Mythbusting Sex Ed

The Pillow Princess and the Pea

According to basically every mainstream porn that’s ever been made, good sex is a highly aerobic activity – lots of writhing, twisting, humping, and thumping. And for some people, that’s pretty accurate. For others, it’s not.

Enter the “pillow princess.” Pillow princesses are people (of all genders!) who prefer to be physically passive during sex. They’re not into rolling around, rough-housing, or exerting themselves a lot during sex, and they sometimes don’t enjoy reciprocating manual or oral sex (handjobs and blowjobs). Instead, they like to splay out like a starfish and feel each sensation as it washes over them.

[GIF: Patrick Star, the starfish from "Spongebob," raising and lowering his eyebrows.]

Not that starfish!

Pillow princesses are often derided as being sexually selfish, but that’s not the case – they just experience pleasure differently than people who want to bump and grind. For pillow princesses, the athletic aspect of sex isn’t erotic; it’s distracting and off-putting. They might need to lay still and experience things slowly in order for sex to be pleasurable. This means that pillow princesses are actually more present and enthusiastic about sex when they’re less physically active, which runs directly counter to the common assumption that athletic sex is always good sex.

Pillow princesses might feel a lot of guilt about the way they experience pleasure, because it’s not what they see in pornography and it’s not always what their partners expect. Sometimes, they’re the victims of gossip or outright shaming (have you ever heard somebody say that another person “just laid there like a dead fish” in bed?). The result is that some pillow princesses spend a lot of energy wondering things like:

  • Am I selfish?
  • Should I put my own needs aside and do a lot of bouncing up and down?
  • Am I obligated to reciprocate every sexual activity?
  • Is something wrong with me?

[GIF: Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" bursting into tears and swimming off screen]

Stop calling me SHELLFISH!

For the record, the answer to all of these questions is, “No.” Pillow princesses are normal, valid, normal-levels-of-selfish humans who are not obligated to do anything they don’t want to do.

On the other side of things, however, it can be hard for a pillow princess’s partner (try saying that ten times fast) to grapple with this, especially when their version of fun sex involves all of the requisite flipping and flopping and squishing and squealing, and when they rarely get to participate in sexual activities – like receiving oral sex or trying new, difficult positions – that they find fun.

If you’re a pillow princess and your partner is, um, a knockabout knave (or vice versa), you might feel trapped in a cycle where you never have the kind of sex that you want – or where you feel guilty when you do. On top of all of that, it’s really easy to say or do things that reinforce the cycle or hurt your partner’s feelings (“Sex with you is boring for me,” “You never put in any effort,” “You never give me what I want,” etc.). When this pattern takes hold, one or both of you might begin to feel resentful or ignored.

Have no fear! This site is called Yaybody for a reason, and I firmly believe that pillow princesses and knockabout knaves (I’m sorry, that is a horribly kitschy word invented by me for the purposes of this article) can have successful sex lives and – gasp – learn valuable lessons from each other. Here are a few things to think about as you and your your partner work towards sexual harmony in the face of differing needs and expectations:

“Pillow Princess” is just a phrase; it’s not who you are.

It can be helpful to call yourself (or your partner) a “pillow princess” in order to help yourself and others understand what feels good for you, but don’t get lock yourself in a cage! Human sexuality is a remarkably tricky thing to pin down, and our desires, turn-ons, and kinks aren’t set in place for life. Try altering the circumstances under which you have sex to see if that impacts what you want.

For instance, do you always have sex after meals? Before meals? In the morning? At night? Do you always say the same things or engage in the same activities in the same order? Have you been stressed out recently? In my own life, I know that I’m particularly sleepy in the mornings, so when I have sex in the morning I’m more likely to simply lie back and feel it rather than try to be an active participant. Midday, however, I’m usually full of energy and raring to go. Then again, some people always enjoy starfishing, and that’s okay, too.

Just because something isn’t knock-your-socks-off sexy doesn’t mean it can’t be fulfilling.

There are two elements of sexuality at play here: physical gratification and emotional gratification. Pillow princesses often need to starfish in order to feel physically gratified, and knockabout knaves (I’m SORRY) need to be more active. This means that only one partner is going to feel 100% physically gratified at a time, which can feel really bad.

However! Not every sexual encounter needs to be mind-blowingly orgasmic for all partners involved, and sometimes it can be really fun to give somebody you care about what they want – even when it’s not your preferred activity. Think about it like giving a massage – it can be really wonderful, even though only one person is getting physical gratification.

[GIF: A cat massaging a dog]

See? *So* rewarding.

Remember: you’re never, ever obligated to have sex. But you might find that sex can be emotionally pleasurable even when it’s not primarily a physical experience.

Sex is a place for exploration. You probably can find things to do that both of you enjoy. 

Even if you and your partner enjoy different types of sex, you can probably find a whole slew of activities that both of you enjoy or are willing to try. Sometimes, it’s more fun to try new sexual activities than it is to re-hash the old favorites, even if the new stuff doesn’t turn out to be your cup of tea. Partnership is about mutual growth, and exploring new ways of having sex can help you build trust and develop a sense of adventure. If you’re at a loss for where to start, try Mojo Upgrade. I don’t love Mojo Upgrade because it isn’t that comprehensive (or gender/sexuality inclusive), but it’s a great place to start.

At the end of the day, what’s the most important thing about sex is that you can walk away feeling glad that you did it. If you and your partner(s) don’t have the same sexual styles, it might take some intentional discussion and exploration to reach that place, but that’s okay. You’ve got time, and exploration is good and fun.

Happy humping!

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