Of Men And Meat

If you’re wondering if we gender food, just google “man eating.” You’ll find dudes shoving burgers down their throats. Now google “woman eating.” Salads abound. From these stock images, one would think that women pretty much eat only cubes of fruit and iceberg lettuce while laughing into their forks.

On one level, these search results might seem more indicative of female diet culture than of men’s diets; we’re more likely to view a diet of solely salad as a trendy fad than we would a diet of largely meat. That’s because we already assume that eating massive quantities of meat is the norm. I mean, the average American ate 198 pounds of meat in the year 2014 compared to the world average of about 91 pounds. We are a meat-centric society and, despite the growing number of very vocal plant-based folk, meat consumption is soaring (annual meat consumption per person in the U.S. was predicted to be to 222 pounds for the year of 2018). America is increasingly meat-obsessed, so why aren’t both women and men on Google Images chowing down steaks? Why is meat so connected to men?

We could, of course, approach it from a naïve “first humans” perspective: men are hunters, women are gatherers. But even if that perspective is anthropologically accurate, it’s strange that the association has lived on, considering the only spears most men wield now are the sticks inside their corn dogs. According to a study done by the Vegan Society, 63%  of vegans identify as female, while 37% identify as male. This divide is slightly more even but still apparent in vegetarians, with 41% of vegetarians in the U.S. identifying as male. Men aren’t hunting animals as a means to survive anymore, but there still seems to be an inextricable link between meat consumption and masculinity.

We seem to think that meat upholds this idealized conception of manhood, but in today’s capitalist world, this sentiment has only allowed men to become prey for meat corporations. Take Burger King’s “I Am Man” commercial from 2007: men taking to the streets and refusing to “settle for chick food.” The commercial ends with the statement “Eat like a man, man.” The message is that maleness is predicated on consuming meat manufactured by a corporation (Burger King). In the same way that beauty narratives tell women they need x product to be truly beautiful, our society has posed meat consumption as something integral to manhood. It also sets up yet another way to pit women against one another, as some women use misogynist food narratives to their favor by asserting they’re not like a “typical woman.” The girl who gets a burger on the first date is a cool, one-of-the-guys kind of girl, while the girl who eats a salad is overly concerned with her figure or too girly. If there’s anything more American than meat, it’s misogyny!

I wanted to see what masculine people had to say about meat. Did they notice the emphasis on meat eating in America, or was I driving myself crazy over nothing? To George, who I knew in high school and struggle to call a man rather than a boy, “meat means protein and gains. That’s about all that comes to mind.” From what I gathered during our brief conversation, George seems to work out a lot now, which was why he described himself as “particularly masculine.” He and his frat brothers apparently all eat a lot of meat and work out together; to them, the protein they get from meat translates directly into masculine “gains” and enormous pulsing man muscles. Meat means gains, gains mean masculinity, so by transitive property of frattiness, meat means … masculinity, I guess.

Although George’s brief, no-nonsense answers were helpful, I was able to pull a lot more out of my friend Joe. He pointed out that “when male-identifying people grow up, we learn that eating meat makes you strong and tough.” Joe also noticed a lot of coded meat messages growing up, like the “associations you see on TV and commercials with meat and ‘manliness’ and being a ‘big tough man’” or how “eating my first Big Mac definitely felt like a weird male rite of passage.”

Joe and another former high school classmate of mine, Patrick*, also noticed the ways in which meat-related slang is tied to masculinity. There are a lot of typically masculine meat-related idioms: two people in a fight have “beef.” If you “beat your meat” you’re masturbating a penis; if you get wild you’re “going ham”; the list goes on and on. Joe and Patrick recalled a few more good ones, like “sausage fest” and “beef up.” Joe got on a roll once he started, sending me multiple messages:

1:39 PM: “Choke the chicken” as a euphemism for masturbation/
3:22 PM: I’ve also heard a woman’s butt referred to as “booty meat.”
9:35 PM: I just remembered the term “meathead,” I hear that a lot to refer to a muscular male who is unintelligent.

So yeah, there’s a lot of slang, although Patrick told me, “I’ve always thought that meat as a euphemism for dick was kind of unsettling, because meat is something that gets bitten off chewed and digested and I want exactly none of that associated with my dick.” I was unsettled by something else: when we associate meat with the penis and muscle, where does that leave vegetarian and vegan men? Are they stripped of “manhood” because of their dietary choices? Can you be manly without meat?

There’s increasing evidence that you can. Notable “manly” vegans include famed quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick, “Jackass” stuntman Steve-O, and NFL star Tony Gonzalez. If male athletes are beefing up without beef, then how are they asserting their masculinity outside of our consumer emphasis that meat is male? I asked professional vegan fitness trainer Korin Sutton. Korin isn’t just fit; he’s built. A recent photo he posted on Instagram claims he has only 5% body fat, and that’s not hard to believe. He thinks that men eat more meat than women only because they’re raised to believe that men eat more meat, thus creating a cycle where men eat meat to uphold a norm. Since going vegan, Sutton says he’s “glad that my mindset has changed and realized that food has no gender roles.” You don’t have to be a typical “man” to fall prey to our society’s fixation on meat. Whether you’re a little masculine or a lot masculine, you’re still subject to masculinity standards.

But where does this association become fuel for toxic masculinity and male aggression? Considering that few people kill the food they eat, men are more likely hunting for Tyson coupons than hunting for wooly mammoths. But all it takes is a glance at the news to confirm that male aggression is alive and well. To be clear, I’m not blaming meat for this; male violence has been excused and upheld by our society for hundreds of years, and it’s not as if plant-based men are removed from that structure. Male aggression isn’t based on meat, but dominance; the same dominance that meat consumption relies on.

Is the problem meat itself, or how we eat it? If we changed the way we consume meat, then maybe some of those man/beast dichotomies would start to fall apart. If we ignore the way food informs our decisions and attitudes, we’re also ignoring how it perpetuates toxic ideals in our culture.

For a country so obsessed with eating, we don’t seem to actually think about food much. We’re constantly inundated with food advertisements and Tasty videos and pictures on Instagram, but we fail to seriously acknowledge issues like the obesity epidemic or cardiac arrest-related deaths or eating disorders. We cling to labels like “free-range” or “cage-free” without learning what that really means, or fixate on “clean” or “cruelty-free” eating. The ethical food movement may urge us to stop eating so much meat, but it is still wrapped up in the stereotypes that characterize the way we masculinize meat. Labeling some foods as “clean” implies others are “dirty”, which is classist, shame-y, and dangerous.

Once we use our food as a way to inform and fill out our identities, it becomes a fixed element in our lifestyle. Treating foods as central to our identity makes sense when it comes to cultural foods and ethnic culinary traditions, but using meat-eating to boost our identity in terms of fitness or gender or sexuality by over-emphasizing it as a necessary staple is not sustainable. Not only have we made it normal to eat way too much meat and emasculating for men who refuse to do so, we’ve tossed out the habit of an incredibly varied and ever-changing diet that our bodies need to thrive.

We’ve twisted one of the most basic parts of being human into a way we abuse ourselves and others. If we can’t examine what sustains us physically, how the hell are we supposed to examine what sustains us mentally, emotionally, or spiritually? Taking a closer look at not just what we eat, but how we eat and why we eat it, is crucial to living that Socratic examined life.

So how do we convince people to pay attention to what they eat without conflating certain foods with certain characteristics in a way that upholds the same toxic standards that pit people against each other and the planet?

I don’t know, but it’s certainly something to chew on.


Photos by Alexa Fahlman.


To Cut or Not To Cut?

“Hey Callie, I’m here to talk to you about my penis.”

Out of context, this message sounds like the usual dick-centric DM — it’s like a sales pitch: the virtual version of a solicitor at my door, or maybe it’s a cringing-ly straightforward version of the classic “what r u doing 2nite?” text. Thankfully, this time, no one was trying to sell me on their penis.

This message actually originated from a conversation with a female friend of mine. We’d been discussing penis appearance and circumcision when we realized that we knew very, very little about it. How common was it? Were there any proven benefits? Where does all the foreskin go? What even is a penis? In search of answers, I reached out to the Facebook community asking for penis anecdotes and opinions, specifically surrounding circumcision. The post was basically an inverted version of that Jonah Hill scene in Accepted, where he’s yelling, “Ask me about my wiener!” I was yelling into the cyber-void for people to let me ask them about their wieners.

As it turns out, people really want to talk about dicks because, believe it or not, no one ever actually asks.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes at the suggestion that penises should be talked about more. We do seem to talk about them all the time, whether it’s jokes, comments about the size of the president’s peen, or some other masculinity-threatening insult. But the truth is, the United States has a penis problem — or rather, a penis discourse problem.

Most of us think about the penis a whole lot, whether it’s because we want dick or because we have a dick. But we don’t really think about the foreskin. That is, until we have children ourselves. “Congratulations on your new baby! Now do you want to cut off its dick skin or not?”

There is, in fact, a war being waged over the foreskin — the war on circumcision, as some see it. Circumcision has been the unquestioned norm in the United States for a long time. Only in the past couple of decades have people started resisting the practice. Anti-circ and pro-circ folks are, shall we say, going head-to-head over circumcision: its benefits, frequency, ethicality and so on. People have a lot of opinions, and the debate is surprisingly complex. Thinking about circumcision solely as a decision of whether to snip is just the tip of the… iceberg.

Those against circumcision deem it an act of violence. Circumcision of infants, they argue, is non-consensual and cruel, as many infants are not given anesthetic for the operation. The leading group against circumcision, Intact America, considers circumcision akin to female genital mutilation. Groups like Intact America, which describe themselves in their mission statement as “passionate, professional, principled, and uncompromising,” are of the opinion that circumcision is an unnecessary and invasive surgery. They go as far as to support an all-out ban on circumcision in the United States.

Looking over Intact America’s website, I realized I didn’t actually know exactly what happened during a circumcision. In order to fully understand, I spent an hour watching different instructional videos on how to circumcise both adult and infantile penises. My personal favorite circumcision video was the one featuring “Blue Danube” by Richard Strauss (every good circumcision is accompanied by a full orchestra).

Now that I’m basically an expert, I can clear up some medical and anatomical confusion. A circumcision happens like this: first, you cut open the foreskin on the upper side of the penis with scissors, then slit the underside, peel it like a banana, and cut it off. Often, metal instruments are used to hold the foreskin open in order to ease the cutting process. The procedure sounds incredibly painful, although I can’t imagine a surgery that would sound pleasant when described in graphic detail.

The World Health Organization estimates that about 30% of the world’s penis-owning population is circumcised. Most of this population is comprised of Muslim penis owners living in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East — circumcision, or “khitan” in Arabic, is mentioned in the holy texts of the Hadith and the Sunnah. Circumcision is also mandated by most Jewish communities, a tradition which apparently stems from a passage in Genesis 17. I skipped over my childhood Bible studies, so I had to look it up. God tells Abraham, “This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee: every male among you shall be circumcised.” God then goes on to explain that if Abraham doesn’t keep his people circumcised, their souls will be compromised and their cut off from God. From what I gathered, this is where religiously-motivated circumcision began. But, in the New Testament, Paul basically argues that because Jesus was circumcised, no one else has to be. Jesus’ foreskin died for our sins, so circumcision fell out of Christian tradition.

In other primarily Christian countries like France and England, non-religious circumcision has basically disappeared. But circumcision rates in the United States are still high (around 80% of men aged 14 to 59 are circumcised, according to CIRP) despite the fact that the majority of the United States is Christian. So how did we come to live in a foreskin-less nation?

There’s no one clear answer. It seems, however, that if God wasn’t the one telling you to circumcise your child, it was your box of cornflakes. Cereal namesake John Harvey Kellogg popularized the belief that circumcision was an effective method of stopping masturbation and keeping a person clean and chaste. That anti-masturbation pro-hygiene argument became especially popular after the first World War, when the military was forced to discharge more than ten thousand men due to STIs. The proposed solution? Circumcision.

Starting in the Second World War, soldiers were required to be circumcised before being deployed (this is all, of course, based on very little scientific evidence suggesting it would help prevent STIs). This meant a lot of grown-ass men were circumcised (without anesthetic) and were told that it was for their health. So later on, when given the decision to circumcise their own children, many couples decided it was better to do it early when the memory wouldn’t be so painful (medical opinion at the time held that babies didn’t feel pain). During the postwar baby boom when hospital-births were the new standard, circumcision became the doctor-recommended option for parents. A slew of medical reports by Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book Baby and Child Care remains one of the best-selling books of all time, claimed that circumcision was cleaner and safer for the child. (Spock, as it happens, rescinded these statements near the end of his life). By the 1960s, CIRP reports that nearly 90% of babies were circumcised. Couples in the 60s saw their friends throwing their children off the proverbial dick-snipping bridge, and they decided to follow suit.

In this time, the argument for circumcision seemed to be that circumcision was cleaner, safer, and prettier than the alternative. The hygiene argument for circumcision has never really made sense to me. I understand it’s another part of your body you have to clean but to recommend cutting it off so you don’t have to clean it? That’s kind of like saying you should cut off your hands since, if you don’t have hands, you don’t need to wash them after you go to the bathroom.

The arguments of safety and STI transmission are contentious ones; look it up and you’ll find a hundred studies that say circumcision prevents STIs and another hundred that say it doesn’t. Neither has been proven. And the argument that circumcision makes penises more attractive is just a positive feedback loop of negative thought to justify a popular practice against its challenges. Apparently, if all scientific justification for something fails, the public resorts to “it just looks better that way.”

The online discussion of circumcision makes it seem very black and white, so I wanted to know if people actually think about their penises the way the internet makes it seem they do. After my Facebook inquiry, it was awesome to see the number of people willing to talk to me openly about their penises. People I hadn’t spoken to in years reached out — from old camp counselors to boys from my middle school, my friends from Colorado College messaged me, even my uncle sent me his opinions.

Corresponding with the high rate of circumcision in the United States, most of the responses came from circumcised people. All of the responses I got were from penis-owners who identified as male. In general, most were pretty nonchalant about circumcision — definitely not as heated as some of the debates I had witnessed on the internet.

Some of them hadn’t thought about circumcision at all before, while others had several paragraphs worth of thoughts on the matter. Opinions on the debate ended up boiling down to a few main contentions also made by circumcision scholars: religion, consent, cleanliness, pleasure, and appearance. (I granted all interviewees anonymity in the interest of getting frank, honest answers. Completely randomly generated names are used in lieu of given names).

The question of consent is at the heart of the circumcision debate.

A lot of the responses I received were from Jewish men who had no issue with their parents making the decision to circumcise them. On the other hand, non-Jewish Richard (uncircumcised), found it an “imposition of religion.” He said it was a “consent violation if the person is too young to make an informed decision for themselves…and frankly abusive.” One of the few women who reached out for an interview said it was “pretty barbaric… it should be a choice that a penis owner makes when they’re old enough to do so, rather than a choice that’s made for them when they’re babies.”

Others, however, argued that as kids we had to do a whole bunch of shit we didn’t want to anyway. One guy called the consent argument “complete bullshit. I didn’t consent to if I could or could not go to preschool, eat veggies, grow up in the USA, etc. The list is endless.” He reasoned that “it’s not like children can consent to orthodontic surgery [which is often cosmetic].” Those making the violation-of-consent argument were typically uncircumcised people, while circumcised folk tended to have a more relaxed attitude about it. Both sides make good points: I didn’t consent to my parents giving me horrible haircuts as a child, true, but my hair grew out, whereas growing foreskin back is much harder. But also, if a parent is following what their religion has dictated for years, what’s common with other new parents, or what they’re told is best for their child, then I’m not quite sure it’s abusive, either. Additionally, banning circumcision (like Intact America suggests) means preventing Jewish and Muslim practices, and could lead to amateur circumcisions performed out of adherence to religion, which carries serious medical risks.

Pleasure is the one thing I found circumcised guys get bummed out about, as there is a good deal of rumors that having that ultra-sensitive foreskin makes for better sex. The public seems to have accepted this as fact, although there isn’t much actual scientific evidence because sexual pleasure is hard to quantify. As circumcised Paul put it, “I want a penis that is as sensitive as can be, because… sex is nice.” A lot of guys I talked to who had been circumcised for non-religious reasons found it pretty illogical — they said they definitely wouldn’t have been circumcised if they had been given the choice.

On the other hand, there’s the cleanliness argument. One girl I interviewed felt better knowing that guys she was hooking up with were circumcised because she found it cleaner. Several fraternity brothers expressed that they thought uncircumcised penises were gross but quickly backtracked to make it clear that they had never thought about any penises, ever. The cleanliness argument has spurred some pretty demoralizing conceptions of uncircumcised penises as “gross” or “dirty.” A friend of mine told me she had considered uncircumcised penises ugly and dirty before she saw one and realized they were just regular old penises with more skin. That experience wasn’t unique to her, either. Colorado College junior Richard II told me a story about his friend whose girlfriend wouldn’t go down on him specifically because he was uncircumcised, and several guys I attempted to interview for this article actually told me they thought uncircumcised penises were “disgusting.” It turns out that a lot of people get squeamish about the uncircumcised penis.

There’s a lot of danger in the “ew” argument. Penises have become a sort of bodily indicator of power in addition to sexuality. Maybe the rhetoric surrounding penises is negative because they’re sometimes associated with male domination and toxic masculinity. With the recent increase in body positivity surrounding vaginas and their beauty, I’ve found that no one really ever calls penises beautiful or strong or any positive adjective. And I’m not hopping on some men’s rights bullshit train, but I do wonder how penis owners feel about having the general narrative remain, “all penises are gross, and some are even grosser, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

I tried asking people I interviewed about penile body positivity. Some, like John and Peter, felt that this lack of conversation about the penis and the body was detrimental. According to uncircumcised John, the inclusion of penises in discussions of body positivity could “delegitimize the stigma and shame of differently shaped and sized penises” and “get men talking about their feelings around their bodies in general.” This body talk is important, too, because almost every guy I interviewed pointed out how they almost never see other people’s dicks. Most guys noted that they only see other penises in porn, and that as a result, porn is what shaped their idea of how the “correct” penis looks and acts. On the other hand, Richard II pointed out that because of the penis’ association with sexuality and male power, any body positivity movement around the penis would end up feeling like a movement for male power.

We see how body shaming and lack of representation of bodies affect people all the time but seem to ignore the penis in a very counter-intuitive way. We don’t talk about penis appearance because we don’t think that cisgender men belong to a faction of people that needs more attention or support. This leads to internalized insecurities that can very quickly turn into aggression. If someone is ashamed of their penis, they might associate sex with embarrassment, and a supposed indicator of “power” might come to indicate their inadequacy. It’s easier to see, then, how guys can end up combating feelings of powerlessness with violence. The circumcision debate thus only exacerbates this issue — an incredibly vulnerable part of someone’s body is considered unattractive because of circumstances (and circumcisions) completely outside of their control.

Aggressively masculinizing the penis through our rhetoric has implications other than cis male shame, though. It further ostracizes trans women and perpetuates the dangerous idea that trans women are still male. We paint the penis as this solely sexual, male body part and it seems as if the only place we’re talking about the penis removed from its sexuality is in the circumcision of infants, where it suddenly seems like the penis belongs to the argument and not the owner. The only arena where the penis is desexualized is one where it’s denigrated. To me, we seem to be focusing on the penis in all the wrong ways, and our rhetoric is creating a culture that kills people. Toxic masculinity thrives in a phallocentric society. Insulting the penis in any way (even by proxy, as in rejection of sexual advancement) becomes a dangerous action for all women but especially for trans women, whose penises are used as proof of their “fake” womanhood. This myth of the penis as inherently and aggressively male contributes to the transphobia of men who have killed at least six trans women in 2018 as of February 23, 2018, in the United States alone.

So where do we go from here? One possible solution would be to start viewing and thinking of penises in a non-sexual way. Our country is weird as hell about nudity no matter how you cut it, but penises are often shut out of the whole “nudity isn’t inherently sexual” narrative. Of course, there are reasons for this — say indecent exposure, which is something that crosses the line over body positivity into harassment. Though we maybe shouldn’t advocate a universal “free the penis” movement, we should definitely rethink the strange place we’ve put the penis in our thoughts about the body.

In terms of being pro- or anti-circumcision, I am very much on the dick fence, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that when we take as rigid a stance on the circumcision debate as people tend to, we shame one kind of penis or another. Calling uncircumcised penises dirty and unsafe isn’t exactly uplifting, and calling circumcised penises mutilated (as groups like Intact America do) doesn’t do wonders for self-esteem either. Surely, there’s a way to have this discussion that doesn’t denigrate all penises and perpetuate a culture of body shame around a vulnerable body part.

Peter seemed to nail this topic on the head (the metaphorical one, not the penis one, because ouch): “Masculinity standards are not talked about enough. Penises are a large part of being masculine and being comfortable in your own skin. Guys grow up watching porn and there are discrepancies of expectation and reality. I think that being able to love what you have, and understanding that what you see in the fiction world of porn can create a feeling of inadequacy. I think that this feeling leads to anger that is targeted at women and other guys. So creating a culture of penis positivity is important.”

We are so obsessed with the penis as an emblem of male sexuality that we don’t even know where would we be if we could break down these notions about the penis. The entire conversation clearly indicates how strangely our culture thinks about bodies and sex and how they relate. It’s completely nonsensical to think the uncircumcised penis looks weird. If we think that, it’s because we were taught to.

It’s time to quit dicking around.

Photos (in order of appearance) by Hollis Johnson, Lotte van Raalte, Sara Lorusso, and Giulia Bersani. 



Do It Yourself

I’m in seventh grade. My new LG Touch lights up with a message from my latest crush, Brendan Gordon. We are playing the “question game,” which is basically preteen sexting:

do u masterbate? Brendan texts me. He’s the pinnacle of eloquence.

no haha 🙂 I type back in a panic.

I’m not one to lie, but at 12, I’m wracked with guilt over masturbation. It’s at least four years before I realize that other girls masturbate too. Yet by 12 it was already common knowledge boys masturbated. A lot.

We talk about guys masturbating all the time. There are so many nicknames for the act of cis men masturbating that basically anything you say could ostensibly be a euphemism for a dude “jacking off.” The equation for creating an alternative saying for masturbate is verb-ing the noun. Beating the meat. Tugging the slug. Pulling the pope. (These are all actually sayings I found on the internet that people apparently say.)

Honestly, some of them sound incredibly violent and not at all like something I would want to do to my hypothetical penis. Bleed the weed. Flogging the egg man? (I sincerely hope no one has ever, ever, ever said this in reference to masturbation.) The thing is, if you have a penis there are hundreds of different ways to say you’re going to flog your egg man, and they’re all generally accepted, but I flounder to find a single way to refer to masturbating if you have a vagina other than saying masturbate. I have yet to find a single person who can say flick the bean without cringing or laughing. The lack of colloquialisms for female masturbation implies a larger problem than linguistic shortcomings.

Fixation on cis male sexual pleasure has been a constant in the human sexual landscape for the past, oh, forever. Sure, gone are the days of diagnosing women with hysteria when their husbands couldn’t make them cum, but I’d like to hope the standard is a little higher than that.

Curiously enough, a fix of sorts did come through women diagnosed with “hysteria.” The percusser, more popularly known as the vibrator, was initially invented to help doctors administer pelvic massages to their patients in order to calm hysteria and “frigid woman syndrome,” which should’ve been called “I-can’t-cum-and-apparently-it’s-my-fault syndrome.” That’s right, making your girl cum was a duty delegated to medical professionals in the late nineteenth century. They disappeared off of the popular market somewhere around the 1920s and returned into the black hole of female sexuality. (Freud literally called female sexuality the “dark continent” of psychology. But let’s be honest, Freud couldn’t make a girl cum and neither can many psychology majors I know.)

But if doctors aren’t making people cum any more, then who is? Because, according to analysis of over thirty studies regarding the female orgasm, women aren’t coming during sex. Women are four times as likely to refer to heterosexual intercourse as “not pleasurable at all” as men are, according to Alexandra Fine, CEO of Dame Products.

This phenomenon is referred to as the ‘pleasure gap’ in sex.

In one of these surveys administered to individuals aged 18-65, 62% of women reported regularly orgasming from sex, compared to 85% of men. Studies aside, this is something I witness and experience all the time. The whole idea of ‘faking it’ is preposterous when you actually think about it; women are more concerned with men’s egos than their actual sexual pleasure. When I asked a female student why she faked orgasms, her response was that she “got bored and wanted it to be over” and that jackhammering only feels good for one person. If your sexual style is compared to a power tool, you can bet that you’re not making anyone cum.

Another female student noted, “Everyone acts as if the path to pleasure is the same for men and women when it’s drastically different.” Why are women so reluctant to instruct men how to make them cum? Why are men so offended by women not cumming when it’s usually, unequivocally their fault?

But even as I ask myself these questions I know the answer; throughout our entire lives, women are taught to protect fragile masculinity at all costs. Because if we don’t, the price we pay can literally be deadly. How many stories have I read in the past month about women being beaten to death or stabbed or shot for rejecting a man’s advances? I recall the high school era myth of blue balls; an urban legend which sole purpose was coercing women into sexual acts they weren’t comfortable with.

I was curious as to what cis men had to say about the pleasure gap. Were they aware of it? Did they give a shit? I decided to ask men I’ve had sex with. The interviews were a lot like the sex I’ve had: nothing extraordinary, but they got the job done.

One man I interviewed fumbled uncomfortably when I asked him if he thought he made girls cum, saying, “I don’t know, I have no idea. I feel like, honestly, maybe? I mean, people make different movements and noises and whatnot? And afterwards I’m not gonna like, I mean I don’t… ask.”

I watched realization settle onto his face.  He continued, “Maybe that’s really… rude of me?”

This John Doe wasn’t aware of the pleasure gap, but was able to guess at it quickly, comparing it to the “wage gap in that men orgasm way more often than women do.” What frustrated me about talking to these guys is that even if they were aware, or they acknowledged their own problems, they just didn’t seem to care that much. It’s almost as if making a female-identified person orgasm has become a novelty; those who can do it are special and rare. So in sex, the burden of orgasm falls to the femme for both participants’ pleasure.

So how do we reclaim pleasure in sex? Sex shop curators, such as Amy Boyajian of Wild Flower, a sex shop based in New York, are working to reform the discourse around sex. Most importantly, she’s trying to change the popular view of sex toys. Re-enter the great “percusser’ of the 19th century! Boyajian wants to combat the idea that “sex toys and the stores that [sell] them [are] lurid and sinister places that only creepy men in trench coats [visit]. With the rise of feminist sex stores, that based their ideology around education and pleasure, it expanded the market of the sex store shopper to include women and queer people. I’m working to expand this inclusion to trans people and nonbinary people also.”

Wild Flower’s website is categorized not by gender, like many stores are, but by the body parts the sex toy applies to; vaginas, penises, butts (oh my!), as well as categories for BDSM and nipple play. The store, along with her popular Instagram page, wildflowersex, also features numerous educational articles and videos with titles like “Oral Tips With A Giant Vulva” (if you want to know what an enormous paper mache vulva looks like then this one is right up your alley!) and “What’s The Deal With Cock Rings?”

When I asked Boyajian what she thought about the pleasure gap and why it exists, she brought up the effect(s) of societal norms on sex and sex toys today. “There is a common idea that sex toys are seen as competition to partners in the bedroom, when they are simply aids to women who find it hard to orgasm via penetrative sex,” she said, before continuing, “any woman who talks about sexuality is deemed a slut, myself included. Sexual wellness also spans bigger than penetrative sex, like period sex and vaginal health, however these are too ‘icky’ to be part of the mainstream narrative.”

If we’re going to talk about women’s pleasure during sex, then women’s comfort must also be discussed. If your male partner can’t say the word ‘tampon’ without lowering his voice or giggling, if your period is denigrated as something ‘gross’ or ‘unspeakable,’ then what the hell is that dude doing near your vagina anyway? Sexual pleasure comes with feeling comfortable that your body—no matter what it looks like or how it functions, your body is not wrong or bad. 

When asked if she had advice for anyone struggling to feel comfortable in their sexuality or with sexual satisfaction, Boyajian replied, “Create an ongoing romance with yourself, explore your body, and get to know what feels good via masturbation. Treat yourself to a vibrator. Make your pleasure a priority… Explore your fantasies and do it a way that is non-judgmental. Be gentle and kind to yourself.” 

Discovering what pleases you isn’t exactly a linear journey, and what’s often forgotten in conversations about pleasure today is that pleasure is different for everyone. Don’t let shame or discomfort dictate your sex life. Set your vibrator on high (or low, or whatever setting you damn well please) and get to it! Don’t settle for anything less than shaky legs, flushed cheeks, and arched backs. Men? It’s a clit, not the Strait of Magellan.

Femmes, it’s time to come to our senses and start cumming.