And seriously, that’s okay. This isn’t a trap. Male sexuality is a complex, personal and individual thing; why do we keep—implicitly, explicitly and profoundly counterproductively—pretending otherwise? Turn on the telly, or the pages of Cosmo, and it’s constantly reinforced that girls are complicated, intricate labyrinths, and boys are a well-lit corridor, always geared to go. (In this metaphor feel free to consider the minotaur a benevolent creature of multiple orgasms.)
Not that I wanna speak for bros on this matter. Instead, let’s just recognise that people who aren’t jerks are far more interested in whether everyone is having fun than if your private is standing to attention. Yes, the two often go hand in hand. But sometimes, just because you’re a dude and you’ve got an enthusiastically consenting adult playtime buddy doesn’t mean you’re DTF and can everyone just be chill about that please.
Post-big-break up I was living with a friend while he housesat his awesome mum’s place. It was fantastic, despite being full of terrifying Indonesian puppets my supposed friend didn’t warn me about. There was a gorgeous back deck for chatting and working our way through my smokes. He taught me a more efficient (and what I have since been told is the normal) way to cut onions. It was a very harmonious arrangement. One particular night after I hadn’t been back to the house in a bit, I opened the gate to find him watering the garden. When asked what I’d been up to, I replied ‘having sex’. And then: ‘I’d forgotten hetero-sex could be like that.’
‘I dunno, just different. More mixed up, y’know. Mixed like those bags of lollies, not mixed-up as in confused or confusing.’ And then my friend gave me an ‘oh duh’ look and then I’m pretty sure we had a beer and ordered pizza.
It was a strange thing to be reminded of, really, because no kidding sex with different male partners is going to be different. In the seven years I’ve been doing this whole intercourse thing that has always been the case; the ‘thank you Captain Obvious’ reaction was justified.
Since starting out, but this year in particular, I’ve found my feet as a poly, sex-positive girl so the summer of lurve hasn’t needed to end. It’s tricky to convey credibility in this area without sounding braggadocious, but however unscientific my encounters with bartenders, backpackers, boys from house parties and outta town (along with the occasional ex) are, it’s been enough to burst the bubble that guys are always up (get it) for casual sex. However, the myth persists both publicly, and to an extent privately; after a while of fooling around it always seems to be expected that we were now going to Have The Sex. Like ‘real’, heteronormative, the-apparent-point-of-it-all, penis-in-vagina sexy sex.
While generally a fan of this type of fucking, it is a ludicrously simplistic conceptualisation of Sex with a capital S. It also by necessity requires guys to get, and remain, hard. No pressure! Just, y’know, regardless of where you’re at emotionally, mentally, what work has been like, whether you’re actually feeling safe—all of which are separate from whether you wanna have the Sex—if we can’t do this one activity it’s all on you and is it because I’m not pretty? If we’ve gotten this far, that seems unlikely you’re repulsed by my physicality. And even if it is a matter of not feelin’ the spark, come the fuck on, that is also fine. Chemistry, both in science and in between the sheets, is a complex business.
One of the sexiest things a guy has said to yours truly is, ‘sometimes it takes me a long time to get going. Maybe won’t even happen tonight at all’. This admission wasn’t something that got in the way of much playtime. In fact, it was even better because yay communication. The expectation had been lifted from both of us. We didn’t have to do anything unless it felt good; there was no single activity that got to arbitrarily mark the You Have Now Had Sex point.
Unfortunately for everyone, the way we currently talk about our sex lives often downplays paths to pleasure and intimacy that are pretty excellent, but do not involve an erect penis entering an orifice. It’s not that we’re all acting like the most uncreative pornstars ever behind closed doors. More that—persistently—any fucking that fails to achieve The Sex status doesn’t get as much airtime. It is also super prone to third party and internal trivilisation à la ‘oh, so you didn’t really then’ or, as Cher states in Clueless, ‘After [the freeway] Dionne’s virginity went from technical to nonexistent’. The latter is funny because it’s acknowledging the construct. Namely, the dominant narratives that backhandedly condense sex to a singular, heteronormative act; narratives that reduce women to being essentially emotional, and men as essentially physical when it comes to bonking. These attitudes are the true bonerkillers of our time. Even the idea of foreplay as something guys do to girls so we will be happier bedpartners directly feeds into this. The playtime becomes a means to an end, instead of a back-arching activity in its own right.
And surprise, surprise: these outdated understandings of sex have more insidious consequences. Generally speaking, even among friends, cis hetero guys seem to opt for a punch-line approach if their erection doesn’t feature. This is especially awful if the reason was they didn’t feel safe or totally into what was happening. Jokes about guys getting kicked out of bed because they couldn’t get it up, or belittled for not being alpha enough are seriously all kinds of squick. If the genders were reversed a girl would reasonably expect her friends to rally behind her, profaning profusely about such jerktastic behaviour. A man in the same scenario is implicitly encouraged to frame the experience as funny, if they want to talk about it at all. It’s an unsettling example of how a patriarchal culture restricts and represses both genders. Of course this systemic bullshit doesn’t oppress men in the same ways, or to the same extent. But as people who do more in their bedroom than sleep, they are still disadvantaged directly as a result of this warped allocation of privilege.
Wherever you sit on the spectrum, people are goddamn complicated and fluid, nuanced and flawed, with our bad and good angles in bed and beyond to boot. We’re all a puzzle before the business of trying to fit together with one another even begins. So if we could stop placing all this emphasis on one stiff (or otherwise) piece in particular I would really appreciate that and can promise increased long-term happiness for all.
Kat Muscat is the editor of Voiceworks Magazine.