Sexuality is, to put it mildly, a convoluted subject. From a process of reproduction, sex has become something of labyrinthine complexity. It is far more than just our sex organs. Whether we’re aware of it or want to, we bring to sex our pasts, desires, preconceptions, prejudices, morals, insecurities, and emotions. There are expectations of both men and women – everyone wants to be thought of as good in bed, but what that involves has become increasingly demanding. We’re all to be porn stars. Girls as young as eleven are pressured by their peers (their female friends as much as the boys) into replicating the sex their boyfriends have seen in porn. Admit you like the missionary position and you might as well declare yourself a Puritan and get thee to a nunnery. No, we’re all supposed to be as limber as a Cirque du Soleil contortionist. Sex isn’t just a fun way to spend the afternoon, it’s a competition. We try to be better than the last lover – or, indeed, anyone the other person has ever had sex with. Sex is to be mind-blowing, ne’er before known heights of ecstasy, unforgettable and impossible to surpass. We count our orgasms, rating our lovers by the number of times they make us come in a night. Even if we wouldn’t want to venture into the world of slings and hardcore S&M, we’re blasé about the more extreme sexual practices because that’s the fashionable way to be. We buy into the highly lucrative concept that our sex lives need to be spiced up – thrilling at all times. At the mellow end of the market are scented candles and a romantic dinner; role play and dressing up usually make the list; then there’s a little light bondage of the Ann Summers handcuffs and whipped cream variety; and sex manuals are a must, though nothing of the boring old Joy of Sex sort – they have to be fun fun fun. On and on it goes in the quest for the perfect shag.
No matter how modern all this might make us feel, there remains the double standard between men and women regarding sexual mores. There are no derogatory words for a promiscuous man, but innumerable ones for a woman. How many men a woman has sex with and how soon after meeting shouldn’t be worth even mentioning, but it is the subject of countless, and constant, debates. Living by The Rules or by one’s own ought to be a given, but women frequently lie about the number of lovers they’ve had and the extent of their experience, downplaying both to their partners. I don’t think anyone quite knows why we do this, why we have such contrasting views of male and female behaviour, but it’s a practice that every generation adopts, to a greater or lesser extent, and has done so over centuries. Porn encourages us to act like a slut in the bedroom, but apparently we’re not supposed to actually be one out of it.
I’m not arguing in favour of mediocre sex. No one wants that. I don’t think men should, à la Christian missionaries, pray for god’s forgiveness for taking carnal pleasure and their wives’ bodies be concealed by full-length white nightdresses with a hole embroidered in the shape of a cross over their vaginas. Sex is supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be about people – real life ones, not the ones pornography, magazines, adverts, and billboards tell us we should be. The anal sex her boyfriend saw onscreen shouldn’t be a part of an 11-year-old girl’s life. Her life should be about her – what she wants to do and what she enjoys – not what porn told her boyfriend she ought to be. You’d think we’d grow out of that, but the idea that sex is a performance to impress our lover surrounds us and, inevitably, affects the way we view ourselves and those with whom we have sex. In attempting to emulate the moves of a porn star, women are understudying to others paid to fake orgasms and pleasure. Role play is one thing, but if women are faking it, in whole or in part, all to seem like the person they believe their lovers want them to be, then it begs the question of who everyone is sleeping with – the person we know or the one they’re pretending to be for our benefit because that’s what they believe we want and, possibly, what we’ve come to believe we want, too. It’s no wonder we’re confused.