The film ‘The Way We Were’ (1973) stars Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford (the Brad Pitt of my mother’s generation).
She’s the young woman from a humble background driven by political ideals; he’s the young man from a privileged family who has no ideals. Of course she’s a virgin and she ends up one night with him in the bed naked. He’s so drunk that he’s just thrown up in her bathroom.
Nevertheless she hopes that he will notice a naked woman lying next to him: she undresses and gets in beside him. Well we’re watching movies so, of course, he revives enough to climb on top of her.
It’s not clear what happens but enough for her to ask afterwards: “You realise it’s me, Katie?” Her main concern is not orgasm but that she should matter to him; that he should care about her as a person.
Instinctively we do not expect a woman to enjoy an equal sexual pleasure from sex. Neither do we expect her to approach sex insisting on her own orgasm before his. Nature has designed women to be more co-operative and accommodating than men.
When a woman has sex with a man she marvels at his ability to perform sexually. We have no similar experience. A man’s sexual passion for a woman can be intoxicating. The marvel of sex, for a woman, is not her own arousal but that of her man.
Male sexuality and male sexual desire (fuelled by an appreciation of the female form) is the true glory of heterosexual sex.
“But, by and large, coitus in marriage occurs with a regularity which is not equalled by any other type of sexual activity in the female, … This suggests that it is the male rather than the female partner who is chiefly responsible for the regularity of marital coitus.” (p350 Sexual behavior in the human female 1953)
The woman’s sexual arousal is a different and less romantic story. Why do bridal magazines rarely discuss a woman’s aspirations for her sexual relationship? Of course women think that to keep a man happy they must simply be attractive. So they diet, they eliminate body hair and they put on make-up. The fact is that most men want a woman to be more adventurous in bed.
Men feel guilty if it is suggested that women get less out of sex than they do. They shouldn’t. Women enjoy their children; men enjoy sex. The travesty of the sexual revolution was that it set false hopes for women with sexual aspirations. Women cannot be men any more than men can be women. Neither can women hope to experience sex the exact same way a man experiences it.
Sex is a gift that a woman offers to a man she loves. She offers her body for his pleasure without necessarily hoping for anything in return except his devotion to her. In the end, all any of us want is to be loved and appreciated – just in different ways.
Boys grow up trying to impress their fathers. Perhaps they don’t realise that girls are never able to impress men in the same way. When a woman offers a man sex, she can enjoy being the object of his sexual desire, the key to his sexual arousal and orgasm. The woman hopes for his adoration of her beauty and his appreciation of her ability to arouse him sexually.
That sexual adulation is important because a woman worries that if it’s not there then he may be devoted to someone else. Sex is the barometer of the relationship but more importantly the sign of the man’s commitment to the woman and her goals for family. Sadly this novelty wears off and male sexual arousal is not so automatic after years with the same partner.
The couple’s sexual relationship comes under pressure because men look to sex for their emotional sense of well-being. I have certainly questioned why I have needed to make effort when I have less to gain directly from sex. It’s important for men to realise that over the longer-term they need to overcome their inhibitions and communicate over sex and relationship issues.
Excerpt from Jane’s book Ways Women Orgasm (2011)