Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Orgasms, it has recently occurred to us, are a lot like Easter eggs. Sometimes they’re big; sometimes they’re small. Sometimes you find a whole bunch and sometimes only a few make it into your Easter basket. Sometimes they have a surprise cream filling. Sometimes you aren’t the biggest fan of said surprise filling. Sometimes it tastes ambrosial. More to the point, though, the search can be far more rewarding than the prize itself. Having said that, we feel fairly certain that our six-year-old selves would have spent a sullen Easter afternoon pouting in our Easter bonnets if we found no candy-filled eggs at all. Does the same principle apply to our sex lives now? Is sex without an orgasm like an egg hunt that yields no candy?
It took me [Ginger] forever to locate my clitoris (hint: it is tiny and tucked away — if only 13-year-old me had realized that…), and I think this might have some bearing on why I am less experienced in the ways of coming. My clitoris quickly became a mysterious, untouchable (quite literally) entity, and I decided I simply didn’t have one. Because of my elusive clit, I was never as inclined to masturbate and did so extremely rarely, perhaps once every two or three months. My clitoris was also left out of most sexual encounters later in life — it sat there unnoticed while my g-spot had all the fun.
Anyway, long story short: I have only recently orgasmed. At home in my bed. How? Clitoral stimulation. I just went for it (finally). And it worked. And, incidentally, was awesome!
Still, the sex that feels good and right and pleasurable has never, ever been about orgasm for me. Still isn’t. After headboard-rattling, I-feel-bad-for-the-neighbors, totally satisfying sex, I get a warm, glowing feeling. I sometimes have difficulty moving. I feel fabulous. But did I orgasm? Nope. Before, I thought this delicious feeling meant I was orgasming all along, which led to quite a bit of denial-driven faking. Every time I was asked by a partner, “Did you come?” The answer was an emphatic “YES!” I thought I must have, since I felt so wonderful and fulfilled.
But I’ve since learned that there is a difference between really loving PIV sex and orgasming. Additionally, this need to prove to a man that I have been pleasured by him (even when I definitely have not been) is disturbing and makes me uncomfortable to think about now — honesty is the best policy when it comes to anything sexual. While I would not necessarily (unless you’re feeling hella ballsy) encourage explicitly saying, “This does not feel good, random partner,” I also would not endorse pretending to be in the throes of ecstasy. For me, faking resulted in lying to myself and to partners, which never feels terribly wonderful. Orgasm has become an expected and performance-based component of American sexuality. It’s tough to have a fleeting chance at orgasm in a society where being orgasmic (and dramatically so) during partnered sex is framed as a way to prove the sexual prowess and potence of the “giving” partner, as shown time and again in porn.
I [Marianne] have had a very different experience of orgasm. I was a bit of a sexual late bloomer. My masturbatory explorations didn’t start until I was 16. I furiously searched for the Big O for months before finding it, but when I found it, whoa Nelly! Turns out that I’m hyper-orgasmic. Like, first few seconds of penetration, a moment of masturbation, particularly intense vibrations on a public bus orgasmic. Which is great! But it can be more complicating than I first expected. The sheer number of times I come in an average roll in the hay has been known to pretty seriously freak out new partners. Once, a partner graciously informed me that I was mistaken, I must be confusing some other sensation with orgasm, and that no woman’s body worked this way. Another looked at me rather sternly mid-coitus, scrunched up his face, and said “Stop faking! You’re killing the mood!” Needless to say, this was in and of itself quite the mood-kill. Don’t get me wrong. I love, love, love orgasming and am really appreciative that it came to me so easily (pun intended). That said, a great orgasm can be delightfully mind-numbing… but sometimes I wonder, what would sex be like it my mind weren’t so, well, numb?
Earlier this week I decided to try to give anorgasmic sex a go. This was no small feat: remember, bus vibrations. My only previous experience with not coming had happened when the sex itself was bad. But I thought this might give me a shot at less numb, more sentient, and consequently, more connected sex. I discussed this with my partner and we determined that we would stay in close communication the whole time to be sure to either pause or change our approach each time I got too close. Given that this was not his column and that he was not a hair-trigger orgasmer, we also determined that this would only be anorgasmic for me.
Things started slower than usual, but the buildup was incredible. Perhaps because I was focusing so hard on not coming, I was hyper-aware of every touch, every breath, and every movement. It, in and of itself, was mind-blowing. I was feeling amazing and specific sensations that I could only remeber having dully half-registered before, which was incredible. I found, though, that I had to be infuriatingly focused on a very small and specific and internal part of what was going on (read as: not nearly focused enough on the living, breathing partner on top of me for my own taste).
I should also mention that this was also the day preceding an exam and two papers, so my focus… wandered. As soon as I wasn’t 100% concentrating, I came. And for the first time in my life, I was a smidge disappointed to have actually gotten my rocks off. I got over my disappointment pretty quickly, though, because, well, I was having good sex. Though my experimental foray into the land of the anorgasmic was brief, it was certainly informative. First: clearly, I should focus more on sensation generally. Things. Felt. Awesome. Second: fighting against what my body wanted was distracting and, when I couldn’t control it, disappointing. No one wants to be distracted from or disappointed by good sex.
Embracing sex without orgasm can be satisfactory in and of itself. No one but you can decide what makes a fulfilling sex life; feeling the pressure to orgasm pushed on us by magazines, pornography and popular culture is normal, but there is satisfactory, hot, and wonderful sex to be had outside of this mold. By finally accepting that orgasming is not something that needs to happen in conjunction with every sexual encounter, G was able to come to terms with the way her own body works, and work with its proclivities rather than on them. It is 100% true that sex can simply feel great; you can still flop on the bed and sigh afterwards, completely immobilized and amazed and relaxed, without having orgasmed. Having great sex without the frantic push towards having it off can be a refreshing rejection of social norms that prescribe only one acceptable sexuality.
That said: if orgasms are important to you and you’re not having them, don’t give up! Just because you accept anorgasmic sex as viable and even important doesn’t mean you, a) don’t want to have an orgasm, or b) aren’t impossibly frustrated. If you’re not satisfied with your sex life, solo or partnered, and feel that orgasm could help, time to explore! Slow down your sexual routine. Listen to what your body wants. Make sure you’re good and aroused before you go chasing that perfect way to blow your proverbial load. Any number of things could be getting in your way.
First, consider what substances are in your body. The Pill and SSRIs are notoriously good at screwing with your sex drive and sensitivity. Talk to your doctor if you think this could be you. And it’s never a bad idea to brush up on your anatomy. We know this sounds basic, but who knows what you’ll rediscover while paying a visit to those 10th grade Health Class diagrams. Anxiety is another common culprit for making the elusive O all the more evasive. Clear your mind, take a deep breath, and try and focus on sensation and arousal alone. Think the steamiest, dirtiest thoughts you can. Then, get hands on: masturbation is of the utmost importance. So, too, is mental state: as M discussed before, focus is key — a lot of why we orgasm is based in the mind. In the same vein: get intellectual! Reading about anorgasmic sex/how to orgasm (Sex for One by Betty Dodson, The Big Bang by Em & Lo, very many of Dan Savage’s sex columns, and simply googling it) can ease nerves and make you feel informed, prepared, and supported.
Ultimately, good sex is what feels satisfying to you. We all have the right to want and pursue orgasm. But we also all have the right to good sex framed in our own terms. Your ideals don’t have to be those of your favorite skin flick. After all, you’re not acting. Next time you find yourself on an egg hunt, don’t forget to pause and enjoy the experience. Don’t forget: the only difference between and egg hunt and a lovely spring afternoon spent outside is mindset. If you so happen to stumble across a candy-morsel filled egg while soaking up the sun and admiring the scenery, it just makes for an even better afternoon.