Although Sex and the City wasn’t the first to ask the question, they opened their show by asking whether women could have sex like men. I hear women say this, too, often in the context of how women can or whether they should have sex without emotion or with anyone they want.
The idea of men and women being totally and completely “equal” and “similar” is attractive to many and yet reality is complex. For one, women’s and men’s bodies are strikingly different. Beyond the obvious “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina” distinction, let’s dig a little, er, deeper.
The difference in men’s and women’s bodies isn’t only cosmetic. Men’s genitals are mostly covered by skin and, during vaginal sex between a woman and a man, fluid (ejaculate) tends to shoot out of the penis (whereas women get fluids ejaculated into their vagina). During vaginal intercourse, women are more biologically vulnerable than men, like it or not: their genital tissue is more porous and fragile, making it easier for women to get sexually transmissible infections (STIs) such as HIV, chlamydia or gonorrhea than it is for men to get such STIs from vaginal sex, and also easier for women to tear or otherwise become injured during sex (which can result in a woman bleeding during or after sex).
This means that although women can have sex with whoever they want, and however many people they want, sex is simply riskier for women than it is for men. Blame Mother Nature, not me. I’m just the messenger.
Women (and men) can reduce their risk of infection by using condoms, limiting their number of sex partners and talking to their partners about their history of STI testing and treatment. Don’t settle for an “I’ve been tested for everything!” line â€“ it’s impossible for most men to get tested for “everything”. For example, men cannot be tested for the human papillomavirus (HPV) which most sexually active adults have been exposed to. And herpes testing? It varies in quality from lab to lab. Also, few people get tested as often as they should such as following oral, vaginal or anal sex with a new partner or after unprotected sex with someone who either may not have had adequate testing themselves.
Then there’s the emotional aspect to sex. Although sex is not always tied up with feelings of love, attachment or commitment, let’s face it: women, more often than men, often hope something will come from a friends-with-benefits situation. And though men like to cuddle, too, women – sometimes more often than men, and sometimes just the same as men (it depends on the person) – need a little lovin’ and reassurance with their sex. Women also often need to feel wanted, desired and liked as a person to rev up their desire to its utmost potential. That’s not to say that men don’t – they often do. But the way we raise girls to be women in the United States, anyway, often means that sex is tied up in a lot of identity and value issues for females in striking ways.
Finally, let’s face it: many men don’t have sex like the fictionally portrayed man either. Tucker Max aside (and probably him, too) often find that sex is more enjoyable with someone they’re in a relationship with and just because they like porn, it doesn’t mean they don’t like a good cuddle. Or that they don’t worry about getting STIs. Or that they don’t fear heartbreak or pain.
The truth is that both women and men enjoy sex that feels heartening, sensual, connecting and that takes them out of their bodies and into the realm of “wow, did that just happen?” (in a yummy way). Rather than thinking about what it means to have sex like a man (or “like a woman), I’d encourage you to think about having the type of sex that feels best to you â€“ no matter what Carrie or Samantha would do.
[Originally published in my weekly sex column at Cheeky Chicago.]