“Hey Bish, I do like how you bring attention to how some people don’t enjoy penetration or PiV that much. Is this based on people you have spoken to personally or any studies that you have found?
I am curious, so I can know which sources to reference too. I would be curious if there are other sites or studies that say that some heterosexual women and men prefer other sexual acts over PiV sex. Mostly, I see posts from people online. People offline act like this is very rare.”
So yeah people have told me IRL that they don’t enjoy penetration that much. I used to work in a young person’s clinic where young people would come and ask me questions in person and many of them (men and women) told me that they weren’t into penetration that much. Some had tried it and were confused because they thought this was meant to be ‘the best’ and actually it was a bit crap or painful. Some guys had been doing it for years and years but realised it was always a bit meh and that they preferred doing other stuff.
This is something that research also backs up. Tsui and Nicoladis found that over half of the women they studied in their research experienced pain when they first had sex. Natsal 3 (the biggest sex research project here in the UK) found that 1 in 10 young women in the UK regularly have painful sex. The same researchers found that around half of people in the UK had some kind of sexual problem (often to do with pain during penetration, or difficulty staying hard) and that 1 in 10 people were distressed about their sex lives.
Also we’ve known for over 40 years now that most women (with vaginas) can’t experience orgasm from just penis in vagina sex and actually prefer other kinds of sex. We’ve also known for nearly 70 years (thanks Alfred Kinsey) that men and women can have orgasms in about the same amount of time if they are having sex by themselves (ie masturbating), rather than with each other. That’s because penis in vagina sex is often more stimulating for the penis than for the vagina or clitoris.
Or buy my book Can We Talk About Consent? Thank you. Now on with the article.
History of PIV
The one thing that a lot of these studies have in common is that they either assume that sex = penis in vagina sex or the people responding to the studies assume that this is what sex is. I don’t like to do that here because a) that excludes a hell of a lot of people and b) I don’t want to reinforce the idea that that is what counts as sex. However, as you say, a lot of people offline just talk about sex as being about penis in vagina.
The reason for that is that this is what we have been taught about sex for hundreds and hundreds of years. Historian Dr Eleanor Janega wrote a piece about the history of why penis in vagina sex is default sex. She writes: “the only time you were ever supposed to be having sex was specifically if you were: 1) a man and a woman; 2) married; and 3) trying to get pregnant when you had sex.” It just so happens that the only kind of sex that society said was seen as okay is often more enjoyable for penises than for vaginas :thinking emoji:
It’s also what we get taught today. Can you remember any sex scene in a Hollywood film, or on TV that did not result in some kind of penetrative sex? And yes there might be some porn that is not all about penetration, but I would suggest that most of it is, no matter what the genders of the performers are.
But it’s not just the sex we see, but the sex we are taught about. Sex advice which is all about positions is often just about penis in vagina sex (with everything else being ‘foreplay’). Also think about sex education in schools: how much of that was just about penetrative sex (condom, contraception, STIs, you know the drill).
Penetrative sex, especially penis in vagina sex, is seen as default or ‘normal’ and if there’s one thing that a lot of people want to be is ‘normal’. This is because they’ve seen what happens to people when they are not seen as ‘normal’ and sometimes take part in, or stand by and watch, the bullying, stigma and hate against those that aren’t seen as ‘normal’.
So the reason that we might not hear so many people offline say to each other like: ‘you know, penetration isn’t really my thing’ is because of all of this stuff. It’s because of the sexist, hetero, normative BS that we’ve been taught and continue to be taught for hundreds of years.
Sex we might enjoy
However, as you say, there is hope that people might actually start to be more open about what sex it is that they might actually enjoy – especially online. For a start lots of people are talking about how they don’t experience sexual feelings, or experience sexual attraction, at all, for example at AVEN. There are loads of sex bloggers like Girl On The Net (18+ only though please) who talk about enjoying lots of different kinds of sex that aren’t just about penetration. And as Dr Eleanor Janega says in her article, even when there were really strict rules about what sex you should be having, people were having loads of different kinds of sex and sounded like they were having a great time doing it.
So I think this is what you’re describing in your question. Even though people think the rules say that sex = penetration: a lot of people have worked out that this isn’t really for them. They might not talk about it offline much with their friends but my hope is that more and more people are able to talk to each other about what they does do it for them when it comes to sexeh times. Hopefully this website can help with that: here’s some further reading.
I also wrote a book for adults about this with my mate Meg-John Barker called A Practical Guide to Sex we also talk about this a lot at our website (and in our podcast) at Meg-John & Justin which is also for over 18s. Also here’s Dr Eleanor Janega’s amazing website Going Medieval.
Do leave a comment below if you have anything you’d like to add or if you have questions. I moderate all comments before they go live. Click here to ask me a question
© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health. Find out more about Justin here