The real key to consent is female pleasure- here's why
Although we’re living in the age of consent awareness, even the (very important) conversations sparked by the sex-positive and #MeToo movements lack meaningful discussions about a crucial topic: female pleasure. We can't truly talk about what consent is, how to ask for it and how to grant it without talking about pleasure as well, and it's time we re-examine what real consent looks like.
Men - Freud, I’m looking at you - have controlled the discourse around the female orgasm for most of history, and straight women have been socialized into prioritizing male pleasure at the cost of neglecting their own. Whether it's in education or media representations, the female orgasm is either completely neglected or reduced to a performative act meant to please the male gaze - mainstream porn is a huge culprit of this. IRL though, only 65% of straight women reach orgasm during intercourse compared to 95% of straight men - this is the “orgasm gap” us feminists keep whining about.
We’re brought up to believe, in no uncertain terms, that the female orgasm is elusive, that our genitals are harder to navigate, and that if the man doesn’t come, sex is a failure, but when the woman doesn’t come, it’s normal *insert shrug emoji*.
Even our language reflects the privilege of being a man. We conflate sex with intercourse, and vulva with vagina, centering the penis and penetration as the “correct” way to have sex. Not only is that offensively heteronormative and exclusionary of same-sex encounters (that’s a conversation for another time), but it also actively ignores the fact that most women don’t reach orgasm through penetration alone. The way we also talk about foreplay mirrors our culture’s opinion on female sexuality. Aside from being sexy AF, foreplay is crucial in facilitating orgasm for women, and yet cishet men treat it as a penalty fee they have to pay in order to have sex with us. The truth is, society simply does not want women to enjoy sex.
We need to empower women to communicate what they want (and what they don't)
Neglecting female sexual pleasure reinforces the idea that female bodies exist merely for male gratification, and that women aren't meant to enjoy their bodies or even have agency over them, but rather, that men do. It feeds a culture that shames women for enjoying sex, yet has no problem sexualizing or objectifying us for its own gain, and presents female bodies as playthings for men. When the playing field is so biased and women are actively discouraged from enjoying their own bodies, how can we expect to ever eradicate sexual assault? If we don’t encourage women to speak up for what they want in the bedroom (and encourage men to give a damn), how will they speak up for what they don’t want?
“When women are encouraged to take their sexual pleasure seriously, they not only experience a greater sense of well-being but they also set better boundaries for themselves around what behavior is and isn't acceptable,” says sex expert, broadcaster and psychotherapist Lucy Beresford. “Whether it's about eliminating body shame, understanding what turns individual women on, or smashing taboos around female sensuality, embracing female pleasure empowers us all.”
Consent is more than just "not assault"
Consent shouldn’t just be about avoiding sexual assault, or getting that mandatory “yes” that absolves you from criminality. Consent is about mutual respect, and about establishing an ongoing conversation with your partner(s) about the sex you’re having, and caring not only about their safety but about their pleasure too. So when broflakes come at you with those “these days you can’t even flirt with a woman” arguments, all they’re doing is exposing themselves as the lazy, selfish lovers they truly are (stay away from these men!)
Closing the orgasm gap and educating everyone (but straight men especially) on female pleasure is one of the last frontiers of gender equality, and it’s fundamental for understanding consent. Reclaiming our sexual pleasure means reclaiming our bodies, and eradicating the belief that women are passive sexual objects. If consent is all about giving an enthusiastic “yes”, you need to know what gets you off in the first place.