If your sexual partner didn’t have an orgasm, would you want to know?
It probably depends on who you are. If reports from the high school and college heterosexual hook-up scene are any indication, mutual satisfaction is not the focus in most encounters. In Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All, Jaclyn Friedman reports that men are three times more likely to have orgasms than female partners in a casual college hookup (p. 194). She describes a Saturday night liaison where the woman gave the man a blowjob and he reciprocated with one lick of her labia.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many young men believe a woman feels the same level of pleasure from vaginal intercourse that he does, and given the abysmal state of sex education, the blame is not all on them. But you’d think anyone would realize there’s an imbalance between a blowjob and a single flick of the tongue. Is it ignorance or indifference? Neither speaks well for a man, but then again by the traditional rules of heterosexual male conquest, only his pleasure matters. She has been “conquered” no matter what she feels.
In a long-term relationship, add fear to the reasons for the pleasure imbalance, from fear of wounding the lover’s ego to worse. Friedman tells how her beloved first boyfriend, Andy, “taught me about my clitoris and threatened to rip out my uterus and shove it down my throat if he ever discovered I’d been faking orgasms with him” (p. 50). Friedman loved Andy, but, faced with evisceration, just never get around to telling him that she’d never had an orgasm, not even with herself. Unfortunately for Andy, wherever he may be, he may have known about the clitoris in theory, but his prowess was built on lies.
Women might hesitate to offer the truth even when the threat is less explicit or dire. The first partner I was truly in love with thought my genuine moans of pleasure meant I was climaxing over and over. I wish! I didn’t have the nerve to tell him the truth either. Fortunately I figured out how to have real orgasms with him before the lie by omission became too uncomfortable. The first time with was oral sex, but one fine day, by being on top, it happened during intercourse, too. Ironically, he commented that I came very quietly that time, but I didn’t set the record straight. My joy at achieving the “right kind” of orgasm was mine alone. After we broke up a few months later (officially I broke up with him, but as is often the case, he made it easy by having a fling with another woman), I vowed I would always be honest about my orgasms with my future lovers. And I was. Who says anger can’t have a positive result?
Beyond the hook-up scene, Friedman reports that straight men are almost 50% more likely to have an orgasm with a partner than straight women are (p. 3). Every sex survey I’ve read claims that one-third of women have orgasms every time they have sex, one-third have them sometimes and one-third never do. There may be reasons for the latter situation that are beyond anyone’s control and there may be no easy solution.
But it also might be true that if a man makes a point to ask about what gives his partner pleasure—and is willing to listen to and act upon her/his answer—this will lead to more intimacy and hopefully more pleasure. At least it would cut back on the lies. And again, wouldn’t any responsible, self-respecting adult want to know the truth?
I’d also like to humbly suggest that if you know you’re having orgasms, but it’s unclear if your partner is, it’s on you to do the asking.
Friedman puts it well:
“Those of us who sleep with men pay every time we encounter a man who treats us like interchangeable vending machines that will dispense to him sexual pleasure if he inserts the secret coin. Because these men think they know What Women Want, they pay little attention to the needs and desires and boundaries of the individual woman in front of them, and women’s sex lives suffer for it. And if we have the temerity to refuse to play along with the script in his head, we know we’re risking him reacting with violence or abuse” (p. 51-52).
I wonder how many men are afraid to even ask? Talking about sex, particularly your own “performance,” is scary. We’re too busy admiring the players to recognize such courage publicly. So I’d like to do just that right here and now.
If you ever asked, with sincerity, what you could do to please your partner and listened to the answer, you are awesome! Really awesome!
If you ever had the guts to explain what you need even though everything you ever learned tells you to shut up and do it like they do in the movies, well, I think your courage in communicating honestly and your respect for your partner’s pleasure—because sexual pleasure includes the pleasure of giving pleasure—is equally awesome!
While we’re on the topic, here’s another question for you:
When did you lose your virginity?
Now suppose the official definition of “losing your virginity” changed. You could only claim graduation to the status of the sexually experienced if you were not under the influence of alcohol or drugs in any way and your partner definitely had an orgasm because you could trust him/her to be truthful.
By that definition, does your answer change?
The time difference between the first and second definitions for me is two-and-a-half years.
For those sexually active years, I was pretty excited just to be desired by men, and I was having plenty of orgasms on my own, so don’t feel too sorry for me. However, it does make me sad for all of us that such an amazing aspect of the human experience is silenced, sometimes by directly saying “don’t talk about this, it ruins the mood” and sometimes because we just don’t have the examples, the practice, and the knowledge that it can be different or better if we just express what’s really going on.
We don’t have to reserve sex talk for our lovers. While always keeping a sense of what’s appropriate in any given relationship, I wish we could talk about it honestly with friends of every gender. I’ve had the honor of doing so, although I wish I’d done it more. How much could we all learn if we share our experiences, our joys, and our confusion about sex and listen to what they have to say about theirs? What if we all treated sex as a complex and important part of the human experience, not as a dirty joke or a shameful thing to deny?
I remember as a child giggling with my friends about the meaning of “knowing” in the Biblical sense. Now as an adult, I think reviving the verb “to know” about our sexual encounters is a pretty good idea. In the twenty-first-century sense, everyone would know if their partners are experiencing pleasure, and everyone would know how to express it and receive it on their own terms, not those of the media or anyone else.
For me, this is the ultimate sexual conquest of the twenty-first century: vanquishing our society’s fear and loathing of sexuality by talking honestly and respectfully about this very important part of the human experience. I believe erotica writers are well-positioned to take the lead.
What do you think?