The Patriarchy of Sex

My good friend and I were discussing our recent love/dating/sexual experiences and she mentioned something unsettling; she said the guy she was sleeping with consistently for a month "made her give him head." No, it was not forced. They were both mostly sober consenting adults, participating in sexual activities with one another. This guy happened to be just so charming (and cute, and nice, and cordial) out of bed, that when he asked her to not stop, she didn't stop. This went on for well over 30 minutes. In return, the guy attempted to play around the general vicinity of her vagina, but mostly just searched for her G spot a little too aggressively. Exhausted after giving a marathon of oral pleasure, she feigned the slightest interest in his attempt, then they both slumped to opposite sides of the bed and called it a night. They haven't seen one another since.

By most hetero 20-something-year-olds' standards, their sex that night was successful because the guy was stimulated to orgasm and the lady got a little something too. The guy was only interested in getting himself off that night and my friend was not interested in trying to stop him because she felt obligated to get him off. Instead of advancing into a mutually beneficial sex session, it was the guy's show and only the guy's show. Too often sex is a race for a guy to orgasm, and a bonus for a woman to. Too often does that race lend to unsatisfying and often obligatory sex for women.

Many young women are inactive participants in the sex they are having, and they aren't talking about it. As was the case for my friend, and is for far too many sexually active women in their early 20s. That she didn't have the tools to deal with this situation is a profound fallacy of our patriarchal society. Take a look at the meaning of patriarchy and it is a system where men hold the power and women are excluded from it. Translate that to sex, and the similarities are striking.

So, why is this paradigm considered acceptable?

Historically, this is how sex has been; an avenue to reproduction. With the introduction of widespread accessibility to birth control (like, 50 years ago with the sexual revolution) sex can be enjoyed solely for pleasure. Unfortunately, some people are still playing by the antiquated rules.

In a similar vein, politically, women are still viewed as baby-making machines who don't have rights over their own bodies, and certainly not their own vaginas. Take the recent war waged on accessible birth control. In the past few months, laws have swept across states like Arizona's House Bill 2625 that restricts access to affordable birth control covered under health insurance intended for use outside of health issues. Signed by governor Jan Brewer on May 11, the bill goes so far as to allow companies to fire a woman for using birth control to prevent pregnancy. The Arizona legislature is majority Republican with an advantage of 21-9 in the Senate and 40-20 in the House. Both the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House are White Republican males over the age of 50. See the trend?

Culturally, the social construction of gender roles is to blame. Traditionally, born males assume the role of men through the iteration of masculine behavior norms -- aggressive and dominant. While born females assume the role of women through the iteration of feminine behavior norms -- sensitive and passive. In layman's terms, boys are told to wear blue and develop dominant traits by playing sports while girls are told to wear pink and develop passive traits by playing house.

This iteration of gender roles through societal expectations extends much further than just playground pecking orders, though.

The University of California published a study in 2010 titled "Scripting sexual passivity: A gender role perspective" (PDF). The study concluded that, "gender role conformity indirectly depresses sexual satisfaction for women but not men because traditional gender-based sexual roles dictate sexual passivity for women but sexual agency for men." Meaning, these gender roles people act out from childhood carry out through adulthood, and into the bedroom.

None of this is the guy's, or a majority of guys', fault necessarily, though. It's the pigeonhole role that women play and accept in sex as a result of societal and political values that is to blame. Unfortunately, my friend's begrudged acceptance of the blow job isn't helping anyone out.

The largest outcome of the masculine dominance in politics and society is that women don't have the tools or the language, or the confidence to use those tools or that language, to become active participants in sex. Not only is patriarchy reigning supreme in the bedroom, but women are allowing it to. Too often do I hear stories about my female friends accepting undesirable sex until the guy reaches climax. Either she is bored, uncomfortable, or just isn't into the sex, but instead of saying that she is bored, uncomfortable, or just not into the sex, she sits back and waits. At this point, the sex has shifted into a submissive acceptance of the patriarchal dominance in the bedroom.

Sure, awkward sex occasionally happens to those young, trying-to-figure-it-all-out 20-something ladies (here's looking at you Lena Dunham), but it doesn't have to. Despite being told that women are just a shell to make babies or a malleable toy intended for male pleasure; how about the dialogue shifts to a mutually beneficial getting it on.

Why can't women say no to bad sex? Women can say no to laws that treat them like animals, they can say no to pro-life (or pro-choice) activists, they can say no to a guy trying to buy them a drink, they can say no to that second piece of cake, but women can't say no to bad sex. It is about damn time that women become active participants in the bedroom. Women need to speak up and tell their partner how they like it, or don't. Sexual partners need to have an open dialogue so they can enjoy super hot sex together. The current paradigm isn't working, but until women shift their passive acceptance into active participation, patriarchy will keep its mainstay between the sheets.