I had my first partnered orgasm after discovering I could rub my clitoris at the same time my man was plowing the furrow. I stumbled upon this little trick well into my 30’s and, though elated, figured it was my body’s begrudging way of finally achieving what I assumed most other women were getting without such frenetic efforts: an orgasm from PIV (penis in vagina) thrusting alone.
Until that point, orgasms were something I only experienced during solo masturbation. For much of my sexual life, I accepted that intercourse was when men got their orgasms and I would get mine when they weren’t around. This was also the message I was getting from porn. Unless you hunt for it, women having hetero-partnered, this-takes-time orgasms are rare. When I search on Pornhub for “female orgasm” what I find are solo acts of masturbation, lesbian sex, or compilations of dubious eye rolling screamers. The latter was especially confounding to someone like me who has to get very quiet in order to cum. But this was the script I was being fed.
The relative ease men enjoy in having orgasms is why I still harbor bouts of penis envy. Not only do I want to climax with reliable regularity, I have a strong desire to shoot a powerful arc of pee off the side of a boat. Nonetheless, possessing a vagina, the portal to all human life, is a beautiful thing. But when I hear about a woman who orgasms easily and multiply, I want to rend my clothing and rage at the injustice. I’m getting over that. Slowly. What I am learning, well into my middle age, is becoming cliterate, taking the time to really understand the link between clitoral stimulation and orgasm – and spending time with men who are equally invested in my pleasure – is like discovering the breathtaking landscape you never knew was in your own backyard.
I stumbled upon the terms Cliteracy and Orgasm Equality while listening to episode #48 of True Sex & Wild Love. Though it sounds like Suzy Bright and David Lynch teamed up to do a podcast, it’s actually the work of one of my favorite sex brainiacs, Dr Wednsday Martin and Instagram influencer Whitney Miller. (@whitnlove). This particular episode was a conversation with Dr Laurie Mintz about her book Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters–And How to Get It. Dr. Mintz has been writing about sexuality for well over a decade. Her book’s blurb claims, “Two studies published in the Journal of Sexual & Relationship Therapy found that reading this book enhances sexuality. Women orgasm more, improve their body image, and become more sexually satisfied. Men learn how to pleasure women and become better sexual communicators.”
Of course I bought it.
Like the Wage Gap, the Orgasm Gap is a legitimate feminist talking point. When it comes to male vs female orgasms, the statistics are stark: 1) Only about 15% of women can orgasm with PIV thrusting alone; 2) 95% of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm; 3) 95% of men vs 57% of women say they reach orgasm every time they have sex with a partner.
Initially, I felt a derisive snort when being encouraged to seek out orgasm parity with men, much as I react when pondering whether women will ever achieve equal status globally with men with respect to privilege and influence. Clearly, there’s an anatomical disadvantage going on here. But that doesn’t mean we give up on trying to close the gap. Orgasm Equality requires men to cede some of their power to orgasm when and how they want and women to insist that sex take the time to get them there. Like gender equality, orgasm equality is a team effort. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve rarely been a team player when the process it takes to orgasm with someone else involved has proven difficult.
By all accounts, my exuberance for sex has given my partners the impression I’ve been completely satisfied, even though I was almost always a bit let down. Arousal has never been my issue. But intercourse was, much of the time, like having pepper up my nose and not being able to sneeze. I’m guilty, and I’m sure a lot of women are, of sending mixed signals to the men I’ve been sleeping with. Even after years with the same man, I couldn’t seem to speak up about wanting him to take a more active role in my pleasure because I’d set a precedent by not doing so. Over time, I became more ashamed of admitting to my own sexual duplicity than improving my experience of sex. I didn’t fake orgasms so much as not complain about their lack.
Becoming Clitorate sets out these essential goals: 1) Convince women their orgasm matters; 2) Encourage them to explore how their own clitoris works best to get them there and whatever that is is normal, even if it’s standing on your head; 3) Educate men to take an active and patient role in helping their partner orgasm.
Becoming Cliterate has introduced me to a level of deep vulvar anatomy I didn’t know existed and has put me on the road to mastering its language. (Which led me to wonder, has it only been recently that medical science took the time to dissect out the arms and bulbs of this organ of pure pleasure? Surely, we have a dogged female medical student to thank for this.) Cliteracy is first and foremost a woman’s job. If 95% of us need this organ to be stimulated to orgasm then it’s imperative that we learn how to reliably do this ourselves. Until we’re fluent in the unique language of our clitoris we can’t expect our partners to understand it. I’d rather speak Spanish, but my clitoris wants to speak Chinese. So one little inflection change can make everything fall apart.
But does my orgasm matter so much I should feel obligated to seek it every time I have sex? This is where women like me, capable but not naturally talented, equivocate. What I’ve done to my own detriment has been to minimize my orgasm because I perceive it as taking too long. Certainly, I’m not alone. Most women need, on average, 20-45 minutes to achieve orgasm. I’ll admit, I experience a small amount of dread thinking I need to achieve orgasm equality when getting there takes a fair amount of time. The female orgasm is not on a linear trajectory. It’s more like a squiggly loop de loop trying to get it’s engines to thrust. And every time we change positions, which is half the fun of sex, we basically lose altitude. The longer the clitoris is stimulated well and consistently, the closer she will get to orgasm. So guys, get into a position where your arm won’t fall asleep and enjoy the process.
Sometimes I just want a quick bonk because it tranquilizes me without my own orgasm. Indeed, research tells us semen contains compounds that promote relaxation (read the delightfully titled, “An ode to the many evolved virtues of human semen” in Scientific American) and many women report a soothing effect lasting for hours after their partners ejaculate. “…it’s not just that women who are having sex are simply happier, but instead happiness appears to be a function of the ambient seminal fluid pulsing through one’s veins.” I have a friend who prepares for morning presentations by insisting her partner have the orgasm. Inside her. So 1:1 orgasm parity isn’t necessarily my goal. Fun and relaxation is. Which is only possible if I don’t feel that every time I have sex I need to cum. Instead, I have sex now with the goal of experiencing pleasure, interacting with my partner, and experimenting. Often now, my own orgasm happens without such obsessive effort.
So what role should men play in the female orgasm? Let’s start with please not telling us you want to “make” us cum. Not only is that suggesting a man has the power to force an orgasm out of his female partner, it invariably backfires. When a man says to me, “I want to make you cum, baby.” I do understand the sentiment as interest in my pleasure. But he has just set me up for a goal-oriented encounter. I need to perform or he has to flawlessly execute the deed. Then I can’t really enjoy the rolling around bit because I need to have my leg at a 39 degree angle on my left side for 28 minutes and my eyes closed in order to orgasm.
What we do need is enthusiastic and devoted engagement with the clitoris. Yes, men, love, love, love giving her oral. I’ve discovered a direct correlation between a man’s attitude towards oral sex and his attitude towards women in general. It doesn’t take long to recognize the difference between the obligatory rub and lick warm up he employs prior to sticking it in and the fully prostrate, vulvar engagement that screams, “I love women!” (The same goes for a woman’s attitude towards cock, but that is a separate topic.)
This does require that women get really comfortable with having their pussies licked. Most women go through cycles of liking, tolerating or loathing their bodies. The vagina is just an extension of that and can make enjoying oral sex particularly vexing. Oral sex is an opportunity for a man to put a woman’s mind at ease, and make way for that orgasm, by telling her how lovely her parts are, how sexy, unique and delicious. When I feel a man is genuinely into my pussy, I can be too. I can get over my porn-perpetuated insecurities, the fact my vulva looks nothing like a porn star’s, and get on with sinking into the pleasure of sex.
What can also get a woman relaxed enough to cum is to ask her about her orgasm before you get naked. I’ve found one of the easiest ways to talk about pleasure and how we each as individuals experience it, is not by doing so during sex, but fully clothed, maybe with a glass of wine, before anyone is particularly aroused. It’s terrific foreplay, devoid of in-the-moment pressure, and can be somber or hilarious. Were we to have a conversation about how to get me to orgasm it would sound something like this: “Stage left with the tongue, firm and consistent. Then add a two fingered hook on that G-spot, you know, the way you pull on your tool cabinet drawer when it sticks.”
Indeed, my clitoris starts tingling the moment a man looks at me with desire and things really take off when a few choice words are whispered in my ear. “Men have the power to help revolutionize the way they pleasure women in bed by making themselves aware of the fact women need more than penetrative sex to reach an orgasm,” says Erika Lust, a female-centric porn director/producer says in this Ask Men article about the Orgasm Gap. “A lot of women’s arousal comes from being wanted and desired, which isn’t just shown by having an erection. Show her your desire with touch, words, gazing and more.”
I’ve also learned a lot about pleasure and orgasm by watching interviews and tutorials on OMG Yes!, a treasure trove of techniques and ideas on how to get the most out of your experience of sex and masturbation. When I watched these tutorials with my partner, we set off like two geeks with free range of the chemistry lab. The results were explosive. Consider a membership to this site as one of the best gifts you could give a woman (or a woman can give herself). Watching other women of all shapes and sizes talk about sexual response, and pleasure themselves for our education, normalizes and celebrates the wide variety of orgasmic experience.
However, bear in mind discomfort with sex might not be from an overly sensitive impression of one’s body. It could be from the experience of sexual trauma. A man I know spent years deeply enraged over his wife’s gradual refusal to have sex with him until he discovered, after decades of being together, that she had been sexually assaulted as a teen. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, nearly 20% of women in the United States have been raped or sexually violated, mostly by people with whom they’re well acquainted. Trauma lives in the body long after the hurt. And some of us cannot acknowledge the incident(s) and move through the pain and shame until treatment is sought and much time has past. What that means to the experience of sex and orgasm is a complex and tangled web that calls for patience and compassion as a partner.
Orgasm Equality and becoming Clitorate, challenges women to be invested in their own pleasure and men to slow down their own. If my gentle coaxing fails at sparking a man’s interest in the complexity of my orgasm, and there’s no evidence of rhapsodic engagement with the gateway to my devotion, then I will have learned all I need to know. He is not a curious student of life nor an advocate of my well being. I will continue to seek new combinations of words to create beautiful sentences. And now, with a better understanding of the full extent of my clitoral anatomy thanks to Becoming Clitorate, I’m finding new ways to experience the pleasures of my body in concert with another.
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