A whopping 92% of women do not orgasm from intercourse, and intercourse causes pain for 17% of women. In addition, given biological differences, women are at greater risk than men for getting STDs through intercourse.

And yet sex is defined as intercourse and is routinely pushed on women from the time we are young girls. Forget the stranger in the dark alley. Date rape is as high as 27% among college-age women and 68% among adolescents.

Read that again. 

Sex is defined as intercourse despite 1) the many ways one can give and receive sexual pleasure, 2) the fact that other forms of pleasure do not put women at risk for pain, STDs, or pregnancy, and 3) the fact that other forms of sex – such as touching the clitoris or nipples – are fare more pleasurable for women and are therefore far more likely to lead to orgasm.

Men like intercourse. For men, intercourse is a fast and reliable way to orgasm. Because men like intercourse, they want intercourse. And because they want intercourse, sex revolves around intercourse, in deference and service to men.

And so it is expected during sex. And so it is demanded during sex, in different ways – pressure, shame, cajoling, coercing, tricking, boundary eroding, and outright forcing – until, finally, the woman succumbs, in one form or another.

There are numerous psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical consequences of being fundamentally unsafe during sex – such as going into fight-flight mode, whether aware of doing so or not, while simultaneously trying to be intimate with someone. What we call “date rape” is therefore a highly convoluted landscape that is challenging to understand and navigate, even while or after going through it.

Given this landscape, where intercourse is imperative for sex, women often “consent” to intercourse, despite neither wanting it nor enjoying it, because they want to be intimate with someone and do not feel there is any other option for engaging in that intimacy.

A couple examples from my 20s:

One friend confided that she “raped herself” frequently, by falling in line with the conventional sexual script and having intercourse with men despite not wanting it, becuase it was expected of her. Once she was a “sex-haver,” as she put it – ie, no longer what we call a virgin – she did not feel allowed to be sexual with a man, without having intercourse.

Another friend confided that she actively initiated having intercourse with her boyfriend because she knew he would push it on her – as was the common experience of most women – and she wouldn’t feel raped if she was the one to initiate.

Our society is obsessed with sex but doesn’t really TALK about it, doesn’t dig deep into the trenches of what we call normal sexual behavior – which perhaps is more often than not a straight jacket of conformity and performance, a simulation of what we think pleasure is supposed to look or feel like, because that’s what we see reflected in the world around us.

Fixating on intercourse as the sum total of sex, bombarding women with that construct of sex, and otherwise imposing intercourse on women, fundamentally distorts women’s relationship to our bodies, our pleasure, our sovereignity, our innate power, and our will. It leads to a routine dissociation and deference that, ultimately, fractures us to the point that we don’t actually know what we want, and we confuse the imposition of someone else’s desire with our own.

And now, with abortion access denied, women not only are pushed into having intercourse, but additionally are pushed into an unwanted pregnancy resulting from that unwanted intercourse.

I have so much more to say on these individual and interconnected topics, but I’ll stop here for now. I have published books and music related to the issues I addressed in this article, if you’d like to get more into the weeds on my thinking:

In the wake of the overturn of Roe v. Wade, I’ll be donating 25% of sales of these books to pro-choice orgnaizations, starting with Aid Access, which is getting women across the United States access to safe abortions.

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Article @2022 by Loolwa Khazzoom. Photo @2021 by Loolwa Khazzoom. All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be copied without author’s permission.

PubMed sources for the studies cited above:

(1) Date rape among adolescents and young adults, published in Pediatric Adolescent Gynecology

(2) Women’s Experiences With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm, published in Sex and Marital Therapy

(3) Vaginismus Treatment, published in Journal of Sexual Medicine