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.