Was It Fun for You?

Edit: This is a piece about cis women who have sex with cis men. Other configurations may vary. Also, wording has been changed to reflect the fact that some people do not need to orgasm to enjoy sex.

Even among the more gender-role liberated, there is an understanding that there is some sort of ugly “truth” in thinking that women want love while men want sex. Everyone knows that women experience less sexual desire than men. Also, there was that one study that showed that men say yes to casual sex and women say no. Science!

Or not?

Once upon a time, in Western society, men thought that female sexuality was uninhibited. They observed the fact that they were tired and spent after orgasming with women while the women could continue to have sex and drew the conclusion that women were swirling vortexes of scary, scary libido, the witches. Indeed, in some places in the world, women are mutilated under those same auspices.



Sometime in the history of the Western world, it was decided that women — or, at least, the virtuous ones worthy of being wed — were not each an endless cauldron of hot passion, but, instead, were frigid. Even in the era when that belief became popular thanks to Freud, however, opinions were mixed. Somehow, in the end, frigidity won out over insatiability.



Everyone knows that ladies cannot control themselves and always crave sex. Oh, wait, they actually don’t want sex at all. Because they can’t be human and, you know, vary in their sexual tastes from individual to individual and situation to situation.

Most reasonable folks would nod along to the sincerity and not the sarcasm in that last bit. Where it goes wrong is the popular perception that women can just snap their fingers and get sex with men in the way that men get sex with women.  While it could be true that a cold approach for a sexual encounter is more likely to be successful if a woman propositions a man than in the opposite case, the cause for this disparity can easily enough be explained in the difference in what a random one-off romp mean for a man versus for a woman.

The presumption behind most casual sexual encounters between men and women is that penile-vaginal intercourse is the standard, while cunnilingus is more on the optional side. Given that penetrative intercourse isn’t what causes the vast majority of women to experience orgasm, there is an orgasm gap. Even if orgasm isn’t what makes sex pleasurable for a woman, because of the penile-vaginal focus of most heterosexual casual sexual encounters, women find that most casual partners are not terribly sexually skilled.



If something isn’t likely to be fun for someone, why would she bother to do it?

To generalize, then, casual sex usually means at least some sexual pleasure for men, so they would logically be more likely to both seek and accept it. On the other hand, it often means frustration for women. Given that alone, compounded with how much riskier sex is on the vaginal end, women would be irrational indeed to approach casual sex like most men do. As it turns out, when assured that they will actually enjoy an encounter, women are more likely to say yes.

In other words, if men who have sex with women are interested in more of it with more of them, sex needs to stop deserving its reputation for being so dude-centric.

 Look out for my follow-up piece on the social stigma associated with female sexuality.

Heina Dadabhoy

Heina Dadabhoy [hee-na dad-uh-boy] spent her childhood as a practicing Muslim who never in her right mind would have believed that she would grow up to be an atheist feminist secular humanist, or, in other words, a Skepchick. She has been an active participant in atheist organizations and events in and around Orange County, CA since 2007. She is currently writing A Skeptic's Guide to Islam. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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  1. Interesting and thought-provoking article, but there was a small mistake you might want to fix:
    “there is some sort of ugly “truth” in women want sex, men want love thinking”
    Pretty ironic mistake, considering the subject.

    Relatedly, I remember doing an excerpt of a play years ago, in History class. Basically, a group of Greek women, tired of their husbands fighting wars all the time, decide to let them go without sex until there’s peace.

    I seem to remember that it was an actual, ancient Greek play, and at the time, the idea of wives going without sex was a pretty silly joke, since everyone knew women spent much more time thinking about sex. They’d be punishing themselves more than their husbands. Of course, modern people view the play in a different light.

    1. I think you may be missing another bit of the subtext for Lysistrata: no sex means no babies. This is a time when the number of children (especially sons) a man had was pretty important.

  2. It seems clear that human sexuality occurs on a spectrum and that we are, essentially, sexually opportunistic monkeys who weigh the benefits and costs of any proposed sexual encounter before choosing to indulge or refrain.

    The fact that the social or cultural cost of casual sex have so long been borne by women, I’m surprised that anyone is in any doubt as to why women may be less inclined to engage in it. When you are told from the beginning that sex is something dirty that is done to you, that you are devalued with every sexual encounter and that you won’t enjoy it anyway… Well, I just surprised that sexual desire is strong enough to override all that conditioning and drive women to get busy anyway. We can see the shift between generations as younger women, who were raised with fewer social constructions about the wrongness of casual sex for women, are more willing to take sexual risks – because they see potential benefits as well as potential costs.

    The idea that female sexual pleasure/desire is undeveloped compared to men is also obviously faulty. If that were the case, how do you explain the sexual mania evident in pubescent girls lining up to see Justin Bieber (or whatever heart-throb you care to mention)? That is sexual desire at its most expressive; a socially acceptable expression of out of control desire for girls.

  3. I’ve always treated sex as an “orgasms for everyone” situation, nobody goes home without one!

    1. This attitude has always made me fairly uncomfortable, and I am not interested in participating in sexual encounters with anyone who holds this position. Pressure to orgasm is a really common problem – it’s the reason that some people of all genders, and especially ciswomen, end up faking orgasms.

      The “everyone has to orgasm” attitude serves more to boost the ego of the orgasm “giver” than the pleasure of the person having the orgasm. Not everyone defines orgasm and pleasure as being the same thing, and it discounts the sexual pleasure of those of us who do not have orgasms, or do not have them in company.

      Open up your definition of pleasure to include a broader range. Ask you partners what having a pleasurable sexual experience means to them. For many people that will mean one or more orgasms – for others it may mean something else entirely.

      1. How about “orgasms for anyone who wants one”? Or “no one goes home unfulfilled?” (I almost put “no one goes home wanting more” but wanting more is usually a pretty good sign.

      2. THANK YOU!!! Sometimes it just isn’t going to happen. Or I have no desire to work toward that, because it’s not always easy. It takes actual work. I am a very sexual person, but sometimes, orgasm isn’t part of it. And that’s *fine* and it’s so much easier to just not worry about it.

        IN FACT, often, if we chill and come back to it, it’s easier for me to orgasm. I also like to have sex in the morning but sometimes I’m too sleepy to think about orgasm. Or whatever.

        Sometimes men can’t handle that, though. They get all weird or offended. And then there is this PRESSURE. You have to orgasm OR ELSE! your partner is going to feel bad. Which is terrible for all involved.

        Sometimes I think people focus WAY WAY WAY too much on orgasms when it comes to sex. It’s *ALL* about the finish. :/

        1. “It takes actual work.”

          I want to emphasize this! Just because I’m having sex and really enjoying it doesn’t mean I’m going to come. I have to THINK about it. Sometimes I don’t have to, but most of the time, I do. And it takes effort, and energy, to get there. Sometimes that’s just too much fucking work and all I want to do is enjoy the sex and not have to THINK.

          This is a sensitive subject for me, haha. I’ve gotten a LOT better at telling guys that I’m not always going to finish, but it’s still not always easy. And then when they get weird it just ruins the whole thing.

        2. Also “finish” — I (and everyone) really needs to stop using that word in regards to orgasms. I tried so hard not to but one slipped in there!!!

      3. I’ve never had a partner whose pride was injured by me not getting off, but that didn’t stop me from feeling obligated to get off without using my own hands. I’m not sure where I got this idea; I always thought it was silly that cis women had it.

        I literally just figured out how silly this was last week. I’ve got an upcoming sexual opportunity and I was kind of stressing about it. I’m really embarrassed about my lack of sexual experience. (I’m in my early 30s) It occurred to me while I was alone and enjoying my own company that I’ve never actually fantasized about my partner getting me off. Ever. There’s several things I’d much rather they be doing at that moment and none of them involve my genitals. I’ve got that covered, as long as she’s got an outlet free.

    1. That quip was for Marilove.

      I swear I hit “Reply To”, but if yr not logged in, you need to log in & do it AGAIN.

      On most sites, the browser returns you to where you were. Counterintuitive – but sure, I should know by now.

      It makes such a mess of the thread though. Sorry.

      @Heina: I wonder if a “Tips and Tricks” section on this site might help others with such problems?

      Then again, maybe the status quo gives a hometown advantage in case of invasion!

  4. “The presumption behind most casual sexual encounters between men and women is that penile-vaginal intercourse is the standard, while cunnilingus is more on the optional side. Given that penetrative intercourse isn’t what causes the vast majority of women to experience orgasm, there is a definite pleasure gap.

    If something isn’t likely to be fun for someone, why would she bother to do it?”
    I think that there’s a pretty big leap from “no orgasm” to “no fun”.
    There is only one thing on earth that gives me an orgasm. that doesn’t mean that a thousand other things aren’t fun and worth exploring. Please don’t reduce sex to that magical mystery moment of orgasm either.
    I can have half a dozen orgasms any given day all by myself. And then there’s a lot of other things I can only have with my husband even if they don’t lead to orgasms.
    I came to orgasms pretty late in life. That doesn’t mean that my sex-life before was a burden or not enjoyable. Actually, I only realized that what I had before weren’t orgasms once I finally had one.
    I think the fact that women don’t engage in casual sex as much as men do might have more to do with the (potential) costs.
    The risk of rape is so much higher, the risk of an STD is higher, the whole pregnancy thing and not to forget the stigma that women who “sleep around” still face.

    1. While I see your point, and have altered the wording to reflect it, my conclusion is not one that I alone have made. Research has borne it out. Did you not finish reading the piece? I link to this article: http://www.livescience.com/16594-busted-gender-myths-bedroom.html

      Conley, in yet-unpublished research, said she has found that women being propositioned by a strange man simply expect him to be no good in bed.

      “Women accepted fewer casual-sex offers from men than vice versa,” she wrote, “because male proposers were perceived to have relatively poorer sexual capabilities.”

      1. I think Heina what Giliell states might actually play into WHY they perceive men who proposition spontaneous casual sex as probably bad at it.

        Given the fact that there is a lot of risk and stigma associated with casual sex, it’s likely not worth it to try it out given that sex is so often focused much more on the guy’s pleasure.

  5. Interesting. This is anecdotal but I am told by men who have become single again late in life that casual encounters are easy while commitment is hard to find.

    I suspect that a plot of libido vs time for men and for women would show a crossover at some point – possibly more than one.

    This could be an additional underlying factor in the dynamic under discussion.

    Also, a factoid you can take to the bank, breast cancer treatment, like many others, just about nukes libido.

  6. I have been in relationships that would start to stagnate in the bedroom. It can can be quite frustrating and worrisome.

    Immediately, (in my own experience) when the woman I was with didn’t want sex, I felt like it was because there is something wrong with me. That I was doing something wrong.

    Fact is, at that stage in my life, I had no idea how to help my partner enjoy sex. I was doing something wrong. I was doing nothing. I chalk this up to having underdeveloped empathy. I figured because I was enjoying sex, that they must be too. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Anyway, communicate people. Let your partner know how you do it so they can do it for you. :)

  7. I can’t speak for anyone else, but as a heterosexual male, I simply cannot experience pleasure without loving my partner. Yes, I experimented like everyone else as a teen and young adult, but that was the conclusion of my experiment. For me, the act is all about emotional intimacy, which I’m unwilling to lend to people I don’t completely trust.

    Along the way, though, I’ve seen people of both genders have a huge variety of attitudes towards what turns them on. So I think the traditional “men want sex, women want love” claims are just shorthand for sloppy thinking and old, possibly flawed data. I believe that culture is constantly altering what people expect from sex, and that few have the peace of mind and time to really ask themselves what they’d actually prefer. It doesn’t help that our biological imperative also clouds our thinking sometimes.

  8. Wow, this is a bad and poorly thought out article. So women don’t like casual sex because men are bad in bed?

    “Because they can’t be human and, you know, vary in their sexual tastes from individual to individual and situation to situation.”

    Right. Because men can’t be human and, you know, vary in their sexual performance from individual to individual and situation to situation. You make the same, sad, sorry mistake all radical feminists do: you fight generalizations with generalizations, bias with bias, and fire with fire. This is just like that panel you had at skepchickcon where you denounce sexists jokes that paint women in a bad light, then lay it on thick with the male sexists jokes not two minutes afterwards. Hypocrisy. These tactics will not sway any hearts or minds, least of all mine.

    So women don’t get as much out of casual sex as men do, therefor men are bad in bed. Uhhhh, no. Sex is a two person act. You not getting an orgasm in bed can just as easily mean you suck in bed and not your partner. Being bad at sex can be bad for you too. By that logic, women not getting as much out of casual sex could just as easily mean women suck in bed. You also imply the burden of sexual performance is based solely on the male. Another bad, brazen assumption. Good sex also requires good communication. Speaking from experience, and to recycle your use of generalizations, women are bad at asking for what they want in bed. So you didn’t get head and head helps you get off. Did you ask for it? No. Then why are you surprised you didn’t get it? You think girls up and offer me blow jobs just because our clothes are coming off? Neg, I have to ask, and I do so because I want it. You want it? You ask for it or you don’t bitch about not getting it afterwards.

    Sadly, Heina, this will be the last article of yours I will read. I thought you were a little more well thought out and rationalized than this, but you have disappointed me. Your bias and negative opinion on men in general shines all too brightly through this article. Se la vi. I will have to find another, more well tempered, feminist to follow.

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