Is your sex life too penis-centric?


When you think about it, it’s easy to see how we ended up with an orgasm gap. From mainstream media to porn*, sexuality is often portrayed in a very penis-centric way. Within this viewpoint, it isn’t sex unless it involves penetration with a penis. And penile ejaculation is the goal and the finish line.

So what does penis-centric sex look like in practice, how can you tell if it’s a problem in your sex life, and how can you broach the subject with your partner and reclaim the sexual spotlight? Let’s dive into this (ironically very penis-centric) topic.

*For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on sex between one partner with a penis and one with a vagina.

What is penis-centric sex?

Penis-centric sex is partnered sex that is hyperfocused on the penis, emphasizing penetration and penile ejaculation above all else. Yes, we’re out here living in the 21st century, and the heteronormative, penis-obsessed view of sex is still alive and well in American culture.

Sexual encounters that are penis-centric tend to put the sexual pleasure of the partner without a penis on the back burner. Doing so can contribute to harmful ideas about sexuality, intimacy, and–in a broader sense–equality. Penis-centricity privileges one partner over the other, and it also creates a goal-based sexual dynamic, which hurts everyone involved.

Often, folks are having penis-centric sex without even knowing it. It’s what the media and mainstream porn have taught us after all, so many of us just think it’s how sex is supposed to be. It’s not necessarily due to sinister or even selfish intentions on the part of people with penises, but it does require discussion and unlearning if we want to move away from it in our relationships.

Are you having penis-centric sex?

Now that you know what penis-centric sex is, here’s how you can tell if you’re having it. But first, remember that everyone’s experience is unique and not all penis-centric sex is necessarily problematic. Your sex life is your business (as long as what you’re doing is consensual) and if you’re happy, we’re happy. But, if you’re not satisfied with your sex life, and you think penis-centricity might be to blame, here are some signs that there’s room for a little shift in perspective:

  • Foreplay is rushed or skipped entirely.
  • Sex always ends immediately after penile ejaculation.
  • Most or all of the time, only the partner with a penis is reaching orgasm.
  • Most or all of your sex is penetrative.
  • Non-penetrative sex like handjobs and oral sex focus more on the person with a penis.
  • Sexual encounters that focus only on the person with a vagina are rare or aren’t happening at all.

Don’t worry if a lot of these describe your current sex life. It’s not the end of the world. Actually, it’s an opportunity for a really open conversation that could seriously improve your connection, sexually and emotionally.

How to have the talk

If you’re finding that your sexual relationship is unbalanced, unfulfilling, or unpleasurable, it’s time to have a conversation. Here are essential tips for approaching this talk:

  • Never start a serious conversation about sex during a sexual encounter. This includes directly before and after sex. It’s very difficult to be objective and stay focused when you’re in the heat of the moment.
  • Approach the conversation in a relaxed, safe, and non-sexual setting.
  • Focus on what you want to welcome into your sex life rather than what you want to get rid of. For example, you could explain that you’d love to extend foreplay and that you want to feel like the focus during that time. Or you could mention that you want to engage in more non-penetrative sex together. That way, you can frame the conversation as being about ways to elevate your sex life rather than telling your partner they’ve done something wrong.
  • Name it. This part may be uncomfortable, but it can be helpful to mention explicitly that you feel your sex life has been leaning towards the penis-centric. When trying to unlearn views that we’ve been taught our whole lives, we need all of the information. Explain what penis-centric sex is, why it can be harmful, and how it’s a cultural and societal issue that we’re all working together to unlearn.

The bottom line is that we all deserve pleasure, and we all deserve to feel like stars of the show, not background actors, in our sex lives.

And whether it’s about penis-centricity or something else, we highly recommend having those difficult conversations. Trust us, it’s worth it.



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