Not even Mr. Perfect can make it work when he doesn’t know what his partner wants.
Here’s a story, or rather, a modern fairy tale with a twist. The cast of characters is the usual: the glamorous heroine Julie (not her real name) and her prince charming Bernard (yes—you guessed—not his real name either). They meet, fall in love, overcome a number of obstacles (involving other people and long-distance flights) and finally get married. However, what happens next is a little different: eventually there’s a happily ever after, but first they have a few more issues to overcome before they get there (this time in their own bedroom and in their heads). So let’s start at the end…
I was recently having coffee with Julie. She sat opposite me, sipping her cappuccino, making sure to move her chair a little bit closer before she plucked up the courage to tell me what had been bugging her for the past few years. As her story unfolded, to my slight astonishment, I realized that her unrealistic expectations of sex, rooted in gender stereotypes, have made Julie’s and Bernard’s lives needlessly difficult for the full duration of their relationship. This was the stuff of Jessica Valenti’s books and The Good Men Project’s articles actually taking place in the life of a person I really cared about. What’s more, she was really feeling pretty down about it all because it led her to believe that there was something wrong with her, her husband, or possibly both of them.
So, here’s the story. Julie and Bernard had been together for five years and married for two by the time we had this conversation. Julie complained how they never had sex anymore and she felt they should do it more often. Not necessarily because she enjoyed it, but because they were young and young people are supposed like sex, right? I told her that sexual temperaments are a very personal thing and that there really isn’t any magic number of sexual intercourses a couple needs to have to make sure they stay happy and satisfied. However, it turns out that the reason they weren’t having sex as often is because Bernard had no idea how to give his wife an orgasm and achieved this feat only a few times during the duration of their relationship. Julie felt that he should really know how to do it without her instruction. She believed that if she made it clear what she liked and how she liked it, this would make him less of a man and definitely less of a perfect husband.
She loved him a lot, you see. He really was her ‘Price Charming,’ a dashing, tall, dark, very intelligent man with an amazing career, who absolutely adored his wife. He was definitely Julie’s ‘one,’ therefore he MUST know what she likes in bed, right? I mean, he knew she loved to get roses for no reason, and he knew to buy wine for stay-at-home date nights. Of course, she didn’t expect him to know everything about her. And she wasn’t an irrational teenager, who had watched too many Meg Ryan movies, but an established career woman with a PhD in engineering. Nevertheless, she believed sex was somehow ‘different.’ It wasn’t something you talked about. Sex was something you did, and it should be perfect if your husband is, right? Well, actually…wrong!
The thing is, sex is definitely something that gets better the more you talk about it and the less you assume your partner should know. Men, even the best of them, are not born, or handed somewhere along the way, a manual of how to please the particular women whom they might want to marry. Or any other sexual partner for that matter. They might stumble onto the right technique, but more often than not, they won’t. A little guidance—be it verbal or manual—can go such a long way. Importantly, it does not undermine the lover’s skill or the quality of the relationship. The good news is, folks, it usually improves it. And I’m happy to report that Julie was convinced to finally sit down and have the five-year-overdue conversation with her husband. She had no idea things could improve so much, so quickly.
And that’s how Prince Charming benefited from some intimate, marital sex education. It’s not the stuff or your average fairy tale, but it definitely went a long way to providing them with a happier ever after.
This (true) story is meaningful because, like any good fairy tale, it has a moral—however unconventional is may be. Namely, it shows the importance of sexual equality and communication. To me, these concepts don’t just entail the awful sexual double standard, which says a man’s sexual encounters (quantity over quality!) should be a source of pride and a status symbol, while a woman’s sexual activity is continually judged within the framework of the virgin-whore dichotomy.
There is also the more personal (but hey—the personal is political) issue of the socially-influenced sexual expectations we may have of our partners. Women are still expected to be “inexperienced” (or pressured to act as if they were) and perhaps not even like sex so much, while men should want sex nearly continuously and know all about. Needless to say, these stereotypes can damage real (sex) lives while propagating false ideas about human sexuality. And the solution, usually, is talking—talking about sex, talking after and before sex. The more we know and understand our partner, the less we have to worry about what is expected of us.