So you may have seen this article in The Atlantic, Why Is It So Hard for Women to Write About Sex?
When people ask questions like this, I feel compelled to answer.
There are two reasons:
1. Because women are deeply, essentially, fundamentally misinformed about the basics of how sex works, both inside their bodies and inside their relationships; and
2. They’re also only very rarely and exceptionally taught how to pay attention to their own internal experience.
In short, women have a hard time writing about sex because they neither understand, factually, nor trust, emotionally, their experience.
Let’s start with the first thing. I’ll just correct some basic actual factual mistakes in the article itself, to illustrate.
A. “Men are all evidence”, meaning that when a man has an erection, it’s an undeniable truth about what turns them on. There are days when I can’t believe we’re still reenacting this narrative. I’ve written about this a lot, so I’ll just say here that: Genital response is NOT desire.
B. “Women have long since learned all about how our tucked-away stuff works”. Good god do I wish this were true. But the above correction is just one example of how not true this is. My book is 100,000 words worth of all the stuff people don’t know about how their stuff works – including directly addressing this idea that their stuff is “tucked away.” It’s “tucked away” only in a metaphorical sense, not an anatomical sense. And while I suppose there are those who would argue that bodies are metaphors… I wouldn’t. I would argue that I live in a literal body.
C. “Meanwhile, female lust has been thoroughly documented (or at any rate, endlessly and theatrically depicted) by the adult-film industry.” Um, no. A male fantasy of female lust has been documented and theatrically depicted in porn – with feminist porn the rare exception. Let us never mistake media representations of female sexuality for ACTUAL female sexuality. Women routinely come to me with expectations about their sexual functioning established by what they’ve seen in porn, and the porn is all wrong. If we had a functional sex education system, that would help inoculate us against the worst of the fallacies in porn, but without it…
And then 2 – not knowing how to pay attention to internal experience. This shows up as this experience of sexual desire:
[My lust] comes with an endless internal monologue—or maybe dialogue, or maybe babel. My desire is always guessing, often second-guessing. Female lust is a powerful force, but it surges in the form of an interrogation, rather than a statement. Not I want this but Do I want this? What exactly do I want? How about now? And now?
[D]id I want it enough? How good did it truly feel? Was I doing it only because the other person wanted to? My desire was real, I could feel it there at the core of the experience, but if I let myself, I could also feel doubt braided tightly with the desire. [...] Second thoughts come right on the heels of first thoughts, and am I really supposed to be having thoughts during sex anyway?
What right now feels daring but also timely, I’m discovering, is this: to forget about trying to prove some sort of risqué bona fides, and to focus instead on all that interior whirring.
Here’s the reality: you are a flock. You contain multitudes, as the man said. You have a bunch of simultaneous and competing motivations functioning all at once, all the time: hunger, thirst, fatigue, pleasure, social acceptance, stress, different roles and identities in life… and it often happens that those parts pull in opposite directions.
This is normal and healthy.
But women have been taught to notice ambivalence with anxiety – “whirring” and “Am I really supposed to be…” and “doubt” about whether or not your own internal experience is trustworthy.
(Your internal experience is trustworthy, even – especially – when it is ambivalent.)
So that’s why it’s hard. It’s hard because women in America are only rarely taught the truth about our bodies – and yet often believe that we HAVE been taught the truth about our bodies. And it’s hard because we are even more rarely taught to notice our own internal complexity with compassion and nonjudgment.
And if you’re looking for a solution of how to make it easier for women to write about (and have) sex, the answer is: the judicious application of feminist science and nonjudgment.