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Gendered Pleasure

Opinion | October 6, 2014

Journalists love to analyze us “millennials” and our rampant “hookup culture,” as if its impact can be universally classified. As is usually the case with sexual trends, most of these journalists are especially interested in how hookup culture affects “our young girls.” Some writers/millennial experts claim that hookups—or noncommittal sexual interactions—liberate college women, which they’ve been deprived of for centuries. Others say that casual hookups have negative effects on women, pressuring them to do things they might not want to do. While these trend-seekers fail to understand that hookup culture’s impact on women is entirely dependent on the situation and the woman, it is clear that hookups in general disadvantage heterosexual, female-identifying people in one major way: during random hookups, straight women are much less likely to achieve an orgasm.

According to an Indiana University study, which interviewed 24,000 students at 21 colleges over five years, 80 percent of men had an orgasm during their last hookup, while only 40 percent of women did. This disparity comes from a variety of factors—some biological, many of them cultural.
This trend has proven to hold true at Tufts. According to a recent survey conducted by the Tufts Observer, 76 percent of students believe that hookup culture is as prevalent here as at other colleges, and 46 percent believe that hooking up accounts for 80 to 100 percent of sexual interactions. Although the survey did not show as large a disparity between male and female satisfaction during hookups, significant differences point to an unequal outcome in terms of gendered pleasure.

Only 4 percent of respondents said that they received satisfaction from all of their hookups, and 75 percent of those responses came from straight males. Students who expressed the most sexual and emotional dissatisfaction from hookups at Tufts were queer males and females of all sexual orientations.

Although dissatisfied comments from straight males tended to be about how they wanted more hookups, comments from the survey showed that dissatisfaction primarily comes from a lack of communication, respect, and emotional fulfillment. One female anonymously said: “I spent a lot of my freshman year defining the success of my nights out by whether or not I hooked up with someone. I was partially looking for physical intimacy but also hoping for the prospect of emotional intimacy and the ability to be emotionally fulfilled as well. Of course, there is also the feeling that I had/have to be giving pleasure all the time and making myself desirable enough so that the guy will be interested in hooking up further.”

An anonymous female junior, who identifies as straight, commented that males at Tufts “suck at pleasuring girls and at making sure they are having fully consensual sex. Tufts boys don’t know where the clitoris is, and girls are too stigmatized from cultural indoctrination to show them.”

Of course, having an orgasm is not always the end goal of a random hookup, and plenty of women (and men) at Tufts enjoy hooking up without an orgasm. Western society has become more tolerant of women’s sexuality, especially in liberal environments like Tufts. Even so, statistics show that we still think it’s okay for a straight man to have an orgasm during a hookup—even during a “repeated” hookup in which both partners are well-acquainted—without reciprocating for the woman.

Like anyone who has a vagina (or anyone familiar with how they operate), I recognize that female orgasms can be a lot more complicated and difficult to achieve than their male counterparts, especially during penetrative/vaginal sex alone. Women may also be at a psychological disadvantage. A study released in April by Groningen University in the Netherlands revealed that women, as a whole, are turned off by porn without “context;” in this study, women were shown clips of sexual intercourse without seeing faces or dialogue, and reportedly demonstrated feelings of “disgust.” This concept may speak to why women aren’t as pleasured during similarly “random” hookups.
Regardless, we cannot dismiss the possibility of improving hookups by saying that the disparity in sexual satisfaction is entirely based on biological and psychological factors, and therefore out of our control. The existence of this disparity should not make us dismiss hookup culture altogether as oppressive, either, considering that many women and men who responded to the survey believe that hooking up is liberating, fun, and safe at Tufts. But we should try to improve and redefine societal expectations of hookups to make them more enjoyable—and satisfactory—for everyone.

Whether in committed relationships or not, people of all genders have trouble feeling comfortable expressing what they want their partners to do for them. Due to historic prejudices and norms, this trend seems to be especially true for women in heterosexual relationships. While women should try to vocalize what they want their partners to do—and what they are willing to do for their partners—it is equally if not more important for straight men to ask their partners. Just as drunkenness or awkwardness is no excuse for failing to establish consent, it is also no excuse for failing to communicated with your partner about what you can do to make the hookup mutually enjoyable.
Before straight men start saying, “Why don’t you just tell us what you want?” recognize that, historically and currently, women are expected to give pleasure more than they are to receive it, and stigmatized for being assertive in sexual situations. No matter how sex-positive a woman acts, even in a “progressive” place like Tufts, most women are still affected one way or another by the age-old social stigma attached to girls who enjoy sex.
“For a school whose student population prides itself on its open-mindedness and its social justice activism, there is a surprising and disgusting amount of double standards,” said a straight, female junior. “Guys ‘get around,’ but girls? Girls are sluts.”

For this reason, straight men must do everything they can to make women feel comfortable telling them what they want, and this can best be achieved by asking them what they want. Simple as that. Because the right to have casual sex must go hand in hand with the right to enjoy it as much as men.