This weekend, a short story ran in The New Yorker that has given many food for thought. Cat Person is the fictional story of a woman who has a bad sexual encounter with someone she had little interest in. Before and during the encounter, which she consents to, she changes her mind but never voices this to the man who is badly penetrating her. She is not forced into sex, but feels too guilty and embarrassed to stop it.
Although this is not a true story, it certainly could be. In fact, for many people, particularly women, it has been.
In my early 20s, I fully entrenched myself in university culture, which unfortunately included drunken hook ups. I’d meet guys at parties, through friends, at social events and was suckered in by their arrogance and boring charm. I’d agree to go home with them (usually a crowded student halls or terrible shared house) and although the spark was dying, I always consented. I’ve felt physically repulsed when a man has taken out his flaccid penis, felt bored with the same thrusting, and had to stop myself from laughing at many cringe-worthy attempts at dirty talk. But I never stopped the event. Each time I would lay back, make almost believable noises, and nod when they asked if I’d came after.
There are so many elements of Cat Person that applied to my past dating and sexual experiences: not understanding why I’m attracted to such a rude and distant man, flirting even though I don’t fancy someone, agreeing to go home with someone who I know does absolutely nothing for me. Being mid-sex and being utterly bored, annoyed, dejected, but never once stopping. Allowing men to get away with ludicrous stuff such as answering the phone whilst badly penetrating me, because who was I to spoil his fun?
The important thing about these encounters is that all the men were nice, regular blokes. I wasn’t coerced by any of them and I never felt unsafe. But it was just easier to say yes and lie down while they pumped inside me for a few minutes than to say no. Stopping equalled guilt. Guilt for denying sex to this poor, lovely guy who hasn’t done anything wrong but be a crap kisser and not know how to unfasten a bra. Guilt for crushing his hopes, even after he bought me a cheap cocktail and said I looked “hot”. Guilt for being a completely heartless cow and ignoring texts and forcing friends to accompany me everywhere they may be. God what sort of monster am I?!
If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is. But it’s how women are conditioned to think. When we’re taught about sex, the pleasure of women doesn’t get a look in. We’re told that men have higher sex drives than us; that men deserve sex if they are kind to us; that women should remain silent and lie back and think of England.
We’re taught that sex is something that happens to us.
There’s a whole culture of bad sex. So much so that we collect them like war stories to regale our friends with at the pub. But we never discuss how it can be solved. We just accept that some men are bad at sex, without considering why we allow ourselves to be put in the same position again and again (literally).
The biggest cause of bad sex is lack of communication – talking to your partner – its still seen as a taboo subject to openly explain what we enjoy in bed. We’re British we don’t talk about such vulgarity! Sex is 1000% better with clear communication, asking a partner what they enjoy and don’t, conveying how exactly they can make you squirm. But there’s also the basics, checking in on each other, feeling okay about stopping if you’re not into it without the guilt mounting up. There needs to be the understanding that sex isn’t a compulsory reward and there are many reason why people do or don’t want to have sex.
If we had a more open environment around sex and pleasure, maybe we wouldn’t feel bad for saying “sorry I’m not feeling it”. Maybe we’d be able to convey that that position does absolutely nothing for us. Maybe we’d finally stop having bad sex.