating that the right way to have sex, is sex that has an orgasm in it.

There's a problem in that. There's.... actually, a pretty big problem in that. Not all people are capable of orgasm. What was that? Not everyone can come? But surely that just means that the partner is doing it wrong, or they're too tense, or they aren't kinky enough, or the need more sleep, or--

No.

Not everyone can come. Even when people can come, some people can only come from specific types of physical stimulations-- a vibrator, for example. Or some people can only come after a specific amount of time-- a half hour of focused stimulation, maybe. And for some people, even though orgasms are enjoyable, the effort that it takes to get there makes the enjoyment not worth the annoyance. There are plenty of people out there who find sex to be totally enjoyable without orgasm-- female and male, though its more common for a woman not to be able to come than it is a man-- something to do with the way our anatomy is arranged, I'd wager.

I absolutely hate when sex columnists tell their readers, essentially, that something is wrong with them-- and over something they can't really control, or don't want to change. Especially over something that is causing harm to no one, and something they might not have been troubled with before. If you have an enjoyable sex life, you shouldn't be ripped down because its missing some element that someone else finds essential for their sex life. You shouldn't be sending your readers the message that they, or their relationships, are defective-- they've probably gotten that from partners in the past. No matter how open you are, you should remember that this is a touchy area, and come at it with an attitude of openness, compassion, and a desire to really address the questions your reader asks, rather than giving them a lecture on something tangential.

The substance may be different, but the spirit seems the same as moralistic lectures that ask if if she really thinks she's going to be happy continuing to have sinful premarital sex.

If we wouldn't accept one from a sex columnist, why do we accept the other?


(((Some people might respond by asking if I think I could do better, or what I think they should have said, but I'd like to point out that my own abilities as a giver of sexual advice are completely irrelevant-- as someone who has only taken two courses on human sexuality (though I'm super excited about my sex and the law class this fall!), and someone who is only 24, I don't really think I'm qualified to give sex advice to stranger. But these women-- one of whom is 19 I remind you-- are holding themselves out as qualified. And yet, they come up terribly, terribly lacking.)))

[Edit-- the link to the column I'm discussing is here. I intended to link to it originally, but when I was making my edits Jezebel wasn't loading for me, one of my recurring problems. I figured it wasn't a big deal, since I normally have around 10 readers, most of whom I'd discussed the column with earlier in the day. I certainley had not expected to recieve a link from Susie Bright herself! a follow up post will be coming, addressing some of the responses to this post. Aug 9, 2009]


5 comments:

Anne said...

I haven't commented on your blog before, but have been reading for some time.

I think you're absolutely right.

I read the first two, or so, of their advice columns, but quickly decided that something didn't sit well with me.
I do not remember noticing such an egregious example of advice, but it does seem rather "fundamentalist", so to speak.

I'm glad you put words to this. Thank you.

Susie Bright said...

Amanda, Saw your blog post, which crystalized a lot of the Jezebel criticism of latest column. I shared it with my friends on FB, which is a much older demographic than the Jez group. And more mixed between men and women, "straight and gay."

Interesting response: http://bit.ly/SYKb6.

I don't know if you can see it unless you're my "friend," and I don't know your last name to ask you to be! But I certainly will accept a friend request from you if you'd like access to it. Or maybe the URL will just spring open on your computer; I hope so.

Susie

Rich T, Anderson said...

The only times I've been satisfied with sex without orgasm is when I have had an orgasm earlier in the day. I typically have trouble getting to another one.

Certainly, I am male and there are differences, but I think that there would be a level frustration building in anyone who had orgasm-less sex for two years or more.

A female friend of mine says this, "I feel that an orgasm isn't always necessary. But it would be disappointing to go that way repeatedly."

Peace,
Rich

Kylyssa Shay said...

I thought I'd point out that the Bright women didn't find this woman's story on a blog or run into someone on the street and give her their advice, un-asked-for. She wrote in to a sex advice column.

I can see where they might question her honesty with herself. She is habitually dishonest with her partner and makes rationalizations as to why in her letter.

I see her letter as her relationship maturing - she has grown to respect her partner more than her comfort level and wants to stop the lying - but only now. She wasn't being purposefully cruel in her dishonesty, she lied to herself in the first place by thinking it was better to lie than to explain. If she lied to herself about that, it seems reasonable to suspect she might be lying to herself about something else, especially if what she is claiming seems a bit questionable.

I noticed that the Brights did give advice on how to work on getting out of her pattern of dishonesty and what they thought she ought to do if she really was pleased with exclusively anorgasmic sex.

The suggestions on how to deal if she prefers not to have orgasms were in there.

Global Maket said...

I read that Post and got it fine and informative. Please share more like that...
http://www.johnnycassell.com/going-out-tips-best-chat-up-lines-to-use-on-a-night-out/