A few weeks ago Josh Glancy wrote a piece in the Sunday Times in which he said “The real story here, in my view, is one of growing sexual dysfunction. Of men and women not understanding each other – mostly men not understanding women – and becoming lonely and vulnerable in the process. Something is misfiring badly. Growing equality between the sexes does not seem to have generated a notable increase in carnal thrills. More and more women (including a slightly concerning majority of my ex-girlfriends) seem to be turning to other women to give them what they want. And why wouldn’t they? Many men, porn-obsessed, yet sexually illiterate, just aren’t getting the job done.” Something major is shifting in male-female relationships and same-sex couples have something to teach straight couples.
There are a number of ingrained cultural beliefs about the inherent nature of women and how women should relate to love and sex. Both men and women are socialised based on templates of behaviour that remain largely unquestioned. It is usually taken as a given that men are sexually enthusiastic, sometimes to an uncontrollable extent, and a large number of sexual partners is appealing to the average guy. On the flip side, women are expected to be passive, coy and to seek out sex only within an emotionally committed context. These gender-normative templates are established and reinforced by religion, advertising, mass media and often our own families and peer groups. However, they are no longer valid in the modern day where women are no longer financially dependent on men and can be independent. It’s time to throw out the old script!
There’s a lot that goes on in same-sex relationships that’s more egalitarian because it’s all up for negotiation. Same-sex couples are forced to communicate about their desires and needs. There’s no script. Even monogamy isn’t a default setting, it’s an opt-in. A lot of straight people avoid that conversation and in same-sex couples that can’t be ignored. When two gay guys get into bed they have to ask ‘What are you into?’ Says Dan Savage, host of The Savage Lovecast, when interviewed on the Gender Knot podcast recently. For same-sex couples, the range is much broader and doesn’t just revolve around one main activity as in heterosexual sex (PIV or penis in vagina.)
In same-sex couples, there aren’t any stereotypes and thus no clear division of labour in the home. They divide up the chores and roles in their relationship on who is best at them, rather than ‘that’s the man’s job’ or ‘woman’s job’. The result is they work better as a team – and there’s less resentment over silly, sexist things like secretly thinking ‘He should be earning more than me’ or ‘She should be the one emptying the dishwasher’. Why are they so much better at it than heterosexuals? One reason is that power is equal. There’s less bullying and less blaming of problems on gender because you don’t have set expectations of each other’s roles. Same-sex couples tend to let whoever is best at something take over.
Dan also said that heterosexual men are expected to perform a perceived hyper-masculinity, which is now is recognised as leading to toxic masculinity, causing pain and isolation in men who are made to feel it’s unmanly to express feelings and show vulnerability. He said there is a certain amount of policing going on in hetero male groups for any signs of non-masculine behaviour which causes high amounts of stress. He says he also gets letters from women asking if their boyfriends are gay because they express feelings. It’s time to let go of old-fashioned concepts of male and female behaviour and recognise we are all made of both male and female energy and everything is on a spectrum.
Lesbians, on the other hand, are much less penetration orientated and more orgasm orientated, and get much higher orgasm rates than straight couples, according to a US study ( see below the men’s rates are in green and women’s in pink so lesbian couples reach an 86% orgasm rate against 65% for straight couples.)
Gay men are far more experimental with different types of sex rather than sticking rigidly to the ‘vanilla’, basic type of sex straight people in long-term relationships tend to have.
These are exciting and perhaps confusing times when gender attitudes and roles are changing. We can learn a lot from couples who have had to negotiate roles and sexuality in each relationship, finding a way for each person to have their needs and desires met.
Find out more about the new masculinity and the new femininity on the Gender Knot Podcast