I recently found myself discussing female orgasm with two guy friends. More specifically, my orgasms. Even more specifically, my lack thereof. It was a deeply personal and very detailed conversation, and it ended with one of them saying, “you really need to write this.” And my saying, as I often have, “I just don’t know how to.”
Partly because my story is very unusual. And partly because it is incredibly common. Mostly because what I have to say is something that could change the way men and women alike relate to orgasm and sex, and that is a lot of responsibility. I want to do it right.
The irony is not lost on me.
I pretty much don’t have orgasms. I am not alone in that. I have felt guilt, fear and shame around that fact, and I am not alone in that. I have faked it, and I am not alone in that.
Orgasms were always hard to come by for me. But after really learning my body, I could get there, both on my own and with lovers. However, after a car-accident and resulting brain injury, they all but disappeared. And I was, frankly, glad to see them go. As good as they felt for the short time they were happening, the drama and pressure around getting there never seemed worth it to me. I never understood what the big deal was. They’re awesome, but they’re a tiny part of a much larger picture.
If I just needed a quick orgasm, I would rely on porn and a vibrator to get me there quickly. But if that was all I wanted, I would never bother having sex with other people. When I’m having sex with someone, I want it to be an unencumbered journey of exploration with a very specific person. I want no map, no “to do” list, no expectations and no goals. Just all in, focusing on the moment, not on the finish line.
In my mind, the focus on the orgasm rather than everything leading up to it, is like focusing on the wedding but not the marriage – pretty much missing the point.
When I finally figured out that the absence of orgasm was very likely one of the many changes in my body connected to my brain injury, I was almost relieved. But in a culture in which men are trained to win awards, conquer challenges, and be victorious, it’s awfully hard to get guys to accept that an orgasm just didn’t matter. Now I could blame it on my injury, which was totally justifiable and no guy could possibly take personally.
“So, you just don’t have them, at all,” one of my friends asked. “Sometimes it happens, but it’s unusual, and I usually tell lovers that it’s not possible, just because it’s easier, and pretty much true.”
“I’m sorry,” my other friend said.
“Don’t be,” I explained. “It’s great.”
In unison, they both said, “how can that be.” I did my best to explain the performance pressure around having an orgasm. That in many cases, women feel like they have to get there to please the guy, like the guy will feel like a failure if he can’t make you cum. And, of course, we feel like a failure, or like we are flawed and not good enough if we can’t get there. Then the whole focus becomes this one thing, and it’s just too much pressure. Frankly, it’s incredibly hard to have an orgasm under that kind of pressure.
One of my friends is clearly getting it. He explains how he sometimes feels so much pressure to perform, that he’s almost not having fun – which has it’s own obvious repercussions on his performance and pleasure. It’s not dissimilar.
“Imagine if you could remove all that?” I said. “Imagine sex with no pressure, no disappointment, being truly in the moment and not worrying about achieving a goal.”
We agree, that sounds awesome. And it is.
However, this is also why many women fake it. It is why I have faked it, often. Shortly after my accident, I had a lover who was probably the best lover I’ve had to date. Sex with him was mind-boggling, the very sight (thought) of him would make me tingle and we would fuck for hours in ways that would make anyone jealous and hot. (Gasp.) Best sex ever (though I certainly hope to make that statement untrue, eventually.)
I never had a single orgasm with him. Not one. But he didn’t know that.
Before anyone gets upset about the dishonesty of that, let me try and explain. He and I had nothing in common except mind-boggling sex, for both of us. There was no chance that we were ever going to have a relationship that involved anything more than sex. We were never going to meet each other’s friends, or go out to dinner. All we had was incredible sex, and he deserved to feel like he was an amazing lover.
For whatever reasons, he was very goal-oriented, and not of the kind of upbringing that would have allowed him to get his head around orgasm-free sex. So I just let him believe that I was having orgasms. And I have no qualms about that.
David Foster Wallace once said that a good lover makes you feel good, but a great lover makes you feel like you are a great lover. I wanted him to feel like he was a great lover, because he was. It was my way of making him feel good, giving him what he wanted and deserved.
It was also my way of taking the pressure off of myself and getting what I wanted. What I wanted was mind-blowing sex without all the dramatic nonsense of “did you cum yet?” So that’s what I gave myself.
My next lover was someone with whom I was actually in love. Deeply. And I was very honest with him. With him, I said, “maybe you can help me learn my body in a new way,” and that was the hottest and closest I had felt with someone. In that case, I was investing in a relationship that was much more than sex, and as such that open and honest foundation mattered much more.
All women orgasm in different ways. For some it’s easy, others it’s hard, others it’s damned near impossible. And when we do orgasm, we do that differently too – some squirt, some don’t, some quake, some don’t.
But as lovers, what we all need to do is be purely in the moment with each other. We also need to give our lovers what they need to feel empowered. If the occasional “fake,” makes someone feel like a more empowered lover, that power will come back to you and make your lover more comfortable performing openly. A kid who is constantly scolded in school does not want to go to school. A lover who constantly feels like they are failing is not going to approach sex with much enthusiasm and freedom.
If you are not getting what you need and want from your lover, you owe it to both of you to address that openly and honestly. If, however, you are, and the occasional fake is going to make things a bit better, I’m a fan. I know that’s not a popular sentiment, but I believe it. And I’ve had enough conversations with women to know that I am far from alone on that.
I’ve had the same conversation with men, who also fake it sometimes, and don’t want their lovers to think it’s their fault that an orgasm just isn’t happening. Men suffer under the pressure of goal-oriented sex just as much as women do.
As for me, sex is better than ever. (Well, actually, it’s non-existent, but when it existed, it was amazing.) I am very comfortable telling my lovers that orgasms aren’t on the charts for me. As such, sex has become exactly what I always wanted – an open exploration of what bodies can do. I have never enjoyed sex as much as I do now, with no pressure, goals, expectations and fear.
I’m lucky, I have an excuse. But the truth is, that same freedom is what I’m working towards here, for everyone. Stop focusing on the orgasm and start focusing on everything else. Stop rating each other by how many orgasms we have or gave each other, and rather how satisfied we are on every other level.
I think the conversation ended with a collective sigh, as we all agreed that sex “my way” sounded way better. It is. I promise. And then one of my guy friends said, “you really need to write this.” And my insisting that it’s so hard to explain, I just don’t know how to do it.
I didn’t get it 100% right here, and I know it. But maybe it will start a discussion, and we can figure it out together.