This is a slightly awkward piece to write, because it is about sex (sorry, mum). But I’m not a sex columnist, I usually write about my travels and starting tech businesses. But it strikes me that there are some really interesting things about how men and women engage in sex together that has some useful lessons for product development, and, well, life in general.
Let’s put it out there. This *shouldn’t* be an awkward thing to talk about. We’re all adults. We all have sex. We just don’t talk about it a lot. Which is the problem, it turns out. Because unlike most other social conventions and behaviours, we don’t get to observe others in authentic acts of sex, and thereby learn what is normal and what isn’t, and what is good and how one can be better.
I say “authentic” because for many people, probably particularly men, most sexual “education” comes from porn. Which is a shockingly bad place to learn what women might like in bed. Porn is created with male pleasure in mind, and while many men *know* this, they still may not have many other channels to practically learn how to do things in a way that brings women pleasure.
And this is where it gets interesting. Women are natural pleasers. We generally like to give. And in moments of incredible vulnerability and intimacy, we particularly want to reward and give back to our partner, rather than instruct or critique. So, we tend to over-emote or over-enthuse, because it seems to make the male happier, and when they are happier, the sex act overall is more fun. But it means that there is a gap in the feedback loop between what one enjoys as being good enough and quite fun, and what one *really* enjoys.
Women try to communicate – either with onomatopoeic sounds (“ooooh”, “aaaah”, “mmmm”) or verbal directives (“yes”, “more”, “here”) – but it is very hard both in the moment and even afterwards to be more specific. And because women can enjoy sex even without orgasming, they will often focus on what makes sex overall more fun and sexy, versus what may provide valuable education and performance improvement for men.
So… our men are just never learning how to get better at sex, and are often convinced they are excellent just because their partners want them to feel good about themselves rather than because there isn’t room for improvement (and because it *is* fun, it just isn’t ever going to be as good as it *could* be). Both parties are leaving a lot of pleasure on the table, so to speak.
And it is fascinating that no one talks about this! I have started deliberately asking my girlfriends very specific questions about how they perform during sex, because how on earth do you ever find out if you are normal or not if we don’t talk about these things? What do you talk about during sex? What level of roughness do you like versus tolerate, and where do you draw the line? How often do you orgasm through just penetration, and how often does your partner think you do? It opened up such fascinating conversations that were mutually educational, and yet these things aren’t talked about very often.
Last night I opened this conversation up among some male friends, and it was fascinating listening to men talk to each other about how they learn what their partner likes, and recognising that we – both genders – have a problem of communication. Women aren’t as honest as we could be in the moment because we like to please and not ruin the moment, and men therefore aren’t getting a constructive feedback loop from which to learn.
For instance, when is it appropriate to say – for example – “A perpendicular angle of penetration that accelerates and gets harder is *fun* but is not likely to result in an authentic orgasm from me; a 40% angle of penetration, that maintains a regular pace of 1 thrust per 1.4 seconds, combined with a gentle figure-8 twist of your pubic bone at the point of 80% penetration in order to stimulate the clitoris during penetration, but not too hard because then it is over-stimulated and can be painful… and towards the final quarter of the session gradually increase the tempo to around 1 thrust per 0.9 seconds and maintain that despite your instinct to accelerate to a faster rhythm… ” I mean, when is it ever appropriate to say these things??? Not in the heat of the moment when you just want to enjoy your partner and make them feel good about themselves, and even afterwards… women find it hard to ask for pay rises, for god’s sake, do you think asking a lover for a different type of sexual technique is easy??
How do we bridge that communications gap, so we are creating a proper feedback loop that makes us all better at being sexual partners? And here is where it comes back to product design (!)… often customers or potential customers don’t tell you what they really think, because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or because they just don’t care enough about you or the product to make themselves uncomfortable by being really honest.
It is like tipping culture in the US: we tip because we are expected to, because giving a stranger a performance review during what is meant to be a fun night out at dinner with friends, is uncomfortable… and it is worth a few extra dollars to avoid getting out of my comfort zone and saying “I’m giving you only 11% tip instead of 15% because your table manner was too abrupt and cold, and because I had to wait about 10 minutes longer than I wanted for my check”. No, easier to leave 15%, avoid that awkward confrontation, and get on with your evening. So how does that waiter ever get better?
And how can we design better tech products, if we only listen to the qualitative feedback we get (and not consider what they *aren’t* telling us, or what the 95% of users who didn’t respond to our survey *actually* think)? What if the honest answer to “What did you think of ProductX?” is “I just don’t care enough about it to warrant the effort of a response to you”?
As humans, we aren’t really taught how to give honest constructive feedback outside of the workforce (and even then, when it’s expected and built into standard HR processes, it’s hard). And we also aren’t taught how to ask for it, or how to look out for when it’s not being given honestly. If the goal of humanity is to continuously evolve – for each year that passes to have learnt more and become a better version of ourselves – then these honest and connected feedback loops are absolutely essential. And yet they aren’t honest or connected, often. So we are limiting our ability to grow and be better, both individually and as a species, which is quite tragic when you compare it to what might be possible for us all.
Would love your thoughts on this?
(also, some side notes. I have focused on heterosexual encounters here, because homosexual encounters have the benefit of having the same body as their partner, and may be able to communicate more effectively as a result. I also don’t want to put all the onus of responsibility on the male to improve as a lover, it is just that women have the benefit of gleaning what men like through watching porn, and the reverse doesn’t exist… even amateur/home video porn is still exhibitionist in nature rather than instructive)