Can We Go Beyond Tackling This Problem by Blaming it on Partner Communication?

So, my last post was a long-ass critique of a BBC article about the female orgasm. My biggest reason for doing it was to point out that the inaccuracies in the conclusions being made in much of the lady-gasm research and in science reporting are so boldly off-base that they cannot and should not be ignored any longer. Secondarily, I wanted to point out that the inaccuracies promoted in that article don't just represent a few bad apples, if you will, in an otherwise lovely barrel of apples that is our cultural understanding of female orgasm. Instead, I would say that BBC article fully represents the common, status-quo, largely unquestioned way most people (men and women alike) regard female orgasm, and it is a big ol' barrel of nasty, rotten apples that needs to be thrown out, cleaned, and refilled.

I wanted to write this post here because I noticed that a lot of the publicity that this article got had a tone to it that I thought, quite frankly, didn't get the points I was making. Even from very critically minded, thoughtful people that I have a lot of respect for, there seemed to be a blanket refusal to acknowledge that there was a problem that went beyond a simple breakdown in how a couple talked with each other about their sexual wants and needs. I hit this wall often. I say, "Hey, ya'll! Here's direct, clear evidence that our culture speaks about, depicts, discusses, jokes about, teaches, reports on, and researches female orgasm in ways that, as a whole, reveals a deep misunderstanding of how female orgasms are realistically attained," and the reply is often, "Oh, interesting - but you know, if men and women just talked to each other honestly about what they wanted, there would be no problem at all, probably."

It always seems incredibly dismissive - of the argument I've made, of the influence science, media and education norms have on our lives, and of the uniquely female sexual experience of living in a world that force feeds you unrealistic 'knowledge' about your ability to orgasm. It seems wholly thoughtless to me to assert that these wide and deep misunderstandings and misrepresentations of female orgasm that I have layed out are somehow not going to affect women's sexual lives in a deeper way. I mean, if almost every aspect of our culture misunderstands female orgasm, why would it make sense that somehow when a man and a woman get together, all of those influences just completely go away, and that they can simply figure things out on fully even ground, with no pre-conceived notions or internal damage?

It also always surprises me that there is rarely comment about the specific arguments I make when it comes to the science and culture. Commentators tend to go straight to how this can be corrected in an individual relationship. It is so indicative of the very problems I am speaking out against. Although there is a clear, systematic, large-scale problem here, the tendency is still to ignore that and go straight to blaming women. It becomes, as it has always been, an individual, personal problem. Replying to the idea that there is a large scale culture of female orgasm problem by saying that things would be just fine if the couple just spoke honestly about what they want and need is basically saying the woman is not correctly understanding her sexual needs and not correctly communicating them (cause men aren't having large scale problems having orgasms in sexual interactions). It is really, if you think about it, her problem, an individual deficiency to solve on her own/with her partner, and it's no different and no less harmful than when we used to blame women for being frigid.


  1. If you are engaged in scientific research about orgasms in human females, then I agree completely that a precise definition of the subject matter is a fundamental predicate to useful dialogue and research. On the other hand, I'm not persuaded that scientific research, sex education, depictions in porn films, anecdotal evidence or old wives' tales have much relevance to the average couple and their quest for fulfilling orgasms.

    No doubt that inexperienced men and women will initially assume that vigorous vaginal poking is what brings a woman to orgasm. After all, this is how it is most often depicted. But every sexually experienced woman will soon develop her own views about what works best for her. Likewise, every man who has experience with a woman (or with many women) will develop his own opinion about what works best for her (or for each of them).

    I'm getting long in the tooth now and have plenty of experience with lots of women from many different cultural backgrounds. All I can tell you is that each woman is unique in her needs. Sure, most women will appreciate it if you spend some time worshipping her pink pearl and treating it to some special attention. But there are also plenty of women who want to get passed that quickly and get on to the main event (which they consider to be vigorous vaginal poking with the Oscar Mayer).

    I don't pretend to know what this means. But I am smart enough not to try to convince a woman who claims she just had a marvelous orgasm from jumping up and down on my love muscle that she is mistaken or that the had the "wrong kind" of orgasm.

    All women will tell you what they like best. Some are too shy to tell you in so many words, but if you pay attention, they will tell you in other ways.

    1. That's cool, when you get a Comment that perfectly embodies the very problem that is being addressed. Perfect.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I was just trying to make 2 simple points.

    1) I agree that precise, agreed terminology is critical for effective dialogue between researchers in any field; and

    2) it seems pointless to quibble with laypersons about whether they are really having real orgasms since most sexually active adults will pursue their personal sexual fulfillments (whatever they might be).

    Beyond all that, and I hope you will not take offense because I do enjoy reading your posts and admire the rigor and precision of your writing, but trying to convince others that what they refer to as their orgasms is misguided or that their orgasms are not the right kind seems an extraordinarily strange crusade.

    1. Hey - I didn't want to leave you hanging, so I just wanted to say that I do not take any offense, and I will get to these comments. I've just been trying to field the comments on Salon and Alternet, and now I am realizing I need to actually get work done in the ol' day job....cause you know, I'll starve if not. Anyway, thanks for thoughtful comments - you know love them, and I'll get back on this very soon.

  4. A further comment ...

    I do see value in counseling anybody on why to expect from their bodies or their partner's body especially if person is confused and seeking answers.

    But for the vast majority of sexual amateurs who are happy to muddle through, experimenting to find what works best for them today, it seems a pointless debate.

    I know that if someone told me I was having the wrong kind of orgasm or that I wasn't really having any at all, I'd probably just laugh a d say, "They're good enough for me!"

    But it would be a very different matter if I couldn't achieve an orgasm and wanted some to show me what I was doing wrong.