Make some noise

Sex on Tuesday

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The sexiest thing that a man can say to me during sex is “I’m going to come.” I love the breathless way that each syllable leaves their mouth. I love how it sounds almost arduous for them to say in the middle of everything else that’s happening.

Of course, these words are only sexy when they’re put in context. It is not very much of a turn-on for me if he doesn’t care to make sure that I can say the same thing. Nor is it particularly hot if he says it within the first three minutes and thereafter collapses into a deep sleep. But if he is able to prioritize my pleasure, I love to hear these four words because I love making my partners feel good.

Sometimes, “I’m going to come” is just about the only peep that I can expect to get out of guy during sex. Apart from that, my male sexual partners tend to be so frighteningly silent and stoic that I get concerned they might have died in the middle of us doing it.

Recently, I started experimenting with withholding my usual breathy gasps and soft moans. What I found in the moments that followed was a deafening silence, except for the rhythm of incessant pounding. To me, the moist slapping sounds incredibly awful without human vocalization to go along with it.

This experience isn’t unique to me. Compared to their female counterparts, men are oddly quiet during sex. We see this phenomenon most visibly in the mainstream porn industry, where silent, beefy masculine guys pound away at screaming and moaning women. Since sex education in the United States is woefully inadequate, most people look to porn to learn about sex. And if mainstream porn is the benchmark for what’s normal, it’s no wonder many men are so quiet.

My point here, however, is not to scapegoat pornography for putting all of the responsibility on me and my fellow women to vocalize during sex. The rituals that we see in porn usually come from somewhere else. In this case, they almost certainly come from expectations about hypermasculinity — about the ways that men should behave.

Some men are taught from a very early age that if they are sad, they shouldn’t cry. If they love someone, they shouldn’t be overly affectionate. Emotions like these are “too feminine.” Correcting this behavior typically entails using commands like “man up” or “grow a pair.”  When men internalize these harmful lessons and mask their emotions, they buy into a culture that rewards toxic masculinity, which says the only emotion that men should outwardly display is anger.

Aside from the role that it can play in perpetuating rape culture, hypermasculinity helps explain why a lot of men may feel reluctant to vocally express pleasure during sex. Anything resembling a moan might be misconstrued as wimpy or girly. And men aren’t wimps. Men are manly.

Since women are seen as more emotional than men, they’re expected to perform their sexual pleasure to the best of their ability. If they don’t, their silence might come off as unenthusiastic. (Women reserve the right to be blatantly unenthusiastic about bad sex, but this is beside the point.)

To be sure, it would be inaccurate to say that all men or women want to moan during sex. Some of us are inclined to stay quiet for many different reasons. But for others, sex sounds are a natural physiological response or form of sexual communication. The sheer scale of the discrepancy between men and women who vocalize is enough to make me quirk a brow at what’s really going on here.

For me, sex is only as good as it succeeds psychologically. Since I’m constantly thinking about the pleasure of whomever I’m having sex with, even some light moaning or casual dirty talk often seems like enough to push me over the edge. When my sexual partner makes noise, it’s incredibly reaffirming: knowing that someone wants you so bad that they would do anything for you is an amazing sensation.

Vocalization during sex might as well be a language of its own because it can signify so many different things to the person we sleep with. For example, we moan when we eat something delicious, and we groan when we encounter something burdensome. In making these noises, we are communicating. Neither of these activities is necessarily subject to gendered ideas about who can do what. So, if the noise comes to us, we should be able to moan when we have good sex.

Needless to say, it’s hard to shed what we’ve been taught our whole lives. Somehow, the patriarchy makes its way into the minutiae of our sex lives. It’s about time we dismantle the patriarchy and make some noise.

Laura Nguyen writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact her at [email protected]