Trigger warning: sexual assault, force, coercion.
Condom breakage, disturbing smells, surprising fetishes, awkward moments, back-breaking positions, nonexistent erection or lubrication, and faking orgasms: bad sex. When someone is describing bad sex, we’re all capable of conjuring up similar memories. Whether it was with a partner or a hook up, drunk or sober, sex can be bad sometimes. Like, really bad. Cringe-worthy over five years later, bad.
But, within my work in sexual violence advocacy, I’ve gained a new perspective at just how bad “bad sex” can be and even more interestingly, the differences between men and women’s descriptions of “bad sex.”
I acknowledge that bad sex often refers to the difference in orgasm rates between men and women; the Kinsey Institute reports that in heterosexual individuals, about sixty-four percent of women report climax in their last sexual encounter, while eighty-five percent of men report their partners reached climax in their last sexual encounter. Obviously, some of us are faking it, but I want to move past that. I want to acknowledge that we’re slow, if at all, to include the words painful and nonconsensual in our descriptions of bad sex, and these are especially accurate for women.
A recent article by Lili Loofbourow reported that in the Twitter world, men often describe bad sex that includes “a passive partner or a boring experience… But when most women talk about bad sex, they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain.” From the limited research available regarding “bad sex,” one University of Michigan Professor Sara McClelland states that “While women imagine the low end to include the potential for extremely negative feelings and the potential for pain, men imagine the low end to represent the potential for less satisfying sexual outcomes, but they never imagined harmful or damaging outcomes…”
Research shows that nearly seventy-two percent of women report pain during anal sex, thirty percent report pain during virginal sex, and the majority of females do not tell their partners when it hurts. Compare this to the male percentages of fifteen and seven percent respectively.
When I was in high school, “bad sex” stories were swapped all the time, and these stories center around situations in which we took part in sexual intimacy without being excited about it. We acted and even stated that we were unsure or uninterested, we were made to feel uncomfortable, made to feel pressured or that it was owed to the individual, and then we took part within what at the time seemed the “grey area” between of saying yes to sex we didn’t actually want to have.
Looking back, we were mislabeling these experiences. We saw bad sex as unfulfilling, lackluster, but most of all, even though none of us would come out and say it for any number of reasons, we didn’t really want to have this sex, and that is why it was bad.
Chalk it up to my education and career choice, my personal pursuit for a feminist lifestyle, the progressive world I live surround myself in, or simply growing up–I soon found the ability to label this type of “bad sex” and that supposed “grey area” what they were and still are: sexual assault.
Now, I don’t want this bad sex to be confused with rape. It’s not actively being forced against your will or openly threatened; its sex that is easier to finish then to leave unfinished, due to a number of reasons including but not limited to emotional coercion, partner-implied guilty (blue balls, insert eye roll), and perceived consequences of noncompliance.
The New Yorker’s over-night hit Cat Person gave many individuals the ability to see their own experiences with “bad sex” through the main character Margot. While the article speaks to may issues surrounding sex in our society–lacking communication, orgasm gap, physical pain–one highlight is the moment where the main character comes to the realization that “she knew that her last chance of enjoying this encounter had disappeared, but that she would carry through with it until it was over.” This is painful. This is nonconsensual. This is also bad sex, and it’s time to admit this to ourselves.
To leave you all with some basic knowledge of consent, I’d like to introduce my favorite snack: FRIES. FRIES is an acronym used to teach what consent is and can be applied to help avoid the “bad sex” you’ve been reading about. Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, Specific. These aren’t just for the individual deciding if they want to participate, they’re also for the individual initiating to keep in mind. Clink on the link, dig into some delicious education, and go enjoy some good sex.
If you or someone you know needs help dealing with sexual assault or violence, please visit the link provided.