It’s something that I think it’s fair to say is my biggest sexual hangup, because, despite my deep belief that we are all unique sexual beings and should embrace that uniqueness, this one thing makes me feel inadequate in bed, like I’m somehow defective, like I don’t know some secret other women instinctively know.
I’m well aware that I’m not alone, and that it doesn’t actually make me bad in bed. I certainly know that even when I don’t come, it doesn’t follow that I haven’t enjoyed myself. ABC News quoted a WebMD user who wrote, “I feel like less of a woman because I can't have an orgasm and I want to so bad. I feel incomplete sometimes after sex.” To me, that’s the truly sad part of all this, and I include myself amongst the women who sometimes feel “like less of a woman” for this same reason, much as I try to battle that compunction.
For me, there are plenty of sexual encounters where an orgasm simply isn’t my end goal, or even my beginning goal. Orgasm isn’t an oversight or afterthought, but I enjoy all the other things I’m doing enough that if I get to the point of no return, wonderful, and if I don’t, I’ve still gotten extremely aroused. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but I’ve learned to work within my skill set, so to speak, rather than constantly aiming for something that, if I don’t get it, feels like I’ve failed. I have enough areas of my life that seem like they’re pass/fail; I don’t want to add sex to the list.
While this is my hangup, I also know that I’m not as open-minded when it’s the other person not having an orgasm. I would always rather be the person helping give my partner an orgasm, because that in turn makes me feel desirable and useful. When I’m with a partner and they don’t have an orgasm, especially if they’re a guy, I start to question whether I did something wrong and what I could do better next time. It’s ironic, certainly, because when someone does that to me it makes me annoyed. I had one woman once basically tell me I’d ruined her track record as a lover, which made me feel doubly bad. We all have reasons why sometimes orgasm happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. The logical part of me knows that, but emotional part, not so much. Note to self: it’s not all about you.
Lack of orgasm is the backdrop of Liz Canner’s documentary Orgasm, Inc., which focuses on the pharmaceutical industry’s quest to create a “female Viagra.” In the film, director Canner presents the companies racing to market a drug as the instigators of the anxiety women feel over this lack, which the FDA decided was deserving of its very own disorder: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). I agree that they should shoulder part of the blame, but that’s not the whole story. I cringed watching one woman undergo surgery in her spine to try to get that kind of sensation. I’m not against the idea or desire to give women orgasms, whether through sex toys or even drugs, but the pathologizing of something that affects so many women is disturbing. Speaking just for myself, I can say it makes me feel like there is something wrong with me, and any time I feel self-conscious about my body, I have more trouble enjoying myself during sex.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t care whether your lover has an orgasm, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me it often feels like a burden rather than something enjoyable. I get why lovers, especially guys, want that “proof” on my pleasure, but I hate feeling like I’ve somehow failed as a woman because I haven’t had an orgasm.
The truth is, the only times I’ve really felt uncomfortable about not being able to come have been when a lover made it an issue or I felt like I wasn’t living up to some standard of womanhood or sex writer-hood that I should be. When I was part of a masturbation party on HBO’s Real Sex, for an episode I’ve never seen but that friends have told me has aired plenty, I found that not only am I not as much of an exhibitionist in real life as I am in my head, but that being surrounded by women coming only increased the sensation that there was something “wrong” with me for not getting to the point more quickly. I’m not the girl you can “order” to come and the more focus is put on that outcome, the more stress and pressure I feel about it, which, for me, takes away the fun. It really is about the journey, not necessarily the destination.
My biggest problem with my lack of orgasm is the fact that it’s talked about as such a problem. When I confessed this on a friend’s TV show, another guest said, “I’m so sorry you can’t have orgasms.” I don’t want anyone’s pity because I don’t feel like I have a pitiful sex life or that I don’t enjoy my body or what I can do with it. So, for instance, while I’d love to visit The Venusgarden Hotel in Malmo, Sweden, because I’m somewhat of a slut for hotels, I don’t think I’d be partaking of the services of their professional orgasm coach.
I also can’t say exactly what circumstances are there when I can have an orgasm and when I can’t. It has nothing to do with how attracted I am to the person I’m with, or how much I want to. Even my Hitachi Magic Wand doesn’t always do the trick, though in that regard, it may be time for an upgrade. I’m also lazy, and I don’t always have the patience when I’m on my own to push past the “almost” point of orgasm and keep going. I’m satisfied with getting 90% of the way there but I’d venture to say that the majority of my lovers haven’t been as open-minded.
So, to summarize, I’m pro-orgasm, but anti-orgasm pressure. I don’t think that’s helpful to anyone. Rather than urging me to have an orgasm, I’ll take dirty talk any day and, more irony, that is probably much more likely to turn me on than thinking about what seem like existential questions like, “Did I have an orgasm? Should I be trying to have one? Should I say I had one or just not say anything?” I have moments where I slip and start to mentally berate myself and wonder why I can’t have easy orgasms like other women. Then I remind myself that there’s a lot of things my body can do that I’m thrilled with, and that those kinds of thoughts, like when I get mad at myself for scarfing down Cheez-Its when I can’t stop thinking about them, aren’t helpful. Instead, I will enjoy the sex I am having, with my partner and myself, sans coach or pathology or pressure, thank you very much.