in Heterosexual Relationships
By Tess Mavrommati | Magazine | March 1, 2023
Cover Illustration: Couple spending time at home. Alex Green/Pexels
Magazine reporter Tess Mavrommati explores frustration in heterosexual relationships in terms of modern gender stereotypes and sexuality.
People often talk about struggles they face within heterosexual relationships – either on the internet or with their friends and family. Some people feel like men and women are just too different to be able to communicate – a belief that has even prompted authors to write books such as Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus – proposing that men and women are from different planets and are thus only acclimated to their own society and customs rather than to each other. Others try to analyze how our social upbringing makes men emotionally unavailable while making women chase and over-romanticize relationships. While these ideas are far from being new or unique, I hope to bring my own spin on the topic. I argue that research on heterosexual relationships should focus on how to close the socio-cultural gap of communication between the sexes.
I hypothesize that nowadays, people in heterosexual relationships are frustrated. The main variables that affect frustration are sex and emotion. However, frustrated in comparison to whom? The main flaw I see in this question is that people try to blame one of the sexes – or ‘modern society’ – for the ‘downfall of heterosexual relationships’. They analyze it in general terms with no real statistics of comparison. Some variables, such as who has the most orgasms between heterosexual and homosexual couples, or who has a bigger divorce rate, have been researched. However, we often focus on just one feature instead of the whole picture.
For example, it is a running joke among many stand-up comedians (and probably everyday folks) that straight women cannot climax. This comes from the assumption that in heterosexual relationships people don’t have as much sex, or that men often don’t know how to pleasure women. Yet, newer studies have shown that the frequency of sex is not much different in heterosexual couples in comparison to homosexual ones. Moreover, it seems like women are more likely to climax when things other than stimulation are involved, such as praise and better communication. This means that if men are indeed bad at pleasuring women, maybe we should try to change some socio-cultural factors, instead of simply making fun of it.
Moreover, there is the stereotype of men being emotionally unavailable and women over-romanticizing relationships. These types of assumptions have yet to be proven beyond personal experience based on subjective observation. It used to be normal that men were raised with greater ambitions than marriage, and that women were raised to be focused on landing ‘a good husband’. Nonetheless, this is far from the truth nowadays–at least in most Western countries. If one takes a look at the composition of the job market and student organizations, there are sometimes more women active in a specific area (such as humanities, economics, etc.) compared to men. This holds true for most social activities other than those that are ‘stereotypically masculine’, like football or video games. Yet, even in such ‘masculine environments’, the percentage of women taking part in them has rapidly and steadily grown in recent years. Thus, I’m not sure where all these desperate women searching for a relationship are, nor can I see over-achieving and non-emotional bossy men behind every street corner.
Lastly, we have sexuality. By now, the fact that men cannot find the clitoris has become a meme. The image of women being unsatisfied after the deed while men are happily sleeping on their side of the bed has become a trope. We also have the double standard that women have to choose between ‘staying pure’ and is considered a ‘hoe’.
One has to understand that the idea of sex being a pleasurable activity for both sexes and done as a recreational activity is a fairly new one. The idea that women can and should enjoy sex on their own terms started materializing in the mainstream during the 80s; historical records of the Victorian ages suggested women think of Great Britain instead of what is happening to them in bed, to try to dissociate from what is happening. As for men their satisfaction was mostly related to their power in relation to women rather than their enjoying the activity physically and emotionally.
This is especially true in times when women were not educated and thus didn’t always have the tools to express their inner world: it is argued–mostly among the historian academic circles of Greece–that one of the reasons Athenians were just ‘so gay’ was because they could talk with other men about deeper subjects while they couldn’t do that with women. Even in more ‘recent history’, many of us have grandparents who lived through a very traditional lifestyle; they didn’t think of pleasure as part of sex (plus sex was still considered rather sinful). So this whole idea about sex being fun? Not as old as people may think.
Yet, for some reason we expect people to know exactly what they’re doing, even though we are the first generation that has the least negative assumptions around sex and has opened the discussion about it. Maybe, we should stop joking about men being unable to find the clit and actually offer proper sex education to children everywhere (you will be surprised how many schools don’t have this course). And maybe, we should just try a bit more to connect.
Now, is everything rosy and sweet in heterosexual relationships? No. Is there frustration? Absolutely. But that is something that happens to most of the human connections we encounter. For some reason, even though we do not accept this frustration when it comes to our co-workers, family and friends, we seem able to do so for our romantic partners. And this sucks. Why? Because it is the first time in history that people can actually marry because they like someone and have sex just because it is fun. So maybe, just maybe, we should try enjoying this era a bit more, instead of giving up right away and calling it helpless.
“[…] it is the first time in history that people can actually marry because they like someone and have sex just because it is fun. So maybe, just maybe, we should try enjoying this era a bit more, instead of giving up right away and calling it helpless.” — Tess Mavrommati
Tess Mavrommati is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.