I was faking it…

one woman’s search for orgasm

Archive for January 2009

Hello my name is Vulva

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“She’s always been there with you—it’s time you got to know one another.”
                                                                                       – Solot and Miller, I Love Female Orgasms

I confess, I didn’t know what the word ‘vulva’ actually meant until this morning, when I looked it up on Wickipedia. I was aware that it had something to with vaginas, but wasn’t exactly sure which part the ‘vulva’ was—was it that strip of pink flesh running along either sides? Or perhaps some internal tube that the baby squishes its way through during childbirth?  Nope.

this is a vulva

this is a vulva

The vulva includes all the parts of the vagina that a Brazilian-waxed nude sunbather exposes to the sun as she lies on her beach towel next to the pool, and according to I Love Female Orgasms authors, Solot and Miller, the first stage in tapping into one’s sexual potential is becoming intimately familiar with its design:

“Take out a mirror, sit back…set a light so you can see well, and take a look down there,” (source, p.69)

Easier wrote then done.

I know body exploration is a normal part of womanhood, but I must admit, the thought of inspecting my own vulva brought out the awkward virgin in me.  Yes, the same girl that had once, while experimenting with a cervical sponge had to get a pair of tweezers to remove it (thank god that worked because I would have died of embarrassment if I’d had to go the emergency room)—was feeling a little nervous about this mission.

One thing was clear: if I was going to do this nobody could know.

And so, at 7am this morning, while my fiancé was still sleeping, I gathered up my courage and snuck into the bathroom carrying my trusty genital diagram in one hand, a notebook in the other and wearing nothing but a tee-shirt.

We live in a fairly small apartment, with an equally small bathroom. The counter extends only about half a foot out from the wall, allowing barley enough space for us to cram our assortment of normal (toothpaste and shaving cream) and un-normal (a spare bike tube and patch glue from the tire I was patching last week) toiletries.

this is a volvo--it is not a vulva

this is a volvo--it is not a vulva

I probably should have considered these the state of our bathroom counter before I hoisted one foot right into the middle of it–but I guess I was too focused on getting a good ‘view’ of myself in the mirror behind the sink.  Sure enough, not ten seconds into my inspection a loud clattering sound erupted into the calm quiet as a roll of dental floss, a toothbrush and a bike tire lever tumbled onto the tiled floor.

I waited for the fallout, trying to imagine how I would explain myself,

“What are you doing in there honey?”
“Oh, nothing, just checking out my gearbox.”

After several more seconds of listening for the tell-tale footsteps, I breathed a sigh of relief—he had not awoken. I took a seat on the toilet, using an eye-shadow mirror instead, and resumed my work.

I’ve never much thought about the shape or appearance of my private parts before. Though the subject of penis size seems to be an unending source of pride and frustration amongst men, I’d always assumed that for women, a vagina is a vagina is a vagina. However, recently I learned that there is actually a porn-industry defined ideal of beauty when it comes to female genitals,

Women’s vulvas in porn nearly always have the same basic ‘look.’ The look includes having inner lips that are pink, symmetrical, and smaller than the outer lips, and shaved public hair. If wanna-be-female performers’ genitals don’t have the ‘preferred’ sized and shape, they either don’t get the job, or they may get cosmetic surgery to change them (source, 71).

Really?  There’s a vagina standard?  As if the boob, lip and ass standards weren’t enough?  The whole idea sounded pretty ridiculous to me–until I found myself sitting naked on a toilet with a tiny oval mirror thrust between my legs and realized that  my genitals do not meet the porn industry standard!   The Inner lips stick out like a drooling, oversized tongue! 

Not only have I never orgasmed, but now I find out I have a freakish-looking vagina too.  Why hadn’t any of my boyfriends ever told me?

Lucky for me, the trusty genital diagram which I’d dropped on the floor along with the dental floss, had landed with the cover exposed: the words ‘I Love Female Orgasms’ smiled up at me. It was a direct sign from the Clitoris goddess (previous post): Don’t give up, Jaquie. This is about your enjoyment–not how you look.

Infused by her guidance, I picked up the mirror.

I’m glad I did—because I did learn a lot. After thirty years of living in my body, it only took me about ten minutes to discover all new parts of myself, the labia majora, the clitoral hood–and was amazed at how complex and yet delicate the pink vaginal tissue is when you really look at it—like a slice of tiramisu.

Though I feel a little silly that it took me so long to do such a simple thing, I’m happy I finally know what’s down there now because, as they say, knowledge is power. And that is exactly what I need as I prepare myself for phase two of the I Love Female Orgasms recovery plan: masturbation.

Have I ever what-gasmed?

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I have a friend, Laura, who I’ve known since we were 12. Laura is a intelligent woman who never appeared to struggle with school work, however at some point during our shared journeys from elementary to high school she decided that she wasn’t smart enough to go to university. I don’t know how or why she came to this conclusion, but when myself and the rest of our friends shot off for various universities, she got a job in retail and never really left it.

Of course, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this career choice, if that’s what makes you happy, but I know, from the whistful expression that appears on her face whenever the topic comes up that there’s a part of Laura that would love to get a post-secondary education.

the extent of my sex-edification

the extent of my sex-edification

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I’ve told her that half the people sleep right through lecture and if they can still manage to succeed in ‘higher learning’ than so can she–she refuses to listen.

I’ve never been able to understand why Laura just doesn’t try it—enroll in just one class, instead of giving up before she’s even started—until I realized that is exactly what I’ve been doing for the thirty years. Only for me, the problem isn’t academics: it’s sex.

I took me several years of being ‘sexual active’ before I realized that I’d never had an orgasm. After all, for a first timer, just being naked in a bed with a man was exciting enough in itself—ohmygod he’s putting his fingers in there–so that I never wondered if I was missing out on anything. 

And even if I had, it wasn’t like I would have had the confidence to do anything abou: there is no time during life when communication is more awkward and uncomfortable (including funerals and underwater diving) than during novice sex. In fact, the very first time I had intercourse I was too shy to ask my boyfriend if he was wearing a condom—which he assumed meant I was on the pill. I wasn’t, and nether was he.

It wasn’t until I was in my first long term relationship that I actually became comfortable enough to talk about sex, and what I did and didn’t like—with my girlfriends (I was still years away from the guide-his-hand stage).

It was talking to friends like Laura, who was giving hand jobs to her boyfriend and fellow barista behind the counter by this point, that I first heard about ‘female orgasms’ and realized I’d never had one. As enjoyable as sex had been up till that point, I’d certainly never experienced ‘the earth moving’ or a ‘millions stars bursting across my pelvis’. What a rip-off!

So, I did what I was always did when something happened that seemed unfair: nothing.

Based on Laura’s stories, I assumed that, like my inability to whistle and turn my tongue into a U-shape, I just wasn’t genetically able to do ‘come’. And I never tried. That was about eight years ago.

However, last night, I picked up a book called I Love/Heart Female Orgasms. According to the books authors, Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot, I gave up way too easily.

While many studies have found that 5-10% of women have never had an orgasm, this statistic is misleading. Many of these women are young and haven’t learned how to orgasm yet…The percentage of women who would like to have an orgasm but are truly physically unable to is minuscule. Statistically speaking, it’s unlikely that you’re one of them (source, 66).

Ohmygod! I’m not broken! And ohmygod think of all the time and possible ecstasy that’s gone to waste because I was too timid and lazy to experiment with clitoral rubbing or nipple massage or any of the other techniques the authors suggest (but that’s for my next post).

Fortunately, it’s not too late: I’m thirty and this time, unlike that phase several years ago when I was determined to learn how to whistle—I’m going to make it happen.

And if Laura ever changes her mind and decides to take a chance, just think of all the fun she’ll have with those twenty-two year-old freshman.

Female sexual arousal: demystified at last?

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Does the image of two bonobo monkeys ‘doing it’ turn you on? Well if you’re a women then, according to the a study conducted by Meredith Chivers, it most certainly does, and if you think differently it’s because your just not paying attention to your vagina.

In Chiver’s study, (as referenced in the Jan 25 New York Times article) women’s level of arousal was measured as they viewed various images, including the bonobos. Tiny plastic probes were inserted into the subjects’ genitals, which in turn monitored genital blood flow via a machine known as a plethysmograph.  A high blood flow measure was interpreted as evidence of sexual response. In addition to the ‘scientific’ readings, the women were asked to identity which of the images did or didn’t ‘do it’ for them.

According to Chiver’s, women got this last part (yeah, the part where they actually had to make a decision) wrong:

[The women’s] blood flow rose quickly — and markedly…as they watched the apes… [However]…mind and genitals seemed scarcely to belong to the same person. The readings from the plethysmograph and the keypad weren’t in much accord…Whether straight or gay, the women claimed almost no arousal whatsoever while staring at the bonobos. (source)

The machine said yes, but their thumb said no. Chiver’s conclusion? Like the magician’s attractive assistant, women are ‘split’ in half-with their minds in one side of the box and their bodies in the other.

Excuse me? I checked it out on youtube just be sure—and I can confidently say, that as a woman, strawberry Jell-O is more erotic to me than Bonobo porn.

"Does this turn you on, m'am?"

"Does this turn you on, m'am?"

It shocks me that, sexologists like Chivers think can wire up a girl’s clit and claim that it gives a more accurate and authoritative assessment of her sexuality than what the girl being tested believes for herself?

Arousal is a complex interplay of emotion, experience, biology and I’m sure a lot more—and to reduce it to a Pavlovian like experiment–ring a bell and get a bone, show a penis and make her wet—seems ludicrous.

And what scares me most about Chiver’s experiment and the scientific rationale informing it, removes the agency of the person that the genitals’ belongs to—essentially undermining women’s ability to be masters (or mistresses) of their own bodies.

 As someone who’s out to do just that–take control over my sexuality–I’d like to tell her where to stick those wires.

Narcissism, lust, and getting past Cinderella

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What do women want when it comes to sexual intimacy? Well, according to the Marta Meana, who treats women with sexual dysfunction , we all just want to be wanted.  Badly.

Female desire…is not governed by the relational factors that, we like to think, rule women’s sexuality as opposed to men’s…Really, women’s desire is not relational, it’s narcissistic” — it is dominated by the yearnings of “self-love,” by the wish to be the object of erotic admiration and sexual need (quoted in the Jan 25 New York Times article),

magic_mirror_evil_queen_snow_white

The problem is that being passive pretties leads to low lust—a trend to which the high number and variety of female sexual dysfunctions attests to.

Why is this happening? Feministe blogger, Jill, claims it is not due to any intrinsic nature of womenkind, but rather how they are represented in society:

Shocking, absolutely shocking, that when women are raised in a culture that equates the female body with sex itself, that positions the female body as an object of desire, and that emphasizes that being desired is the height of female achievement, women will see sex as a process primarily centered on male attraction to women, and will get off more on being wanted than on wanting (source).

She does have a point.

cinderella-muralAs a girl I really really wanted to be Cinderella. Not because she got to dance with the hottest guy in the ball, and marry him to boot, but because of the moment when she became the object of desire of every person in the palace– women and men alike stopped to gaze at her when she arrived in all her ice-blue glory.

Though I had lots of erotic urges during my adolescence and beyond, the most compelling desire I had above all was to be looked at and wanted.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I actually allowed myself, just once, to shift out of the role of the glittering princess, and be the aggressor. It was exciting (though my victim, who happened to bring a bouquet of roses to the event obviously didn’t seem to realize that he’d been seduced by a woman– at the end of the night he jokingly attributed our tryst to an inanimate object: the flowers).

I’m not suggesting that young girls should be hanging out in bars and picking up men for one-night-stands, but rather that the female role models our society offers—from fairytales to Seventeen Magazine, could be a little less concerned about making males want them, and focus more on what they actually want.  In bed, or otherwise.

Why orgasms matter and defining them doesn’t

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“Orgasm is one of society’s most compelling, shaping forces”–those are the first words that appear on the back cover of Jonathon Margolis’ book, O: The intimate history of the orgasm.

The crucial word that Margolis appears to have forgotten to include in this broad sweeping statement, is the word ‘male’. As in, ‘male orgasms’.

Whilst discussions and theories on the history of the penis and its built in ability to orgasm are generally framed in terms of how and to what extent this particular aspect of human anatomy has influenced the development of civilization since the dawn of man, the equivalent body of research exploring female orgasms centres instead on defining the nature of woman. Specifically, what is woman and how does her orgasm determine that definition?

the virgin whore dicotomy, yours for only $9.99

the virgin whore dicotomy, yours for only $9.99

Is she genetically programmed to be promiscuous–searching as many mates as possible to satisfy the demands of a sexual design that makes her capable of outlasting her male counterpart several times over? Or, is her inability to orgasm quickly and easily a reflection of her true sexual motivation: that being security and love?

As someone on her own quest for orgasm, I realize in doing so, not only am I poised to explore a new world of sexual sensations, but also am, in this way, exploring the kind of woman that I am. Whore/virgin? Mother/witch? Feminist/slut?

Not having had an orgasm is, I think, a testament to my capacity as a nurturing human being.

As a sexually active adult female whose sex life in the past five-ten years has been confined to monogamous relationships, I am generally acutely aware of my partners’ progress during the process of love making: is he satisfied? Is he aroused? Is he going to orgasm? And I’m not alone.

In his book, Margolis refers to a study which asked women how important the attainment of orgasm during sex was to them. Only 10% of respondents said that it was “extremely important” (source, 106).  The same study also asked how important women felt their partner’s attainment of orgasm during sex was to them–41% said extremely important (source, 106).

To this women, having or not having an orgasm is irrelevant because what makes me happy is my ability to make someone I love is happy.

That is where I’m coming from—and the part of me carrying me forward now is the part that has decided it wants to experience an orgasm, the part of me that is curious about what this internal power source, which desires self-mastery and control in a way that I have never before dared. Chasing after the infamously elusive orgasm is, for the firs time in my life, allowing me to get to know what in past eras, this would have been called my ‘inner witch’ –or today’s parlance, my ‘inner feminist’.

Thus, defining my relationship to orgasm, is also about my defining my relationship to myself and the kind of woman I am or want to be.

Sexologists, historians, and researchers probably won’t ever give up trying to define the whys of the female orgasm. Nonetheless, my point is that the complex and ambiguous nature of the female orgasm isn’t something we need or even could ever pin down, just as the nature of woman, isn’t something we need or even could pin down.

And that, my dears, is the beauty of it.

Sex and the City and why I can’t orgasm

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Sex and the City is stealing my orgasms, and the orgasms of thousands of other members of their viewing audience.

The problem is that the women on that show are just too damn beautiful.

sex-and-the-city-movieIn The intimate history of the orgasm, Jonathan Margolis describes a 1999 poll which sampled 15, 000 sexually active adults in the US, Canada and the UK and found that “46 % per cent of anorgasmic women blamed the problem on lack of confidence in their appearance” (source, p.64).

That is to say, instead of letting ourselves be consumed by the act of love-making, we keep getting distracted by the image of Carrie Bradshaw’s sharp shoulder blades and the uncomfortable questions that they dig into our psyches: Am I too fat? Am I pretty? What does he think of how I look (especially now that I don’t have any clothes to downplay my thighs)? 

But that isn’t the only way that Sex and the City is apparently undermining the orgasmic potential of women like me.  Not only is the show’s cast of female actors totally thin and attractive but they also generally have really amazing looking sex. Particularly in the case of Samantha.

How are regular women like me supposed to be able to measure up to a woman whose sex drive,  at the age of forty, is able to consume handsome young men half her age?

In another, much smaller study quoted by Margolis, women engaged in sexual self stimulation (masturbation) were monitored in labs and then asked to report on their experience. The intriguing aspect of the experiment was that many subjects which exhibited all the physiological sensations of orgasms, climaxed they hadn’t orgasmed at all, decided instead that “what they had did not seem to feel like what it was supposed to be like it… [thus] women perfectly capable of orgasm refuse to believe that they are having a legitimate one and must instead be experiencing an inferior brand” (source, p.66).

That pleasing sensation around my pelvic region was nice, but since I didn’t scream and howl like Samantha’s did in episode four, season six, than it must not have been the real thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Sex and the City. But perhaps, if we women are really serious about getting in touch with our own orgasmic capacity, we should start by trying not to compare ourselves to Carrie and Samantha and the rest of them. I, for one, vow not to watch any more episodes…at least till I’ve come.

Ode to the Clitoris

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Oh, the intelligent and powerful clitoris. The more I learn of her, the more I am in awe of her goddess-like presence.

Her strength is unparalleled: with some 8000 nerve fibers (more than exist anywhere else on the body, and about twice the number as found in the penis).

Freya, Goddess of sex, battle, and pleasure

Freya, Goddess of sex, battle, and pleasure

Her desire for pleasure unapologetic. How else could one explain her design, whose function is “purely for pleasure, with no known anatomical role” (source, p.10).

Her power undiminishing. Unlike the vagina, she is unaffected menopause and remains strong into old age (source, p.60).

Most important of all, she offers guidance and wisdom, silently encouraging women to take control of their own sexuality—and perhaps by extension their lives. Without words, hers in the language of blood engorgement and nerve endings: the “clitoris operates at peak performance when a women feels athunder with life, when she is bellowing on top, figuratively if not literally” (source, p.70).

Indeed, I am thankful for the tiny goddess living between my legs, who, growing warm and moist as I read and learn about her, urges me to continue this journey in sexual exploration..

Penis envy?

As if.