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Don’t lie back and think of England

This same article first appeared in The Online Citizen.

I am surprised that, in this day and age, I still am asked: “What can women do in bed besides lying back and thinking of England?”

In case you are not familiar with this expression, it is an English saying with roughly the same meaning as “to grit one’s teeth”, i.e. to put up with what is happening. It was used both in England and among expatriates outside the country when conditions were difficult. It is given as an encouragement to perform a task that is unpalatable.

“Lie back and think of England” was an instruction given to prospective brides or women in general in the Victorian Era regarding how to cope with the sexual demands of their husbands. Childbearing was considered a patriotic duty, but at the same time women were not supposed to enjoy sexual intercourse, and new brides in particular would have been largely ignorant of the facts about sex.

One version of the genesis of the saying is the legend that Queen Victoria gave this instruction to her own daughter on her wedding night. Another said that the phrase originated in Lady Alice Hillingdon’s (1857-1940) Journal in 1912.

This question is wrong on so many levels because it assumes that only the man derives pleasure from lovemaking. And that it is all about his pleasure: the woman has no say.

Granted that there is more to any relationship than sex; my concern is why a woman would choose to stay in a relationship where she feels she has to “lay back and think of England”, effectively casting herself as a receptacle. Sex should not feel like a burden, duty, or chore.

This question also assumes that sex is only about penetrative sex. There are indefinite ways to engage in sexual pleasuring and enjoyment without penetration. One is limited only by the limit to one’s imagination.

In this day and age, a man who doesn’t bring his partner to sexual peak is called a lousy lover. This pressure to perform and be a ‘real man’ is so intense that sometimes he has difficulties attaining his orgasm. Sex should not be about needing to prove your manhood, outlasting your partner, or denying your own pleasure.

It is perfectly normal that:

… sometimes one of you experience an orgasm first;

… sometimes one of you may choose not to have an orgasm;

… sometimes one of you do not attain an orgasm; or at

… other times both of you might not experience an orgasm.

It is all fine and perfectly normal. However, if this continues for a period of time and causes distress, it is also normal, and highly recommended, that you seek support by consulting a medical doctor, urologist, gynaecologist or a sexologist like myself.

Sex should be mutually enjoyable and pleasurable. Yes, for both of you. And it is also okay to give yourselves permission to be funny and silly. If you cannot relax with your partner in bed – making jokes, laughing at yourselves and trying new things together – then doesn’t it limit the amount of enjoyment you might experience? The two of you should be relaxed, engaged, enjoying the experience and wanting more of such intimacy and joy in your lives.

Dr Martha Lee

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Source for the phrase ‘Lie back and think of England’: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie_back_and_think_of_England

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  1. [...] previous pieces, I have covered how sex is not a one-way experience (in ‘Don’t Lie Back and Think of England’), as well as how sex can be like an elephant in the bedroom when it comes to communicating any [...]

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