Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on April 6, 2013.
This post is NSFW (not safe to read at work).
I got the idea to write this because I read this and this and something saying that only 67% of women in some study of “mainstream Americans” reported having an orgasm the last time they had sex, while men reported a rate of 91%. The worst bit of info from that study was that in a “hookup” only 11% of women had an orgasm (an incredibly damning statistic for the hookup culture if you ask me). Also, 10-15% of ordinary women are thought to have never had an orgasm. I thought “Ooh, this is bad. What gives?” I imagined that among people who grew up with the Quiverfull teachings I did that that rate is likely even worse. Then it made me think of this quote by Douglas Wilson, which just makes me shudder.
“When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”
Awful perspective, right? So that’s why, although I’ve already talked about some serious issues with the role of sex in the movement before, I decided to approach it from a different angle today. Sexuality is something that is personal, that is yours to make decisions about, no matter what you may have been talked into believing to the contrary (don’t even get me started on the “pieces of your heart” talk, the many sneakily layered meanings of the word “modesty,” or the hints starting at a young age about how a certain kind of “giving of yourself” will be required by your imaginary future husband). So that’s why today I decided to write bluntly about how to enjoy sex as a woman, particularly as a woman raised in the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy homeschooling movement.
I figured that as someone who has taken a human sexual behavior class in college (and made an “A”), never faked an orgasm or felt there was reason to (both expecting and generally having actual real ones when getting it on with her man), and who also grew up the Quiverfull way, with the purity teachings and attending a succession of home births and whatnot, that perhaps I have some useful things I can share about sex.
Still, I want to make clear that I don’t figure I am some expert or even that I am particularly experienced in this arena. In fact, I’ve only kissed four guys in my life (which is apparently about 3 more than your average Quiverfull daughter is supposed to). Still, learning how to have good sex was a problem for me in the past, but today I thoroughly appreciate and enjoy it. Sex is a natural human thing, nothing to be ashamed or shy about, and I am happy that it exists. Thing is, wanting it is instinct, knowing how to actually do it, or be responsible about it, not as much so.
Also, I am only addressing some basics of heterosexual sex here, largely in the context of a loving relationship, because that’s my thing. If you need to know more about GLBT stuff or healing from sexual abuse, or anything regarding less “mainstream” practices, there are others that could likely provide much better resources.
Discovering What You’re Working With
I know we were raised to see masturbation as wrong, as some sin or sex addiction problem, but I don’t think they characterized that exactly right. (Although obviously it can be an issue if you are regularly choosing masturbation over sex with a willing spouse.) Anyway, regardless of how you feel about masturbation, here is my case for at least trying it: if you have never had an orgasm by yourself it’ll be a lot harder for your partner to figure out how to give you one.
Also, different people like different things and sometimes you’ll find yourself wanting different things depending on what mood (or what part of your cycle) you are in. So take some private time and check out your body. Here is a simple guide as to what you might be looking for.
If you are comfortable with it, and if you aren’t that’s okay (this is where I definitely deviate from any advice you might ever hear from Quiverfull parents), you might even want to consider getting a couple items that can be nice for a girl to own (particularly if you are forgoing sex and waiting for the right guy and/or the right wedding ring). Some women report discovering the difference between a vaginal and clitoral orgasm (even though technically they’re both clitoral, just different parts of it) with one of these. One of these can be fun and used with a partner too.
Before “Going There”
Before ever doing the deed you should know what the main parts of the male body are and how they typically function so you can understand and enjoy them (obviously). Here’s some excellent diagrams that explain it all nicely. Then, because you likely already know that sex causes babies (and I imagine are likely already more familiar with the gestation cycle, birth, and infant care side of things than the average person) I will skip past that part (read here if you need it) and just say that if you are not up for pregnancy (and hey, I’m still not) you should find a birth control method that’s right for you. Here is a nice chart with the effectiveness levels for various kinds.
Also, I could write at least five whole posts on Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy sex myth busting but the bottom line is that no matter what people might have told you (or mistakenly believed themselves), getting on the pill does not cause abortions and condoms do significantly reduce the risk of HIV and other icky things you don’t want. We were taught a lot of garbage by people who wanted to control our fertility.
About STI’s (formerly called STD’s) – they are common and most are treatable. If you think you might have been exposed to one, go get tested. If you think he has, make him go get tested. Testing is not a big deal. Pelvic inflammatory disease is. Women are more vulnerable to the ravages of STI’s than men thanks to the shape of our bodies (yeah, um, thanks a lot mother nature!) and often women don’t have symptoms or know they caught one. Some untreated STI’s can cause cervical cancer or fertility problems due to Fallopian tube scarring. (Not meaning to scare you here, just being straight up.) When in doubt, get tested. Anyway, I put STI’s up here near the top because they are important, but I want to clarify that you don’t generally contract STI’s without doing explicitly sexual things with someone who has an STI (and you generally can’t tell if someone does or not just by looking). Also, if someone says they got an STI from a toilet seat it is exceedingly likely that they just found it to be a more comfortable explanation than saying how they really got it. Anyway, on to happier topics…
Chemistry and Choosing Who to Sleep With
So I am a romantic and I also love this poem. I think good sex has a lot to do with chemistry, and chemistry has a lot to do with feeling love, respect, and genetic compatibility. If you are going to sleep with someone (totally not judging here as to who that might be, except to advise that you don’t sleep with someone who is in a committed relationship with someone else or someone who treats you disrespectfully) you should first get to know them (I know, crazy idea, right?) because the brain is one of the most important sex organs. Physical “hotness” only goes so far. If they look amazing but are annoying or make you raise one eyebrow and shake your head in disgust, or have you wanting to ask them to be nicer to the waitress or their mother or to stop talking trash about their ex (three big red flags!), don’t go there.
If they are brilliant smart, kindhearted and funny, and smile in a way that makes you just have to smile and crinkle up the corners of your eyes too, then they pass the first test. Then, after you get to know them (and this is according to your time frame, not mine), you should hold hands and make out a lot.
If your kissing partner tastes bad (and bathing/brushing their teeth and refraining from garlic don’t seem to help) don’t sleep with them. Politely move on. It is biology trying to tell you something. You are not a good match. Bad kissing = bad sex. If your body likes them, there are ways to know. If not, you’re not doing them or you any favors by faking it. Trust your instinct. If their natural scent smells sweet, if holding hands with them puts you on cloud nine, then a proper amount of physical attraction is there. All the “pink spots” on your body (lips, nipples, hands and feet, genitals) have these things called Meisner’s corpuscles in them. That might sound like a boring scientific term but the sensation they describe is not. It doesn’t have to be sexual but it can be when you are feeling attraction. That’s why holding hands with someone you are attracted to can really feel electrifying.
When you feel electrified like that you’ll likely find your mind floating towards wanting more intimacy, more skin contact with this person. However, just because you (and/or your partner) feel aroused (increased blood flow to your privates, an erection in men, a feeling of being “wet down there” in women) does not mean you need to act on it. We are human beings, not animals. You have a choice. They have a choice. Nobody will explode or keel over and die from lack of sex. Pressuring someone for sexual activity is not okay and this also goes for when you are the person being pressured. If he asks you and you don’t feel right about it (this goes for whether you are married to him or not) then don’t do it. If you do want to, then say so and see what he says.
Dispelling a Few Myths
– I had a laugh the other day with some former homeschooled girls who said they used to think “oral sex” meant French kissing, admitting I used to think this too back in my sheltered homeschool days. It definitely does not.
– Don’t imagine you are somehow “unable” to get pregnant and not take precautions based on that.
– Don’t think that having sex automatically means the other person will consider you as being in a relationship (or bound for the alter) because of it. If you haven’t talked about this beforehand then you’re just two people who had sex.
– Don’t have sex with someone you are not okay with being in love with. Sex is a powerful and sneaky thing and can make or break relationships even when you have other plans.
Getting it On
If/when you know the person you want to have sex with well enough, feel comfortable with doing so, and you have an opportunity where you both agree on it (consent, ever-present as an important component), have at it. Happily take off your clothes, explore, ask questions, try things, feel the love. You can go for it all at once or spread out this exploration into “steps” as you get to know one another. It’s up to you.
Don’t expect your partner to know what you need or for you to know what they need. They are learning too. That’s what practice and talking is for. However experienced or non-experienced your partner is, you will still have to learn what they like, what you like, and what you like to do together. It will be an adventure and just like not everyone has a taste for spicy food, not every girl likes having her hair pulled and her bottom slapped or her toes sucked on (but some certainly do, and provided you’re cool with it, have fun).
If one or both of you are virgins, the first time will likely be awkward and for women it very well may hurt and you might bleed (these are both generalizations, btw, and definitely not the rule). Always tell your partner if something they are doing feels painful and if they need to do it differently or stop. If you don’t like it, you can say stop at any time. If you do like something, say you like it so he’ll know. Also, if you want something, ask for it. Even if it feels awkward to talk about sex, remind yourself that it isn’t any more so than actually doing it. Besides, your partner won’t know unless you say what’s on your mind. Still, be gentle with their feelings.
Sex is a vulnerable thing.
If you just can’t seem to make it work, read up on vaginismus. Girls who grew up in sexually repressive environments or have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to have this condition. There are also other sexual dysfunctions that could be at play too, on your part or his.
If you are sleeping with someone who has slept with other people before, don’t judge them or sex shame them. This is pretty normal in mainstream American culture and no slight against you. You can ask them their “number” if you want to know, but if they want to keep that private their wishes should be respected. What you should always ask is if you might be at risk for STI’s before either of your clothes come off. Just because they look “clean” doesn’t mean they are. If they don’t know for sure, tell them to get tested. Also, when in doubt, always use a condom. Condoms are honestly not all that awesome in my opinion but they have their place. They are also not nearly as “useless” or “bad” as we were taught they were growing up. If used properly, they actually do prevent many STI’s and unwanted pregnancy. If you find you are allergic to latex or spermicide make sure to go with latex-free and spermicide free varieties. Also, it’s really not any more awkward to buy a box of them at the store than it is to buy a box of Kotex.
Making Sure it’s “Good” Sex
So foreplay (kissing, touching, whispering sexy things to each other, perhaps oral sex) is fun, will help you figure out what you’re in the mood for, and make the actual sex better. It is also a way to set the stage for both people’s pleasure to be seen as equally valuable, desirable, and necessary. If you feel self-conscious about your body or exploring different things, light a candle or two and forget about it. Everyone looks good by candlelight.
Read about various positions (this cartoon couple is positively adorable, aren’t they?), discuss them together, and try out the ones that look cool so you can figure out what you like.
When it comes to orgasms most women report needing their clitoris rubbed, meaning orgasm happens more easily through either oral sex or “woman on top” sex where you or he touch your clitoris while you have sex. I used to not know this and thought there was something wrong with me but since learned that this is not weird but instead totally normal – standard stuff that women usually need that somehow still gets ignored in our patriarchal (i.e. overly penis-centered) culture.
Also, there’s this myth that you are supposed to orgasm at the same time. Reality is it happens that way sometimes but it is a treat, not the norm. Most of the time one partner does before the other or even prefers a totally different position to come in than the other. Ideally it should be the woman who comes first (perhaps even multiple times) but sometimes (especially when guys are young or haven’t had sex in a while) it isn’t. Then a polite guy will either do something else to satisfy you, or wait a little bit before he can get an erection again (yeah, gotta love the “refractory period”) and give it another go. A rude guy will roll over and go to sleep. If you have a rude guy, call him on it and ask for what you need. Don’t let him get away with thinking sex is meant to be anything less than an egalitarian pleasuring party!
Note: I know that in writing something like this (which I thought about for a long time before putting up) I am sharing things that are still pretty taboo for a woman to speak about openly but particularly so for a woman from my background. I decided to post it anyway. I also know that creepers are gonna creep, so I just want to say I don’t want to get any objectifying blog comments saying I am “hot” or “not hot” or other remarks of that nature. I am both unavailable and quite uninterested in receiving such stuff, thanks.
This post is solely here as a public service type thing.
Thanks for writing this all out, Heather!
One point though, it’s not particularly queer-friendly and presents a heteronormative version of sex. It’s been something of a personal battle of mine to reject the definition of the goal of sex as a man releasing sperm inside of a woman’s vagina. Oral sex is “actual sex” too! 🙂
I’d also like to add scarleteen.com as a very valuable and awesome reference.
Great post! I’ve read it before, but was glad to see it shared here, too.
For anyone who wants more info, on how-to’s or non-heteronormative sex, I’ll second scarleteen.com and add Laci Green’s series on youtube.
For anyone who’s experiencing “drive” issues, wondering why you don’t stay in the mood, a partner of someone with a different “drive”…or if you’re just curious about the brain and sex, I highly recommend: http://www.thedirtynormal.com/2010/02/21/how-sex-works/ to start then look up her other posts on SES&SIS.
Heather, you rock. Your advice will help fundamentalism escapees find some much-deserved joy.
Wow. I’ve been married for five years. I wish I had read this before I married. Scratch that. I wish I had read it before I left the sheltered and uninformed environment I grew up in.
I waited until I got married (by choice, because nobody could make me do anything at that point), but my ignorance caused me alot of pain and scary situations, during dating and after marriage. I had a medical condition (huge cyst) that made intercourse painful always and made me bleed every time for months and months after we married. Had I been educated and aware and comfortable talking about things like that, I wouldn’t have suffered for so long. I didn’t know what was normal. Sex being torture must be normal, I thought, and didn’t understand why anyone would do it unless they really loved the man wanting to do it. Imagine being my poor husband?? Yikes. It changed our lives when I found out there was a reason and it wasn’t normal to be in excruciating pain and it was taken care of.
Being informed would not hurt anyone, regardless of what morals you want your children to follow. Knowledge is liberating and comforting. Thank you.
Book I read at 45 that I wish I’d had at 20….Intimate Issues by Linda Dillow.
Second, I still think it should wait for marriage, and honeymoons should be taken in a place where both are comfortable to relax and explore the possibilities. Yeah, if it’s the first time, it can be uncomfortable, but try to relax, practice, practice, practice and explore.
Third, don’t think that sex is only for the young. We’re now an older couple(we have kids nearing 40 years of age), and this intimacy, while it has changed because of medical and age issues, is still an exploration.
Fourth, due to pregnancy, birth, or age-related medical issues, remember you can still have fun without penetration.
Fifth, God gave us this gift, and if it wasn’t supposed to be a “pleasure party”, why did He give us the parts to make it so pleasurable.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This will probably sound strange but I actually cried a little reading this. Knowledge is power. The more you know the better you are able to make confident decisions and get what you need and want. I didn’t become sexually active until 23 but I’ve had some really bad experiences. And I realize it is all due to lack of knowledge. Everything is so completely different than what little I was told and what I just assumed from terrible resources as a teenager. At 27 I still get very frustrated with myself for my being so uncomfortable with even talking about sex at all with my partner. It’s still ingrained in my head that only his pleasure and what he wants is what matters. I can’t even say out loud what I like/want.
Oh and that whole thing about kissing and how they taste. Sooooooo true!! Oh how I could have saved myself some heartache and a lot of other things if I knew to trust those signs.
I’ve always loved that Sharon Olds poem as well, ever since I read it my freshman year in college. I found lines 8 & 9 quite erotic, coming from a fairly sheltered homeschool background! 🙂