If I said angling, rocking, shallowing and pairing, what would you think I am going on about? Fishing? Eyebrows? Syncing devices?
You would be wrong.
On all counts.
They are in fact terms to describe sex positions which make penetration more pleasurable for women, according to a new study. But until now these positions had no official names – a problem in itself. The other problem? It’s reported that during sex only 20% of women orgasm from penetration alone.
Much has been written about the gender orgasm gap and how women need to feel like it is their right to close it. But how can you ask for what you need if you don’t have well-understood terms to describe it?
This was the primary motivation of one of the authors of this new study for which 4,000 American women were consulted on how to make sex better; what they enjoyed and was published in the science journal, Plos One.
I spoke to Dr Devon Hensel, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Indiana School of Medicine last week on Woman’s Hour and here is how she defines the four techniques that worked well for most women. (And terms she would love to see become a firm part of women and men’s vocabulary – and crucially be deployed in conversations around what women need in bed):
“Angling is rotating, raising, or moving your pelvis in ways that a toy or penis feels better.
“Rocking is when a woman is on top and can experience clitoral stimulation during penetration.
“Shallowing is penetration just inside the entrance of the vagina.
“Pairing is multiple things at once to pleasure women. Penetration – plus hands or sex toys to stimulate the clitoris.”
As she puts it: “These phrases give women agency and confidence to ask for what feels good.”
That is Dr Hensel’s ambition in a nutshell. And it is laudable and truly innovative.
By the very act of naming some of these positions which can increase women’s chances of pleasure – not only is she legitimising the need to deserve pleasure from sex, but she is also giving women the tools to express wishes in an area many still find so hard to broach.
Her restaurant comparison is apt too. Imagine going into a restaurant and not knowing the words to order a certain food or condiment.
You know you want that white thing with a yellow middle to go on your toast – but the word egg has yet to be determined.
This barrier, which may sound small, may put you off the whole endeavour and stop you from even trying to order in the first place.
This is not to overlook the fact that men also struggle to talk about how sex should work. As one man wrote to me: “Isn’t the other side of the coin with this is that men are also expected to be knowledgeable and expert lovers – and that no woman really finds it sexy if a man asks ‘what do you want?’ as it indicates a lack of confidence.”
While it is a valid point to reflect on and definitely consider, it still doesn’t get away from the fact that most men orgasm from penetrative sex and most women don’t.
Language as a barrier is a theme that carries over into other areas of women’s lives.
Pain is the great one. Beyond the gender orgasm gap – there is also the gender pain gap – with women routinely not being believed or taken seriously when they present symptoms.
Hysteria, overreacting, go home and take two Paracetamol – is still too often the refrain from the medical world.
Again, this could, in part, be improved if there were a set of mutually understood and agreed terms to describe pain – especially pain that is particular to women.
The work of Dr Stella Bullo of Manchester Metropolitan University focuses on this. How women expressing pain have been disbelieved but also how to find the language, the phrases to describe pain – in particular relating to endometriosis. (Something I personally know all too well).
The title of one of her academic papers says it all: “’I feel like I’m being stabbed by a thousand tiny men’: The challenges of communicating endometriosis pain.”
Just as the saying goes about leadership and ensuring more women are holding society’s leading roles – you can’t be what you can’t see; you can’t ask for what you can’t describe.
You could make the same case again for closing the gender pay gap. You firstly need to know if your workplace has a problem but then you have to find the language to have a conversation about what most people still find horribly awkward – money. And why you are worth more. Interestingly the language is more developed and accepted in this area – which has made these thorny conversations more formalised and hopefully a bit easier.
Whether it’s in the bedroom or the doctor’s surgery – only by uniting around some key words and phrases will we be able to talk well to our friends, lovers and professionals about our needs and see we are not alone. Far from it.
And crucially that what we are asking for isn’t weird or wrong.
Come back to GLAMOUR next fortnight to read her next instalment.