If casual sex is the room, a female orgasm is the elephant.
Two months ago, I was pondering the perks of intimacy with friends. Now, I’m wondering if the effort is actually worth it. In theory, casual sex with friends is fantastic because familiarity does help us to feel comfortable in our own skin and thus fully present. When we feel relaxed with our sexual partner, there’s a better chance that we’ll enjoy ourselves. But what about achieving an actual orgasm? Let’s be fair here — female orgasms rarely just happen. They take some intention… and we women deserve to orgasm as much as the next guy. Though I do believe that it’s not all about the destination, is getting there even an option? Have you updated your Waze app recently?
Here’s the catch: we tend to focus mostly on the destination and by doing so, we undermine the pleasure available to us. It’s important to acknowledge that we have completely gendered and oversimplified the sexual natures of both men and women. In this conversation with Goop, revelatory relationship therapist Esther Perel asserts that “there’s the assumption that women want to connect and men want to get laid—the idea that women have the monopoly on intimacy and best understand closeness.” In reality, “she doesn’t have the permission to claim sexuality, and he doesn’t have the permission to claim intimacy.”
On October 11, intrigued by Esther’s commentary, I ran this informal 24-hour poll on Twitter. I wanted to know one nosy thing from women on the platform: Did they orgasm during their last casual heterosexual hook up? Apparently, 70% of them did not, even while 61% said that their partner prioritized their pleasure. By the look of these polls, we have lost our way to partnered ecstasy in spontaneous intimacy. Why does this gap persist? And why do we act as though sex and emotional intimacy should not exist together in hook up culture?
I have more questions than answers.
There is a huge disconnect happening for female pleasure when engaging in casual heterosexual sex-capades. Many factors are at play in this dang discotheque and I have more questions than answers. For starters, I wonder if men realize that their partners are not reaching climax. Are men still under the false impression that penetration sends a vagina to the moon? I won’t pull out an instruction manual, but we’ve got to stop undermining the magical complexity of the clitoris. The clitoris, also known as the Head of Big O Operations, Grand Central Play Station, and the Tiny Tingle Dangle, is the place where peak pleasure is unleashed. It’s the hottest club in a COVID-free universe. I literally cannot stress this enough because no matter how many times I do, someone will still fall asleep on the train and completely miss their stop to this glorious station. It’s a sensitive place, so when you arrive, proceed gently. We’re going for good vibes. Aggression is painful. Ok, that’s enough anatomy for today.
My questions continue as I wonder what the women who answered my Twitter poll had experienced. Did their hook ups include foreplay? Did these women want to orgasm or were they content with what they received? Did they ask for what they wanted? Did they know what they needed? Was the hook up enjoyable? Did the women make their own pleasure a priority?
Sex without foreplay is like a book with no introduction. We start off lost and we don’t finish. I also wonder if any of these women felt a pressure to cum, a sort of performative reassurance that everyone did a good job, and whether that pressure combined with the (at times) lengthy process just isn’t worth it in a casual setting. It may sound odd, but there have been times when I felt awkward because the road to an orgasm is unpredictable and I never know how much time I’ll need or if I’ll feel turned on enough when I’m with a partner. It’s often easier going solo until someone learns your body. Contrarily, I wonder why I’ve ever felt embarrassed to ask my casual partners to put in the work long enough for me to climax, as if prioritizing my own pleasure turns the whole thing into an inconvenience for both of us. But if the exchange is really that transactional and I don’t feel desired enough to get there, then why am I here?
What turns her on the most, is to be the turn on.
For women in committed relationships, the scene is much more rosy. In the same conversation with Goop, Esther Perel shared, “Men in committed relationships are often much more generous. They genuinely appreciate the quality of their partner’s excitement. Men in committed relationships generally talk a lot about how much they enjoy pleasing their partner. The quality of their experience very often depends on the quality of her experience; seeing her into it, seeing her enjoy it. You rarely hear a woman say, ‘What turns me on the most is to see him really into it.’ What turns her on the most, is to be the turn on. The secret of female sexuality is how narcissistic it is. It’s the antidote to a woman’s social world, which is so much about tending to the needs of others. In order to actually be sexual—which means to be inside her own mounting pleasures, sensations, excitement and connection—she needs to be able to not think about others.” Yessss, Esther. That’s it.
Because of the somewhat fickle nature of women’s sexuality, Esther explains that women actually need “more risqué, more plot, more seduction, more playfulness” to be fully immersed in their desire. She says, “We often think that women are not interested in sex, but it would be more accurate to say women are often not interested in the sex they can have.”
The War on Pleasure
In some ways, I feel we’re absolutely terrified of who we become when pleasure fills our bodies because that delicious volcanic eruption feels out of our control. Its heights are elusive and enchanting. Instead, we focus only on the genitals, trying to execute an end game and ignoring the entire sensual landscape of our bodies. I agree with Esther when she says, “America is at war with the concept of pleasure in general.” We’ve been taught to keep a tight grip on our lives but in doing so, the innate animalistic nature locked within us is squirming, eager for us to surrender so it can reclaim its right to ecstasy. Sarah Byrden, sacred sexuality teacher and sex educator, ended her TEDxVail presentation Good Sex Isn’t About Knowing What You’re Doing by saying, “Sex is not a place for us to know. It is a place for us to come alive and discover.” To address orgasm inequality, we need a cultural upheaval of common misconceptions, throwing away inaccurate gender stereotypes in favor of a more playful approach. We’ve got to set our beautiful inner beasts free to frolic in the shameless fields of jubilance.
Tune in for a new Love and Sex column every month on The Kollection. If you liked this piece, be sure to check out “Dating Someone with Anxiety” here.