Finding pleasure beyond performative sex.
We want to break out of the societal norms and scripts stopping many vulva owners from finding pleasure. Performative sex creates shame and pressure to act a particular way and impacts how we see our sexual selves and our experiences. What does it mean to write our sexual script?
We teamed up with the underargument, a taboo-breaking lingerie brand bringing undergarments and arguments together to fight against the norm, advocate individuality, find people that have torn up the societal sexual scripts, and write their own narratives instead. Their ‘anti-casting’ campaign champions stories over looks and typecasting, meaning they choose every model for each photoshoot on the story they submit, not the boxes they tick.
For collection no.15 For Play // Against Performance, we asked people with vulvas to share how they explore their sexuality, listen to their own body’s desires and write their own script.
What is the sexual script?
Another term for the sexual script is sexual narrative.
The idea of a sexual script is that we unknowingly are socialized to see sex in a certain way. Our culture, religion, media, and education tend to teach us norms and behaviors that we then absorb as a matter of fact. For sex, that often includes a very cisheteronormative, penetrative-focused narrative. One that has a beginning, middle, and end and is to be acted out in a particular way - just like a story or screenplay.
This prescriptive way of sex can be very harmful and prolific in our lives without even realizing it, especially to people with vulvas. What if we don’t enjoy or can’t have penetrative sex? What if we want to have sex with other vulva owners? What if we have desires that do not fit the script? What if we want to explore more or less than the script prescribes? What if there is no pleasure in how we’re ‘told’ to see sex?
The sexual script perpetuates shame and lack of confidence, making it harder to enjoy sexual experiences authentically. It strips pleasure from so many of us as we learn to externalize the experience and disassociate from partnered sex. Sex becomes performative, a role we have to fulfill.
What is performative sex?
When sex follows a set script, it becomes goal-oriented; it must finish with an orgasm. Hence, in a het situation, a man’s climax marks the end and many women fake orgasms. Sex therapist Kassandra Mourikis says,
‘(Sex) becomes a performance where you feel the need to act out your pre-defined role, tick boxes, or meet certain criteria before you can label it as real sex. ’
The expectations of such a role put pressure on our sexual partners and us to feel pleasure or desire in a particular way. And for people with vulvas, this often means playing a role in someone else’s show - the other person’s pleasure or perception of us is more of a priority than our pleasure and experience. In this performative receiving, we disconnect from ourselves and externalize sex: taking us away from the present moment.
How do we change our sexual narrative?
Thanks to the sexual script and lack of sex education, performative sex comes naturally to us without realizing it. Our experiences are so unique to every one of us that nobody else should tell us how we should feel, look or be. So, we have to unlearn. We must center ourselves and our pleasure to take ownership of our sexuality.
Our sexual narrative should empower authentic sex by being our authentic selves. Below are four stories about changing their narrative and the moments that allowed them to see things differently and unlearn the sexual script.
Sexual script stories.
A series of real-life accounts about sex from members of our Smile Makers community.
Focusing on my pleasure | Lucy.
I clearly remember my very first orgasm. I was two years old. Of course, I didn't know what it was then; I just knew it felt good to rub up against the CD player. It felt good. So much in my life while I was growing up did not. Don't get me wrong; many people have it worse. But for me, childhood was something I couldn't wait to escape, be free of, and be master of my destiny. Self-pleasure became the way I escaped. I could lose myself in fantasy, and I could be free just for a while. But, of course, this came with its share of shame.
‘Self-pleasure became the way I escaped. I could lose myself in fantasy, and I could be free just for a while.’
I remember asking my mother about masturbation for the first time. She very quickly changed the subject "Girls shouldn't do that. It's dirty. Don't speak of it again". When I was older, I began to seek refuge in partnered sex. That's less shameful, right? It's more natural for someone else to put their hands on you than for it to be your own. I didn't know how to lose myself with a partner in the same way that I could do with myself. I faked my orgasms to spare their egos. I ended up in bad relationships because I thought it was better to be a vessel for someone else's pleasure than to be alone. I was told my desire was "unwelcome", "weird", and "too much". I became smaller, ashamed, and "less" to fit in.
Last year marked the start of the first extended period I have been single in all my adult life. Reconnecting with my own body and not having someone else's pleasure to focus on has been the most liberating and empowering experience. My body no longer exists for the joy of others but myself. I explore my wants and desires without shame. Should anyone wish to come with me on this journey in the future, great! But if not, I'm just fine on my own.
Having anorgasmia | Vida.
I have primary anorgasmia, which means I've never had an orgasm with a partner or on my own. I find it very hard to relax and remain present and in touch with my body while having sex.
Like many women, I have a long and detailed history of being groped, assaulted, and coerced by partners and strangers. My response to this has been to grit my teeth or dissociate entirely. A feeling akin to my head floating on the ceiling. For a long time, I just accepted that this was what sex was like - your mind left the room, and your body tensed up and persisted. I struggled to connect with anyone I slept with emotionally. I actively, stubbornly avoided it because it made me feel too vulnerable. I had a lot of casual sex and often took a lot of risks because it didn't feel like it was real or happening to me.
Then I met my current partner. He is the first person who has ever noticed that I dissociate, and he stopped in response. He called me back to the room, back into my body. It was very surreal for me and scary.
I found it hard to be looked at and noticed as a whole person and not just as a body. When someone looks at you, really looks at you, it feels unrelenting, disarming, sending these beams of light directly from their eyes straight into me, and I felt like I had to find some way to deflect them or diffract them; otherwise, I was going to go blind or combust. I want to break eye contact, shatter that meditation on my soul, that migrainous quiet, but it's also an incredible, ecstatic feeling. To be seen. He also bears witness to how I am responding and to what has happened to me, and in this way, he makes me feel more confident in reality and more able to trust myself.
I am gradually learning to be vulnerable and stay in the room. I still find it too scary to lose control, to let my body lead properly. Still, it has been entirely transformative to let someone see me in all my fragility and resilience. I've found that I can begin my healing process by accepting my past hurt and being vulnerable.
Queering the narrative | Eliza.
People always ask; when did you know? They tend to assume when you 'come out' in your early twenties that you spent the rest of your life up until that point, blissfully unaware of your sexuality. They tend to think, just because you appeared to be straight your entire teenage life and quite successfully so, with a string of long-term relationships with the opposite sex, that you simply woke up one morning and thought; hey, maybe I like girls now?! And to some extent, they might be right. But I think it was maybe a bit deeper than that. Maybe not. Because I probably did wake up one day and thought about it, but it was more of a wake-up, rub-my-eyes moment to think; hey, maybe I've liked girls all along.
Sex with women is different. Softer. Even when it's not soft at all. More intimate. Even when it's with a stranger. More respectful. More honest. For so long, I gaslit myself with what I was taught lesbians looked like. Kissed like. Fucked like. Told myself what I was feeling couldn't be gay because it didn't feel or look like that. Finding myself in my own queer sex experiences in my now mid-twenties is joyous and affirming. Though it may take unlearning from a lifetime of being taught to look and feel other ways, it feels like a real opportunity to have agency and authorship over my own sexual script.
So in answer to the question; when did I know? It was most likely the first time I witnessed two girls in love. Two girls just existing together like we see everywhere with straight relationships. I realised how much my heart had ached for that. There's a reason I sob whenever girls kiss on TV, and you can tell it's for them, not for whoever happens to be watching. Genuine queer representation matters, and that goes for queer joy as well as trauma.
Discovering sexual power | Emilie.
From food issues, depression and self-loathing in my twenties to healthy weight, sexual power and body love in my thirties. Today I feel blessed. My relationship with my body, sexuality, and self-confidence is the best it’s ever been. I’m so sexy, so beautiful, so healthy, and so not ashamed to acknowledge and believe this about myself. But I didn’t always feel this way.
In my teens and early twenties, I struggled with body image issues. I wasn’t confident with my body. I hated my arms, legs and healthy tummy. I stopped eating regular meals and pored over pictures of models and celebrities in magazines. I had no frame of reference at the time. I wondered why at 16, I didn’t look like a millionaire model in her twenties, who’d had surgery, been styled by a professional team and whose image had been photoshopped for an editorial.
I worried about my looks, weight, sexiness and how I came across to others. And I attempted to mould my sexuality around my anxieties. As a result, I found it hard to come out to my friends and family and stayed in the closet for years. I partied too hard and didn’t look after my health and well-being.
But things changed when I reached my mid-twenties. I got out of a coercive and codependent relationship, came out as bisexual and started dating who I wanted to. I cultivated a healthy relationship with food and exercise. I embraced self-development techniques, therapy, spirituality and wellness practices that helped me to see my worth as a powerful, sexual, capable woman.
I said no to experiences and relationships that didn’t make me feel good about myself and pursued joy instead. I unpacked and shook off all the shame and indoctrination I’d been carrying around and embraced sex positivity and living deliciously. I also set boundaries for myself and worked on coaching my mind and body into a state of optimal health and forming good habits.
‘I unpacked and shook off all the shame and indoctrination I’d been carrying around and embraced sex positivity and living deliciously.’
Call it a recovery, an awakening, a transformation, a glow-up. I changed for the better when I stopped punishing my body and started showing it love, kindness, nourishment, pleasure and respect. I manifested a healthy and happy life, and I’m now living it to the full. I love that for myself.
How The Poet can help you rewrite your sexual cript.
Unlike other clit suckers, our powerful suction toy is designed to be personalized. Everything about The Poet’s pleasure experience is chosen by you, from the shape of the head with three interchangeable mouths, to the intensity of speed via the squeeze sensors. This sex toy is great for people who want to try a different type of clitoral stimulation, or for those who want to explore oral sex alone.
The no.15 collection by the underargument includes beautiful bras, briefs and bodies - check it out now!