Feminists have (and do) better sex


Feminists have (and do) better sex

The verdict is out: feminists really have more fun between the sheets. ANNELIESE BURGESS reports on research that shows that not only is the personal political, the intimate is too.


THE newsletter from feminist writer Liz Plank landed in my inbox. The upshot: feminists have better sex — and do better sex.

Plank is referencing a research paper by the sociologist Tina Fetner, “Feminist Identity and Sexual Behavior: The Intimate Is Political", published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. The paper found that women who embrace feminist beliefs enjoy greater satisfaction in their sexual lives. 

Writing about sex is tricky. Writing this about eroticism was hard enough. 

I pitch the story to the editorial team. 

Fetner is Canada's most pre-eminent sex researcher. 

With other papers under her belt, like “The Gender Gap in Orgasms” and “Climax as Work", I warn that the language is scientific, direct and stripped of mystery —Masters and Johnson, not Barbara Cartland (“I want to rest with you.")

The team became rather animated about my story proposal.

Clearly, “we" want to talk about sex. 

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Same, but better

Fetner is a sociologist at McMaster University and focuses on exploring the social science of sexuality.

Her research on feminism and sex was done with a sample of more than 2,000 heterosexual Canadian women. She asked respondents to say whether they identified as feminists or not, and then both groups — those who identified as feminists and those who did not — answered a wide-ranging questionnaire about their sexual lives.

She wanted to establish whether a feminist identity that reflects our understanding of the world and our place in it affects our most intimate practices and partnerships.

Her study found that in contrast with the longstanding anti-feminist myth that feminists are unattractive, asexual and prudish, there was no difference in the amount of partnered sex between feminist and non-feminist women. When considering specific types of sexual activity, she found no difference in how recently feminists and non-feminists reported having sex. What she did find, however, was that there were many other aspects of sexuality for which there were significant differences between women who identified as feminists and those who did not.

Trigger warning: this is the part where we have to start using words that start with c, p, v, o and a. 


The difficulty of words

I am reminded of a conversation between women writers about how difficult it is for them to write about sex — the tricky mechanics of just finding the words to talk about genitals and orgasm and intercourse. They felt discomfort and a sense of personal exposure when venturing into the territory of verbalising the intimate.

One writer said she avoided writing about sex because she felt “basically Amish". Another said she held herself back “because her mother is still alive". Shame around talking about sex, although we are all products of sex, remains a powerful theme.

One person's “making love" is another's prudishness. One person's “intercourse" is another's revulsion.

The conversation (between these accomplished, award-winning, strong women) turned to feminism. Two of them said they did not, could not, identify as feminists. One explained why the label was uncomfortable for her — “because she likes men too much". 

This conversation was, of course, about the difficulty of finding a public voice to talk about sex. Fetner's research is about how having a feminist voice in the most intimate of private settings is shown to enhance women's sex lives because they have less shame and reticence about communicating what brings them pleasure.

Deep dive

Fetner's work shows that feminists are more likely to receive more oral sex from their partners compared to non-feminists. They are also more likely to report that their last sexual encounter included cuddling and kissing, two things that elevate bonding and sexual satisfaction. Feminist women were also more likely to be more sexually liberated and adventurous in the bedroom than women who did not identify as feminists. Feminists reported more self-pleasuring and a wider array of sexual behaviours and sexual play than non-feminists, leading Fetner to conclude that “the political is not only personal, it is intimate as well”.

The higher levels of sexual satisfaction reported by feminists in Fetner's  study come down to one thing — more open sexual communication between partners. In short, feminists are more likely to know and say what gives them pleasure and what they need to reach orgasm.

(This large US study of 50,000 people found that heterosexual men were most likely to say they usually/always orgasmed when sexually intimate (95%), followed by gay men (89%), bisexual men (88%), lesbian women (86%), bisexual women (66%) and heterosexual women (65%). Some data suggest up to 10% of heterosexual women have never had an orgasm. I have a friend who has been happily married for more than two decades but does not know what an orgasm feels like.)


The orgasm gap

The so-called “orgasm gap" in heterosexual relationships has been documented in scientific literature for more than 20 years. And it all comes down to the fact that men find it easier to reach climax from penetrative sex than women do.

In her Substack newsletter, which brought me to this writing assignment in the first place, Plank says: “As a longtime advocate for mandatory cunnilingus for straight men, I believe the orgasm gender gap problem can be solved in a generation with one small tweak: men need to go down on women more than women go down on them.

“This study concluded that women are twice as likely to perform oral sex as they are to receive it from men, which is a tragic figure given that men don’t need it to achieve orgasm, while most women do. I can’t think of something that sets up men to fail more than patriarchy teaching them that the one thing that makes a woman orgasm is “emasculating".

Talking about sex

I check in with our team on the editorial WhatsApp group, reporting the progress with my story. I have appended the very graphic abstract of Fetner's research for feedback on the tone I intend to take with this story.

The banter makes me laugh. As a woman. And a feminist

Ja, well, of course. We have fewer inhibitions and are not bound by the expectations of the patriarchy.

I must say, I have really never thought otherwise.

Like we need a report to tell us this? Haha.

Always good to subject something to academic cliticism.

New research informs men what feminists have always known 🤣

It's not to us men's advantage to share this type of information with other men.

Feminist men

There is a mirror study on the sex lives of men who identify as feminists. 

Its co-author, Max Stick, explains that this research was from a sub-sample of self-identifying heterosexual men from a more extensive survey on sex and sexuality in Canada.

“Of all the straight Canadian men surveyed, we found that only about 22% fully identified as feminists. Most men, around 60%, said they were not feminists and about 18% were ‘not sure'. And, as with feminist women in previous studies, feminist men were more likely to have higher levels of education."

No surprises there, then. 

The study wanted to establish whether straight “feminist men" report having sex more recently, behave differently and, mainly, do feminist men organise their sexual behaviour in a way that prioritises their partners’ sexual pleasure to a greater extent than non-feminists.

This research shows that men who identify as feminists are more likely to be having more sex compared to their non-feminist brothers. And the sex they seem to be having also seems more pleasurable.

According to Stick: “In private sexual encounters, feminist men and those ambivalent toward feminism perform sexual behaviours targeting women’s pleasure at a higher rate than those disavowing feminism, suggesting these men may care about their partners as expressed through the performance of equality in sexual pleasure."

So not only do feminist women have better sex, but they do better sex, too.

Stick writes that while feminist men reported giving oral sex to their partners more recently, they also engaged in intercourse and received oral sex more recently than non-feminist men.

“The patriarchy has unfortunately tricked the majority of men into being subpar lovers (and for women to accept it), but thankfully, feminism can rescue us all from this ugly fate," jokes Plank.

“Given that a recent survey found that almost half of young men can’t locate the clitoris and don’t know that most women can’t orgasm through intercourse, the problem doesn’t seem to be feminism but rather a lack of it. It’s led to a persisting, and frankly infuriating, orgasm gap in straight relationships.

“A lot of men are taking matters into their own hands (both figuratively and literally) and spreading the feminist gospel. If you’re a man (or know a man) who doesn’t know where to start to unravel the toxic messages he’s received about sex, She Comes First by Ian Kerner is a great place to start. There’s even a startup called OMGYes that was created to support men who want to become better in the sack. Help and support is out there. I believe in men, and I believe in us!!"

Cue hysterically laughing emoji. 🤣       

♦ VWB ♦

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