Come As You Are
Women and fish have something in common. Both can fake orgasms. Specifically, the female brown trout feigns a climax in order to trick impotent males into leaving her alone.
That’s one smart fish.
Lucky for us, humans might finally approach an era where we don’t have to fake an orgasm to make someone else feel good, encourage them to finish up, or end unwanted sex.
I’m not talking about a gap, or a delay. I’m talking about absence. As in always extremely difficult, or impossible.
This shouldn’t be a weird conversation, but it is.
Some people don’t have a choice about whether to fake it or not — including men. They literally can’t come.
Some people struggle to climax because of mental or emotional issues. My first orgasm with a partner didn’t happen until my early 30s. My trust issues ran deep, and I had to deal with them.
Other people wrestle with physical and neurological challenges. Either way, talking about the problems is crucial.
Sex Ed, the DIY Affair
Discourse about sex has come a long way in just the past decade. At least it’s finally somewhat acceptable to talk about these problems, without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, or getting the TMI insult. Back in college, it wasn’t strange for friends to say stuff like this:
“Women don’t enjoy sex as much as guys.”
“Sex is different for girls. They don’t get as much out of it.”
I’ll never forget the day after my first time having sex. There was no climax, and I was confused. So I asked one of my close friends at the gym. “So, if you don’t have an orgasm, are you still a virgin?”
That’s how little I understood about sex. I was 19. I’d literally just had sex, and I wasn’t even sure about it.
Instead of listening, my friend gave me a weird look and walked off. We never had that conversation again.
These attitudes have started to fade, but they still influence how we think about sex, in problematic ways. Above all, this mindset dismisses female sexuality completely. “Oh, you didn’t come? Well, you’re not supposed to. God made you that way. Or maybe you’re just depressed. Whatever. Stop talking about it. You’re weird. Are you a perv?”
We can do better than this, and we’re starting to.
It’s about time.
For most of us, sex ed has been a largely DIY affair. My high school biology class forced me to memorize the anatomy of a flower. We dissected everything from rats to baby pigs. And yet somehow we never got around to the human parts — male or female.
I’m not suggesting we let teens open up cadavers and dissect their naughty bits. But you know, a diagram would be nice.
Maybe a chapter in a textbook.
Some schools do this, but all of them should. It’s a shame that any slice of our population learns more about sex on the Internet than they do in school. Is that where we want our kids learning about the g-spot?
On the dark web?
All the Bad Advice
Anyway, the question at hand is why some women (or men) don’t achieve an orgasm — and why we don’t talk about it. Education is bound up with this, of course. When we don’t educate people about sex, they come up with all kinds of goofy ideas. They listen to bad advice.
They don’t push back against arrogant doctors. They blame themselves for failures they shouldn’t.
So, what causes this kind of sexual dysfunction? I’m no doctor, not the medical kind, so I’ll touch on this part lightly. Sometimes the reasons are psychological or emotional, like mine were.
Specifically, mine was “situational anorgasmia,” meaning that I could get there by myself. Just never with a partner. It took a long time, and a lot of therapeutic writing, but I finally starting having orgasms during sex about a year ago. Consider me a late bloomer.
Balloons didn’t fall from the ceiling, though. That was a little disappointing. But I’ll live.
Other times, the reasons for anorgasmia are physical. Certain diseases and medical conditions can lead to the loss of orgasmic ability. So can complications in various surgical procedures.
We can’t confuse these types. They have different causes, and different methods of treatment.
Sadly, we don’t talk about sexual dysfunction enough. People who struggle to climax might feel uncomfortable talking about their problems. They may have painful stories. They might hesitate to open up. Not just with their partners, but also their doctors.
When they do voice their minds, they’re not always taken seriously.
“There’s nothing wrong with you”
Back in my early 20s, I actually did see a doctor about my sexual problems. It was my partner’s idea. He didn’t think I was enjoying sex enough. He nagged me about my lack of enthusiasm.
Maybe his concern stemmed from self-interest. But he had a point. In the end, I think he cared about me and wanted to help.
So off I went, to the university health center — not especially well known for their rapt attention to patients. Graduate students at most schools have some of the worst insurance you can find.
It’s like my school dumpster-dived for our plan.
And it showed. They drew some blood samples and ran some tests. A doctor asked me some questions. He actually laughed near the end of our appointment. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Good thing for me, there actually wasn’t. Not physically. But imagine if there had been. Was a blood test going to show anything?
It would’ve been nice for him to listen, maybe refer me to a specialist, or at least a good book. But no. I was on my own.
My mistake was accepting his conclusion. For years, I believed that there was “nothing wrong with me,” physically or otherwise. An orgasm would just come on its own, like it did for everyone else.
And if it didn’t, I could just pretend. Meanwhile, only god knows how many of my breakups happened because of bad sex. And that’s sad, because god doesn’t exist. So I’m going to assume most of them. Most of my relationships ended prematurely, because of bad sex. And I let it happen, because there was officially “nothing wrong with me.”
Physical Causes go Under-Discussed
A hundred explanations exist for sexual dysfunction, and each of them deserve attention. Jessica Pin writes a compelling piece about how a labiaplasty performed on her at the age of 18 led to problems that have followed her through her adult life:
My consent form, of which I have a copy, says, “excision of redundant labia.” Dr. X completely removed all of my labia minora, performed a clitoral hood reduction without my consent, and cut the dorsal nerves of my clitoris. As a result, I have no sensation distal to my scars. The glans of my clitoris is insensate.
— Jessica Pin
The doctor, under-educated about female anatomy, refused to admit any fault. He wouldn’t even acknowledge her concerns after the surgery. Jessica Pin’s experience points to a bigger problem, about the lack of coverage of the clitoris in gynecology textbooks, where you’d expect loads:
OB/GYN ignorance of operative vulvar anatomy is dangerous because they put this anatomy at risk in a number of procedures. It should be known for understanding and treatment of sexual dysfunction, repairs of injuries, surgical treatment of vulvar cancer, and vulvar cosmetic surgeries (“treatment of hypertrophy” where “hypertrophy” is defined in the literature as less than the mean), which according to one survey study, 77% of GYNs offer to patients.
— Jessica Pin
These experiences say something important. We still have a long way to go in the discourse about sexuality, and female sexuality in particular. This applies to everyone, including men who don’t fit the WASP profile. If you’re brushed off, dismissed, or marginalized, speak up. Viagra doesn’t fix everything. Our sexual health is all bound up together, so we have to educate and advocate for each other, especially if and when doctors won’t.
Educate and Empower
Self education can sound dangerous, and I’m not telling anyone to treat their conditions by watching YouTube videos. But sometimes it helps to dig and explore, and get a second or a third opinion. It helps to write and tweet about your experiences. Doctors aren’t perfect, and medical science is always evolving. We can nudge it along.
History has shown us over and over again how eagerly scientific communities ignore important ideas. Maybe you’ve heard of Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who instituted mandatory hand washing at his own hospital to save patients’ lives.
Despite overwhelming evidence, doctors balked at the idea that maybe their hands were dirty — and that their hygiene was killing people. They preferred to have Semmelweis committed to an asylum, where he was beaten to death by guards, over sticking their hands under a faucet. It’s really too bad we didn’t have Twitter back then.