It started when I was first faced with homophobic comments like “How do two girls do it together, anyway?” and “Is it actually sex if it’s just girls?” Though they seemed curiously innocent enough, over time I realized that this was not simply an issue of not having learned enough in Sex Ed 101. These types of questions stem from the widespread idea that women can’t actively participate in sex, but that sex can only take place if there is a penis involved to penetrate something.
It seems that this inane idea has spread to heterosexual relationships, too. Take the use of the word “fuck,” for instance. A man and a woman can “fuck,” but when it becomes a verb that one person does to another, we are most comfortable saying that a man fucked a woman, and not the other way around. It is acceptable to (however homophobically) validate sex between two men, because there is penetration involved. However, a woman can’t fuck a man because it’s emasculating, and she certainly can’t fuck another woman. The implication here is that the woman is passively participating in sex; it is being enacted upon her, but she isn’t the one doing the action.
If you ask a few lesbians what they consider “sex,” you’ll likely get a range of answers. Some will claim that anything that gives one partner an orgasm is sex; others will say that penetration is the determining factor; still others will claim that it is only sex if both partners are naked and have an orgasm. So, why the wide range of answers? It’s because we are taught that sex is the missionary position between a man and a woman, and that’s that. With such a narrow view of sex, it’s no wonder that we are a society in confusion. In the accepted model of sex where penetration is the determining factor, the only guaranteed orgasm is the male’s. While the definition of sex between women often has a large focus on sexual gratification, the penetration definition doesn’t include pleasure at all. It’s no wonder that 70 percent of women don’t orgasm from penetration alone. That’s not to say that men can’t do the job. Because every woman’s body is different, however, it just may mean having to pay attention to her needs and asking her what feels good. If both partners needed to be satisfied before it was considered “sex,” there would probably be a greater emphasis on both partners’ satisfaction.
Orgasms aside, what’s the harm, here? When women and girls are taught that they can’t be active participants in their own sex lives, it takes the power away from them. This power inequality perpetuates a culture in which women aren’t in control of sex and are objectified and turned into vessels for male pleasure instead of active and consensual sexual beings. We can’t understand a woman having the sexual autonomy to choose her own partner without calling her a slut. We can’t validate her right to say “no” because we think she is supposed to be the passive key to penetration. We can’t understand that two women can be attracted to one another with no desire for male approval and attention. And we certainly can’t understand two women having sex together.
In a society where we can’t accept mutually consensual sexual pleasure as sex, I have to wonder, then, who needs real sex when you can just have orgasms?