'Carnival Row's' Fairy Sex Scene Represents The Feminist Equality We Humans Need
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'Carnival Row's' Fairy Sex Scene Represents The Feminist Equality We Humans Need

Bridging the orgasm gap.

'Carnival Row's' Fairy Sex Scene Represents The Feminist Equality We Humans Need
Amazon Prime Video

Tell me the number of movies you've seen, where the woman's pleasure was the sole focus of the sex scene, and when she finished, sex was done.

I'll wait.

Okay, okay, that was practically impossible. Let's make this easier. Tell me the number of movies you've seen where the man didn't come until the woman came first.

Surprisingly difficult, huh?

But it doesn't take a sharp memory to think of media scenes where the man finishes, and sex is usually done once he does.

The orgasm gap is simple: men have more orgasms than women during sex--a shocking percentage more. And there are a variety of reasons believed to go into this—for example, lack of education on female parts and pleasure—but overwhelming media portrayal on the orgasm of the straight man being the primary focus of intercourse is considered a HUGE factor.

When reading about the orgasm gap for this article, I came across a scholarly article that took PornHub's top 50 videos (yes, you can laugh with me at serious scholars studying PornHub; I certainly did.) and saw that only 18% of women (versus 78% of men) were shown orgasming.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to conclude that such skewed representation affects how men and women have sex together.* I can't tell you how many times I've heard my female friends describing disappointing sexual encounters that would be practically unheard of from men, yet are par for the course for women.

One friend—almost 30—told me that she has yet to have sex with a man who didn't finish, yet she frequently hasn't. Clearly there are exceptions—but also, clearly, we have cultivated a culture in America that focuses predominantly on male pleasure, to the indifference, ignorance, or even exclusion of female pleasure.**

Queer sex is a bit different; lesbians, for example, consistently enjoy better sex than women or people assigned female at birth in straight relationships do.

**(This isn't about the times when one or the other person doesn't want to have an orgasm. A single-minded focus on orgasm as the only point of sex is a massive problem deserving an article in its own self. The orgasm gap is on women who want this and aren't experiencing it.)

This is why Carnival Row—Amazon Prime's neo-noir Victorian fantasy series—stunned me in its first sex scene between the main characters.

I waited till the third episode to see the backstory behind why Philo (Orlando Bloom) and Vignette (Cara Delevingne) had loved and lost each other, and the building tension between them—from the very first moment she dropped from the sky to stab a knife at his throat—did not disappoint.

Their first intimate encounter is filled with female empowerment: Vignette takes complete control over how the encounter begins, precisely where and how she wants to be, and when it ends.

Rather than trying to change her rhythm to suit his body, Philo creates a space for her to move at exactly the speed she desires. Rather than demanding or initiating certain positions, he lets her choose and doesn't try to quickly change them.

He focuses on touching her in the ways that clearly feel good to her body, his face shows his visible awe and happiness at her enjoyment, and when she finishes and collapses against his shoulder, he doesn't insist they keep going or can she "at least" give him a handjob—instead, he wraps his arms around her and holds her as she rests, exhausted, against him.

This should maybe be just how two decent people make love yeah? But this is so remarkable a portrayal in media that my housemate and I were shouting hurrahs at the TV and toasting with our ginger beers at the sight of not only a woman-focused experience but an experience ending when she ended, rather than the other way around.

I'm sure it exists, but neither of us could think of a recent movie experience where we've seen that--and that's telling since I can count on both hands the male-focused media sex scenes I've seen in just the last month.

Of course, we want to see lovemaking scenes where both partners are sharing equal pleasure. But after an eternity of portraying the male orgasm as the end-all-be-all, it's incredibly refreshing to see the unquestioned standard for male portrayal become female-centric instead. And Philo is clearly wanting to do what Vignette wants, how she wants it.

Now don't expect this entire show to be one sex-positive romp; it's not. There are brothels and crude douchey comments and classism in sexual interactions.

But the portrayal of such disillusioned, dispassionate encounters highlight the beautiful experience between two sweethearts who genuinely love each other all the more. And also, let's be real: sex with wings is the fantasy we never knew we always wanted.

In a breath of fresh air, Carnival Row flips the orgasm gap on its head. In our intimate lives, more encounters like Philo and Vignette (sadly sans wings, but we're only mere mortals) is really what we all should be striving for.
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