Hey there, do you have a penis?
Can you think of an occasion when your penis got hard and yet you weren’t aroused? Have you ever experienced ’morning wood’? Or random erections due to nonsexual physical stimulation?
You are not alone.
Can you recall a situation where someone mistook your visible hardness as arousal? Was that stressful or uncomfortable?
Did you know that vaginas are no different? Women* too sometimes experience random wetness that has nothing to do with arousal.
Pussies get wet even when the person isn’t horny?
Yes, they do.
I love talking about sexuality, and so I asked my friends: have you ever been confused by your body’s behaviors?
Physical stimulation can lead to wetness, engorgement, or hardness, because bodies respond physically to physical stimulation?—?even when there are no pleasurable emotions. This is why my fave pair of jeans can give me near-orgasm if I climb enough stairs. It’s just friction. I happen to be quite alright with this stimulation, but if I wasn’t, it would be torturous.
Unfortunately, lots of people think that stiff penises and goopy vulvas are the primary indicators of arousal, because that is usually how modern Americans are taught to think about arousal, and that can create problems for lots of us.
Millions of people are now coming forward to say #metoo, exposing the prevalence of sexual assault, and we must acknowledge that enthusiastic consent is necessary throughout sex. ’She was wet’ or ’He was hard’ simply does not always mean a willing or enthusiastic partner.
’I got super slippery during my most recent gyno exam when the doctor inserted the cold speculum, and I was so embarrassed?—?I didn’t want the OBGYN to think I was turned on,’ said a twenty-six year old mother of two to me in hushed tones.
Similarly, every time I shaved my bikini area I would get wet and I was never turned on in the shower?—?I wasn’t aroused at all! This happened for about ten years and suddenly stopped. Why?
In both cases, our bodies responded to what they felt might be sexual activity and penetration, and aided with lubricant. ’The body might feel stimulation around the genital region, and so the body does what it’s built to do, which is minimize tearing or injury that can occur with penetration—whether that penetration is consensual or non-consensual,’ says Dr Roz Dischiavo, Director of the Institute for Sexuality.
This is why a doctor’s rough or tender touch, the right pair of undies, or a vibrating seat can bring surprises from your body. Pussies get wet even when they aren’t excited about the touch. Penises get hard even when they aren’t excited about the touch.
Dr Evelin Dacker, who teaches consent education and sexual health, says, ’Getting wet is a physiological function used to protect the vaginal wall and ensure passage of sperm. It is not an indication of arousal as an emotional response, but a physiological response.’
So why else do vaginas lubricate?
Most commonly, the vagina’s self cleaning process results in fluid-like discharge, which can occur at any time in a woman’s daily (or nightly) life. Like morning wood, this is normal and healthy?—?and unrelated to arousal.
Vaginas also tend to lubricate continuously for a couple of days during monthly ovulation, to ease the passage of sperm and optimize the chance of fertilization, or during a minor vaginal infection, as the body creates more mucus to push out germs.
While random boners can be comical, misunderstandings about the body’s natural processes impact the relationships and sex lives of people of all genders.
’Have you ever been pressured for sex first thing in the morning, before you’ve had a chance to pee and you’re experiencing morning wood?’ I was asked by a twenty-seven year old man. ’It hurts to try to have sex, and I’m often not even aroused. I’ve had girlfriends get really upset when they didn’t understand this. I woke up this way, it’s not exactly a choice to be hard every time.’
A recent study found that in cisgender men there is a 50% overlap in physical response and emotional desire—a 50/50 chance that a man’s penis gets hard exactly when he wants. For cisgender women participants of this same study, there was a 10% chance that their genitals would react equally with the emotions reported.
Sarah**, 28 wrote me to explain how the work of Dr. Emily Nagoski was pivotal in the charges against her sexual assailant. "I’ve been using this research about arousal non-concordance. The defendant argued that because I was wet, I must have enjoyed his penetration. No, I didn’t. I felt betrayed by my body and confused by the things I was never educated about."
Alternately, just because you aren’t wet or hard doesn’t mean that you aren’t aroused. This is why lubricants and medication exist; for the millions of people who feel an emotional desire for sexual pleasure, but need assistance facilitating their body’s sexual functions. So how do we know when someone is aroused and/or DTF?
Please talk to the people you want to have sex with, or with the people you’re already having sex with. ’Can you show me or tell me what you like? Do you have any triggers I should be aware of? Can we keep going? What’s our safeword?’
Consent is mandatory, but relationship trust is very, very sexy.
’Asking, rather than assuming, is always an important first step in learning your partner, for we all have different ways of responding and desiring. In moving towards a consent based sexual culture we need to move beyond assumption, and into communication. Asking and listening, being open to learning and growing, is the foundation to having an arousing relationship.’
If you’re waiting for a punchline, there isn’t one.
*Acknowledging that not all women have vaginas, not all men have penises, and yet the majority of sexuality research is pretty binary.
**I changed some names.
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