Nice work if you can get it

There’s a clever Gershwin song Nice work if you can get it which contains the lines:

   Holding hands at midnight, beneath a starry sky.
   Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.

What’s funny to me about the lyrics is the suggestion that romance is work.

Of course, it often is.

It’s work to court someone, to keep them, and to maintain love and the passion.

Moreover, making love is often a lot of work, for both the man and the woman.

Most guys can usually climax fast.  But most women have some trouble climaxing, and it often takes a lot of care, skill, time, patience and love for a partner to help the woman cum.  A male partner has to maintain an erection, postpone his pleasure somewhat, and give the woman the attention she needs to help her climax.

I’m concentrating on heterosexual sex in this little article, but I’m sure that lesbian couples have to deal with similar issues. I bet, though, that women are more patient and skillful than a lot of men, and this may be part of the reason why some ladies prefer ladies.

Likewise, sex between gay men probably has quite different dynamics because of the ease with which most men climax.

Of course, women vary in the difficulty they face in reaching orgasm.   Some women come easily.  Only about 25% of women can climax from penis-in-vagina intercourse alone; most women need manual or other stimulation. From 5% to 10% of women never experience orgasms.

On average, women require at least 20 minutes of sexual activity to climax (source).  Some require much more time.

So, love-making sessions usually require the man to postpone his pleasure and give attention to the woman.  Some men are selfish jerks, or clueless, and leave their ladies unsatisfied.   Other men are knowledgeable, love their gals, and  are obsessed with women’s bodies and so don’t mind doing the work required to please the woman (or women) they love.

Nice work if you can get it. But still work.

It’s often a lot of work for the woman too.  I don’t want to suggest that the responsibility for the woman’s pleasure lies entirely with the man.

In addition, the time required for a woman to climax varies depending on her mood, her health, the time of month, and the situation. Some women come more easily in novel locations or positions.   (I knew one gal who came almost immediately  in a car but who took 20 or 30 minutes in bed.)

Nor do all women require orgasms in order to feel satisfied.  See Do women enjoy sex without orgasm?.

Most women need to learn to enjoy sex and have an orgasm. Partly, this involves being relaxed and comfortable with their bodies. Apparently, it’s also a matter of practice.   The number of women reporting that they climaxed during the last time they had sex increases from 61% to 65% to 70% as their age increases from the 20s to the 50s. (Source: 10 Surprising Facts About Orgasms.)

In Woody Allen’s movie “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask”, there’s a skit “What Happens During Ejaculation?” in which a man is seducing a woman and we watch the goings-on behind scenes in the man’s body. In ‘control central’ in his brain we see engineers adjusting breathing, blood flow and hormones. We watch Woody Allen playing a sperm ready to be ejaculated. And we watch sweaty, muscular men cranking up the penis into a successful erection.  They sing a work song. After the man ejaculates, the workers in the control room celebrate with drinks.   We see the woman in post-coital bliss say something like “That was nice. Let’s do it again.”  That causes the head operator in the control room, played by Tony Randall, to do a double-take and make an expression of surprise and exasperation. The point is that the man has to get it up again.

There’s a joke that makes the same point.  What do you call the Jewish impotence drug?


Knowing how difficult it is for many women to climax, one wonders: does their difficulty make them unhappy? Does their difficulty cause problems with their relationships? Does it annoy their partners? Does it affect the rest of their lives?  Are there correlations between ease of orgasm and success at work or at staying married?  These questions probably deserve detailed research.

Biologically, it’s not clear what the purpose of female orgasm is.  It may be an accident of development, like nipples on men, or it may serve to select for  higher quality sperm, since there is some evidence that orgasm increases the chance of fertilization.  (For more about this topic, see this article.) One wonders whether the reason women have trouble climaxing has to do with the need for women to judge the suitability of men to raise offspring.  As one of the anonymous commenters says in Do women enjoy sex without orgasm?:

I think Divine Source wired us so that Mother nature protects us women: the men that deeply care about our pleasure and happiness get repeat business, increasing the chance of offspring. The men who are all about themselves can’t protect the women and family and probably won’t get the chance. Hopefully, more women will stand up to men that don’t care if they please anyone but themselves, and refuse to create children with a jerk. Ive had it both ways, Ill never put up with a man who doesn’t care if I’m satisfied. Life’s short!

Whether this argument is convincing, from an evolutionary point of view, depends in part on whether women in the past had the chance to choose men. Or did the women get pregnant before they had the chance?  That question, in turn, depends on how fertile men and women were in the savannahs of Africa, or whereever our ancestors evolved.    I read that evolution happens faster than you might think, so it’s possible that in human sexuality was quite different 10,000 years ago from hot it is now.

What drove me to write this article was the realization that the difficulty that women have in reaching orgasm is a central fact in human sexuality and in the war of  the sexes.   Not only do men typically dominate women in physical strength, as well as economically and legally,  in most societies. But to add insult to injury, men get to come more quickly.  It’s not fair.  On the other hand, men are expected to work to take care of women, both economically and sexually.   Maybe that’s not fair either.

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