how important are SEX POSITIONS? (Sep, 1965)
how important are SEX POSITIONS?
Common sense about a much-discussed aspect of marital sex.
by Richard Stiller, M.A.
Mr. Stiller is Associate Editor of this publication.
Most of us are convinced that “our” sex ways are the only normal ones and that those of others are degenerate and perverse. People find it hard to believe that individuals can differ in their sexual behavior and still be “right” or “normal.”
Take the matter of positions in sexual intercourse. Throughout much of the so-called civilized world—especially in Europe and America—it is largely assumed that the one position in which a man and his wife should have sexual intercourse is face to face, with the man above. This is usually referred to as the “conventional” or “traditional” position.
And yet in the classic cradle of western civilization, Greece and Rome, this sex position was almost unheard of if not unthinkable! It was customary, if we can believe the testimony of ancient art and culture, for the man to lie supine while the woman straddled him from above. The Roman poet Martial considered this so “normal and obvious,” writes the famous sexologist Van de Velde in Ideal Marriage, “that he could not conceive of . . . married couples . . . in any other attitude.”
As a matter of fact the earliest known depiction of human coitus—unearthed in Iraq in 1936—portrays this position.
Even today there are many peoples, in the islands of the Pacific for one, who consider the conventional sex posture somewhat ridiculous. Anthropologists who have studied these people say that they describe the man-above approach with great humor as “the missionary position.”
If one wishes to speak of a so-called “normal” coital position, one should consider the only position that is usual among mammals. Although one or two of the great apes are believed to use the conventional human position occasionally, in almost all mammals the males makes vaginal entry from the rear while the female crouches below and faces away from him. But this natural “animal” position (we are after all animals ourselves!) was used by only 11 per cent of the better educated couples interviewed by the Kinsey researchers, and fewer than 8 per cent of the less educated.
Right from the start the Jewish and Christian sexual codes which determined our traditional sex attitudes frowned upon any sexuality in marriage which separated pleasure from procreation, or which seemed to emphasize sexual satisfaction in any way. Thus the matter of sex positions—as much as matters of frequency of coitus, masturbation, birth control, etc.— was an early concern of Jewish and Catholic authorities.
In the early days of the Catholic Church any sex position except that of the woman prone with the man above was considered a matter for confession, and sometimes punishment. According to G. Rattray Taylor in Sex in History, the rear approach, which was believed to be the most pleasurable, was regarded with special horror and called for 7 years penance.
Modern Catholic interpretations have modified this view considerably. A recently published official Catholic marriage manual, Fundamental Marriage Counseling, by Dr. John R. Cavanagh, lists all variations of the face to face position as acceptable, including that with the woman above. It even states that this is “the best position” for honeymoon relations because it “allows the woman to control the pressure being made upon the hymen. . . .” No mention is made of the rear approach.
A traditional Jewish rule on coital positions simply states that intercourse should be accomplished “in the most possible modest (sic) manner.” An authoritative interpretation of this says that the position with the female above is considered improper.
Apart from the taboos that man has arbitrarily fastened on his own sex behavior, is there any real significance to one sex position as opposed to another?
The fact that most couples stick to what we call conventional face-to-face coitus with the man above seems to indicate that they find this most satisfactory. The Kinsey studies found that all the couples interviewed usually used this method, and that a majority of them used it exclusively. The only drawback to this position is that it does place the weight of the husband on the wife.
Thus a variation is sometimes helpful when the wife is pregnant and should not bear weight directly on her abdomen, or when the husband is so much larger and heavier as to constitute a serious burden for her to support.
Sometimes an illness may demand inactivity on the part of the husband. At such times the position with the wife above is recommended by some doctors. The lateral position, in which husband and wife lie side by side facing each other, is also recommended as restful and physically undemanding.
There are other medical reasons which suggest such variations in position. Among these are a too-short vagina, a too-long penis, or an exceptionally tough hymen. Almost any circumstance in which it is better for the wife to control the motion and degree of coital thrusting can be served by the wife-above position.
There are some other sexual reasons for recommending this position. Some marriage experts feel that this position helps the man suffering from premature ejaculation to delay his orgasm. It is also felt that it affords the woman greater satisfaction since she can control the movements of coitus. This position also affords greater body contact and stimulation to the female clitoris.
As far as conception is concerned, it is felt that the conventional position, with the woman remaining prone for some time after coitus, will facilitate fertilization of the egg. Some obstetricians feel that crouching in the knee-chest position right after coitus is even better.
As to the less – popular rear vaginal entry position, this is rarely recommended. Perhaps this is because it is almost impossible, in this position, for body or penile friction to be applied to the clitoris. On the other hand this position makes possible manual manipulation of the clitoris, where this is necessary or desired.
Ancient erotic literature and art make much of the vast number of coital positions possible. But in actual fact almost all of these are merely variations of face-to-face coitus. Some of them are so impossibly acrobatic in their requirements that it is doubtful if many ordinary couples could actually perform them.
The chief value of variations in position lies in the extra stimula- tion this can afford a husband and wife. A desire for variety is after all a quite common human trait.
Some marriage manual writers lay great stress on the importance of such variety. Write Jerome and Julia Rainer in Sexual Adventure in Marriage: “. . . Only a course of continuing practice with a variety of coital postures can bring genuine liberation from inhibited coital behavior, and the comfort of mind that is essential to free, joyful sexual adventure within marriage.”
A more conservative Catholic view is expressed by Dr. Cavanagh: “Numerous positions are described in works on the art of love .. . but all of these are merely minor variations . . . and have no real advantage to offer except variety.”
Perhaps most balanced is the view of pioneer sex educator and veteran marriage counselor Dr. Walter R. Stokes, who writes in Your Sex Life: The Newer Understanding of Married Love: “There can be no objection to a certain amount of experimenting with posture in intercourse but it should be obvious that physical comfort, rather than acrobatic agility, is paramount.”
To sum up: Position in sexual intercourse is only a means to an end. When that end — mutually comfortable and satisfactory coitus —is successfully achieved, it doesn’t much matter what technique is used.