When I was a teenager, I met an older boy who we’ll call “Punk Kris”. We were hanging out in my room when he decided to unsubtly show me all the places a person could get pierced on their body, which led to exactly where my clitoris was. He then proceeded to give me my first ever proper orgasm, whilst explaining exactly what was happening. To be clear, at this point, I had already lost my virginity and had boyfriends, but none of them had ever managed to give me an orgasm. I would go on to make sure that I’d never have orgasmless sex again in the future, though. Punk Kris had introduced me to the best feeling in the world and I was not about to give that up.
I don’t remember much about losing my virginity other than that Mr Blobby was on TV and it sort of hurt, but I do remember the first time I had good penetrative sex with a man. It was the very early ’00s and I had just ended a long term relationship (by teenage standards). The sex was shit. The sex I’d had with previous fumbling teenage boyfriends was equally shit, too. I had resigned myself to thinking that if I was ever being fucked, it was always going to be boring and unfulfilling. At least foreplay, if done right, would be good.
But then I met a guy 10 years older than me and everything felt different. He was in control. He moved and guided me with confidence into different positions that made me feel his dick properly hitting the right places. Although I’m not able to have orgasms from PIV (penis in vagina) sex, it was the first time I’d gotten close to climax and easily the first time I’d had any sort of physical or mental pleasure during penetrative sex.
I told him that it was the best sex I’d ever had and immediately messaged my best friend telling her that “sex actually can be good!!!!” I don’t ever recall us having specific conversations about our boyfriends being bad at sex or not enjoying it, but clearly, even at the young age of 17, we must have already written off men as being bad in bed.
“Why are men so bad at sex?” is one of the most Googled sex-related questions on the internet. Clearly, myself and my best friend aren’t the only ones who have felt frustrated by lacklustre action in the bedroom.
It’s fair to say that some men are not always the best at communicating their feelings. But for something as highly charged as the topic of sex, discussing your likes and dislikes can be daunting for people of any gender or sexuality – especially after a disappointing or bad experience.
But when it comes to communication, for several men, fear of humiliation gets in the way. “I have [asked to be touched differently by partners], but it takes some coaxing,” says Mal from London. “I don’t do that often for fear of getting it wrong or being laughed at. I’m normally just happy being touched or sucked in the first place.”
Josh from Kent agrees. “95 per cent of girls can’t give a handjob to save their life. I’m not gonna say ‘stop doing that, that’s shit or painful’,” he says. “But I guess it’s the same with girls, you know what you like when you are playing with yourself.”
Other men, like Martin from London, confess that porn had, in the past, given him unreal expectations of sex. “You are looking at the Hollywood bodies and you get so used to it that a pair of real-life tits really doesn’t get you going anymore,” he says. “Some male pornstars also have huge dicks, so it makes you think that you aren’t going to be able to satisfy anyone. It also makes it look like there is very little effort involved. Women are just screaming and shouting and moaning, but in real life, you aren’t getting those results, which makes you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.”
According to a study in 2011, 80 per cent of women fake their orgasms during PIV sex. This and other similar studies report that the main reasons for faking orgasms are because women either “did not want to hurt their partner’s feelings (42.4 per cent), […] did not feel comfortable going into sexual details (40.2 per cent)” or they were embarrassed (37.7 per cent).
So, if I have this right, women are faking having a good time, which makes men think they are doing a good job, but they are also too worried to tell women exactly how they want to have a good time. What a fucking mess.
Believe it or not, but communicating with your sexual partner before or during sex is not going to ruin the mood, or get you laughed at. You have chosen someone to have sex with and they have, which means that you like each other. You’re about to see each other naked. The time for embarrassment has passed.
“We learn about sex in a very heterosexual, normative, male way that all evolves around what I call ‘his sex’,” says sex therapist Caroline Lovett. This basically means that men end up thinking that it’s all about erections and ejaculations, while women are made to think that it’s all about pleasing men. “Women don’t actually learn anything about female pleasure, so they don’t know how to ask for it.”
How do we move forward? “We’ve got to unlearn stuff, get rid of any shame or guilt attached to sex,” she says. “When I ask women if they’re masturbating, many people say, ‘I can’t possibly do that’. I have women in my therapy room that cry with emotion when they actually discover how their body works who are in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s!”
There are lots of great ways to start communication with your partner, like watching sex-based TedTalks, videos on how to stimulate the clitoris and using guided female masturbation apps such as OMGYES. But in Caroline’s clinic, she often starts with a traffic light system, asking each person in a couple to make a list of things that turn them on or off. Green is your list of the things you enjoy, from hair stroking to having your nipples sucked in a certain way; amber is for things you don’t mind doing, but don’t want on the agenda every single time; red is your way to indicate absolute hard nos. Swap lists and then explore.
As an adult, I have always fully communicated what I like and what I don’t like before any hookup or relationship. This ensures that I have not only a safe and consensual time, but also that we are both on the same page. I have what I like to call a little sex menu – kind of like a rudimentary version of Caroline’s traffic light system. It’s a list of sexual likes and interests that I can just message over to the other person, giving them a good idea of what I am into without spoiling spontaneity or giving up mystery. Sure, I like hair pulling and breath play, but actually, I’m not into rope bondage – it’s a faff.
So are men really that bad at sex? Probably not. Actually, all we really need to do is ask each other what we want. No one but you knows exactly how you like to get yourself off. Is your partner supposed to read your mind? Showing and explaining your needs to them isn’t going to lead to embarrassment. It’s only going to lead to better orgasms.