If I’m thinking about you and you are thinking about you, who is thinking about me? As if sex wasn’t complicated enough already, imagine having a partner who only thinks of themselves in bed. When there is an imbalance of focus during sex, one partner might feel less pleasure or even dissatisfied. And while orgasms are great, sexual pleasure is not synonymous with climaxes. Collaborative, pleasurable sex is enjoying the experience as it is happening and walking away feeling like you and your partner were equally cared for throughout. Orgasms do not indicate equal pleasure between partners.
If a person is focused on arousing their partner and the partner is also focused on their own arousal, a pleasure gap is created; one person’s pleasure is being prioritized and the other person simply feels a ricochet off of their partner’s. In a scenario where your pleasure is not a priority for your partner, maybe you decide to engage in self-prioritizing—in charge of your own pleasures. This might be a solution to the imbalance, but it lacks the collaborative part of sex.
Being in charge of your own pleasure is definitely not a bad thing. It could even be the first step. We know our bodies best and investing in our own pleasure through self-experimentation allows us to learn what is best for ourselves, which then helps us communicate in bed. Once we know how to pleasure ourselves, we can guide our partner to our hotspots during intercourse.
The ideal would be to have both partners feel comfortable enough to guide the other through their own sexual thrills. We want to know what drives our partner wild!
However, sometimes we worry that focusing on our partner’s pleasure will mean neglecting our own. That isn’t necessarily true. “Regardless of whether it’s a one night stand or you’re emotionally connected, [personally,] I like to make my partner feel good. That makes me happy and I’m getting pleasure from it,” Ashley Cunningham, Emerson alum and sexual health advocate, shares.
The most important part of any pleasurable sex experience is communication; ask questions!
We can ask our one-night-stand partner questions such as, “Does this feel good? Do you like what I’m doing? Would you like me to ____? Would you rather me ____?” It is entirely possible to have pleasurable, partner-focused sex without a strong emotional bond to your partner just by being in tune with your own pleasures and willing to learn about your partner’s.
And the fear of “killing the mood” will fly right out the window once your partner responds excitedly saying that what you’re doing feels good for them.
If you feel that your partner is less engaged or just not in tune with your pleasure, try making suggestions. Whether your partner is your significant other or not, communicating about pleasure can be nerve-racking, but it will be worth it. “Some of my most satisfying sexual experiences have been with people who are actually anxious,” Cunningham says, “because they’re always thinking, ‘what if they’re not being pleasured enough.’”
According to a 2011 study conducted by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, “People who can better communicate and understand another person's emotions are more likely to have a satisfying sex life.”
Asking a partner what makes them feel good and making suggestions for what they could do to get your rocks off, all falls under healthy sexual communication.
Sophomore Visual & Media Arts major, and Vice President of EAGLE, Jade DeRose attributes pleasurable sexual experiences to a combination of intuition and connection. She says, “A good sexual experience is shared with someone who is in tune with you, someone who can listen to your body and move with you and vice versa.”
A common thought is that intuition for same sex couples comes easier because the partners have a good understanding of the other person’s pleasure spots based on their own self-exploration. In 2014, news outlets such as Huffington Post reported that a Kinsey study proved that lesbian couples had better sex. The study found that women in heterosexual couples have less orgasms than those in same sex couples.
Keeping in mind that orgasms are not an accurate way to gauge pleasure, it is important to understand that while same sex couples might have better sex, it is not because sex comes easier. Having the same anatomy as your partner might help you understand how their body responds to pleasure, but everyone has their own particular desires and ways of being aroused.
“Sexual experiences are unique, special and specific to the partners and shouldn’t be moderated or defined by just ‘understanding bodies,’” Derose says. “It is much more than that.”
In the ideal scenario, your partner will want to learn about your desires and will be aroused when fulfilling them. “When we’re talking about giving partner’s attention and making sure you have a desire to understand what they need, that can also be fulfilling on your end,” Cunningham says. “Sex isn’t a one person act; it’s a collaborative act.”
If collaboration during sex just is not happening despite your best efforts, you might consider new sexual endeavors. After all, we all deserve to have good sex. “If you have a sense that they are not caring about your pleasure, you have three options,” Cunningham says, “You can communicate that [your lack of pleasure] to them, and they can [or not] give a shit, and decide whether or not to respond; you can ask for things in bed and see if they do them; or you can not have sex with that person.”
Photos by Allen Mou and Daniel Clemens