You know who I’ve decided that I absolutely can’t stand? Brian Alexander, the sex advice columnist over at MSNBC. I’m not actively seeking out the guy’s writing, but it seems to keep finding me. Recently, I called him out on being a rape apologist asshole. By comparison, his latest offense is rather minor, but it’s still sexist and obnoxious as hell. This is a question and answer from a column last week:
Q: Do men really care if the woman has an orgasm or not?
A: There is something almost existential about this question, like, “Is there really a merciful God?” or “Will Mick Jagger ever retire?”
I am here to ease your angst, and not just because I’m a man, but because I think it’s true. Not true for all men, of course, but I’d bet most of us do care and, like Boy Scouts, we strive to do our best.
Data from the most comprehensive survey of the nation’s sex life, “The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States,” showed that roughly one-third of women surveyed said they ALWAYS had an orgasm with their male partner. Not sometimes, or most of the time, but always. These numbers are even more impressive when you consider that many women report that due to some physiological or psychological barrier they rarely or never orgasm even if the guy is working like a Spartan. Then realize that the survey’s data was collected nearly a generation ago — before the explosion of porn in every possible form of media made fiery female orgasms the (completely unrealistic) standard, and before giving great oral sex became a datability requirement akin to having a job.
Even if you don’t trust our altruism, consider our egos. Many, many reader letters to this column come from women asking how they can soothe their men’s wounded pride over the women’s trouble reaching orgasm.
Oh Jesus Christ, where to start?
Here’s a good place: Alexander seems to fundamentally miss the difference between wanting to feel like your sexual partner had an orgasm and actually wanting your sexual partner to enjoy sex and have an orgasm. Oh yes, there is a difference, and Alexander happens to show it. The first state of mind is exemplified in his porn argument — guys want their sexual partners to have orgasms because the women in porn do and apparently guys want to recreate porn in their bedrooms or something — and in his ego argument — men want their sexual partners to have orgasms because it makes them feel better about themselves. You know who these guys are? These are the guys who cause women to fake orgasms. Sure, women shouldn’t do it, and yes it’s bad practice and women are only fucking themselves over in the end. But when they’ve got guys in their beds who seem determined to make them have the orgasm they’re not going to have and then pout if they don’t . . . well I can see where they’re coming from.
The second state of mind is held by the group of straight guys who (at least in this respect) aren’t assholes. They’re the kind who think that sex isn’t just for them, understand that women (should) enjoy it too, and make the effort to ensure that he and his partner are equally satisfied. This is the guy who actually cares, and who I believe was being referred to in the spirit of the original question. This guy is a part of a very large chunk of those straight couples where the woman does have an orgasm every time.
Having to soothe your man’s ego over your inability to reach orgasm isn’t a sign that he cares about your orgasm — it’s a sign that he’s thinking about himself. If she’s having trouble reaching orgasm and isn’t okay with that, his concern ought to be for her, not his ego. And if for whatever reason she’s fine not having an orgasm every time, or has always had difficulty with orgasms and therefore doesn’t believe it to have anything to do with him, chances are she already told him this before writing a fucking letter — and that means that if they guy cares about her, he needs to STFU and stop making her feel bad.
But the thing that pissed me off the most is how Alexander wants us to look at his “roughly one-third” of straight women always have an orgasm statistic and be impressed by it. Clearly, the language he uses around it tells us that he’s saying WOW! One whole third? What a big number — especially when so many women are sexually defective!
Look, when it comes to the differences between male and female orgasm, I haven’t got the answers. I’m no scientist, and scientists seem to lack definitive agreement as well. Do women (by all of this I mean “on average”) really have more “difficulty” reaching orgasm, or do they just take longer? Do they have more “difficulty” orgasming, or do women simply not, as we should know by now, tend to orgasm from intercourse alone? If women actually do have more difficulty, is it because of something biological between the sexes or because women are, say, discouraged from masturbating, more likely to be shamed about their bodies or never told about their clitorises? Do women in fact care less about orgasms, or do they just seem more likely to say that they don’t care very much because it’s what they’ve been taught to expect?
I personally lean more towards the latter answer on all of these questions. But these are simply very strong hunches. I do know that whatever the answer, I sure as hell don’t believe that two-thirds of women are experiencing a “physiological or psychological barrier” with regards to orgasms.
The answer to all of this is to look at the disparity. Alexander, of course, doesn’t mention the percentage of men who orgasm with a female partner every time during sex. And I had a pretty strong feeling about what the reason might be. Here it is: the first statistics I found, from a different but significantly more recent study, approximately match Alexander’s citation for the number of women who always have an orgasm at 30%. And those who did were significantly more likely to enjoy sex a “great deal” and be satisfied with their sex lives. Same with the men, actually. And you know the number of men who reported always have an orgasm? Seventy-four percent.
Wow, you think that might have maybe been worth mentioning?
When it comes to the specific study that Alexander cites, the findings are very long, published in book form and seemingly not available online without payment. But I did find this through WebMD, which claims to cite the exact same study. According to them, the study found that 75% of men reported having an orgasm every time! And you better believe that I choked on my orange juice when I saw they cited the study as showing that only twenty-six percent of women reported having an orgasm every time. Which is clearly closer to “roughly one-quarter” of women than “roughly one-third.” Someone is obviously mistaken here. I can’t say for sure who it is. But seeing his huge logical fallacies and blatant omission of important facts, not to mention that WebMD wasn’t trying to prove any argument in particular, my money is on Alexander for who is fibbing to make a point.
Brian Alexander — the type of guy who writes this shit to discourage women from rightfully expecting better from men — is the kind of guy who doesn’t care. As he might say, this is “not true for all men, of course.” Many men aren’t assholes and are good sexual partners, who make sure their female partners have orgasms whenever possible, and who communicate with them to find out what they really want. Many men aren’t stupid egotists who put so much pressure on their partners to have an orgasm that she can’t and ends up faking it. Many men actually do care.
But these numbers tell us that Alexander is wrong, most men aren’t the “Boy Scouts” he makes them out to be, and far too many men still see women as something to use for sexual pleasure and not sexual beings in their own right. Too many men are still not reciprocating. They’re fine with women being second-class sexual citizens and apparently think this set up is biologically determined. And sexists like Alexander who apologize for them and tell us to leave the poor boys alone because they’re trying their best are aiming to keep it that way. Strangely enough, I’m not.