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Friday, Feb. 26, 2010

Do Men Enjoy Sex More Than Women?

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Last week, I facilitated a sexuality education workshop for a group of college students, which I ended, as usual, by collecting and answering anonymous questions. I asked students to write either a question or their favorite sex fact on an index card, with the goal being to collect a card from everyone regardless of whether or not they had something to ask. The "favorite sex facts" that people write can sometimes be just as interesting and enlightening as the questions, and they give me a good gauge of how knowledgeable a particular audience is about sexuality.

I was surprised to receive this "fact" in the stack of cards that were returned to me: "Men find sexual intercourse more enjoyable than women." In the same group of cards, I had two questions about why women's boyfriends couldn't "give" them orgasms, or why women couldn't have orgasms "during sex."

"Really?" I thought to myself. "Forty years after Betty Dodson published Liberating Masturbation, young women and men still have these same tired beliefs about men, women and sex?" In the 1970s, Dodson and other sexuality educators devoted an enormous amount of time to spreading the word about how important clitoral stimulation was to women's sexual pleasure and how women should not wait for men to "give" them orgasms but should learn about their own sexual response through masturbation. In her follow-up book, Orgasms for Two, Dodson famously declared that expecting women to have an orgasm through vaginal penetration alone was like expecting men to have an orgasm through cunnilingus. Her point was that just as most men require direct stimulation of the penis to orgasm, most women require direct stimulation of the clitoris.

As I wrote in last week's column, our society still persists in thinking that penis-in-vagina intercourse is what "real sex" is, and anything else is "just" foreplay. Well, if vaginal penetration is "real sex," then of course most men will enjoy sex more than most women. It makes me sad to think that yet another generation is growing up with this narrow view of sexuality and that the myths about women needing a partner to "give" them orgasms still hinder women from exploring their full sexual potential. This puts pressure on men to always initiate, want and enjoy sex while it compels women to downplay their own sexual needs and desires.

After decades of activism to increase women's knowledge about their own sexuality, why are these ideas still so widespread? Much has been written in the past five years about the mainstream portrayal of women's sexuality, and how Cosmopolitan, Girls Gone Wild, aerobic lap-dancing classes, and the rise of hook-up culture have presented a view of women as more sexually free, but only in the service of male sexuality. It's perfectly acceptable for women to be overtly sexual, but only if they're learning 101 ways to give a better blow job or making out with other women on the dance floor to titillate watching men.

I feel like the current generation's mothers and grandmothers had, in some ways, better access to information about healthy sexuality than today's young women and men do. This is partly why I do what I do; if the idea that men are innately sexual while women are not is still out there, and I can provide a dissenting opinion that relieves men of taking full responsibility for all sexual encounters while also giving women permission to own their own sexual power, then perhaps I've done some good.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.