Most of our bedroom issues stem from a lack of understanding

There are many differences between sexual partners, but cultivating good communication allows us to use these differences to our benefit rather than our peril. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
There are many differences between sexual partners, but cultivating good communication allows us to use these differences to our benefit rather than our peril. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

A male friend once said: “Doc, I don’t know what it is about flowers, chocolate, conversation and cuddling.

But my girlfriend loves it. It works .... every single time. I don’t get the science behind it. It just works.

All I have to do is figure out which of the above to give when and, if in doubt, I bring everything.

I laughed and replied that he made it sound like women are cheap. But he had a point.

It’s like how women don’t always get why once every day, twice on Sunday works for guys.

In fact, quite often during couple consultations, upon asking the question about sexual satisfaction, there is a mismatch when it comes to the desired frequency and quality of sexual intercourse. The difficulty in our ability to communicate our needs accurately doesn’t help and yes, understandably, conservative socio-cultural norms, myths and overall taboo around sexual wellbeing plays a major role in paralysing open dialogue.

I can safely say most of our bedroom issues are embedded in our lack of understanding of each other, and just how differently we are wired as individuals.

In this article, I will briefly describe a few general sexual differences between men and women. These are also generally the points of conflicts between couples.

Once a day, twice on Sundays

Disagreements on frequency cause a lot of tension and sometimes unpleasant name calling. Men think woman are frigid for not wanting sex every day, and women think men are animals for generally wanting sex more frequently.

Let’s unpack the biology

Hormonally women are cyclical, which means there is constantly a fluctuation in the concentration of sex hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) at different times of the cycle. This means a woman is likely to experience a variation in sexual desire, arousal, enjoyment and orgasm depending on the time of the cycle.

Ovulation or mid cycle is her peak time, where sexual function is significantly heightened compared to just before menses start, usually marked by other premenstrual symptoms – referred to as PMS.

Men on the other hand have a linear day-to-day release of sex hormone (testosterone), with only the variation of it being highest in the morning (explaining the infamous morning glory), and declining with age.

Both are normal. Negotiating the middle ground lovingly and with understanding is key.

Microwaves and coal-stoves

Once we’ve negotiated passed “how many times”, the next hurdle is usually how quickly it takes to be aroused and, ultimately, orgasm.

In the absence of any sexual dysfunction, during foreplay and vaginal intercourse, it takes women between 10 and 20 minutes to climax and takes men between seven and 14 minutes.

Interestingly both men and women take about the same time (four minutes) during masturbation.

This has to do with the “sex brain’’. Men tend to be more visually stimulated, versus women who respond more to verbal, and tactile (touch) stimulus, which makes foreplay an integral stage to induce arousal.

Sexual intimacy really starts in the brain for most women – her mood, mental preoccupation, her perception of the appropriateness of engaging. As ladies it is important and empowering to understand first how our bodies work, how to unwind, put aside concerns from a busy day, and approach sexual intimacy not as a chore but rather something that first and foremost benefits self.

It’s not inside, it's on top: The art of foreplay

We have come far as a country in the agenda of female emancipation, but there is still plenty inequality and sometimes outright ignorance in recognising sexual well-being as a right for everyone. Perceptions such as sexual pleasure is primarily for men, or that it's inappropriate and frowned upon for a lady to express how she prefers to be pleasured. This is leaving a lot of women unsatisfied and the men evidently dubious about what women really want.

A good example is the fact that most women need clitoral stimulation before penetration, in fact so much so that a woman is more likely to orgasm on clitoral stimulation alone rather than penetration.

The art of touching is equally important. The clitoris is highly sensitive, it can be quite uncomfortable even painful when handled with too much pressure and vigorously. The visible one-fifth that protrudes (glans) or loosely called the “bean”, is as sensitive as the glans of the penis and so please kindly handle with care.The area on the sides and just above the vaginal opening elicits more pleasure without much pain

Harder faster is not always the winning combo

Although males generally appreciate full force thrusting, it can be a source of discomfort and pain for women. It helps when both parties are able to communicate during intercourse what works and what doesn’t.

Pillow talk after orgasm

Lastly after orgasming/ejaculation men experience a refractory period associated with a great need to fall asleep, this can last anything from minutes to hours. So ladies it’s not laziness, its biology. Understandably ladies would still want to cuddle, chit-chat and maybe even go for seconds. Side-note to the guys, it has been shown that cuddling after sex improves relationships by about 30%.

There are a lot more of these differences and preferences but, in my experience, cultivating good communication allows us to use these differences to our benefit rather than our peril.

  • Dr Mpume Zenda is an obstetrician-gynaecologist and sexologist
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