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Here’s a fun lie our culture teaches us: “bad” girls are sluts who will say “yes” to “risky” sex with anyone and everyone, and they’re the ones who end up getting sexually used and abused. “Good” girls don’t even think about sex, until the night they’re married when they have perfect, satisfying sex with the love of their lives.
Obviously when we lay it all out there like that we know that that’s a myth, but a lot of people still have an internal bias about women who own their sexuality, thinking of them as taking unnecessary risks. We don’t tend to think of men in the same way.
A new paper suggests that it’s the “good” girls we should be worried about when it comes to risky behaviors in bed. A researcher at Vanderbilt examined an existing database with surveys from more than 7,000 college students, looking specifically at women’s self-described sexual agency and “pleasure prioritization”. She cross-referenced that with women who had experienced unwanted sexual activity during a hook-up.
What she found was that women who were sexual “subjects” as opposed to sexual “objects” — that is to say, women who know what they want and go after it as opposed to women who go along with the situation and wait for things to happen to them — the “subjects” were much less likely to experience unwanted sexual activity compared to the “objects.” Women with sexual agency were much more likely to say “no” instead of going along with an undesired activity just to please their partner. Women who didn’t prioritize their own pleasure, and who didn’t see themselves as sexual beings, were more likely to just do what they were asked to do regardless of whether they really wanted to, leading to regret.
This isn’t really a comment on rape, so please don’t take it into victim blaming territory. That said, it does touch upon consent, and the importance of enthusiastic consent. Yes, ideally men would be tuned into what they’re doing in bed and pause in between sexual demands to make sure their partner is 100% cool with everything that’s happening. At the same time, this study suggests that it might be helpful if we teach women not just to say “no” to sex, but to say “yes” to the kind of sex they want to happen. Because the better you know what you want in bed, the better you know and communicate what you don’t want, and that will make the world a better place.
We should be teaching women that they are sexual beings who deserve as much satisfaction in bed (and elsewhere, of course) as a man. Sex doesn’t have to hurt, and it doesn’t have to be something you just have to get through in order for you to keep your boyfriend. It should be pleasurable for both people.
Obviously this is just a little study that shows correlation (but not causation) and looks at the issue of sexual satisfaction and women’s agency in a very narrow way. I’d love to see more research like this, because if nothing else it’s going to really freak out conservatives who don’t even want us to tell teenagers about condoms in sex ed, let alone telling them that sex is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. That’s going to make some heads explode.