Here is a list of seven simple tips to help you set a higher standard for sex
Dear Young Adult Men Who Have Sex With Women,
Unless you’ve been buried under a rock, you’ve probably read about the account of an anonymous 23-year-old woman (called Grace) regarding her sexual encounter with proclaimed feminist actor and comedian Aziz Ansari—as well as the firestorm of controversy surrounding this. In a nutshell, the two had a sexual encounter that they describe in totally different terms. Ansari explains, “I met a woman at a party. We exchanged numbers, we texted back and forth and eventually went on a date. We went out to dinner, and afterward, we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual.” Grace, on the other hand, describes the evening as “violating,” telling Ansari the next day via text that “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances.” There’s been a massive response to this story—summed up succinctly in the New York Times: “Everyone seems to have an opinion about what she did, what he did and whether talking about gray-zone sex, where the man believes that everything that happened was consensual and the woman feels otherwise, spells the end of the #MeToo movement.”
Despite all the controversy, undebatable is the fact that, as powerfully stated by writer Anna North, “Situations like the one Grace describes, in which a man keeps pushing and a woman, though uncomfortable, doesn’t immediately leave, happen all the time.” Also indisputable is the fact that the commonality of this situation makes it a cultural problem—pointing to need for massive cultural changes. As eloquently stated by Samantha Bee, “We need to set a higher standard for sex.”
So, here, young men, is a seven-point list to help get you do just that. I hope you will take this list to heart (and penis). Indeed, from talking to hundreds of college students in my Human Sexuality classes each year, I honestly believe that the vast majority of you would be appalled to have sex with you described as shitty or coercive and instead would like your partners to describe sex with you in positive terms (ranging from good to fantastic). In fact, my conversations with young men lead me to believe that most of you want to provide pleasure to your female partners, be they hookup buddies, friends with benefits, or girlfriends. It’s important to most of you that your partner orgasm. Yet, sadly, our culture has misguided you on just how to do this—denying you sex-positive sexual education and thus too often leaving porn as your role-model. So, here’s a list to make sure that, despite what might be your good intentions, no “Grace” ever describes her evening with you as “the worst in her life.”
In fact, if you follow this list, just the opposite is likely to occur. “Grace” will be more likely to want to enter into an ongoing relationship with you, which (depending on what you both want and how things unfold) could be anything from hookup buddies to a committed relationship. And, even if you and Grace aren’t interested in taking the relationship past one night, she’s still likely to tell her friends about her great evening with you—resulting in a well-deserved positive reputation.
1. Get Clear Consent: A great definition of consent is “a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent can be given by words or actions, as long as those words or actions create clear permission regarding willingness to engage in the sexual activity. Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent.” I show a series of videos in my Human Sexuality class that teach how to get consent, including both instruction on reading body-language (e.g., Is she pulling away or leaning in? Does her body stiffen up when you do something?), and on asking questions to get consent (e.g., “Do you want to…?”). My students find these videos entertaining (i.e., they laugh out loud) and genuinely helpful (i.e., they actually learn to give and get consent). Please take the 15 minutes it will take to watch these videos and also, please post and share them widely.
2. Keep the Consent Going: As these videos demonstrate, consent is an ongoing process, and it’s perfectly okay for a partner (or you) to change her mind in the midst of a sexual encounter. In fact, rather than taking the attitude that your goal is to convince her to have sex with you, take the perspective that your goal is to make sure she is completely comfortable with whatever you’re doing together. To put this attitude into action, especially the first time you’re with a partner, ask, “Is this OK?” or “Do you want me to?” a lot—including before you do something (e.g., “Do you want me to go down on you?”). As a millennial woman recently told me, “It’s sexy when a new partner asks a lot. It makes me more comfortable.” If at any point, your partner gives a sign of not being into it (e.g., pulls away, stiffens), stop what you are doing and check in. Ask, for example, “Do you want to stop?”
3. What to Do (& Not Do) if She Puts on the Brakes: If your partner gives you any verbal or non-verbal signal that she’s done or not into it, Stop the Action. Totally. Completely. Have a conversation about what she wants. She may want to continue to make out, but not to have oral sex. She might be into oral sex but not want intercourse. Unless you actually ask, you risk misinterpretation and miscommunication, and thus having sex with you described in negative terms. Don’t risk this.
And, if she does tell you that she wants to stop altogether, do so. Don’t push for more. And, don’t, I Repeat: Don’t jack off and cum on her stomach.
Much to my dismay, stories of frustrated men whose partners hit the brakes in the middle of a sexual encounter doing this abound. I’ve heard them from students and from clients. Here’s a recent one, written by Emma Grey in the Huffington Post: “We began hooking up and eventually it got to a point where I wasn’t into it any longer, so I told him I was tired and wanted to call it a night. He got up and went to the bathroom, and I assumed it was clear that we were done for the evening. When he came back to my room, I was still lying in bed, partially undressed. He stood over me and began masturbating.”
Jacking off on a partner’s stomach (or any other body part) after she hits the brakes is not setting a high standard for a mutual sexual encounter. Because you can’t actually die from blue-balls, allow me to repeat what to do instead: Stop the action. Then do something else—have a nice conversation, cuddle, have a bite to eat, or watch a movie. However, if you really can’t handle your sexual frustration, tell her it’s cool and you respect her decision, and then, depending on where you are, either go home and jerk off or do it very quietly in your own bathroom. If you handle yourself this way (no pun intended), she is much less likely to describe the encounter in negative terms and much more likely to be open to another encounter.
4. Consider Her Pleasure as Important as Your Sexual Pleasure: Despite the fact that the entire weight of the culture is against this, it’s really pretty simple. When you have a sexual encounter with a woman, consider her sexual pleasure to be just as important as your sexual pleasure.
5. Learn About The Clitoris: To put the notion that of equal pleasure into action, you’re going to have to unlearn the notion that your penis is the key to her pleasure and that both of you will orgasm from intercourse. Only about 15- 18% of women orgasm from your thrusting penis alone, and only about 5% of women say your thrusting alone is their most reliable route to orgasm. The rest (95%) say they orgasm most reliably from clitoral stimulation alone (e.g., oral sex, manual stimulation) or from combining penetration and clitoral stimulation. So, if you really want to equally value your partner’s pleasure, you’re going to need to learn about the clitoris—where it is and how to stimulate it. (No, it isn’t stimulated by you sticking your fingers into her vagina).
6. Ask for Directions Down There: Because the type of clitoral stimulation that every woman needs to orgasm is different, you are going to have to ask for directions. While you might fear that asking for directions makes it sound like you don’t know what you’re doing, the opposite is actually true. Women are appreciative and turned on when guys want to know what they like and what they need to orgasm. So, make it clear via your words (“Tell me if this feels good”) and non-verbal’s (e.g., put her hand on top of yours and say “Show me what to do”) that you want to do what feels good for her. Yep, that’s right—you’re going to have to learn, and use, sexual communication not only to get affirmative consent but to give pleasure.
7. Take Your Time: While in a lot of porn, there is almost no “foreplay” (i.e., clitoral caressing, oral sex) and the woman orgasms almost immediately from penetration, this isn’t how real life sex is. In fact, many sex educators say you should fool around about 20 minutes before you even reach between a woman’s legs. Strikingly, in one survey about heterosexual sex, men and women said the average amount of time spent on such warming up was only five minutes. And, once you do reach between her legs, the truth is that it takes women anywhere from 10 – 45 minutes of partnered clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm (average of about 20). In fact, if a partner spends twenty or more minutes on clitoral stimulation, about 92 percent of women will orgasm. While this might sound like a long time, here’s what Ian Kerner says in his book, “She Comes First” when he compares this rate of orgasm to our usual rate of female orgasm in heterosexual sex: “That’s a shift of tectonic proportions— from two out of three women not being able to reach climax to nine out of ten achieving satisfaction— all because of a matter of minutes. Few, if any, of the world’s problems, can be solved with a mere twenty minutes of attention, and yet here, in the complex sociopolitical landscape of the bedroom, we have an opportunity to create bilateral satisfaction.”
I recently published a book aimed at creating such bilateral satisfaction. The goal of the book, written primarily for young adult women who have sex with men, is to make sex an equal opportunity, mutually pleasurable, encounter. The book contains a chapter summarizing all the information in the book for male readers. It includes information on female pleasure and the clitoris. This chapter presents options for sexual scripts in which her comfort, pleasure, and orgasm are as important as yours. Importantly, it teaches good sexual communication skills. In the wake of the Aziz Ansari/Grace story, I’ve decided to temporarily put a free copy of this chapter on my website. I hope it will help YOU set a higher standard for the sex you have.