Men's comfort should not supercede female pleasure

Men's comfort should not supercede female pleasure

Photo illustration by Shana Oshinskie

I can vividly remember the first time I was dress-coded. I was about 12 years old, and it was over 100 degrees outside. I thought nothing of it when I put on a pair of shorts before school, but soon after I arrived, I was asked to place my fingers on the end of my shorts. Because the shorts did not reach my fingertips, I was sent down to the principal’s office and scolded. That was the first of what would be many times that I would be dress-coded by my teachers over the next six years. 

Eventually, I learned a few tricks to get through especially hot days. If I walked through certain hallways fast enough I could avoid certain security guards. If I had a strict teacher, I carried an extra pair of my gym shorts to cover up a few additional centimeters of thigh during their class. I went to extensive lengths to wear running shorts, because in a school without air conditioning, it was nearly impossible to focus on anything other than the sweat dripping down my legs during class when I was forced to wear pants. 

We were only given one explanation: that the length of our shorts and shirt sleeves held an important place in the classroom, as our bodies, however sweaty and uncomfortable, served as distractions to our male classmates. The years of discomfort and hiding from teachers taught me what I now see perfectly clearly: that in most ways, male comfort comes at the expense of the women around them.

When I came to Alabama and the restrictions on running shorts were clearly lifted, I started to see just how far this spread beyond the classroom into adulthood. Our clothing choices continued to be up for debate, as our boyfriends and fathers might vocalize their disapproval if we show too much skin simply because it does not fit the narrative of womanhood they are comfortable with. We squeeze our bodies into small spaces when men on the subway “manspread” and leave us without leg room. When a man comes up to us at a bar and we aren’t interested, we often feel obliged to protect their feelings and tell them that we have boyfriends rather than the truth. 

We apologize for everything, even for expressing too much emotion. We continue to do so, not because we are uniquely empathetic, but because our dedication to making men feel comfortable is simply what is expected of us. In a world so caught up with making men feel good, it is incredibly easy to look past the needs of women. 

This extends largely into the way women are expected to experience sex. It took until the sexual revolution of the 1960s for mainstream culture to understand that women had libidos and could have sex drive of their own. We are indoctrinated to believe that our first sexual encounters are bound to be painful and are to be endured rather than enjoyed. The more active we become, the notion that women must endure a certain level of pain stays with us, and our conception of “bad sex” is dominated by experiences of pain and coercion, while men consider bad encounters to primarily mean any time they are mildly inconvenienced.

Our pain is so often overlooked that PubMed found the scientific community is about five times more likely to study ways to increase male pleasure than the alleviation of female pain. We often ignore this disparity because so much of female sexuality is already defined for us by what we are able to offer and not what we can lose. 

The concept of female pleasure is still so foreign that over 70 percent of women report rarely climaxing during intercourse as compared to 75 percent of men reporting experiencing one nearly every time they have sex. On an even larger scale, the topic of funding Planned Parenthood, an organization dedicated to women’s healthcare needs, seems to always be up for debate, while many insurance carriers cover Viagra without question. 

While my sweaty legs were a small starting point, the price women must pay to ensure male comfort often can hurt us. I hope to one day live in a world where women’s pleasure is taken into consideration and not thought of as a dirty concept. I hope that my daughters will learn that the differences in our anatomy should not affect our autonomy and that they shouldn’t have to sweat and squeeze so that they can accommodate men. I want them to understand that as women, they deserve not only to feel the absence of pain, but the presence of pleasure.

Madeline Anscombe is a senior majoring in anthropology. Her column runs biweekly. 

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