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.