Just say yes (to yourself)


Last Friday, Maria Yagoda argued in these pages that there is a “scarcity of nice-looking, not-evil and socially adjusted straight single males (NLNESASSM)” at Yale. According to Yagoda, the overwhelming majority of these acronymic Romeos are really, really, really bad in bed. Yagoda claimed that she was speaking on behalf of legions of straight women, whose sexual encounters with Yale men left them unsatisfied and reaching for a sandwich instead of an able-bodied partner.

My friends and I read and hotly debated Maria’s article. As a straight Yale woman not aspiring to nunhood, I could identify with some of what I read, but mostly disagreed. Straight women are every bit as accountable for the quality of their sexual experiences as their male partners.

I excelled at keeping my words to myself until I read Jezebel’s Jan. 25 interview with Yagoda.

“Literally every woman at Yale is obsessed with it/finds it true,” Yagoda told a reporter by email. “I’ve gotten a huge amount of random, positive responses.”

I’m glad we’ve been reading and talking about this piece. But I think it’s time to address the glaring flaws in Yagoda’s argument — and in the way straight women might conceive of sex and pleasure at Yale.

Let’s start with some basic arithmetic: Most sex requires at least two partners (I’ll get to this in a minute). All partners taking part in the sex should take responsibility for its quality, for their partner’s pleasure, and for their own pleasure. This isn’t lost on Yagoda — but she still writes that a Yale woman’s most grievous offense is “seeking and continuing to have unsatisfying sexual relations with NLNESASSM.”

Withholding sex from an unskilled sex partner is not going to help that person become any less inept (or, as it sometimes happens, bizarre) in bed. Most young people measure their sexual experience in terms of the number of sex partners they’ve had — not the quality of the sex they’ve had, the pleasure they’ve given or received.

You might have seen this coming, but I’m a feminist. So is Yagoda. I think that she, and I, and all of our sandwich-loving female friends, should feel free to have sex in any kind of relationship we choose. I think we would all agree that having sex more often helps us get used to it and figure out what we like and what our partners like. But I strongly believe that the only way to get better at sex is to have it with a communicative and open partner with whom you feel comfortable, and I believe that the best, most open, most honest partner is the one in the mirror.

It’s you, dummy.

Yagoda hit on something big when she discouraged Yale women from faking orgasms, and pointed out that women are scared to ask for what they want “if they even know what they want, which would help if they had a vibrator.”

How many straight women CAN articulate just what it is they want from their male partners? If you don’t masturbate, you’re less likely — if not totally unable — to give good directions to your sexual partner. It’s awfully hard to speak up when you don’t know what to say.

There are a lot of reasons why we fake — we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re sorely tired of sex, or of sex with that particular partner. I know women who have never had an orgasm and want to have their first with a partner. I know women who are afraid to masturbate, for fear they’ll grow so dependent and accustomed to self-pleasure that they won’t be able to get off in the company of anyone else.

Part of this fear results from living in a culture that presents orgasm — particularly, the male orgasm — as the pinnacle and primary target of all sexual encounters.

Male orgasm is often taken for granted. If I were presenting this piece in a lecture hall, this is where I would show you a compilation of every premature-ejaculation and jackoff scene in every teen movie since the dawn of time and/or the first “American Pie.” Long before most men have their first sexual experience with a partner, they have logged enough solo flight time to pilot a 757. I’ve only recently realized how few women at Yale masturbate in comparison with their male peers.

They’re not uptight: it might be because they don’t know how, or it never occurred to them because it wasn’t expected of them. Again, think of “American Pie.” Alyson Hannigan’s schtick wasn’t shocking in the context of that film just because her weapon of choice was a flute. It was shocking because a young woman is not expected to feel and act upon sexual desire.

Even since the ’90s, we’ve come a long way. Twenty-first century America is a beautiful place to live. Men can identify as feminists, feminists can watch/like/make porn, and staying home from work to raise children is once again a valid choice for women. Sexual identity and freedom of sexual choice are less restricted now than they were for our parents and grandparents.

In this free and open atmosphere, Yagoda and I can write articles that mention the word “orgasm” a million times without fear of perpetual unemployment (oh my God I hope), and I can call Yagoda’s column unfair, unfunny, and unempowering without fear of getting stabbed by any one of her hundreds of rabid female admirers. Yagoda herself told Jezebel that if she had another shot at her column, she would prioritize open communication over calling out men for crappy sexual performance.

“But then again, I think it’s important to take jabs at guys, considering it NEVER happens,” she added, going on to say that her female friends universally complain that “the men usually treat them all like shit.”

I agree that women deserve better. But if we’re afraid to pursue our own pleasure, we’re treating ourselves like shit. We’re treating ourselves like shit when we wait for our male partners to do the math and figure out that pinching and ear play and weird tongue stuff is usually repulsive, or when we wait to find a male partner who doesn’t do any of those things and is a sexual genie.

We might be waiting a long time — and woman cannot live on sandwiches alone.


  • mb2012

    I think you’re missing one of Maria’s main points, which is that –I’ll just say some, not many– men at Yale are disinterested, unwilling, and/or unaccustomed to being instructed. I think it’s safe to say that usually, women are terrified of communication for a reason: a sexual climate of male dominance/focus on the male orgasm makes it unusual for women to speak up in this regard. Doesn’t mean it’s not the fault of women who don’t speak up too, of course. But I don’t think the problem is that most women don’t know what they want, it’s that we shouldn’t be too afraid to say it, but we are.

    • ihaveahammer

      I think you’re both right. Men are not encouraged to think about pleasing their partners, and women are not encouraged to speak up. That leads to the situation you describe, in which “women are terrified of communication.” Men are terrified of communication, too, because sex is talked about like it’s some superpower that you have or you don’t, rather than as a set of learnable skills that also need to be adapted and honed on each new partner. People don’t want to be told they’re less than godlike in bed because we treat that like a permanent condition rather than an opportunity for improvement.

      That said, I think Rosenthal has a great point about masturbation and about learning what you like more generally. It’s easier to get past the fear (and shame?) associated with speaking up when you have a good idea about what it is you want. And while we really seriously need to eliminate the model of heterosexuality in which men don’t ask and don’t want to know, it’s important that people (of all genders) be gentle* with one another in these interactions. We have to feel safe in order to be receptive to this communication.

      *Not necessarily physically, if you determine that everyone involved likes it rough

      • mb2012

        I definitely appreciate your point, but I disagree a little bit. I don’t think that knowing what you like makes it easier, at all, to speak up. I also don’t think it’s really a common occurrence that women have no idea what feels good. The problem isn’t about not knowing what to say, it’s about saying it in the first place. And this is a more minor issue, but it’s less of a physically relevant problem when men are terrified to communicate, as their orgasms are far less complicated and far more frequently achieved. I agree that it’s sad when people can’t communicate about this, but the problem has a more devastating impact on the female sexual experience, and I think that’s what Maria was writing about.

  • mb2012

    For instance…what if what you want is something unusual, or something that is considered embarrassing? Then knowing what it is doesn’t help at all.

  • River_Tam

    > There are a lot of reasons why we fake — we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re sorely tired of sex, or of sex with that particular partner.

    Then you shouldn’t be having sex.

    Really, girls? Y’all are completely fine with being feminists except where it really matters?

    Sex is not an obligation. It’s an expression of love (or lust, as it’s often at Yale). Doing it because you think he’ll call you a tease if you don’t is RETARDED. If you’re sore, stop before you feel the need to “fake it”. If you’re tired, tell him you’re happy (if you are), and stop. If you don’t like having sex with him, then DON’T HAVE SEX WITH HIM.

    If you’re not mature enough to communicate these things, you’re not mature enough to have sex.