How socialisation and biology matter in male vs. female sexuality and how to meet each other’s needs.
It is difficult to escape our biology and our social norms, and it’s crucial to understand this, no matter the gender of our partner. Boys and girls have the same amount of erectile tissue – it’s just that, with girls, it ends up being much more internal.
In the world of sexuality education, tantra, and popular culture, there are two camps when it comes to male versus female sexuality.(1) Some emphasise how men and women are more alike than different. Others are more comfortable with dichotomy. It’s not that simple. Understanding how men and women are alike, as well as how we are different, can make the difference when it comes to meeting our partner’s needs.
Biology: we start the same
All fetuses are female in form until after seven weeks’ gestation, when the genetic signal is given to differentiate. Labia become testicles, the clitoris elongates to become a penis – you get the picture. Boys and girls have the same amount of erectile tissue – it’s just that, with girls, it ends up being much more internal. In short, both boys and girls have equal plumbing for sex, and, in fact, the exact same capacity for pleasure. Scans even show that babies have a sexual response while in utero.(2)
Boys and girls discover themselves differently
The fact that boys dangle makes self-discovery fairly easy, and leads to a lifelong friendship between boy and penis. Once puberty hits, this cherished member makes its needs pretty clear, to the great embarrassment of pubescent boys, who soon enough discover orgasm-as-ejaculation.
Girls, on the other hand, statistically take longer to discover their hidden treasures, being that they are more …. hidden. Many girls do fiddle, and with pleasure, even from a very young age (many report remembering orgasms as young as four or seven!). But many more girls discover themselves later on in life. In fact, girls on average begin to self-pleasure much later than boys, and often not until after they have been explored by a partner.(3) For many girls, their sexuality is discovered via a relationship.
To complicate matters, socialisation collides with biology very early on. Boys are, like it or not, raised to value doing over relating. They are socialised to accomplish stuff, partly because of the assumed gender stereotypes thrust upon them by unwitting parents, partly because of the message of popular culture: boys need to be brave, not too emotional, to grow into responsible men, heads of family and business and so on.
Girls, on the other hand, are socialised to be good friends, caring, nurturing, and so on.
What in the world does this have to do with sexuality, you might wonder?
Everything is interrelated, especially when it comes to sexuality, which is both a biological imperative, and a pleasurable activity, not to mention a religious and cultural point of contention.
The natural urge to be sexual butts heads against social norms for boys when they discover masturbation and find that it takes the edge off anxiety and stress like nothing else. The endorphin dopamine, released at ejaculation, is a great calmer – also sending him to sleep. In the stressful time of male adolescence, when boys are socialised and raised to do and make, not to rely on each other for emotional support, seeking a mate for a hug, a cry, and a good old chat is NOT an option (usually). Let me make this very clear: boys will masturbate to relieve stress.
Girls will cuddle, giggle, tell each other their secrets, and gain emotional support. When you consider that the clitoris, the hotbed of female sexual sensation, is mostly inside the vagina, and its structure and location is not explained to the vast majority of girls, you’ve got a double whammy. Girls don’t know what they don’t know, and they are taught to externalise their emotional needs.
Furthermore, when a woman climaxes, she produces oxytocin, a bonding hormone. It makes her cuddly and emotional. It’s what she produces when she is breastfeeding, and what she produces when she is bonding with girlfriends. Dopamine, which a man produces, is not only calming; it’s also what the brain produces when it craves more of something; it’s what the brains of gamblers and cocaine addicts produce too much of. In short, dopamine makes you want more dopamine, and guess what that means for men in regards to ejaculation?
What happens in bed as adults
Put very simply, men can tend to be goal-oriented: sexual pleasure is about the orgasm, and it has been from boyhood. Women are more process and relationship oriented.(4) Depending on the research date and country, between ten and twenty percent of women have never even had orgasms. Yes, all this is grossly oversimplified, and fortunately, there are many men who want to pleasure women and draw it all out, and many women are more and more aware of how to climax. Still, it is difficult to escape our biology and our social norms, and it’s crucial to understand this, no matter the gender of our partner.
Yet, we want the same thing
All humans, of any gender, want intimacy, to be vulnerable, loved, and to feel great. And all genders have the same capacity for sexual arousal and orgasm. We just tend to have a different emphasis. In the coming together, we must learn to accommodate those differences.
How to accommodate the differences
If you are pleasuring a man:
- Help him to become multi-orgasmic! Yes, men can have orgasms without ejaculation, a fact known since the 1950s and the Kinsey reports. This means they can go for a long time without the dopamine hit. There are lots of resources online to help with this.
- Bring his attention to his heart and feelings, which will delay his orgasm, and help him experience more of a bonding. Of course all genders feel very deeply; however those born with male genitalia and socialised as boys are more likely to default to a goal – orgasm – rather than be lost in the feeling (love, connection).
- Touch his penis! This may sound obvious, but really, it is a man’s best friend, one he had long before you, the original and central focus of his sexuality, and rarely is it touched enough – fingers, tongue, you name it. He will love you for this (and thank me for saying it!).
If you are pleasing a woman:
- Cultivate the enjoyment of her process! Sex is for her more likely to be an experience of bonding than an exercise in reaching orgasm. Climax might come in the process… but women generally are able to climax more than once; so it’s rarely the goal. What is her process? How does she experience pleasure? … Do that!
- De-clutter her emotional space. Part of the female drive towards arousal is emotional safety, a nice match to her hormonal profile, which is very much about bonding. Safety comes from knowing she is cared for, and also the absence of emotional chaos that distracts her from bonding with you. Practically speaking, this means making sure the kids are in bed or not home; and it means connecting with her mind and heart before her genitals.
Guess what? While male/female sexual natures might seem initially at odds, with vulnerability, intimacy, and time comes parity. Mutual understanding can help a couple find their rhythm, and differences can give way to the simplicity of mutual pleasure. Happy Valentines Day!
Emma Michelle Dixon, PhD, is a sexuality and relationship coach, bodyworker and workshop facilitator based in Sydney. She regularly presents workshops and talks on matters of sexuality as well as facilitates retreats on sexual healing.
- This article is about those who are born with male genitalia versus those born with female genitalia; it is a very generalist view and people vary a lot. As such, it may not apply to transfolk.
- For some fun facts from the Kinsey Institute on sexuality, see: http://www.kinseyinstitute.org/resources/FAQ.html
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