Groan and Bear It

I was recently watching porn with a guy I’m romantically interested in. As we observed a disembodied penis pounding away at the woman on screen, her face distorting as she cried out with each thrust, one thought replayed in my head: She is in so much pain.

It took a lot of effort not to say this out loud, lest I shatter my companion’s illusions of female sexuality and make him suspicious of his own previous experiences or any potential impending encounters.

But after a few moments, he broke the silence. “She looks like she’s in pain.”

“She’s in agony,” I replied assuredly before he’d even completed the sentence.

He seemed taken aback by my confidence. “Why? Does it hurt to get fucked that fast?”

“No, it’s just, whenever a woman’s that theatrical, it usually isn’t because she’s genuinely having a great time.”

Now I know there are women out there who are natural screamers, who will cry their lungs dry in pleasure. But for a lot of women, I think over-the-top moaning is about masking something. For me, that’s either boredom or pain, most commonly the latter.

A few months ago, my roommate was teasing me because I’d woken him in the middle of the night by having sex.

When I bashfully apologized, he told me he wasn’t mad. “I like to hear you having fun,” he said.

I didn’t know how to tell him my cries weren’t purely joyous. I’m usually pretty shy and quiet in bed. If I’m having a really good time, I’ll get super breathy and let the occasional groan slip. But I only get really loud when I’m in pain and need an outlet, when I feel the need to overcompensate and make my partner think I’m having an amazing time.

Sometimes, I’ll open my mouth to tell a guy he’s hurting me, but fail to find the words and instead let out a cry, which he takes as encouragement. It’s negative reinforcement.

It isn’t always easy to articulate when something isn’t working. There are only two instances where I was able to find the courage to speak up and tell a guy what he was doing hurt. It was only because I felt comfortable with these guys and trusted they respected me enough to actually care about my pleasure that I was able to say anything. Both times, they were extremely apologetic and took it personally, which made me feel guilty for making them feel bad about themselves and like I’d made it seem like I wasn’t having fun.

How do you let someone know they’re hurting you without hurting their feelings or killing the mood? A lot of the time, it seems easier just to groan and bear it.

I suppose that’s part of the idea behind safe words. It would be nice to have a neutral word that clearly articulates, “I am having a good time, this is nothing personal against you, but right now it feels like you’re rubbing my clitoris with sandpaper, kindly ease up and go back to flicking my nipple with your tongue.” Easy, simple, we move on.

But we see all these images in porn and mainstream media of women moaning and yelling like they’re having the time of their lives. And we come to believe that’s what sex is about, that’s what you’re supposed to look and sound like. Nobody talks about the fact that sometimes it hurts and that’s nobody’s fault, you just keep experimenting until you find what works for you.

Just like there are unlimited ways to experience pleasure, there are unlimited ways to express it. Personally, I need to concentrate to have an orgasm and I can’t do that if, on top of every other self-conscious thought I’m trying to ignore, I’m attempting to scream like a porn star and worrying about what I sound like and who can hear me.

Vanessa Baker

Vanessa Baker was born in 1989 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, and holds a Bachelor of Journalism with Combined Honours in Human Rights from Carleton University and an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin. Her fiction has appeared in Wordlegs and A Thoroughly Good Blue. Her journalistic interests include music and the arts, feminism and sexuality, and social justice. She also writes and performs slam poetry dealing with gender-realted issues. She currently lives in Dublin.

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