Open any women’s magazine or website (including this one), and you’re bound to see a slew of articles promising the “best sex positions” to achieve female orgasm. On the surface, this may seem to be a harmless — even helpful — sexual service piece. Some may even see it as empowering. But if you look deeper, it’s yet another example of prioritizing the sexual pleasure of men.
To be clear: The articles I’m referring to specifically address (typically) heterosexual, penis-in-vagina intercourse, which, unfortunately, is still widely seen as the pinnacle of sex acts, with the conclusion being the orgasm of the person with the penis.
This is something I’ve casually thought about for years, but when I read Dr. Laurie Mintz’s revolutionary book Becoming Cliterate a few months ago, she so clearly articulated the problems with these “best sex position” articles it was clear this was more than something that annoyed me; it is an equality issue. I had the opportunity to ask Mintz a few questions about this and more details on why this concept is so troublesome.
Here’s the problem
First of all, Mintz rightly points out that before going any further in our conversation, we should probably address how the words “sex” and “intercourse” are used interchangeably. That doesn’t work because they’re not the same thing. Narrowly defining “sex” as penile-vaginal intercourse automatically disqualifies a whole spectrum of other types of sex — including those that involve mouths, fingers, hands and assorted toys or aids — making the clitoral orgasm an afterthought. “Intercourse” refers to a penis thrusting into a vagina, whereas “sex” has a much wider definition, incorporating oral and manual stimulation, play involving toys or other aids, erotic touch, mutual masturbation — a whole range of intimacy. So, when we’re talking about these “best sex position for female orgasm” articles, by and large, we’re dealing with intercourse specifically.
In her book, Mintz also calls for us to pay closer attention to the word “foreplay,” which typically is seen — and defined — as the “erotic stimulation preceding intercourse,” or more generally, something that happens before an event. And yes, in this case, the “event” is penis-in-vagina intercourse.
“The word foreplay implies that this sexual pleasure is not in itself important, but rather an exercise men need to go through to get us ready for intercourse,” Mintz writes.
She goes on to cite a study in which people age 18 through 29 were asked what counted as sex or not, which found that approximately two-thirds of the men didn’t consider cunnilingus “actual sex.” This doesn’t bode well for their sexual partners for a number of reasons, only one of which is that the way a significant number of people with vulvas and clitorises consistently reach orgasm was dismissed by them as just “foreplay.”
Getting back to those “best sex position” articles, not only are they discounting anything beyond intercourse as actual sex, but as Mintz tells me, most of them suggest many intercourse positions that might indirectly stimulate the clitoris — like it was some sort of happy accident — instead of mentioning direct clitoral stimulation (whether it’s with fingers, a tongue, a vibrator or other aid).
Of course, there are people with vaginas who can reliably orgasm from combining penetration with clitoral stimulation, but many of the others — who can only come with clitoral stimulation — say they find it difficult or impossible to orgasm with a penis in their vagina since it’s actually distracting from the focus on the clitoris, Mintz tells SheKnows.
Then there’s the fact that these articles imply that all women “can” and “should” orgasm from intercourse, and if they don’t, they must not be doing something “right.”
“Stated a bit differently, when these articles equate sex and intercourse and tell women how to orgasm during intercourse, it implies this is the best or the ideal way to orgasm,” Mintz says. “Many women need more direct clitoral stimulation than an intercourse position provides. I’d thus actually contend that these articles are harmful for these women and that they perpetuate the insidious, harmful cultural message that the best way to orgasm is from penetration and that anyone can do this if they do it right.”
What these “best sex position” articles do provide are different techniques — like having the person with the vulva on top or a strategically placed pillow during missionary-style intercourse — that may help because they at least offer the possibility of indirect clitoral stimulation. Instead of hoping one of these indirect “solutions” work, Mintz suggests combining penetration with direct clitoral stimulation with your own hand, a partner’s hand, using a vibrator (controlled by yourself or your partner) or couples sex toys, like a cock ring with an attached clitoral vibrator.
In another part of Becoming Cliterate, Mintz writes about our standard cultural script for “sex” (which, as we’ve already discussed, is really “intercourse” in this scenario). It starts with foreplay (just to get the vulva-owner ready for intercourse), then moves on to the penetration and ends with the person with the penis having an orgasm.
“When articles focus on ‘best sex positions for her orgasm,’ they are playing into the standard cultural script and thus not providing other ‘scripts’ which will work better for many women,” Mintz tells me. And on top of that, she adds, they perpetuate privileging of male sexuality — where we consider the most reliable route to orgasm for a person with a penis as the best way for everyone.
Here’s how we can start to fix it
So what can we do about it? For starters, we can stop using words the “sex” and “intercourse” synonymously, stop using “foreplay” altogether and use other types of sexual scripts besides the one in which both partners are supposed to come during intercourse. Mintz also suggests everyone learns and honors their most reliable route to orgasm and to incorporate the type of stimulation you use during masturbation during partnered sex.
And on my end, I will strive to continue to make our sex content as accurate and inclusive as possible. Does this mean taking down all the existing “best sex position for female orgasm” articles on the site? In a perfect world, yes — but given the amount of traffic to these pieces, it’s clear that this is a topic a lot of people are interested in, and if one of the tips leads to a more fulfilling sex life for someone, there’s at least some element of service. Moving forward, let’s all try to be more mindful of how we talk and think about sex — pleasure is a great thing, and we all deserve it.