This past Friday I taught one of my favorite workshops: "Penile Anatomy for Play." The class is a guided tour of the cis male genitals, with a focus on how a deeper knowledge of the way penises, scrotums, testicles, etc are built can help make those of us whose partners have penises into better lovers. It's a fun class to teach, and the addition of a live model makes it far more engaging than a simple lecture or (gods forbid) a powerpoint presentation.
While the workshop is generally met with rave reviews, I have found that I get pushback against the very idea of it from one segment of the community: gay/bi/pansexual cis gender men. Their primary issue is one that points to a common and problematic meme among LGBT people.
When I posted about the workshop in a popular internet forum recently I received this response:
what could I learn about my cock...I've had it for many year done everything to it that one could think of...yes even the watermellon thing.....so whats to learn boy??? [sic]
Now, while the above comment was crass and confrontational (the issues inherent in referring to me as "boy" are a post in themselves), at its heart is the all-too common idea that because we are possessed of the same fundamental anatomy as the some or all of the people we are intimate with, erotic intimacy should be a piece of cake.
I don't want to imply that this is solely a gay men's issue either. As a sexuality educator in the LGBT and pansexual communities, I find this meme relatively common across the the spectrum of genders and medical histories. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is also an excellent path to being a terrible sexual partner.
The reality of course, is that not everyone who identifies a certain way, or has a particular anatomy, will find the same things desirable or fulfilling in an erotic or sexual context.
A simple example found in my aforementioned class is that while many intact (not circumcised) cis men enjoy direct stimulation of their glans, other intact cis men find such stimulation overwhelming or uncomfortable. Continuing that example, when I teach my "Playing With Intact Penises" class, I present five different ways of using one's hand, and five additional ways of using one's mouth to pleasure a partner, as well as four ways one can wear a condom. Inevitably, everyone with the relevant equipment has at least one of those methods that they absolutely hate, and at least one or two that they particularly like. It's rarely the same ones from person to person or class to class.
Again, this is hardly an issue confined to cis men. I teach nine different penis-oriented classes, accounting for nearly eight percent of my total catalog, giving me a plethora of examples to draw from in writing this post. However, similar issues can be found among lesbian/bi/pan women, trans men, and trans women. Although perhaps because "genderqueer" by its nature defines such a broad range of experiences and identities, anecdotally I've found this to be a smaller issue in that segment of our community.
I believe that there are a few issues at work here.
For starters, this is scary stuff: Talking to your partner(s) about their desires, as well as experimenting with them sexually, can feel like an admission of inexperience or lack of skill, when in fact it is quite the opposite. Ironically, in bed (or wherever you prefer) can be the most difficult time and place to be vulnerable with a partner. This is true of course in all relationships, but some people find that sharing an underlying anatomy with their partner(s) can make it feel like even more difficult territory to venture into.
Then there's the simple fact that how to be a good same-sex lover isn't something that society, the media, or our families, have modeled in a constructive way. If one wanted to put in the time, a massive database of the messages we receive from movies, books, magazine articles, and anecdotes we heard growing up about how a man should treat a woman (or vice versa) romantically and sexually could be likely be compiled. Excluding porn, I imagine those same messages about sex as an LGBT person might fill a trifold pamphlet or two.
Finally there's the troubling and pervasive idea in our society that sex is supposed to be easy. It's not unusual for me to have the entire field of sexuality education I work in called into question on these grounds. To paraphrase a common sentiment:
I had sex figured out at sixteen and haven't had complaints since.
In truth, being a lover is a lot like cooking an egg: easy to do OK, but a hard thing to truly master, and that's a good thing! Sex and intimacy can be fun and pleasurable of course. But in an age of Lelo vibrators and Tenga Flip Holes, simple pleasure is just a visit to the erotic boutique away. It's the personal, spiritual, emotional, and yes, erotic, connections that we can form through intimacy with our partner(s) that can lead to mind-blowing and fulfilling sexual experiences.
And I can't think of a better place to start than with the fundamental idea of our partner(s) as wholly separate from ourselves, leading us to put aside our assumptions about their bodies and responses in order to learn and grow as lovers, partners, and erotic beings.