I have always been the one who performed and provided pleasure in bed.
For the partners who demanded and expected it, for the queer partners who had never ‘done it like that’ before, for the ones too tired or distracted to really understand what worked for me, and so on.
It was always easier to take the lead and just give, because I trusted myself to learn and adapt more than I trusted them to care about my preferences or really listen. I also loved the thrill of watching my partners’ toes curl, hearing their moans, feeling their hands reach for my flesh, and knowing that I played a role in that. And that often gave me more joy than being pleasured by a partner directly.
So when I crossed paths with a person who wanted to place all their focus on me and asked if I’d be okay with them taking lead? I was extremely confused.
Did this mean they didn’t trust me to take control?
Had I done a bad job the last time around?
Did my hands not move the right way? Did I take too long or was I rough?
Or worse, was I just… boring?
Much of my sexual awakening in my teens had been steered by the internet. I had never really gotten into porn and it took years for me to express desire with partners at all, but I loved listening to educators and activists talk about the politics of pleasure and I found myself diving into discourse around orgasms and sex long before I even learned how to pleasure myself.
There was this idea that some identities felt more pressured to provide orgasms (read cishet women, trans women, ‘butch’ lesbians, gay men who were identified as bottoms, etc.) while others had been conditioned to receive orgasms (read cishet men, ‘femme’ lesbians, etc.) and it was called the orgasm gap, or orgasm inequality. A lot of it was credited to a societal lack of awareness around vulvas, but there was also clearly a cultural trend of teaching people what role they were expected to play in the bedroom, and bifurcating the masses into receivers and givers of pleasure.
The concept absolutely terrified me. Maybe that’s why I thought it best if I just ‘gave’ orgasms to my partners, lest I become someone who only ‘took’ orgasms from them and gave them no pleasure in return.
So when I met this partner, this person who parroted my own reasoning back at me and enthusiastically expressed an interest in focusing on my pleasure alone, the concept of pleasure inequalities came rushing right back.
How would this be a healthy exchange if all I did was lie back and take pleasure from them?
Before I knew it, the day had arrived. I channelled all my anxious energy into making a date out of it before we went back to my place, and the chemistry was killing me. This was going to happen, they were going to spend the night with me, and I was going to have to defy all my natural instincts and let them steer the wheel.
So I did exactly that. And I’m so glad I did.
Now, my partner is not a shy person. They are not confused about themselves or insecure or unsure of their sexuality. They knew exactly what they wanted, and what they wanted was to be the reason behind me having a good time.
They were attentive and kind, they took their time and were enthusiastic about going down on me… all of which felt so confusing after all these years of me telling myself that I must either provide one-way pleasure to my partners or let them pleasure me before I pampered them and ‘evened things out’.
And this? With the tables turned on me? This felt unfair. Unequal.
But what’s so unequal about it when my partner explicitly stated that this is how they prefer it? Much like I genuinely did with several of my own former partners.
Is orgasm equality really about both/all partners having the same number or frequencies of orgasms together?
Is there no equality in me finding pleasure the way I want it, as my partner finds pleasure in the exact ways that they prefer too?
What I found with them that night (and on several nights thereafter) was an honest arrangement. One where we both opened up about what pleasure looks and feels like for us as individuals and how we can meet each other halfway to continue enjoying each other.
Our play sessions may look one-sided at the surface, but underneath this rigid idea of ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ is an act of seeing each other for who we really want to be.
Self pleasure and masturbation have also found extra room in this space, and I find my partner’s solo sessions to be quite freeing of the guilt that often pops up from not playing the role I’m used to playing in bed. I know now that I am not starving my partner of pleasure, affection, or intimacy, and am in fact showing them intimacy in ways that they have specifically asked me to.
Perhaps this concept of orgasm inequality then has less to do with statistical patterns among gender identities and has more to do with how we condition ourselves and each other to play specific roles in the bedroom. Maybe equality isn’t about numbers or positions or acts at all, and lies in our ability to see and respect what the other person actually wants from us.
My partner may not want to receive pleasure from me directly, and our sex lives may always be about them wanting to show me a good time, but I have found a whole new kind of pleasure in knowing that they are happy with themselves for pampering me, and it is in that exchange that I have found equality.