Vintage SSL: Pleasure and "Choosing" to Have an Orgasm

***Here's a blog post I wrote back in February of 2011. i thought is was worth a little dusting off and reposting. I changed it's wording a bit in a few places, but it's the same sentiment. enjoy the blast from the past.***

This article got me thinking
I read this post on BlogHer entitled "The Orgasm Gap: Are Women Faking It?" It and the comments for it, started me thinking more about the words "pleasure" and "choice." These are common words used in discussions about the female orgasm, and I think they are often used sloppily. But to get into that, let's first answer the question posed...do women fake? Of course the answer is yes. Lots of women fake it. The author points to a study of about 6000 people where 85% of men claim their woman climaxed in their last encounter and only 64% of women claimed that they orgasmed in their last encounter. This discrepancy is nothing new. One could find a number of surveys showing that there is a chunk of women out there faking orgasms. Since men don't seem to fake nearly as much as ladies do, she wonders if women are just too used to pleasing without return or too tired with work, kids, and home to make the time for getting turned on. (Maybe faking quick helps you get more shut-eye without feeling like you are always saying no to sex). Then she goes on to wonder the following:  
Or could it be something even deeper. Right now, I’m on a book tour for my new book, What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend Just today alone, I got these questions:
  • What does an orgasm feel like?
  • How do I know if I’ve had an orgasm?
  • My boyfriend is bummed if I don’t look like I’m having fun, but sex hurts me. What should I do?
  • I don’t really know what I like in bed. How can I find out?
What this tells me is that many of us honestly don’t know what gives us pleasure. Many of us don’t even know what an orgasm IS! 

Pleasure is one thing, but let's not confuse that with orgasm here
I think she's oh so right. Although I would make a small distinction. I think it is not pleasure that women are uncertain about. I think it is the orgasm in particular. Pleasure is easy, and we understand pleasure. We eat for pleasure, talk for pleasure, read for pleasure. We ladies really can tell if we like something or we don't  - and that is no different in sex. We can find pleasure in all sorts of sexual activity; the sensation of kissing, the emotional closeness, the intensity of rough touching, the high of risking someone catching you, the freeing feeling of being naked, the calming nature of romantic candles and scented oil, even the pleasure of having sex without someone trying to make you have an orgasm you feel you'll never have...I could go on forever. In our notion of what is pleasurable, we as people can be diversely unique. And sometimes, those unique personal pleasures can also cause physical sexual arousal or orgasm.

Ways of experiencing pleasure are as diverse as we are. Ways of experiencing orgasm are not nearly as diverse.
The orgasm, however, that could result from the pleasure and physical arousal is not so diverse. It is not so diverse because the female orgasm is a specific physical reaction that results from clitoral stimulation (however that stimulation happens to come about). This is in the same way that male orgasms are a specific physical reaction that results from penile stimulation. Although women's orgasms are often discussed as if they are more diverse, unique and mysterious, there is no good scientific reason to believe that. Lady-gasms are only as unique, diverse, and mysterious as male orgasms - which means they ain't that big of a mystery.

But lady-gasms are harder to figure out given how our culture teaches, discusses, and depicts them
The thing is; how to physically have an orgasm is are not so obvious for us ladies as it is more the gentlemen because we are constantly misled about how we should attain orgasm. The depictions of women orgasming that we see, the advice we get, the discussions that take place, the jokes that are said, the sexual education we receive in school, and the types of sex that are considered normal all point to women's orgasms resulting from vaginal stimulation through intercourse. Yet, there is simply no good scientific evidence that this is ever the case. Although there may be a woman out there who can have an actual physical orgasm through vaginal stimulation alone, she has not yet been recorded as doing so. The scientifically recorded orgasms out there come from clitoral stimulation - indirect or direct. That's just the truth, and that disconnect between how women actually orgasm and how everyone seems to think we orgasm makes real-life attaining of lady-gasms more problematic than dude-gasms.

Which brings us back to pleasure vs. orgasm 
So, we need to make a distinction when we talk about "pleasure" because due to all the confusion/misinformation around how women physically orgasm, "pleasure" is too often used as interchangeable with "orgasm" when it comes to women. We aren't confused as a culture about how men physically orgasm, so there is not the same problems with inappropriately mixing the use of "pleasure" vs. "orgasm."

The truth is, when sexperts say, as they often do, that achieving pleasure in sex can be done in a large variety of ways that are vastly unique to each woman (anal, vaginal, clitoral, backrubs, fantasizing, etc. I've heard much crazier - believe me), it is essentially saying orgasm can be achieved in a variety of ways - and that is just plain not true. Not making the appropriate and fact-based distinctions between what can cause orgasm and what can cause pleasure continues to perpetuate the myth that female orgasm is fickle, mysterious and deeply varied from one woman to the next - and confuses the fuck out of women trying to figure out how they might have orgasms in their own sexual experiences.

So, take for instance the most common of things 2 heteros do when they are having a sexual interaction - vaginal intercourse. Yes, it may be quite pleasurable to a woman, but that doesn't mean it is orgasmic. This is important. The ways of attaining pleasure can be as unique as the people themselves, and men and women can both find all kinds of pleasure in sex, but the ability to orgasm during vaginal intercourse is way skewed towards men.  Basic ol' PinV sex is PERFECT for penile stimulation and not great at all for clitoral stimulation, so the hard truth is that men, way more often than women, also often get an orgasm along with that pleasure.

Why is it that female sexual pleasure is so equated with female orgasm?
We as a culture know that women don't orgasm as much as men, and thinking (as incorrect as it may be) that the female orgasm is more fickle and mysterious than a man's is an easy way to sweep that blatant and unnecessary inequality under the rug. But another way to do that is to assume men naturally just care more about orgasm, and women just naturally have less inclination to care about orgasm. If we believe we ladies are just as satisfied to have pleasure during sex as we are to have orgasms during sex, than everyone's off the hook for actually putting effort into making sure women have orgasms the way we do for men. And indeed, this is often the story we tell ourselves. In fact, the comments added to the post I wrote about above show plenty of women saying that they aren't worried about orgasms too much; saying there is plenty of other things to enjoy about sex; that we're all just too damn obsessed with women orgasming; that they have never orgasmed and don't see why it's such a big deal; that they enjoy sex just fine without one...that pleasure during sex is just as good as pleasure and an orgasm. In a way these women are right, because there is a lot to enjoy about sex besides the big O.

Do we really choose pleasure of orgasm, though?
However, this isn't just a matter of women choosing to either have an orgasm during their sexual encounter or not. It's not as if when women get down and dirty in that one-night stand or the midnight sex with their husband, they get to a point and say, "You know, I'm going to not have an orgasm. I haven't just sat back and really enjoyed the feeling of a naked body against me or reveled in the pride of giving a man pleasure without asking for anything in return in a while." 

I mean, that is a valid choice in a sex act, and one that maybe men should feel is more legitimately available to them, but this is not what is happening for most women. Women are lacking orgasms largely for a simple reason - because they don't know how to with a partner. Women and men are both led to believe that orgasm should happen for women through intercourse, and that intercourse is the ultimate in sexual contact, yet that is not how women orgasm - except in porn, movies, tv, comics, jokes, etc... Women need the appropriate amount and type of sustained outer clitoral stimulation and men need the same on their penis. Problem is, status quo sex and our basic cultural knowledge of sex makes that easy for men and an uphill battle for women - if either of them even knows which hill to battle up. So, to speak about women's orgasm as if it is a choice whether to have one or not is bothersome to me.

Once we get to a situation where we have a generation who grows up understanding how males and females physically orgasm, and who sees depictions and discussions of sex accurately portraying the actions involved in both male and female orgasm during partnered sex - then I will concede that whether to have an orgasm during a sexual interaction is a choice. It is not a choice for most women*, and focusing on the other pleasures of sex is really their only choice. While acknowledging that women can enjoy and find pleasure in sex without orgasm, we should also be working to make the choice to have or not to have an orgasm an actual viable choice for women - the way it is for men.

*Thanks to some constructive criticism,  I'd like to point out "most" refers to the approximately 2/3 of women who claim they do not have orgasms always or most of the time they have sex. This is a pretty consistent finding, but specifically can be found in the 1976 book The Hite Report on Female Sexuality by Shere HiteBesides her own survey, she documents at least 3 others that are consistent with her own.

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