I was faking it…

one woman’s search for orgasm

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.

female desire: oceans and ironing boards

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A woman’s desire is like an electric iron, slow to heat up and slow to cool down.  A man’s desire, on the other hand, is like a light bulb, capable of being turned on and off in a matter of seconds.

This is what, amongst my twenty and thirty-something friends, is considered common wisdom on the nature of male and female sexuality.

I’ve never felt comfortable with those two images—partly I suppose because irons make me think of ‘stay-at-moms’ from the 1950s whose only interest in sex is to please their husbands and make babies. But I’ve also resented these comparisons because they seem so flat, so functional and practical—like most things in North American society.

i have a feeling she's not 'turned on'

i have a feeling she's not 'turned on'

In Promiscuities, Naomi Wolf describes the ancient Chinese view on the nature of male and female desire:

“The male may be ‘more volatile, more active and quicker’ than the female, like fire, but, while women are superficially calmer, the force of their desire is deeper and stronger, like water” (182).

Imagining my libido fueled by the expansive and overwhelming energy of water is lot more intriguing than imagining it as a household appliance. And perhaps, even, revealing.

When I was seventeen my girlfriend, Alison, and I went on a canoe trip up the local lake. We paddled to a remote spot, beyond the reaches of the usual assortment of screaming children and partying teenagers. We didn’t need beer or pot: it was intoxicating just being two young women out alone in the big bad woods.

Sometime after the hotdog and marshmallow dinner, we decided, to go skinny dipping.

There is nothing scarier—and yet more exciting, as a young woman, than, after all the years spent making sure your shirt isn’t too tight of your skirt too short, willingly taking off your clothes.

It was a beautiful clear night, and the sound of our giggles echoed across to the other side of the pitch black shore as we paddles in circles around each other—careful never to touch one another but high on the eroticism of our own boldness and the pleasure of the caressing waters.

Afterwards, we lay next to the fire, energized (in a way that now makes me think of the female orgasm’s post-climax state which I’ve been reading about so much recently).

This wasn’t the last time I wound up skinny dipping on all-female camping trips, and I wonder now if it there isn’t something particular about the connection between women and water, as articulated in Wolf’s example, that draws us women in, giggling and bare-bottomed each time.

I like to think that night on the lake with Alison was the first time that I, as a woman, made physical contact with my own innate, sexual desire, and that the current of that power still remains in me–just below the surface.

Written by jaquieonassis

January 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm

My mind going where it shouldn’t…

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I’ve never thought of myself as a very sexual person. In fact, I think the word my mom would say is ‘focused’. I got straight ‘A’s in high school, the same during my undergraduate degree, and finished my graduate degree in record time.

At school, I focused on exams and papers. And now that I work, I focus on my excel sheets.

However, since I’ve started reading about female orgasms and sex in general, I have to confess that it’s started to seep into my everyday life.

samsung_washing_machine

now that is one hot washing machine

Have you ever noticed how a dog whinnying in frustration because its leash-yielding owner won’t let it sniff the butt of a passing by canine—sounds like woman having sex?

Or how the rhythmic thumping of a washing machine resembles the noise of a bed repeatedly hitting the wall?

Or how the flushed face of a man jogging on the sidewalk looks a lot like the flushed face of a man…well, you get the picture.

I have become distracted by sex.

I don’t mind it when I’m going for a run or washing my clothes—the part that concerns me is the unholy combination of sex and the office. I don’t trust where my wander some imagination will take me these days. Already, during the Monday morning ‘check in’ I was subjected to mental images of my fifty-year old, balding, overweight boss mounting our young and attractive receptionist—which was about as enjoyable as the time I accidently walked in on my parents.

Perhaps its time to stop my research.

Have you ever noticed how a photocopier, after discharging a dozen pages, seems to almost collapse into post-coital slumber?

On the other hand, things are just starting to get fun.

Written by jaquieonassis

January 21, 2009 at 8:38 pm