The politics of penetration from a lesbian perspective

Ever since I started masturbating, I have wondered what heterosexual sex would be like. Don’t get me wrong—I don’t want to have a penis, and I am definitely not envious of those who do. It’s the romantic thought of the intimacy that two people can share during moments of penetration—it’s such a powerful thing to know throughout the whole day that my lover has a piece of me inside of her. But what happens when the act of penetration is politicized? Am I just trying to imitate “heterosexual sex” to validate my own “lesbian sex”? And by doing so, am I becoming an imitator of “male supremacy” by subordinating my lover through penetration?

When I bought my very first “strap-on” (67 dollars and difficult to use), I told my gay male friend about it, thinking he wouldn’t impose any of his moral beliefs or principles on me. But instead of sparking an awkward conversation, it became a debate. He assumed that since I was gay, I must be a feminist, too. I think my response went something like, “Umm, no amigo! It doesn’t work that way. Who the hell told you I am a feminist? And stop using the word lesbian.” His argument was that since lesbians reject the penis, they must be feminists, and therefore the simple act of buying and using the “strap-on” only gave him “supportive evidence” to question my sexual identity and think of my “lesbian sex” as “bisexual sex.”

So this is to you, amigo. First of all, not all lesbians are feminist, and not all feminists are lesbians. However, the term “political lesbian,” which nowadays seems to be used interchangeably with the term “lesbian,” comes from the early 1970s. And, according to Cherly Clarke, a “political lesbian” is someone who uses “lesbianism as an act of resistance” by “embracing lesbianism as an ideological, political and philosophical means of liberation of all women from heterosexual tyranny.” Any woman could be a “political lesbian”—she doesn’t even have to be sexually active with another woman in order to identify herself as such.

This blur in the boundary line between gender oppression and sexual orientation seems to influence “the lesbian bed” by restricting sexual exploration for women. It also reinforces stereotypes that “real lesbians” do not use dildos or “strap-ons” since they want to get rid of any trace of the male masculine oppressor in their lives and in the bed. My amigo’s reaction came from this tendency of not separating gender issues and sexual orientation, so he asked me things like, “Why would you want an object shaped as a penis to penetrate your lover and you? I thought you didn’t like penises. Why have a dildo when you can have the real thing? Plus I thought that the whole point of being a lesbian is to get away from the penis because it’s ‘repulsive’.”

In order to understand why lesbians, including myself, may use dildos or “strap-ons” to have sex, we need to explore the concept of sex from a gender perspective, a religious perspective and a historical context. So what is sex and, most importantly, why do we have sex? Is it simply a necessary act to reproduce? If that’s it, then I guess I have never have had sex. In women’s history, sex for pleasure is a recent theory and practice. During the second wave of feminism, and along with the distribution and availability of “the pill,” the definition of sex and its purposes changed from being a “duty” to being an act of sexual liberation.

This is why most lesbians have sex—to give and receive sexual pleasure. Now, sexual pleasure comes in different shapes, form and colors. Everyone’s body reacts differently and our sexual fantasies are not attached to a sexual orientation label. Try thinking of penetration as not being dependent on the penis, and try to isolate the physical pleasure from a masculine perception of power. Although I agree that penetration involves role-playing and power, I do not think of it as a simple subordination act between a “ masculine oppressor” and a “female oppressee”. While there is a different pleasure that involves power of masculinity when penetrating, there is also the pleasure of giving someone consent to penetrate you. This power comes from not being in control of your body’s reaction and pleasure for a moment. So usually when lesbians have sex with penetration, we usually do not think of the dildo as a penis imitator, but only as an object that will stimulate sexual pleasure.

“Lesbian sex” usually has nothing to do with the penis. One of the reasons why the dildo is shaped the way it is, is because that’s a natural shape for penetration of the female body. Not all dildos look like penises—the goal is not to have it look like what is “missing” in “lesbian sex,” but to explore sexual pleasure. Most of the lesbians I know are indifferent about penises. It’s not the penis, but the combination of so many more aspects that make up a man, that does not sexually or emotionally attract lesbians to males.

I am not saying that I am an expert on sex, but I do know my body and what satisfies me doesn’t necessarily have to satisfy every lesbian. Penetration is not always part of sex, whomever it is between. In other words, sex is what rocks your boat, whether it’s penetration, grinding, fingering, or cunnilingus. Whatever it is, sexual acts between lesbian and heterosexual couples can be similar—it’s just the instruments, exploration level and gender that changes. Everything that can be done in a “lesbian bed” can be done in a “heterosexual bed,” too, and vice versa.


'The politics of penetration from a lesbian perspective' have 20 comments

  1. July 18, 2010 @ 8:40 pm PJ

    Maybe I need to think on the idea more, but I find myself thinking that if a person is a ‘lesbian’ that likes penetration, can that truly be considered a lesbian.

  2. November 24, 2010 @ 10:14 am ZenSiren

    PJ, you certainly do need to think on the idea more. It doesn’t make sense to forbid any erogenous zone to any lover as part of a definition of their orientation. Orientation refers to the gender to which one is attracted – not the body part, or any specific action. Your comment is like suggesting that a heterosexual man who enjoys having a woman masturbate him is not really straight.

  3. June 18, 2011 @ 5:38 am Ezmyrelda

    Thank you for this article. It has helped me put certain things in perspective. As someone who is transgender and also identifies as lesbian, I have found myself to be in a quandary when it comes to the separation of the male gender and lesbian penetrative sex.

    “Why would you want an object shaped as a penis to penetrate your lover and you? I thought you didn’t like penises. Why have a dildo when you can have the real thing?”

    This portion was particularly helpful. The real thing is generally (transgenderism notwithstanding) attached to either a gay or a heterosexual male. Thus it comes with male insecurities and a male body. I think it is telling that the patriarchy expects us to abandon a major part of our sexual nerve endings in order to be considered a real lesbian. Yes, I find penises somewhat repulsive particularly as a MTF but it’s not the shape that is offensive to me. In addition to that, You can turn off a vibrator quite simply and you can put a dildo back in your nightstand when you are done. It’s feelings won’t get hurt. A vibrator or a dildo also isn’t attached to the male body. A woman’s body is pleasing to me because of the lines. A woman’s mind is pleasing to me for a million different reasons.

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  5. March 24, 2012 @ 5:03 pm PJ

    Two years later and I have thought on it. I think that I prescribe more to the notion that sexuality is not concrete and that people fall more on a Kinsey scale. I do still stand by my original statement.

  6. May 24, 2012 @ 3:26 am SM

    Hey PJ,

    “if a person is a ‘lesbian’ that likes penetration, can that truly be considered a lesbian.”

    The answer is yes. You only one counterexample. I’m a lesbian and I enjoy penetration. Perhaps, it will help you understand the complexity of it if you separate sexual pleasure from sex (male/female), gender(man/women) and sexual orientation. If you had your eyes closed and you “came” because of whoever gave you sexual pleasure, would you consider yourself gay or lesbian if you found out that the person who gave you a huge orgasm is from the same sex? Probably, not.

    Would a heterosexual couple that enjoys cunnilingus, would you say she is a lesbian, just because she prefers it over penetration? Although it is it just science, 3,000-5,000 nerve endings in the clitoris, why wouldn’t she enjoy is more? . . .”Try thinking of penetration as not being dependent on the penis, and try to isolate the physical pleasure from a masculine perception of power.”

    “Usually when lesbians have sex with penetration, we usually do not think of the dildo as a penis imitator, but only as an object that will stimulate sexual pleasure.”

    It’s much easier to think of sexuality in terms of the Kinsey scale because then we could just group people according to their desires; however, sexuality is more complex than that because it is an intersection between many factors (sex, gender, sexual orientation, physical sensitivity).

  7. July 21, 2012 @ 2:00 pm Sophie

    Me and my girlfriend have been having this discussion for several days. I believe it is anything that stimulates the body so from fingering to toys etc, she on the other hand along with a lot of people she knows and talks to believes fingering isn’t sex because it’s like the first level. She’d class sex as having oral. The thing with that is i don’t really feel anything from it so it’s not really something I respond to and so then if I didn’t it’s like saying I haven’t had sex. Also the fact I’ve had it from a guy but I didn’t like the feeling or anything and I prefer something more intimate like being snuggled up close legs entwined like feeling etc and going in or whatever. It’s amazing how many people have different views but for lesbians no one has a set definition as to what it is like they do from straight people. it’s great though because we can literally do anything to stimulate each others body and us still have a closer bond etc but your article basically sides with what I say and also makes anything further of course a deeper thing.

  8. October 1, 2012 @ 2:20 am SM

    Hey Sophie,

    One of my exs, a lipstick lesbian, rarely let me perform oral sex on her. She didn’t like it, especially because she was sexually abused and it brought her bad memories. Another ex, a butch lesbian, rarely let me fingered her, she didn’t feel anything. People who I had a conversation about sex have come to the conclusion that a person has sex when someone makes them “come” and that really doesn’t matter how. I know of straight couples that prefer other kind of sex other than intercourse because it keeps their ladies “satisfied.”

    I used to think about fingering as second base. Then, Grinnell (feminist memoirs class) happen, and it made me realized of society’s restrictions of sex. In trying to understand many topics such as the irony in gender validity for transgender people, the history of sexual orientation labels and the sex revolution, ect., I started to question my own definition of sex and identity. It’s cool that you are having these conversations with your partner.

    My definition of sex has changed and keeps changing with every experience and sex partners I have. I try not politicize sex, but it’s hard not to do it when the gov keeps trying to get into our beds. perhaps, our conversations will make a little dent in tomorrow’s perception of sex. . . And hopefully less constricted and tabooed.

  9. December 20, 2012 @ 12:16 am Moni

    Ok… So I’m having trouble understanding my girlfriend. She says that she wishes that she had a penis and that she likes the strap because it gives her that illusion (so she actually attaches it to a male organ). Because of that, I do not like to use it on her. She enjoys it too much and because of her physiological attachment to it, it makes me think she would rather have a real penis. What are your thoughts?

  10. March 5, 2013 @ 12:53 pm Hall

    You have been brainwashed by feminazi’s. How the hell is Hetero sex “oppressing” woman?

  11. July 4, 2014 @ 10:12 pm Cyborger

    No offense but I hate seeing women say they aren’t feminists. I get that feminism has a bad rep but if you go by the defi ition of the word you’re basically saying you don’t care about your rights. If someone told you that women couldn’t blog, you’d object to that idea, right?

  12. September 26, 2014 @ 3:49 pm Katie

    Penetration is desired by many lesbians for pleasure because there are many nerves inside the vagina especially the G spot and some lesbians too also like the feeling of being filled up and having a girl thrust deeply hitting the cervix along with clit stimulation together and it will cause a blast of an orgasm. Face it woman there are nerves that are sexually arousing being penetrated. I love it.

  13. October 18, 2014 @ 12:01 pm Brittany

    If lesbians who enjoy penetration by a strap-on are supposedly “straight and missing/wanting a penis”, what would you call a straight man who enjoys his wife/girlfriend/female whatever pleasing him by using a strap-on for his pleasure? According to some, he must be gay, right?

    Absolutely not. It’s all about pleasure and what you like. Being with someone should mean you can explore with your partner in a safe, non-judgemental way. That’s just my two cents though.

  14. November 8, 2014 @ 2:44 pm yesss

    The only reason there are so many strict “rules” on what “real lesbians” are supposed to like in bed is because lesbians have had to prove themselves repeatedly to the world since the beginning of time. We get repeatedly approached by men who won’t leave us alone and now in 2014 we have to deal with other women who act lesbian for male attention in bars and clubs, so it’s created a lot of distrust and rules about how “real lesbians” should act. This has all been done to affirm our identities as lesbians when people should just relax. Lesbians don’t like penetration because it makes them feel like men or imitate sex with men. That’s a patriarchal belief that stems to the idea that men’s genitalia and sexual performance is so good that even lesbians crave it on a deep level. I’m a lesbian and when I tried having sex with men in the past, it was terrible…because I’m a lesbian. Penetration feels good because that’s the way our bodies are shaped. When all women are sexually aroused their vagina’s tend to deepen a little bit and contractions happen throughout the whole body, so penetration can be a great way to enhance the pleasure during lesbian sex.

  15. November 20, 2014 @ 9:13 pm missinsual

    I love yesss’ commentary and I agree. I do enjoy penetration as well, however, I am repulsed by the realistic dildos and I believe that it’s the mental idea of the penis. I am a feminist and I don’t support a partner that desires the realistic one due to what it represents, as well as the whole “sex toy” industry and how very little is designed to alter women’s ideas of what “we” should be using or not. Most toys for women are male designed. I would truly love it if there were a whole line of toys for lesbians designed by lesbians.. Hmmmmm wow, what a concept!
    Also, here’s a conundrum I’ve been put in by several women that apparently do not think independent of a patriarch worshipping culture. I have a larger than average clit. It’s definitely given me great pleasure on my own or not. The problem I’ve had is women that feel so compelled to say such degrading and disempowering comments such as, “it’s like a penis”, “it looks like a penis”. My question is when was it that males set the precedence for existence of all humans? That women cannot be strong and have larger than average genitalia without it being likened to something that it clearly isn’t. I find the ignorance and the stereotyping utterly repulsive.

  16. February 1, 2015 @ 3:10 pm Mitch Cumstein

    Interesting but I still don’t really understand and probably never will. Reminds me of my vegan and vegetarian friends who eat tofu and bean burgers and meat substitutes and want it to be as much like real meat as possible. If you desire real meat, just have some real meat – stop being wrapped in the self analysis. That goes equally for vegans and lesbians.

  17. March 10, 2015 @ 1:12 pm weste

    Mitch, shut up. Yes, it’s penetration that gets you off. But who is giving you that pleasure? It’s all about the person on top or below or whatever angle they are coming from. It is HER turning you on in the FIRST place. It’s all about her soft body, cute moans, and just simply her. Of course, we all love penetration. We all have the same pleasure points. But you just aren’t attracted to MEN physically. That’s why having a beautiful women with a strap on is more arousing than a men. You are simply attracted to females. We don’t hate men.

  18. April 24, 2015 @ 11:18 am missinsual

    Wow, to think that the vagina is only to be used strictly by a penis is very narrow-minded and limiting. Too many people especially women place so many restrictions upon female sexuality and how it is to be utilized, I’m assuming based wholly on automatic religious beliefs, the bible, etc. — all things man-made. You may say that you’re not religious but where do your projections of sexual limitations originate from?

  19. June 27, 2015 @ 1:21 pm michelle

    @zensiren thank you.

  20. May 1, 2016 @ 10:56 am pippa

    I am trans/lesbian. For many years now. Forget dildos etc. The most powerful expression, I been blessed with, is partner, soul-mate, buying and presenting me with a nice pretty bra. Its not sexual. I wear it , first because it is a gift from a person, fellow-female, whom I love and trust, second, not really second, I feel that hug always. I hate to take it of. That another creature on this earth feels that way towards me. This, speaks of love and I love every second of the continuum of hugs. I am theirs. No sex, just hugs and understanding.


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