Femintimacy: Why Do We Tolerate Bad Sex?
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.
I gritted my teeth and didn’t tell him to stop. I tried to turn my grunts of pain into sexy sighs.
In an ideal world, there’d be no bad sex. Every sexual encounter would be candy, sunshine, rainbows, and a waterfall of endorphins, orgasms galore!
But that’s (sadly) just not the reality.
According to a 2015 study by the International Society for Sexual Medicine, 30% of women and 5% of men 18 years or older reported experiencing pain during their most recent sexual encounter.
So why do we tolerate bad sex? I’m not talking about uneventful sex or sex that feels kind of good but doesn’t wow you. I’m talking about sex that’s actually painful or uncomfortable.
With this one guy, we engaged in a drawn-out textual flirtationship. I didn’t know much about him, but we texted back and forth for a few weeks, challenging each other to mock battles as a pretense to get together.
When we finally did meet, he was engaging, funny, and attractive. I was under no delusions about what our encounter would entail, but I’ve always been someone who needs a personal connection to feel attracted to someone.
We talked for four hours before anything physical happened. And when it happened, we took it relatively slowly. He gave me the option of leaving after he’d placed a few-seconds-long kiss on my lips. He asked me again if I wanted to call it a night after we made out for a few minutes. I never got the sense that he’d react badly if I decided to go back to my own room. He was genuinely asking to make sure I was comfortable.
He asked me if I wanted to take things upstairs to his room. I said yes.
He asked me if he should get a condom. I said yes.
Have you ever had an experience where all the lead up to penetrative sex is great, all the kissing and touching, etc, but then the sex starts and it’s all downhill from there?
I feel like porn teaches men that the mere feeling of a penis inside a vagina produces moan-inducing, orgasmic feelings of pleasure. Hate to break it to you, but that’s not the case.
When I felt him inside me, it was really painful. He didn’t understand that it’s not always a matter of “deeper, deeper,” that feels better. I’ve nicknamed him The Jackhammer, which should give you an idea of what this experience was like.
I screwed up my eyes and balled my fists, waiting to see how long I could take the pain before objecting. I considered telling him to stop. For a minute, I floated above myself and looked down at us. I saw my tense body in his hands, his arms holding my legs over his shoulders. I winced and was brought abruptly back to reality.
I decided to test my endurance, see how much I could take before I couldn’t stand it anymore. Finally, I had to say something. And immediately, he said okay, that’s too much, I get it, sorry about that.
Mercifully, it was over.
But why didn’t I object earlier?
I made a conscious decision not to object even though there was pain, to take what was happening for fear of disappointing or negatively coloring his image of me.
As a feminist, I feel it’s essential for women to assert the importance of their own pleasure, particularly in a world that has told us that our needs are secondary, an afterthought to the man’s climax.
But then why do I find it so hard to articulate what will make me feel good in the moment? And why do I tolerate underwhelming, even painful sex, when I don’t have to?
In the past, I’ve let things go on even though I’m not enjoying them. I’ve made faces and noises and acted more enthusiastic than I actually was just to speed things up. Sometimes it’s just easier to fake it than telling someone you care about that they’re just not doing much for you.
But if I’m being honest, I didn’t care about this guy on a deeper, emotional level. I had no logical reason to be so concerned with his opinion of me.
But women are taught dangerous selflessness: to accommodate the desires of others, to sacrifice ourselves nearly regardless of the cost. We are taught to prioritize the man’s pleasure over our own. If we can just get him there, if we can just push him over the edge, then it will be over.
We’re so afraid of disappointing men. If a man’s close to his climax and we tell him we’re not into it, we’re blamed for giving him blue balls (is this even a real thing? That’s a topic for another column). He’s disappointed, he’s angry, he’s annoyed at us for depriving him of release.
But what about us? What about our comfort? Or more boldly, our pleasure?
We’ve been conditioned so strongly to feel like we need to sacrifice our own comfort even for the “good”-seeming guys. It’s easy to identify creepy or predatory guys, the ones we should avoid sexual encounters with, because there are so many of them, and young girls are assailed by them from nearly the second they hit puberty.
The sad truth is that even the good guys can hurt us. And we will let them. Because we’re taught we should because we’re so afraid of the stigma of not being able to perform sexually. Pain may mean that we’re inexperienced, clumsy, not good enough, not interesting enough to keep around. If a man isn’t naturally amazing at sex, is he even really a man? *she said sarcastically*
People aren’t just automatically good at sex. It takes practice, and it takes listening to your partner. Just because an encounter is casual doesn’t give you an excuse to treat your partner’s body carelessly. Because I didn’t tell The Jackhammer that he hurt me until it was unbearable, he may go on to do the same thing with other women.
But I need to stop assuming all the responsibility. He should have been more in tune with me as his partner as well.
We need to stop tolerating pain, and men need to stop assuming everything feels good and actually check in with partners every once in a while, rather than simply chasing their own pleasure, or nothing will change.
And of course, for women who have medical conditions such as vaginismus, endometriosis, or ovarian cysts that can cause them pain during sex no matter what they do, the tendency for dangerous selflessness can actually cause serious physical harm. When women aren’t trained to object on behalf of their own comfort, they may sacrifice more than sexual reciprocity. And as a result, women with these conditions might not even realize they have them, so it’s essential to seek medical counseling if such pain persists.
Clearly, I don’t have this all figured out yet. I haven’t been able to employ any of these strategies in reality, but I’m going to try. These are the things I wish I would’ve said. Here are my tips on how to be more vocal in bed when you’re in pain, uncomfortable, or even just not feeling it:
1) Try practicing these three phrases out loud by yourself to help you feel more comfortable in the moment: “Ouch, that hurts,” “This position/angle/whatever doesn’t feel as good,” and “Can we take a break for a second?”
2) Try talking with your partner about how you’re feeling before you start having sex. Communicate the discomfort to them away from the immediate moment so you can discuss it more calmly.
3) Masturbate! Figure out what you do like so you can put it into words in the moment.
Have you experienced pain during sex? If so, what have you done to be more vocal, or have you felt the need to not be? Share below or comment on this post on Facebook (If you feel comfortable doing so). We want to know what’s worked, and what hasn’t!