This is an excerpt from Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters—and How to Get It, by Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., copyright 2017. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne/HarperCollins.
Take a moment to think about how the word “sex” is used in our culture. Think of what the majority of people mean when they say “We had sex” or “I’d love to have sex with her!”
If you thought of the act of putting a penis into a vagina (i.e., intercourse), you nailed it (pun intended). You don’t have to look very far to see that in modern Western culture the terms “sex” and “intercourse” are used as if they are one and the same. Popular magazines often feature stories on the “best sex” positions, and what these articles contain are positions for intercourse. Even the dictionary defines sex as intercourse.
Given all these examples, it isn’t surprising that multiple studies reveal that most people in our culture define sex as intercourse as well. Also interesting is what the people in these studies said about having an orgasm during intercourse. Almost all said that even if the female doesn’t have an orgasm during intercourse, it still counts as sex. The same isn’t true if the male doesn’t orgasm during intercourse – fewer people said this counts as sex. In short, in our culture, it’s not “sex” unless intercourse happens and the male has an orgasm. Let that sink in for a moment.
Let’s look at the term “foreplay.” It goes hand in hand with the heterosexual penetrative way sex is defined in our culture. Merriam-Webster says that foreplay is the “erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse” or the “action or behavior that precedes an event.” Foreplay is all that comes before the main event—again, the main event being heterosexual intercourse. A group of feminist women who briefly put the clitoris on the map said:
The word foreplay implies that this sexual pleasure is not in itself important, but rather an exercise men need to go through to get us ready for intercourse.
Now let’s take a closer look at one sex act often used to get women ready: oral sex. It’s crucial to understand that this “appetizer” is actually the main course for many women—it’s the way they orgasm! Despite this, oral sex isn’t often considered to be sex. In one study in which people decided what counted as sex or not, among those in the eighteen to twenty-nine-year-old age range:
68 percent of women said it counts as sex when a partner gives them oral sex, but only 33 percent of men said it counts when they give a partner oral sex.
Besides the chilling amount of potential for sexual miscommunication, these results emphasize that the way a great number of women consistently reach orgasm isn’t considered sex by about two-thirds of men and one-third of women. It’s just foreplay.
What would the world be like if men’s orgasms were “just foreplay” and women’s orgasms were the main event? If this were the case, the clitoral caressing (with a finger, tongue or vibrator) that often occurs in encounters before intercourse would be called “sex” and intercourse would be called “post-play.” Wouldn’t that be revolutionary!
If we made this switch, however, we’d still have orgasm inequality because we’d be turning the tables and prioritizing female orgasms. So here’s a more equitable solution: Let’s define both clitoral stimulation and intercourse as sex!
If we as a society made this change, there’d be no need for the term “foreplay.” There’d be no one main event. Men’s and women’s satisfaction and routes to orgasm would be equally valued.
Putting intercourse and clitoral stimulation on the same level would also solve another insidious word problem – the way magazines and even some sex therapist refer to women touching their own clitorises during intercourse. It’s often called “extra” clitoral stimulation.” There’s clearly nothing additional about this clitoral stimulation. It’s not a superfluous add-on. It’s a vital part of the main event!
Considering clitoral stimulation and intercourse as equally important has two obvious benefits. It would honor the way most women reach orgasm. But, just as important, what two women do together when they get it on would also count as sex.
A good place to start in changing your language is by just noticing. As you read magazines and books and watch television and movies, pay attention to the word “sex.” Notice how often it’s used to mean intercourse. When you couple this with the knowledge that very few women orgasm from intercourse alone, the craziness will become clear to you. Even crazier are the countless articles listing the “best sex” positions, which go over tons of intercourse positions that might indirectly stimulate the clitoris yet never mention direct clitoral stimulation. As you begin to see this insidious language injustice more clearly, try to adjust your own language. I promise that you, your partner, and society as a whole will reap the benefits.
Not sure how to practice this new mindset in the bedroom? Here, Dr. Mintz shares three simple ways to flip the standard sex script to promote orgasm equality.
You may see it all the time on TV and in movies, but simultaneous orgasms are pretty rare in real life. To ensure one person isn’t always on the giving end, make sure both of you get a chance to be the center of attention. “Many people find that a turn-taking model works really well because then each person can fully immerse in their own pleasure,” says Mintz. If you’re planning on having intercourse, start with oral sex or manual stimulation that brings the person-with-the vulva to orgasm first then move on to penetration. In addition to reaching the big O, intercourse will be more enjoyable for both parties when the vulva is sufficiently aroused, explains Mintz.
If a sexual encounter involves intercourse, simultaneously stimulate the clitoris using a vibrator or your own hands. “There are also wearable couple vibrators that can be used to provide clitoral stimulation during intercourse,” says Mintz.
Guys often think it’s their “job” to make their partner orgasm by thrusting hard and lasting long. (Um, yeah, no thanks.) “We have to help guys learn the truth about female pleasure and you can do this with a conversation outside of the bedroom,” says Mintz. Step one: Always start with the positives.“Tell your partner, ‘I love our sex life and I’ve been reading about how most women’s orgasms are more intense if they occur with direct clitoral stimulation, and I want to try that together.” Do some reading together on the topic (say Ian Kerner’s oral sex how-to manual, She Comes First) or watch videos from the awesome sex ed website, OMGYES. “Helping men get “cliterate” benefits them as well because takes away the pressure for them to perform with their penises,” says Mintz.
For more advice on flipping the script, as well as real life quotes of people doing so, check out the partner-sex chapter (“Equal Opportunity Orgasms”) in Becoming Cliterate.