Swat Ed is The Phoenix’s biweekly sex education Q & A, back this Spring and ready to talk about sex. We accept all questions and keep them completely anonymous. If you’re looking for medical advice or a diagnosis for that weird thing on your genitals, get in touch with a medical professional! For everything else, email email@example.com. Today’s subject matter is sex positions: which ones people use, why they do so, and why it matters.
I (a heterosexual woman) was listening to a podcast about sex, and the people on the podcast recommended I arch my back into a curve so that my butt’s in the air. They said that guys like that better, because it makes your butt look good. I tried it, but it felt kind of uncomfortable. Do I just need to get used to it?
-Bottom of the Curve
Great question! Sex positions are a really interesting window into the way people engage in sexual intimacy. I’ve heard this argument a lot with regards to arching your back (in case you can’t picture it, this is during doggy style, and refers to penis-in-vagina or PIV intercourse). The essential idea is that it makes your butt more prominent to the person behind you. This is a potential issue for a couple of reasons, and let’s start with the first: it’s establishing sex as a visual experience more than a sensation-centered experience. It takes an act with two people participating and makes it more into a viewer/entertainment dynamic. This issue can be traced back to porn, because porn popularizes positions and acts that translate well to the screen. The concept of a person ejaculating on another’s body, for example, is just a way of making the act of ejaculation visible to a camera. This is the case for a lot of sex positions common in porn: they don’t necessarily feel good, they just make it easier for viewers to see. Some examples of this include spreading one’s legs farther than is comfortable (we’re not all Olympic gymnasts) to see the person’s vulva, and maintaining a lot of physical space between bodies so the camera can see what’s going on.
Emphasizing the performative aspect of sex is a pervasive issue because so many people learn everything they know about sex from porn, but it’s a relatively easy problem to solve: just think about what you would do in an electrical blackout without lights. If you wouldn’t think of doing it then, it might not be such a good idea all the time. To be clear, it’s okay to do certain acts or positions because you know that your partner likes how it looks. It’s not okay to feel limited to those acts because you’re afraid of how your partner might perceive you otherwise.
The second issue is much less of a problem, and more of a question of diversity in human bodies and what people find enjoyable. A lot of people experience sex with your back curved down like that to be uncomfortable because, it changes the angle of the vagina and makes it easier to hit your cervix. Cervixes are really sensitive and contact feels painful for many people, although some people do enjoy it. The position also tends to make the vagina feel shallower, which can be pretty uncomfortable. Other people really love it, since for whatever reason, it works for them and their anatomy. The best sex positions depend on you and your partner and what you prefer: not on how they look, but on how they feel.
This question dealt specifically with penis-in-vagina sex, and although Bottom of the Curve asked it from a heterosexual woman’s perspective, people of all gender identities and sexual orientations can engage in it. Discussion of sex positions, in general, is applicable to pretty much any sexual situation. With male-bodied people who enjoy anal sex, for example, some positions can allow for comfortable prostate stimulation, while others that emphasize more vigorous penetration can be a little intense. In general, more physical contact between bodies feels more intimate, and the same goes for gentle and slow movement. Of course, people who have sex regularly with one another get a really in-depth knowledge of their partner’s preferences and can stick to those.