In many respects, women's voices have never been louder: We're running for office in record numbers, speaking out against sexual assault, and demanding equal pay for equal work. But if the virality of December's New Yorker short story "Cat Person" is any indication, when it comes to prioritizing our own sexual pleasure, we have a long way to go.
In fact, there's science to back that up: A study published in Sexuality & Culture earlier this year analyzed data from 7,255 students at 22 different colleges who participated in a survey on sexuality. According to the data, nine out of the 10 women surveyed had engaged in unwanted sexual acts just to please their partner, and eight out of 10 prioritized their partner's pleasure over their own.
Interestingly, the women who did prioritize their own pleasure were much less likely to engage in unwanted sexual acts than those who didn't. "The belief that sex is all about fulfilling male desire may set women up to engage in undesired sex for the sole purpose of pleasing a partner," explained study author Heather Hensman Kettrey. "If a young woman’s desire is not sufficient justification for engaging in sexual activity, then her lack of desire in a given situation will not be sufficient justification for refusing sexual activity."
One thing is clear: In 2018, it's more important than ever for women to prioritize their sexual pleasure. Here's how to make that happen, according to the experts.
If you've never prioritized your sexual pleasure, you're not alone. According to Jolene Brighten, N.D., this is because there's a common narrative surrounding the role of women in sex: that their sole purpose when having sex is to please their partner. "This can lead to women sacrificing their own needs and desires to be a 'good girl' and take care of their man," she says. "A woman who values her needs and has a positive relationship with her body is less likely to succumb to verbal pressure and so more inclined to turn down sex they're just not into."
So how can you start putting your own pleasure first? "Start exploring what turns you on, what makes you [have an] orgasm, and ditch any dogma you have about sex," Brighten suggests. "Communicate with your partner about your needs, and help them work with you. You can also begin exploring your own terrain and self-stimulating to help you get in tune with your needs and facilitate the conversation with your partner."
And if you don't have a partner? No problem. When it comes to female pleasure, partners are optional. "You can start getting to know your body right now," she says.
Should sex always be orgasm-oriented?
According to sex expert and Sex That Works author Wendy Strgar, the goal of sex doesn't necessarily have to be having an orgasm. "I don't think that sex should be goal-oriented for either partner, although it is easy for this to happen when either or both of them are worried about whether it will work or whether they will perform adequately," she explains. "As soon as this kind of anxiety begins to inform a sexual moment, the likelihood of pleasure really diminishes."
Strgar adds that women shouldn't feel the pressure to have an orgasm every single time—instead, it's about knowing what you want and enjoying sex, even if that doesn't necessarily mean having an orgasm. "What this means is that everyone is enjoying the exploration," she explains. "It means women feel like they can take their time and that their process isn't getting in the way of their partner's."
Brighten adds that if women simply enjoy the closeness that comes with sex—even if it doesn't always lead to an orgasm—that's OK, too. "There is so much more taking place during sex than simply orgasms. We bond with our partner, learn more about our bodies, and our hormones shift in beneficial ways just by getting aroused. Tuning in to your intuition, needs, and desires is an important step in feeling empowered in the bedroom."
Need more evidence that prioritizing pleasure is important? Read up on how it can boost your immune system.
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