Being a 'Pillow Princess' Isn't the Same As Being a Lazy Lover
If you're unfamiliar with the term, 'pillow princess' may sound like a nickname for the kitten who always curls herself into a ball on your sleeping pillow, or your friend who loves a midday snooze. But despite the cutesy name, 'pillow princess' is actually a sexual identity, with a rich queer history.
At its most distilled, pillow princess is a term for a sexual partner who receives touch, but doesn't deliver it, explains sex educator Searah Deysach, owner of Early to Bed, a pleasure-product company in Chicago that ships worldwide.
The term cropped up in LGBTQ+ communities the 1990s to refer to queer women and other women who slept with women (regardless of their sexual orientation or sexual labels), explains Deysach. While it is still most commonly used within the LGBTQ+ community, it's a term that can be applied to or claimed by people of any gender or sexuality, according to Deysach.
"A lot of queer language has been adapted by heterosexual people; it isn't surprising that straight folks are using the term to describe someone who is a bottom that doesn't reciprocate," says queer sex educator Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexpert for Lovers adult wellness brand.
For example, the term might be used to describe someone who likes to receive cunnilingus from their partner, but doesn't ever perform cunnilingus (or other forms of oral) back. It could also be used for someone who enjoys being fingered or receiving a strap-on, but not using their fingers or hips to penetrate a partner.
The term still serves this same role in some circles, but these days it's typically used as an insult, according to Stewart, implying that someone either is or seems like a lazy lover. But that really misses the entire point — because pleasure is as varied a practice as the people who partake.
Being a 'Pillow Princess' Isn't Selfish
Originally, the term was designed to be descriptive, not diminutive, Deysach says. It helped people who were specifically looking for a receptive-only partner find one. "There are folks who prefer to only be the active partner during sex, and therefore are specifically looking for a pillow princess to make a lover," she explains. (People who generally prefer not to receive during sex sometimes identify as a 'Touch Me Not' or 'Stone').
But these days it's often used by (sex-negative!) people to disparage their partner's bedroom behavior or to shame their partner(s) for how much they enjoy receiving oral sex, or manual stimulation, Deysach, explains.
The problem here is multifaceted. For starters, any partner who uses shame in the sack is an abusive, non-loving partner who deserves the boot. (Unless of course you enjoy being ridiculed in the hay and have negotiated that kink with your partner ahead of time, in which case you do you, boo.)
Second, it implies that enjoying receiving is wrong, and/or selfish (which is not true!). Far from a selfish longing, pleasure, as the saying goes, is a birthright.
Deysach notes that in heterosexual pairings the idea that a woman is a pillow princess is especially problematic because it's usually rooted in misogynistic beliefs that men are deserving of pleasure (vis a vie oral, or otherwise) and women are not. But pleasure should be prioritized during sex no matter the genders of the pleasure-seekers. For many women (especially those who climax from clitoral stimulation) receiving oral sex or other types of non-penetrative intercourse may be a requirement in order for that pleasure to be had!
You Can't Tell If Someone Is a Pillow Princess By Looking At Them
Here's the thing: Enjoying receiving pleasure does not, on its own, make you a pillow princess. (BTW that stands even if someone prefers receiving, to giving!). As with other sexual identifiers and labels, there is only one way to know whether or not someone is a pillow princess: They have explicitly shared that they identity as such, says Deysach. In other words, they have said the phrase: I'm a pillow princess.
"You can't tell if a person is a pillow princess just by looking at them," Stewart says. (Read that previous sentence one more time!). "Femme and femme-presenting people are assumed to be pillow princesses, but that's not necessarily the case," she says. People all across the gender spectrum and of all gender presentations can be pillow-princesses.
The only way to found out what someone likes in bed — or what sex and sexuality labels they identify with — is to ask. (Of course, get their consent first before diving into invasive questions about their sexual proclivities!) If you're curious if someone is a pillow princess, Stewart suggests posing a question like: Do you enjoy giving? Do you prefer giving or receiving? What are your favorite sex acts to receive, if any? What are your favorite sex acts to perform, if any?
Remember: Pleasure Doesn't Always Look the Same
As a general rule, the healthiest sexual relationships are built on all everyone involved getting what they want (and need!) from them, says Deysach. "And that can look very different depending on the people in the relationships, and their specific pleasure preferences."
For some couples, that means an equal split around who gives and who receives. For others that means one partner does the sharehold of the giving, while the other does the sharehold of the receiving. "And for others, that may mean experimenting with different configurations at different times," she says.
The best way to find a giving vs. receiving split that works best for you and your partner(s) is to talk it out. "The more you can communicate to your partner what you want (and what they want), the better chance you have of being in a sexually fulfilling relationship," says Deysach.
In your ongoing sexual relationships, there may be Sexy Times when you want to experience the sensation of receiving pleasure, without having to reciprocate. "That's fine to ask for," she says. "Just let your lover know that you'd like to just lay back and receive pleasure tonight. There are folks who will find that very sexy."
This level of communication is also the answer if you find your partner frequently taking a less active role (AKA more pillow princess-y role) in the sack than you'd like. "If you want something specific from your partner, ask for it explicitly," suggests Deysach. If, for example, you'd like to receive oral sex more often ask for that specifically. Likewise, if you want your partner to help you cum with a vibrator, invite them to hold the vibrator against your body.
Do not simply call your partner 'Pillow Princess' and expect them to meet your needs! FTR: Name calling is never the move.
"If after communicating your needs, you learn that your partner isn't interested, then maybe you have to reevaluate the relationship," she says, or the structure (or exclusivity) of the relationship. But at the end of the day, it's better to ask and know than to be either unsatisfied or mean.