If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that Zoella’s (Zoe Sugg’s) content was dropped from the GCSE media studies syllabus in February 2021 after she published content about sex toys for women.
Although valid points have been made that the course Zoella was removed from was media studies, not sexual education, I think it’s still important that we ask why content about women’s pleasure is considered inappropriate to expose teenagers to, while much of the other media (inside and outside of the classroom) pupils will look at will feature heterosexual men’s pleasure directly or indirectly? Adverts selling everything from cars to toiletries, news stories, movies and TV series all centre around the idea of straight men’s sexual appetites and right to sexual pleasure. Women’s sexual pleasure shouldn’t be inappropriate, shameful, or even surprising. Even in 2021, women’s sexual pleasure is still something most women and girls need to figure out in the dark, by themselves, which is exactly why Zoella’s content exists.
When women’s sexual pleasure does feature in the media, it’s usually fetishized or presented through the male gaze. A woman climaxing in a movie is usually doing so during penetration, despite research showing that 80% of women need clitoral stimulation to climax. The majority of the time that you see someone going down on a girl, it’s another girl, and it’s fetishized into a porn-like scene, again, for the straight male viewer’s pleasure. Sex positive content, like Zoella’s, is much less available, and as we have seen, still stigmatised. You should care that Zoella’s content was removed, because wherever you are on the sexual spectrum, you deserve to feel pleasure and desire pleasure without guilt or fear. We need to start valuing women’s pleasure as much as we value men’s.
Ladies, how old were you when you had your first sexual encounter? If it was with someone of the opposite sex, was it centred around your pleasure, or his? A recent survey about whether or not women choose to wear condoms showed that women “stated that sex was most fulfilling when their partners felt good”, and so avoided condoms at times. Although being connected to your partner and wanting your partner to enjoy sex is an important part of intercourse, it's largely women who (in heterosexual partnerships) feel like the goal of sex is their partner’s climax, and not having one of their own.
The all important male climax is what most of our conversations about sex centre around, after all. Sex education is still focussed on the danger of the male climax and the teen pregnancy it brings, rather than the pleasures of female exploration, or anything rather than making girls responsible for controlling men’s urges. Although sex-ed reform is another conversation entirely, the idea that the male climax is central to sexual encounters isn’t just in our schools, it’s all around us. The ‘O gap’ is the completely unsurprising fact that men have a lot more orgasms than women, and that’s not going to change unless we change our perceptions about female sexuality.
The research shows that a woman’s climax is linked to both physical and mental stimulation. Our messaging to girls should reinforce that their pleasure matters. The O gap is as much a problem of female insecurity, ignorance, and apathy as it is male, but we can change that. Feelings of shame, disgust and guilt should no longer be associated with pleasure for women. If content like Zoella’s is still considered inappropriate for teenagers, then we need to start talking about it more and more. That is why you should care: because you can change perceptions about female pleasure, simply by having, or giving, an O.
Written by Kendall Behr