Femintimacy: Do I Want a Relationship, or Am I Just Horny?

Femintimacy explores sex— and the many topics that word encapsulates— from a young feminist’s angle. She doesn't claim to have all of the answers, but will be talking about how culture and society have impacted sex and intimacy for young women, figuring it out with you.

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Do I want a relationship, or am I just horny?

Ah, the perennial question.

This semester, I found myself feeling kind of lonely. Some of my friends were starting new relationships or had exciting romantic gossip to share. I, on the other hand, spent most of my time in the newspaper office, consumed by school or work, left without the energy or the opportunity to do much in the way of socializing.

On the rare occasion when an opportunity for romantic interaction arose, I would either forget to reply to a text message for weeks at a time or talk myself out of it in my head, saying “you don’t have time,” “you’re too busy,” or another lame but somewhat valid excuse.

At first I thought I was just lonely. I felt like I wanted someone in my life, someone to challenge me, someone to have fun with, someone to support me. But I also felt like I didn’t have time to properly nurture any budding developments, which led to spirals of anxiety about wasted youth and the fact that this is the youngest I’ll ever be and that I haven’t really dated anyone from my college and so on and so forth.

Maybe the loneliness part is a little bit true. It’s easy to feel lonely when it seems like your friends are all in happy, healthy, fulfilling relationships and you’re stuck writing papers or staying up till all hours of the night devoting yourself to a newspaper that you’re not entirely sure people even read.

But I also realized while masturbating late one Wednesday night (early one Thursday morning?) that maybe part of it is that I’m just horny.

*Gasp* A woman? Horny?

I voiced this speculation to one of my roommates last week, and she responded with a high-pitched laugh that seemed to shake our entire house. She then proceeded to yell upstairs to our other roommate, “Hey, are you horny?” What was most affirming, though, was that she said she felt the same way.

Women are taught from childhood that men naturally need or want sex more than we do. We’re taught that it’s our responsibility to satisfy their sexual needs. We’re taught we don’t have sex drives of our own, or that we should only have sex if we’re trying to “make a baby.” As Shannon Ashley writes, girls are often made to feel guilty about their sexual desire, and they are blamed for tempting men into sex.

Some say that biologically, men are hard-wired to “spread their seed,” while women are more choosy about their partners, instead seeking someone reliable who will contribute to childcare.

Studies have shown that men do have stronger sex drives than women, but women’s libidos are more greatly influenced by social and cultural factors. While church attendance correlates to less permissiveness of sex among women, the same is not true for men’s attitudes toward sex. Women take greater influence from their peers in making decisions about sex than men do. Additionally, higher education among women correlates to more varied sexual experiences, while the same has less influence on men’s sexual expression.

Terri Conley, Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan, believes that “both men and women are motivated by an equally strong interest in the physical pleasures of sex. It is just that men anticipate that casual sex will usually be pleasurable, while women do not anticipate that casual sex will be physically pleasurable unless a number of conditions are met (she must feel safe; she must have reason to believe her partner will be good in bed).”

So, according to Conley, it’s not that women don’t want sex as much as men, they’re just less likely to believe the sex they’d have will be good sex, and so turn down casual propositions more often than men do.

Conley found, through her own research, that men and women were equally likely to accept propositions if they “anticipated that the safe, familiar, potential partner was likely to be good in bed.”

When talking to a friend about the pros and cons of hooking up with someone who I’d hooked up with before and had a subpar experience, I talked about how we had great verbal chemistry, and everything was great, but, “Well, it was only the sex that was bad!” I knew it was ridiculous the moment I said it, and maybe I should’ve been more conscious of who else was in the room, but I could feel the wide eyes, the amused horror and judgment in the room. Women are not expected or even allowed to talk about sex in public, where the same is not necessarily true for men.

Women expressing a desire for sex is seen as crude and often met with derision or shock. Women are assumed to be overly emotionally invested and constantly searching for romantic relationships, but what if we just want sex? What if we’re just looking to blow off steam, the way many men do? Why can’t we openly contemplate purely sexual encounters without meeting with confusion or judgment?

There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re horny. You’re not a sex-crazed maniac. You’re just a human being who happens to have sexual desires. What’s most important is that we change the existing social conditions to promote more women feeling comfortable to express their desire without fear of social stigmatization, alienation, or condemnation.

We need to talk more about sex, whether that be with our friends, with our families, or whoever we feel comfortable with. Part of the reason why female sexuality has become such a taboo topic (besides centuries of oppression of women) is that now, women can be too afraid to vocalize the fact that they just want to have sex sometimes. Let’s make active efforts, in our conversations with both loved ones and acquaintances, to challenge and break down the value judgments ascribed to women who discuss their desires unashamedly. We, as women, shouldn’t be perpetuating this cycle of stigmatization by judging other women for having sex lives or expressing sexual desire.

And men, it takes two to tango. So if you want to talk about your sex lives, don’t shame your partners in the process.

Furthermore, one way of bypassing this on an individual level is to make sure you’re looking after yourself in your own time. Masturbation is a safe way to relieve the tension of pent up stress and sexual desire, whether or not you have a partner. I feel like I’m always advocating masturbation in this column, but it’s still true—talking more openly about masturbation, and masturbating more frequently, are concrete steps we can take to destigmatize female sexual desire.

The point I’m trying to make is short but simple: Women are sexual beings. Women get horny. Say it with me, women get horny and there’s nothing wrong with that. Women get horny and there’s nothing wrong with us. Women get horny and we’re still human beings worthy of respect. Women get horny and we should be able to talk about it.  

By Sienna Brancato