In Part I of this series I looked at how married, monogamous sex in the missionary position is the dominant practice in patriarchies. In Part II I wrote how men are impelled by patriarchal goals towards sex centred on penetration and ejaculation, which leaves women as bit-part players in their own sex lives.
In this post I’d like to examine the way patriarchal ideals have pressured women into this disempowered secondary role through the phrase ‘lie back and think of England’. (Obviously, as a man I don’t have direct experience of this. It’s what I perceive based on my understanding of shame. Feedback on this would be welcome.)
The phrase is attributed to Lady Hillingdon, who reputedly wrote in her journal in 1912: “When I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, open my legs and think of England.” The phrase, variously rendered as ‘lie back and think of England’ or ‘close your eyes and think of England’, entered—excuse the pun—common parlance as female submissiveness to unwanted male sexual advances.
It’s interesting to note just how much patriarchal programming is inherent even in these two short phrases. ‘Lie back’ implies the missionary position. ‘Close your eyes’ implies the sense of sex being so shameful that to watch oneself engaging in it only adds to its depravity. While it is possible to have intimacy with a partner whose eyes are mostly closed, that is not what the phrase intended.
Patriarchy sharply delineates women into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ based on their control over their sexuality. Bad women sell sex or—worse yet—enjoy it. Good women are mothers, not lovers.
Patriarchy sharply delineates women into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ based on their control over their sexuality. Bad women sell sex or—worse yet—enjoy it. Good women are mothers, not lovers. The fundamental conflict of interest inherent in this worldview is conveniently ignored. (Remember the patriarchal imperative for perpetuating the bloodline.)
That means good women (according to the patriarchal definition) do not enjoy sex. They do not initiate it. They do not have desires. Instead, they have phobias. They do not touch themselves. They do not explore sex. They have no permission for anything other than vanilla sex in the missionary position. All they are socially permitted to do is lie back, wait for it to be over and hopefully earn an emotionally rewarding hug at the end.
It is left to men to do the dirty work of initiating sex, penetrating, setting the rhythm of the sex act through their pelvic thrusting, and generally getting it all over and done with as soon as possible.
These descriptions are clearly overstated, yet the watered-down remains of patriarchal sexual programming continue to haunt us.
By comparison, Tantric sexuality completely reverses the dominant-submissive patriarchal model. In Tantric sex, the male is in service to the female. It’s his duty to provide his body for her pleasure, not the other way round. For men, it’s important to realise that service does not imply servility.
In contrast to the patriarchal rush for male ejaculation to end the filthy business of sex, in Tantra the male controls his ejaculation and services his partner until she has achieved orgasm. His pleasure comes not from uncontrolled ejaculation (which Tantra regards with disdain) but from honouring his partner’s desires. In his role in service to the Divine Feminine, it can often be the man who is underneath his partner, giving her the space and freedom to lead their lovemaking.
Getting from the patriarchal sexual paradigm to the female-friendly Tantric one is not a simple step. It is challenging work that both genders need to engage with. I have had the privilege of attending workshops where women heal their patriarchal wounds. It is painful and courageous work.
Male patriarchal programming is truly horrific—I shall explore it more in Part IV—and men have much work to do to repeal it. If more men started lying back and thinking of India, the home of Tantra, rather than England, Lady Hillingdon might be encouraged to change her mind.