A Unified Theory of Orgasm

This is a guest post by Clarisse Thorn. It was originally published at the girl-power site Off Our Chests.

* * *


and it’s poisoned

every romance

I’ve ever had.

masturbating doesn’t work. I don’t know why. I tried therapy too, but my smart, understanding, sex-positive, open-hearted doctor couldn’t help. drugs while fucking? check. I date attentive men who only want to make me happy, but no matter how fantastic they make me feel, I can’t get off. and believe me, I like sex. I love sex! how can it feel so good and not end in an orgasm? I tried experimenting, and I sure do love the kink. it feels great. but doesn’t get me off. I’ve tried everything. everything.

now I have the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. but just like every other one, he can’t get me off. big dick? oral sex? tons of foreplay? kink? it’s all there. nothing works. I used to lie to my boyfriends and say it was ok that I couldn’t get off. then at least they could enjoy sex without feeling guilty. but then they’d stop trying, of course. and this one is still trying … sometimes. I mean, it’s clearly never going to work. so I can’t blame him for not having the same passion for trying as he used to. and I keep thinking I should back off. after all, why put pressure on him to “perform”? he’ll just resent me if I keep asking for more, even if I’m gentle about it and compliment him and all that. since nothing he does works. it will never work.

and I try so hard not to get frustrated, but I can’t avoid the knowledge that I am fucked up, I must be broken. I mean, any normal woman would have come by now. so what do I do? I don’t know what I need. do I back off and focus on him? that’s what I end up doing, because I can’t face asking for a little more attention in bed anymore. what’s the point? he’ll just resent me when it doesn’t work again. so I back off. and I can’t help resenting him, just a little, for not noticing how much I’m hurting. and not trying, even if I am broken, and I will never ever come.

* * *


I. Vaginal Pain


III. Frigid

IV. The Fight

V. Men’s Perspective

VI. S&M, Redux

VII. Figuring It Out

VIII. Study Questions

* * *

I. Vaginal Pain

When I wrote the above, I was actually pretty close to figuring out how to have an orgasm. But I didn’t know that. I’d dealt with the anxiety of being unable to come for so long — and I’d also recently begun to understand that my sexuality is oriented towards S&M — and so anguish just flooded out of me, into those words. I craved S&M, but acknowledging the craving made me feel like a “pervert”, a “freak”. It contributed to my already-overwhelming fear that I was “broken” because I couldn’t figure out how to come.

There’s one thing I didn’t mention when I poured out all that fear and shame: I experience rare vaginal pain — not every time I have sex, not even most times, but occasionally. Medical science has traditionally failed to care about how women experience our sexuality, so very little research has been done on the subject. As a result, it’s impossible to say why I get that pain. Is it some kind of physical problem? That seems likely, because my psychological comfort level with a sexual encounter doesn’t seem to correlate with whether the pain happens or not. But because female sexuality is often stereotyped as too mysterious and emotional to be worth rigorous medical investigation, I doubt I’ll ever know for sure.

For a while I was sure I was allergic to semen, because I read a magazine feature by a woman who said she was. Aha, I thought. I stopped taking hormonal birth control pills. I made my trusted monogamous boyfriends use condoms. The pain became less common. Yet throughout that time — continuing through today — I still get the pain occasionally, very occasionally. Sometimes I even feel the pain during encounters that lack vaginal penetration, so it’s clearly not about having a penis in me.

I can push through the pain; I can even have an orgasm, a reflex that feels good yet is surrounded by not-good; but I can’t get rid of the pain entirely. Whenever I think I’ll never feel it again, it sneaks into some sexual encounter.

The semen allergy theory has been ruled out, since I get the pain without semen contact. That doesn’t mean that hormonal birth control didn’t have an effect, though — the pain was definitely worse while I was taking it. The Pill intersects with sexuality in ways we still don’t understand; one common side effect is that it reduces sex drive. Perhaps the Pill affected my sexuality in some physical-medical way, worsening the pain problem.

The long and the short of it is that I experience some vaginal pain; the pain is confusing and hard to predict, and there aren’t any good medical resources on the matter. Maybe the pain points to something unusual about my constitution. Maybe there’s a reason it’s harder for me to have orgasms than the “average” woman.

But the vaginal pain itself is not overwhelming, on the rare occasions that it crops up. And the vaginal pain is not even close to the most central issue of my sexuality — or the biggest influence on my orgasmic ability.

* * *


I identify my sexuality as BDSM — a.k.a. kink, leather, fetish, S&M, or B&D. BDSM is a 6-for-4 acronym that encompasses a host of related activities, including bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism. And yeah, I’m really into it: my desires are heavy and overwhelming; I dream of agony, of terrified screams for mercy. I’ve gone so far as to describe BDSM as my sexual orientation.

Before someone goes leaping to conclusions, there is a definite difference between “good pain” and “bad pain”. The occasional pain I feel within my vagina is not good pain; it’s not even interesting. It’s just annoying. It’s not sexy or enjoyable at all.

Some of us in the BDSM community have felt lifelong tendencies towards BDSM. We have conversations ending with thrilled exclamations: “You mean, you tied up your Barbie dolls as a child too?!” But BDSM is widely misunderstood and negatively stereotyped, and thus, many of us also went through periods of rejection. We’ve internalized so much anti-BDSM stigma from society that, at times, we freak out. We deny or erase our BDSM desires.

That’s what happened to me when I was in middle school. As my sexuality made itself more and more evident, my anxiety peaked. I’d been producing secret sadomasochistic art and stories without labeling what I was doing, but I stopped. I blockaded my thoughts of violent power-play. I closed it all away as thoroughly as I could.

I still felt sexual desire — I mean, I was entering my teens, so of course I did. Sometimes I felt so much desire, like in the middle of some inconvenient class, that I’d have to rest my burning forehead on the cold desk. I would close my eyes, and breathe deeply, and wait for the erotic shiver to pass. At home, I’d lie around my twin bed and dream about kisses; imagine men’s hair and skin and touch.

Yet it was hard for me to trace my desire, to take control of it. I thought I had no problem with the idea of masturbation, but when I touched my own lady bits, I went cold. Vibrators did nothing but bore me.

I had excellent sex education, thank goodness. I went through a Unitarian Universalist sex education program that talked carefully about different experiences, that made space for gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and queer folks. I didn’t only learn about sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy and condom usage; I was also encouraged to explore my sexuality, to value it. But this marvelous curriculum did not include BDSM and other non-standard sexual identities. Nor did it include much advice on how to negotiate sexual encounters with my partners. So, although I internalized many positive and feminist messages about sex, my own sexuality remained invisible, bewildering and hard to talk about.

When I started having sex around my mid-teens, I liked it — I liked it a lot — but it seemed weirdly lacking. I’d never figured out how to masturbate, so I couldn’t show my partners how to pleasure me. And although I occasionally suspected that I wanted something like S&M, I didn’t understand how far I wanted to go.

A couple of teenage boyfriends tied me up … but then they acted solicitous and went down on me, which didn’t send me over the moon (though it was fun). From this, I concluded that S&M was boring, but the truth is, I hadn’t come close to the extremes that form my preferences. It was years later that I released my need for agony, tears, bruises and blood.

* * *

III. Frigid

As I got older and had more sex, my apparent inability to orgasm became the most toxic secret I had. Most of my closest friends didn’t know. For a while I thought I must be “frigid”, and ripped myself apart over the idea that I was a “frigid bitch”, even though that made no sense. It was ridiculous to conceptualize myself that way — my sexual desire was undeniable, unavoidable. But I had no other words, no other images or stereotypes, that described a pre-orgasmic woman.

When I did tell my friends, it almost never went well. The best-case scenario was a conversation with anecdotal fragments: “I knew a girl,” one friend advised, “who couldn’t have orgasms. Then one day she was tripping, and having sex, and she fell asleep, and when she woke up she was having an orgasm.”

I also found a book on my father’s top shelf, written by a guy who said he could give “any” girl a squirting orgasm. The author claimed that the key was for the woman to be comfortable. He also claimed that the woman had to not know what he was trying to do. In fact, the book explicitly recommended that men prevent their girlfriends from reading it.

Needless to say, it was hard to extrapolate a Unified Orgasm Theory from these tales. The only things that seemed clear were that I somehow needed to both “let go” and to “keep trying”. But how?

Every once in a while I made the mistake of telling someone who was convinced they knew the answer — which was: sleep with them. When I got drunk with one sexually experienced male friend and asked for advice, he insisted that if I’d just fuck him I’d be sure to come. “Anytime you want,” he slurred, “I’ll give you an orgasm. Guaranteed!” The fact that I was not attracted to him was, in his view, unimportant.

Worse was my lesbian female friend who declared that I had “issues”. She said that I ought to sleep with a woman. Ultimately, she turned out to be right that the problem was one of sexual identity, but she was wrong that I was a repressed bisexual. Her campaign to get me to sleep with her ended in a threesome with a guy I had a crush on. I liked bits of that evening, but most of it was boring — if not distasteful. When I tried to talk to my friend honestly about it later, she insisted that I loved the whole experience. She said that I was merely feeling morning-after guilt. “You were totally into it,” she informed me. She was clearly smug with victory, but angry that I resisted her version of events. I felt resentful for years.

I didn’t even tell my partners about my orgasm difficulties until I’d known them for a while, because my secret felt like such Restricted Information: I couldn’t give it to anyone I didn’t trust. I couldn’t abide the idea of “everyone knowing” how broken I felt. I couldn’t stand the combination of pity and fascination that my problem evoked in the few who knew.

When I did get around to telling my partners, that was most complicated of all. I was quite unpopular in high school, and so I was something of a late bloomer — boyfriend-free until my late teens. It took years before I had any confidence in my boyfriend interactions. And because I had no idea how to come and no idea where to start and little idea of how to communicate about sex, I could not give guidance about what I wanted.

I also felt paranoid that lovers would resent me if they felt I was demanding something too “difficult” during the sexual “exchange”, so I downplayed my feelings. I told awful lies like “it’s not a big deal that I can’t come” — lies that broke my heart as I spoke them, but felt safer than the truth.

I did manage to have one orgasm in my teens — one. I’m still not sure how it happened. It occurred one evening when I was incredibly tired, but went out with friends to get a fudge brownie sundae anyway. When I got back, my boyfriend came over and wanted to have sex, and I let it happen — despite being tired and uninterested and full of sundae — because I had not yet internalized the notion that my boyfriends wouldn’t hate me if I denied them sex. I was barely present during the act, but I jolted into awareness when I realized I was having an orgasm. Afterwards, exhaustion overwhelmed me and I fell straight into sleep — so deep that my boyfriend was unable to wake me.

This was puzzling and hard to analyze. What aspects of my singular orgasm should go into my Unified Theory … and which aspects were irrelevant?

The chocolate? Well, chocolate is arguably a mild drug, and drugs help some people come. Also, there were studies that found mild aphrodisiac qualities to chocolate. So maybe.

The position? The position had felt really good but was somewhat awkward, and I felt weird asking my boyfriend to reproduce it, so I didn’t let myself think about the position. (I’m much better at communicating with my partners now.)

What about the exhaustion? It made sense that being very tired might help me “let go”. But I hadn’t been very turned on or enjoyed the rest of the encounter, mostly because I was so exhausted; and I didn’t want to deliberately force myself to have sex while tired. So while the exhaustion might have been a factor, I filed it under “less-than-useful” as well.

I didn’t worry about the problem too much for a while, because I figured that now that I’d had one orgasm, surely it would become easy. I didn’t tell my boyfriend it had happened, either, because I didn’t know how to describe exactly how. I thought I’d figure it out as we went along, and then I would tell him exactly what it took.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. Months and years passed without replicating the incident. Anxiety began seeping back. My Unified Orgasm Theory was not doing well.

My fear of being perceived as “demanding” during sex and relationships was at a ridiculous extreme back then. For example, I’d heard over and over that boys don’t like girls who are “high-maintenance”, so I told my boyfriends that I never wanted them to buy me flowers. I thought that men would feel relieved that they didn’t “have to cater to me”, but they were just puzzled. (One responded by buying me fake flowers.)

Because of the awful shaming stereotypes around cunnilingus, I sometimes refused that too. I couldn’t believe that the boyfriends who were willing to go down on me were actually enthusiastic about it, enjoying it — and when my anxiety became too painful, I inevitably stopped them. I always stopped them long before I stopped enjoying the act, because I was so scared that they hated it, and hated me for wanting it. I was scared that they resented me more and more, the longer they did it and I didn’t come. My fear crept up my spine and twisted around my heart until I had to make them stop.

Sometimes I felt trapped between love and disgust, like with the boyfriend who constantly complimented me on how great in bed I was, but who seemed unaware of how much I felt missing. The worst was when he went off on a rhapsodic list of my wonderful qualities ending with: “… and I don’t even have to worry about giving you an orgasm!” He didn’t see the bind he was putting me in, the awful self-suppression and self-wounding that he encouraged. He seemed unaware that I heard him telling me: “You’re great in bed because you are constantly disappearing your own needs, and never asking anything complicated of me!”

In fairness, I wasn’t giving him any guidance on how to do better with me. In fairness, I had no idea what kind of guidance to give.

They had their own social programming, and I didn’t communicate well. But sometimes I still have trouble forgiving my early boyfriends.

* * *

IV. The Fight

Not all my boyfriends were willing to do as little as going down on me. One, in particular, resisted very strongly; never did it at all. This was an especial problem because he was one of the men I’ve loved most in my life, and our relationship lasted for years. I think well of him when I think of anything other than sex. But when I remember having sex with him, I feel echoes of sick panic and heartbreak.

By the end, every time I slept with him I felt nothing but disgust.

He seemed to prove all my fears: that the men in my life would loathe and resent me if I tried to discuss my confusion and desperation; that they would loathe and resent me if I asked for help with my sexual needs. Towards the beginning of our relationship, I tried asking him (very timidly) to go down on me, and he simply refused. In later conversations he insisted that cunnilingus was “too degrading”, an assertion he made with a weird lack of irony, given that I was going down on him regularly.

As the years passed, my frustration deepened and I started thinking about experimenting more sexually, but I was terrified of mentioning it. I didn’t know what I wanted to experiment with — I really believed that I’d “already tried” BDSM, and that I didn’t like it — but his initial rejection of mere cunnilingus didn’t make me feel confident.

Finally, I got to the point of directly asking for sexual experimentation, and we had the worst fight ever.

I recall that our relationship was somewhat rocky already. One of my journal entries from that time contains the sentence, “I can’t seem to not make him angry when I’m trying to discuss our relationship.” For this particular fight, we were sitting in his room reading when I scraped together my courage and asked for his help in figuring out my sexuality. “Well, what do you want me to do?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but I think there must be some way to find out — I don’t know, there have to be books?”

“That’s ridiculous,” he snapped. “I love you, but I’m not going to read books in order to figure out how to have sex with you.”

It got worse from there. I was crying within the first few sentences. At one point, he outright shouted at me “I don’t care about your satisfaction,” at which point I said, “You can’t mean that,” and he repeated it. Eventually, I simply turned around and walked out of his room. I had nowhere to go; it was a long train ride to visit him, and the trains had stopped running that day. It was mid-winter, and freezing cold. Crying, I put on my coat and shoes and exited the house, onto his suburban street.

I walked completely at random. I was hardly able to see. Fortunately, because it was so cold, no one else was out and about. I muffled my sobs by bowing my head into my collar. After fifteen minutes, I discovered my cell phone in my pocket and tried to call my best friend, but she didn’t answer. I was still walking around crying an hour later, when she returned the call.

She calmed me down and got the story out of me. It was the first she’d heard about my inability to orgasm, and she didn’t know how to advise me because she didn’t have the same problem. Also, it was obvious to both of us that trying to communicate with my boyfriend wasn’t working. It was obvious that there might be no way to successfully communicate with him on this topic at all.

Eventually, after she’d managed to quiet me into a trembling jellylike mass, my friend said gently, “Okay, hon, you need to hang up and go back inside.” She was right. So I did.

When I stepped back into my boyfriend’s room, he was still reading. I could sense from the texture of our silence that he felt bad, though. I was exhausted, I felt like a stiff breeze would blow me apart, but I told myself that I had to set a line. I was sure my voice would waver as I made myself say: “If you’re going to tell me that you don’t care about my sexual satisfaction, then I can’t do this anymore ….”

“I never said that,” he said softly.

I closed my eyes. He would do this sometimes, insist that he hadn’t said words I was sure I’d heard, and it always made me feel like I had gone insane. I knew he’d said it. I’d even responded with, “You can’t mean that,” and then he’d repeated it. But I felt so tired. It had been hard enough to start the conversation. Hard enough to walk around the streets crying for hours.

Maybe I really did misunderstand him somehow; I’ve been over those moments in my head a million times, and I don’t know anymore. Maybe I misunderstood. Or maybe he was falling into a classic pattern of emotional abusers. Maybe he insisted that I was hallucinating in order to confuse me out of protesting: abusers do these things because they work.

What I do know for sure is that when he halted the conversation with a flat denial, I couldn’t bring myself to even try to talk about it again. Couldn’t bring myself to resume the conversation. But I also couldn’t bring myself to break up with someone I loved so much. We talked about other things instead.

And, of course, nothing about our sex life changed at all.

When my best friend called me the next day to check in, I said, “Well, he says that he didn’t say what I thought he did.”

Her silence echoed with disbelief.

“Maybe I just … didn’t understand what he actually meant,” I said, but my words sounded weak even to my own ears.

“Maybe,” she said doubtfully, but she didn’t press the issue.

Even after that fight, I continued dating that man for a long time. I look back now and I can’t imagine how I did it.

* * *

V. Men’s Perspective

The gendered societal pressures that affect men are worth discussing, and worth analyzing, and I often do just that. There is undeniable pressure on men to “perform” sexually, for example. I try to have sympathy for men who feel this pressure — but it is difficult sometimes, because its major effect on my life has been to silence me. To make me feel as though I couldn’t ask for anything sexually. As though I couldn’t express my needs without hurting my boyfriend’s feelings or making him angry.

And even now, when I talk about this stuff, I am as vague as I possibly can be about the exact timeline. The last thing I want is for people who know me to read this and know exactly when I started having orgasms. I don’t want anyone to know exactly which partners “couldn’t perform”. Because I know those men might feel it as a social punishment, and as much as I hate the dynamics at work, I can’t hate the men who were part of them. They had their own social anxieties and their own blind spots and if I didn’t understand what was wrong, how could they?

I recently had dinner with a former partner. At one point we found ourselves having a very explicit conversation, and I mentioned that I’ve figured out how to come. He looked sad and apologized: “I’m sorry I was never able to get you there.” I had no idea what to say.

* * *

VI. S&M, Redux

I finally came into my BDSM identity around age 20. At first, when I was faced with the fact that I wanted to be hurt until I cried and begged for mercy, I freaked out. I had no idea what to do about BDSM, no idea how to feel about it. The only thing I knew for sure was that I’d found something I really needed. But what did that mean for me, when I was also trying hard to be an independent, rational feminist with self-esteem and integrity?

It took me years to parse out my thoughts on feminism and BDSM, to feel comfortable with BDSM, and to talk openly and comfortably about it. During that process, I got better and better at finding partners who were interested in my sexual desires and willing to experiment. I also got to the point of reading sexuality advice books on my own, including books specifically on BDSM (I recommend The New Topping Book and The New Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy; here are some other resources).

And I gritted my teeth, forced down my anxiety, and looked into books about the female orgasm.

One book that came highly recommended from Amazon.com was Lonnie Barbach’s For Yourself. By the time I was halfway through the first chapter, I was crying because what she wrote felt so true. At the end of the first chapter, I put it down and was never able to pick it up again. Barbach wrote compassionately about experiences very similar to mine — for instance: [Are you afraid to talk to your partner about your problem] because you’re embarrassed to ask for what you want at a particular time; afraid your partner will refuse, get angry, or feel emasculated?

But she also ended the first chapter this way: You have to assume responsibility and be somewhat assertive. Our culture has taught us that a woman should depend on a man to take care of her, which means she can blame him for any mistakes. It’s nice to be driven around in a car, but it’s also nice to be able to drive yourself so you can go where you want to, when you want to. But to do that, you’d have to assume some responsibility.

It was the same “let go” and “keep trying” advice I’d been coming across for years, except that now it was wrapped up in a nice package of assumptions about me: implications that I wasn’t assuming responsibility or being assertive. I felt like she was telling me that I chose to depend on a man to take care of me.

Maybe it would have been okay if the rest of the chapter hadn’t been so miserably true, but the combination of reading a bunch of truth about how I was feeling — then being told that I wasn’t trying hard enough, that I was choosing to avoid responsibility …. It was toxic.

I also had the bright idea of asking my gynecologist. The doctor rolled her eyes as I spoke, then told me that the problem was obviously my partners. When I insisted that I needed more guidance, she referred me to a center that gave orgasmic dysfunction “evaluations” at $1,500.00 a pop. I was earning $7.50 per hour at the time. I didn’t go.

I got up my nerve and talked to my mother, who had been extremely helpful and caring when I came out to her about BDSM. During the BDSM conversation, I’d been scared — then I felt immense relief as Mom told me that there was nothing wrong with me, and reassured me that I wasn’t “giving up my liberation”. When it came to orgasms, though, she seemed unsure of what to say. She did at least tell me that she, too, couldn’t come easily, which made me feel a little better.

Most helpful was the therapist I found on the Kink Aware Professionals list — a list of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who believe they understand alternative sexualities such as BDSM. I tried one therapist who didn’t seem to get it, but the second therapist I saw was wonderful. He helped me through an enormous amount of my BDSM anxiety. The orgasm problem was thornier, but he didn’t make any assumptions, and he did listen carefully, which was more than most people did.

My therapist gently encouraged me to get a second opinion about my how my body worked, from a new gynecologist. Irrationally, I didn’t. I suppose I still felt crushed by how the first gynecologist had reacted. I also hoped I’d learn to come as I explored BDSM more — which turned out to be true.

* * *

VII. Figuring It Out

In retrospect, I recognize that I went through a brief period where I had orgasms sometimes — weak ones. But the orgasms were hard to hang on to because they happened during sex with my boyfriend. This would be the same boyfriend I described at the beginning of this piece, when I wrote: now I have the best boyfriend I’ve ever had. but just like every other one, he can’t get me off. big dick? oral sex? tons of foreplay? kink? it’s all there.

Now I see, in retrospect, that not everything was there: neither of us had questioned our sexual assumptions, our societally-determined sexual scripts. And one of the biggest sexual scripts is that sex ends with the man’s orgasm. That the man’s orgasm is the goal.

It’s very hard to think around these scripts. It’s very hard to even be aware of them. So, since my paramount goal during sex was obviously “satisfying my man”, I often pushed my orgasm away due to my focus on him. I knew that if I came then I’d feel tired and less interested in sex (at least for a while). And obviously, if he were to have his all-important manly orgasm, I couldn’t go falling asleep on him could I? I couldn’t even pause to mentally process my sensations if he seemed to be enjoying himself, now could I? Plus, once he’d come, I certainly couldn’t expect him to stimulate me any more than he already had, because he was tired; he’d just had an orgasm!

(These days, one of my #1 judgments of whether a new partner could be good for me is this: if I didn’t come before he did, then does he take a moment to catch his breath, and then turn to me and smile and offer to do what it takes?)

In the end, figuring it out was almost anticlimactic.

I saw an online video from sex educator Betty Dodson called “Did I Orgasm?” … and I realized that I’d been occasionally having weak orgasms already. I was also experimenting more and more with BDSM; simultaneously, I put more and more power into the hands of my fantasy men; and once I had compelling private fantasies to feed on, I couldn’t help masturbating. Here was the key: initially, I’d felt that masturbating in itself involved having too much control over the situation. And that’s not how my sexuality worked.

Oh yes, in practice I take responsibility for my pleasure; and now I’m pretty good at clearly discussing what kind of role my partners will take ahead of time, describing what they’ll do with me. These days, I sometimes take the dominant role, too. But even now, it’s hard for me to come if I feel like I’m in control.

On some level, even if it’s the most tissue-thin fantasy, I usually have to convince my emotional-sexual self that I’m not in charge. It helps if I have an emotional connection with whoever I’m fantasizing about, too. If I don’t have an emotionally involved romantic partner, I seem to automatically create BDSM-themed fantasy worlds with hilariously ornate storylines. Years ago, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t reach orgasm because my internal characters weren’t compelling or my plotlines weren’t dramatic enough … but sometimes it’s true!

In my case, I believe that BDSM is the key to my sexuality. It is as close to the core of my sexual identity as I can get; close enough that, like some other BDSMers, I occasionally call it my “orientation”. But I don’t think BDSM is like that for everyone, and I don’t even think that’s the whole story with me — because during the whole time, this self-discovery process, I was doing things like eating more regularly, keeping a healthier diet, putting some weight on my previously stick-thin frame, and exercising more. Health plays a big role in any kind of sex, and it’s important to think about. Still, even now I can’t come without some thread of dominance and submission, even if it’s an entirely internal fantasy that I imprint on whatever is happening.

When women ask me for advice on how to have orgasms, I feel helpless because there is no “one true way”. I don’t want to fall back on the old “let go” and “keep trying” that I received — it’s decent advice, but it’s so vague. Perhaps something more useful would be this: first, it really helps to have an idea of what you want. I know this can be hard in a society that soaks us with sexual images designed for stereotypical men, rather than images for women (and especially not for non-normative women like myself). And I feel so aware of how patronizing and useless the “you aren’t in touch with your sexuality, that’s why you can’t come” argument can be. Remember, I had that argument used against me by my lesbian friend. But it was, in fact, kinda true for me — just in a different way: I need BDSM.

If you’re not sure what you want, don’t panic. Just keep your eyes and ears open, and try to monitor your reactions. It may surprise you. If it does, don’t worry — just research it! No matter how unusual your sexuality, there is probably information on the Internet about it. (And even if your sexuality is unusual, odds are it’s not nearly as unusual as you think it is.)

My personal favorite sex education website in the entire world is Scarleteen.com, a grassroots feminist effort with an amazingly comprehensive perspective. Scarleteen has an incredible impact on many, many lives. Sometimes I read it just for fun!

Secondly: it may help not to prioritize orgasms. I am not saying orgasms aren’t important; I just don’t want the importance of orgasms to wound you, the way it wounded me. For me, it is helpful to imagine sex as a journey. For me, it helps to focus on having fun throughout, instead of doing what it takes to reach the “goal” of orgasm. If you’re not taking pleasure in the journey — or at least indulging some curiosity — then why keep going? Why not stop and try something else?

Experimenting sexually in an open-ended way has been, for me, the most productive possible attitude. And in fact, once I knew how to make myself come, I discovered that — though it’s helpful to be able to attain that release if I really want to — orgasms aren’t actually my favorite part of sex! There are lots of other things I like better.

It’s also worth noting that our definitions of “orgasm” are fairly narrow. Some research indicates that there may be other ways to conceptualize orgasms than the stereotypical genital-focused approach.

Thirdly, although it’s possible for a person to explore sexuality on her own, relationships can make or break the process. We all make some compromises for romance. But when we compromise, we should know what we’re compromising, and we should think about whether the compromise is worth it.

For me, sexual exploration and satisfaction are incredibly important — but it took ages to develop the courage to put my foot down about them. After my boyfriend shouted at me that he didn’t care about my sexual satisfaction, it took me an embarrassingly long time to end things with him; I really was in love, and we’d been together for years. But my sexuality wasn’t even close to a priority for him, and breaking up with him was one of the best decisions I ever made.

After ending that relationship, I was able to build my self-confidence and self-esteem with new boyfriends surprisingly fast — and my boyfriends helped me more than they probably know. I owe countless small debts to men who accepted my inability to orgasm, took my anxieties about it into account, and sometimes gently pushed me to try new things.

One particular guy comes to mind: I told him I couldn’t come, but that I wanted to experiment with S&M, so we arranged to buy rope and some painful equipment. During our conversation, he gently drew me out on my history, and then he said, “You know what I think we need to go along with this rope? A vibrator.”

I blinked and said hesitantly, “I don’t know, I’ve never really liked vibrators.” But I was willing to try it again, and that’s when I learned that vibrators are awesome. That’s when I learned that what I really need is to convince myself I’m not in charge — that once the correct fantasy is in place, vibrators make everything easy.

Even today, few things make me happier than a man who grasps the tension I still sometimes feel about “being demanding” or “asking for too much”. I communicate with straightforwardness that amazes most partners, but it’s crucial for them to understand that I still have hesitations. That even I, sometimes, need a moment to articulate what I want — or need to be asked whether there’s anything he can do.

Lastly, and most importantly: don’t let go of your boundaries unless you’re sure you’re ready. If you really don’t want to do something, you don’t have to make yourself do it. I’m writing this because when I was growing up, all the sex-positive work I read encouraged exploration at the cost of boundaries, and I think that’s wrong. There were times when that attitude hurt me — for example, I did things I didn’t like because people claimed I hadn’t yet gotten over my sexual “issues”, like my lesbian friend in college. And I know that attitude has hurt other women, too.

I don’t like seeing sex-positive feminism equated with making oneself freely sexually available. Exploring sexuality does not mean you have to ignore your warning bells.

Sexuality is so complicated. Sex cannot be reduced to bodies, or hormones, or psychological stereotypes. Sex cannot be reduced to certainties, to shoulds and shouldn’ts. If I could destroy every force in our lives that drives home ideas of sexual “normality”, I would. Which leads to my final piece of advice: don’t let me tell you what to do. This is just my experience, just my ideas. As with everything, I want you to do whatever feels right for you — as long as it’s among consenting adults.

* * *

VIII. Study Questions!

Here are some things that might be interesting to reflect on:

1) What questions do you have about your orgasm?

1a) Where have you researched the answers to those questions?

1b) Have you ever discussed those questions with your partners?

2) What questions do you have about your partners’ orgasms?

2a) Have you ever asked your partners about their orgasms?

3) What’s one thing you wish you’d said in bed to a partner?

3a) What would have made it easier to say it?

4) What are your favorite sexual acts? Are there other ways you could perform them?

5) What’s the best sexual experience you remember? What made it great?

6) What’s the hottest thing you’ve seen or read? What made it great and are there ways you could participate?

7) Does anything from this article resonate with you? What?

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31 Responses to A Unified Theory of Orgasm

  1. 1
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    With regard to the vaginal pain:

    I’ve no idea about the type of pain you experience but I’ve been with a couple of women in the past who experienced a pain they described as “freakish” and “inexplicable”. One of them couldn’t orgasm because pain would begin and it was agonizing. The other could (and this is what struck me) but described it as “a good thing wrapped in a bad thing”. Your words reminded me.

    Both turned out to have cysts in/on their uterine walls. The one who couldn’t orgasm had larger ones, the one who could briefly had very, very small ones.

    Just food for thought.

    Regarding societal perspective on the “goal” of sex:

    I’m very sorry that’s been your experience. I, as a man, can’t even DENY this is the general societal view whether I agree with you or not, because I’ve seen it go both ways… and fear you may be right.

    I only know it’s not the goal for me. Rather, mutuality across the board, sharing, intimacy. I LOVE orgasms, but mine feel cheapened and worthless unless my partner feels satisfied. I’ve lain there sweat-soaked and utterly satisfied without having orgasmed myself merely because I knew I’d taken the object of my affections and desires on a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride.

    But that’s not PEOPLE in general, men or women. And your suggestion about the social “goal”… well, that’s really something for me to chew on whether it applies to me or not, so thanks for writing about it.

    Thank you, THANK YOU SINCERELY, for recognizing that men are under a lot of pressure sexually. Often I’m left with the impression that recognition of this is practically taboo, and we’re no more supposed to be puppets performing to someone else’s tugs on the string than are women. Really — thank you.

  2. 2
    lovepeaceohana says:

    But this marvelous curriculum did not include BDSM and other non-standard sexual identities. Nor did it include much advice on how to negotiate sexual encounters with my partners.

    Good news! The Our Whole Lives program now does have some pieces dedicated to educating around BDSM and polyamory – they’re in the Young Adult curriculum, which is designed for individuals between 18-35, but I hear that they’re rewriting the Adult Curriculum (35-60ish) to include the information. Woo progress!

    As to the rest of it: thank you, for sharing this. It’s so personal, and so powerful, and as someone who has never had an orgasm without a vibrator, frankly, inspiring.

  3. 3
    Denise says:

    I love this. As a woman who spent the first 25 years or so of her life non-orgasmic, I always love reading about other people who have struggled with the same issues. I felt so alone, so freakish at the time, and I remember having the same struggles with boyfriends. With my first boyfriend I faked it every time, because I had read so much about how men want women who enjoy sex and have orgasms. Then when I finally came clean, oh boy. That was rough. I’ve been honest with boyfriends since then, but most of them eventually reverted to not trying to please me at all, because if I wasn’t coming, then what’s the point? It’s like pleasure is irrelevant without the “big moment”.

    I also enjoyed that video. Even now, I sometimes worry that I’m not “really” having an orgasm, because what I feel doesn’t match what I used to read (and sometimes still do read) in romance novels and erotica. It doesn’t “start at my toes” and “wash over my body in endless waves for what feels like hours” or whatever. It never occurred to me as a young woman who was anxious about having orgasms that in romance and erotica they aren’t describing every day orgasms but imagining what the best possible orgasm ever in life would probably feel like.

  4. 4
    Susan says:

    This whole discussion is so helpful that I’m thinking of recommending it to several dear friends who have confided their difficulties to me. Thank you for posting it.

  5. 5
    Mandolin says:

    Denise: I also think orgasms are just different for people? Like the “washing over in endless waves”–is that referring to multiple orgasms? I don’t have them so that’s just why I always assumed descriptions like that don’t sound like my orgasms.

    Clarisse, I found this very interesting, although I’m not sure my thoughts on it are in shape to write about.

    Just because someone commented about vaginal pain upthread–I used to have vaginal pain regularly during sex and didn’t have cysts or anything; it only recently went away and I’m not sure if that’s because of age or because other circumstances have combined in such a way that we have sex less frequently, so maybe it’s linked to arousal. But I don’t know; I personally have never found descriptions of other people’s pain and their management of it to be very helpful. There are lots of things that go wrong and I understand that talking about that can help people diagnose real problems (and yay for that!)–but none of them described what happened to me, and the people insisting “there’s no pain during sex unless something is wrong” weren’t harmonizing with the gynecologists saying “eh, you’re fine.”

    Also, re: the postscript… I’ve spent some time thinking about why my reaction to it is negative… and I think it’s because there’s probably a lot, a lot, a lot of interesting material about the pressure on men during sex, and that’s probably really compelling and awesome. But something about your friend’s note seems to imply that it’s your responsibility to illuminate that in this piece. And, I don’t feel that. You’re writing about a situation in which a boyfriend told you “I don’t care about your satisfaction”… the masculine socialization is related, but not integral. It’s a tangential post. It’s not that there’s no material there worth discussing, as I said, it just seems like the insistence that this post be all things is kind of part of the narrative that’s always pushing at pieces about women to make them more about men.

    Also, I think when reading about a situation that seems so abusive (and I’ve had friends whose boyfriends used these expectations in very abusive ways)… well, it feels a little victim blamey. He said he didn’t care about your satisfaction, but have you properly reflected on how *he* feels? I’m sure that wasn’t the writer’s intent. But that … unintended subtext?… put me on edge.

  6. 6
    Schala says:

    I’ve no idea about the type of pain you experience but I’ve been with a couple of women in the past who experienced a pain they described as “freakish” and “inexplicable”. One of them couldn’t orgasm because pain would begin and it was agonizing.

    I have pain when stimulated there (in whichever way) when it would be, in theory, coming closer to an orgasm. But it’s so overwhelming it becomes painful, so I ask to stop or stop myself. And generally have no intention of masturbating myself, either.

    I’m not sure if it’s psychological or not. I’m not too attached to my penis.

  7. 7
    Urban Sasquatch says:


    I, too, wonder why you’re reacting negatively to the mention of men’s pressures in the piece. The author didn’t expound on it extensively, didn’t examine it in critical detail. In fact, I think it HELPED the piece precisely because it demonstrates her overall consideration of what SHE perceives as the overall issue.

    That her boyfriends, even if only through neglect, abused her (and the one discussed certainly more than neglect) doesn’t mean SHE lost compassion enough to fail thenceforth to recognize a thing. Her evaluation of “his potential problems” was less about critical examination and evaluation of men, more about her attempts to reconcile herself with the larger picture in a manner that made her overall evaluation and conclusions acceptable to her.

    You’re right inasmuch as the piece not being about men; it’s about HER.

    And coming to grips with what she perceived as all sides of the issue from her viewpoint included, for her, evaluating her stance on that aspect of the matter.

    Don’t look at it as whether or not men deserve a place in the piece; rather, look at it as her story. Her evaluation of it was part of HER story.

    Also, my reference to cysts wasn’t “Oh — HERE’s your problem, you just don’t know it!” It was a suggestion, because it IS something which sometimes slips by in an examination unless it’s specifically looked for. I recounted some of my own experience, NOT suggested that I was offering her solution.

  8. 8
    Jay Generally says:

    You’re such a brilliant writer, Clarisse. I’ve only recently worked up the nerve to stop lurking and start commenting on some of my favorite blogs. I’ve not worked up the nerve to comment on yours yet. My role as a male submissive feels-ah- more derailing than contributive to the better majority of your comment threads. I’m glad that your writing exists to show people that brilliant, articulate persons can embrace BDSM without sacrificing their confidence and awareness of themselves aside from BDSM. You demonstrate that a person doesn’t default on how cool they are by being a submissive and/or masochist and acknowledging it. You’ve been awesome about stating something that I think needs restating over and over in the cliquish surrealism of the S&M lifestyle; pay attention to your warning bells and don’t submit to the snobbish in-circle shaming when you try to bring real life caution to your sessions/relationships. That applies to subs and doms, men and women, but I think submissive women may need to hear it the most.

  9. 9
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Thanks for the thoughts, everyone.

    As a quick mod note about Mandolin’s comment — I believe she’s responding to a footnote that I put in the version of this post that I put on my blog. The footnote is not included here, because frankly, my feelings about the footnote are very mixed and strongly mirror Mandolin’s. So I only included the footnote in the version on my blog, and nowhere else.

    You can see the version of this article on my blog here. You can skip straight to the footnote in question by clicking here.

  10. 10
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    My mistake.

  11. 11
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    Nah, no one’s mistake. Could arguably be my mistake for including a controversial footnote in only one version of the post.

  12. 12
    Mandolin says:

    I think the discussion of male perspective in the original piece is smart and appropriate. (FWIW, I wouldn’t have objected to the inclusion of more stuff about male socialization per se, I mean, if it had felt like something Clarisse wanted to include; I just object to the idea that it’s compulsory.)

    Sorry I didn’t specify that I was responding to the footnote; I assumed it was included. I should have checked.

    Re: vaginal pain… you’re reading into my comment something that wasn’t actually in the text… Although, for the record, I do kind of think medical advice offered in blog threads has a little bit of an edge to it. I don’t blame people for giving it and it can be helpful (which I explicitly said in my comment, so…), but it can also–in total, more than individual circumstances–add to that phenomenon that gets talked about a lot in disability activism circles, where people often offer cures with the assumption that they’ll work, or that the person hearing about them hasn’t heard about them before. My experience with vaginal pain specifically was that advice like this wasn’t helpful. I still understand why it gets offered, and yay when it works, but still, when I get personal medical advice like that, sometimes it makes me sad or frustrated. So you offered a “hey, this can get diagnosed sometimes” and I offered a “sometimes nothing much ever happens.”

  13. 13
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    I feel really torn about that footnote because while I feel like it’s a legit topic and a reasonable addition, I also feel as though I was halfway bullied into including it.

  14. 14
    Urban Sasquatch says:


    The male-inclusion thing: Just crossed wires for both of us. Nothing to it.

    The vaginal pain thing: You make a good point. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  15. 15
    chingona says:

    I also found myself annoyed with the postscript, and I’m sorry you felt bullied into including it. Clarisse, maybe this is because I mostly read you at Feministe and just about every Feministe thread eventually goes like this, but I often feel really frustrated by the way people react to your work. There’s a lot of, “In this very personal and particular piece, you failed to describe exactly my situation in exactly the way I would have described it if I had written about it, which I didn’t, therefore you are bad.” I mean, I don’t always agree with or relate to everything you write, but people seem to be deploying expectations of some elusive “fairness” in a way that seems more designed to stop you from saying what you want to say. Which is crap.

    Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into just dumping on men, but an annoyingly large percentage of men get really pouty at even the most gentle helpful suggestions from their female partners. Even “little harder” or “little softer” or “little to the right” can put some men in a funk. I recently saw “Bridesmaids” and that scene near the beginning when she’s with her hot booty call guy who’s a real asshole and she keeps trying to slow things down and he just wants to bang away as fast as possible is a depressingly common scenario. A few months ago, I read some sex advice column in which three different “ordinary guys” all told the woman writing in not to offer suggestions to her partner because it would make him feel bad. Women need to be able to talk about this stuff without apologizing over and over to men.

    /possibly derailing rant

  16. 16
    Clarisse Thorn says:

    It’s so complicated because I really do try hard to be open to critique, and I want to be able to make space for different experiences. I had a really hard time with some of the sex-positive messages I received growing up, and I’m pathologically scared of creating more bad standards. The road to hell is paved with good intentions!

    So I always tell myself that I need to not react defensively when people are having angry reactions to my work, and I need to take it as feedback that will help me successfully communicate and help people. But it’s really hard to calibrate that reaction, too, because sometimes it basically means giving in to people who don’t like what I’m saying at all, or who are trying to co-opt my message into something I don’t believe. And you’re right, my work is almost always very personal, so it can be weird on other levels as well when people insist that I ought to portray things differently.

  17. 17
    Susan says:

    Anyway, I don’t want to turn this into just dumping on men, but an annoyingly large percentage of men get really pouty at even the most gentle helpful suggestions from their female partners. Even “little harder” or “little softer” or “little to the right” can put some men in a funk.

    I certainly don’t want to dump on men, some of my best friends are men, some of my children and grandchildren are men, I’m straight, I adore men. (No, really, I’ve been accused of it. One guy once said to another guy of me, “Well (rather darkly) she certainly likes men.” When this was repeated to me I said, “Great, he’d rather I hated the lot of you?? What does this mean??”)

    But the men you reference, can someone explain to me why we are having sex with these men you describe at all?

    Of course I misspoke myself. I said “we.” I for my part am not having sex with men like this. I’m hoping that no one is offering such suggestions to rapists, so I’m assuming these are voluntary encounters? What is voluntary can rapidly become not-voluntary, right? as in, “well actually I’d rather not.” Perhaps we should just be more choosey, y’know? (I can think of no quicker or more effective way to improve male behavior.)

    If the man is close to you or married to you or you have some emotional investment in him for some reason you could give him a break, throw him a rope and explain why not. But it quite escapes me why anyone should tolerate sexual encounters which don’t work for them on account of how the other person is being pig-headed.


    Clarisse, ignore the critics, your thing is great. I’m constantly in trouble on this site because I’m not feminist enough or not precise enough to every person’s individual Thing or whatever. You have to grow a thick enough skin, here as everywhere, to believe enough in yourself to tell your own story (which you have done here magnificently! thank you!) regardless of what everyone else thinks.

  18. 18
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Clarisse, you can never please all of the people, let alone all of the time.

    Your piece demonstrated to me that you’re capable of a thing most believe they are but few actually accomplish: Introspection and honest self-critique, fundamental evaluation of your own processes.

    Some women will cheer you, others revile you — and all of this regardless of what you write.

    Same with men; your piece made me think. It will make some think only in terms of venom.

    Remember that writing is for sharing our thoughts with the world but is also for the sake of voicing our own explorations.

  19. 19
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    What would the angry reactors have for a justification?

    If you can’t be self-centered when exploring your own sexual desires, when the hell CAN you be self-centered?

    It’s reasonable sometimes for one’s partner(s) to demand a certain level of disclosure or accomodation, IF it’s made in the context of a mutually fulfilling relationship (of whatever type) AND IF the demands are appropriate for the type and depth of the relationship in question. But even in that setting it’s more about disclosure, not limiting the internal wonderings of your partner.

    Anyway, I don’t feel qualified to comment on the rest. but I just thought I’d chime in against the haters.

  20. 20
    Mandolin says:

    Clarisse, for what it’s worth, I think you do a very thoughtful job of balancing critique and your own pov, at least from what I’ve seen. It’s impossible, of course, to do it correctly, since there is no correct, and probably every way you do it will involve lots of successes and some inevitable errors, half of which you’ll never be able to distinguish from each other. :-P Which I’m sure you know, but general cheers and support, etc.

    When I was in my early college years, friend dated this guy who thought he was a good lover. & if she didn’t tell him he was, he’d threaten suicide. So, if he wanted to do a sex act she didn’t want to do, it would be “you’ll enjoy it” (and if you decline, I’ll kill myself), and then if it hurt, it would be “oh, well, I guess I’m just awful at everything then!” (and consequently will kill myself.)

    I’ve no doubt that he was genuine in his misery, and I know that no threat of suicide is idle. But I talked him down several times (which involved hours of “no, you’re *so* great, so much better than you think you are, so much better than alllll the other guys, I promise”) and his girlfriend had to do it at least once a week, often more. After which, he always wanted to have sex (with her, not me), which was its own…

    Anyway. I have an uncommonly strong growl reaction to male performance pressure stuff. (EDIT: Or, no, not to the idea that the pressure itself is there, and sucks, and that people want to talk about it. But to the idea that women *just don’t understand* and everyone in bed must tiptoe around this problem rather than, like, addressing it.)

    Which isn’t to say that I doubt it’s a problem. Although–is it exclusively male? I remember being under the illusion that my mere nearby nakedness was supposed to cause instant erections in my lover, and not just on occasions which were unusual or when we were already het up, but like all the time. And he’s supposed to like explode with joy (…explode, oy…) as soon as he touches you. And he’s supposed to make you come–but you’re supposed to do the writhing, slightly gaspy mouth, panting, joyjoyjoy face that you’ve already written about, and you’re not supposed to ever have any pain (except the first time! which hurts so delicately! “be gentle with me”). & I know I’ve talked to lots of women who feel like they can’t take too long to come while being fingered or–especially!–licked because ew, you’re making him spend time there, so emasculating, how could any real man enjoy that? So you feign, or you lie stiff as a board (light as a feather) which makes it even harder, and maybe it starts to hurt, or maybe you start thinking about tomorrow’s classes, or maybe you’re just watching his face, wondering why you suck so badly… until he stops trying permanently?…

    Anyway. It’s not like women aren’t under intense pressure to Be the Perfect Lovers (and have The Perfect Sexy Bodies, and and and and). But I’m unaware of when that translated to “you can’t tell me what you like or I will wilt like a dessicated bloom in an unfriendly desert.”

  21. 21
    Urban Sasquatch says:


    That has got to be THE most extreme case of not performance anxiety but IDIOCY I’ve ever heard in my life. Rather than being “talked down” what that person needed was a cold, hard slap upside the head by an adult.

    I do NOT say that by way of criticism toward your actions during that time; it’s only with the perspective of an adult I’m able to say what would have likely done some good. I recall all too well thinking I was “handling things” as a college-age individual all those years ago because like everyone else my age, I was operating from the basis of what I’d acquired by then, NOT from the position of having garnered years and years more experience.

    However, you’re an adult now, and to say that because of this you have an unusually strong growl reaction to mention of male performance pressure… that’s a lot like saying you’ve decided you cannot abide Germans because of having met Hitler.

    One of my own early life lessons occurred when I was 15. A friend of mine was agonizing over some teenage drama (which no doubt both of us would now deem a passing trifle) and I was trying to reassure her. She whirled on me and berated me with “YOU can’t possibly understand! There’s no way YOU could ever understand the depths of MY feelings!”

    And with that she stalked off.

    I stood there agape for a couple of seconds before indignantly thinking “Who is SHE to say that *I* can’t understand the depths of HER feelings? *I* have the REALLY deep feelings! I’M the one who feels things keenly! There’s no way SHE could ever understand the depths of MY –”

    And then it hit me what I was saying.

    It was an abrupt introduction to perspective genuinely beyond my own and I spent a long, long time mulling that over, seeing life very differently thereafter.

    Over time I’ve realized much of it may very well be regional, far more than I once might have speculated or believed. Nevertheless, I’ve encountered some dreadfully BAD female individuals in my life who have truly done many of the awful things about which loads of male whiners lament, the very things at which other women sniff in scorn, flippantly retorting “Well I’VE never done such a thing, and neither would any of the women I know!”

    It’s just that as an adult with a few years behind me and a genuine drive to NOT live that way, it’s up to me to STOP reacting by saying “Oh YOU think
    YOU’VE got pressure? YOU don’t have pressure. Let ME tell you about PRESSURE, pal!” About the only possible response to that would be to agree, and say “Thank you for setting me straight. I now know my own POV and feelings do not merit actual consideration and I don’t actually count. Got it.”

    You see, Clarisse? You can’t please everyone, so write as you THINK and FEEL, and accept that sometimes you’ll glance back and wonder whether you did it right.

    After all, Mandolin is one of my favorite posters here, VERY considerate overall… and WE don’t agree all the time, occasionally with fervor!

  22. 22
    Mandolin says:

    Did you read the edit to my post, Urban? (I added it about 30 sec after posting, but sometimes people get comments mailed to them rather than reading them in the threads)

  23. 23
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    No, Mandolin — I hadn’t caught that. It DOES change the perspective some.

    And while I KNOW I’m unusual in this, I always figured I couldn’t become a better lover unless I KNEW what I was doing both right and WRONG. I’ve gotten some harsh, and even unwarranted criticisms in my life, cruel even; but then again, those weren’t the women I wanted or needed to stay with.

    Alas that men and women alike are great at finger-pointing but not listening, eh?

  24. 24
    Mandolin says:

    With the edit included in the text (and you may not have been reading it with the edit included, so…), I don’t see how your reading (as suggested by your comment) is valid… I mean, maybe if you still haven’t read the postscript on Clarisse’s blog? Which remains part of what I’m responding to?

    Anyway, I specifically rejected the idea of male performance anxiety as unique, yes. Women also experience performance anxiety. I also said that I reject the idea that part of the conversation about male performance anxiety should be that women just don’t understand it (I think we have a better idea than one might assume from a privileged position, really, most media being presented from a male pov and all that).

    I don’t, um, think it’s fair to Godwin me.

    Also, this exchange reveals some of the downsides of internet advice–slap him? Not get involved in the first place, yes. After my experience with him, I watch for the kinds of danger signs he put off (which won’t keep me from all abusive men, but may keep me from encountering another one like him). Slap him and I might be dead. I realize that the context of my earlier comment did not include that he was very, very sick, delusional, paranoid and violent, with a high government security clearance and access to military guns, and that even my attempts to disasociate from him led to threats and further attempts on his part to isolate my friend. But, you know, I mean, that’s kind of my point. A lot of these things have layers beneath what’s initially been said. The situation is rarely so simple.

    Again, I realize the advice is mentioned with good intentions. But suggesting I handled the situation incorrectly–and should have handled it as you said–sort of inherently assumes that you know more about my life and what happened than I do, even in the limited context of anecdote. If I had been asking for advice, the anecdote might have included more necessary information that you’d need to advise me properly, but in this case, all I did was supply the facts that were relevant to the discussion. I was not, after all, asking for advice.

  25. 25
    Mandolin says:

    Fair enough. Sounds like wires got crossed again. :)

    Not that there’s no difference of opinion, but I think it should clear up the more dramatic stuff.

  26. 26
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    You ARE right that “male pressures” can come across as professedly “unique”. I think this is a bit of unjust “backlash” because it tends to be discounted so often these days unless it’s by the “what about teh menz” crowd.

    However, you are absolutely RIGHT that there is pressure to perform on women as well, and I don’t discount that.

    When it comes to performance, I’m more part of the “personal accountability and mutual understanding” crowd. Then again, I’m a rarity.

  27. 27
    Urban Sasquatch says:

    Also, “slap him” would have been a job for an adult male, not a collegiate female. Just as there is some advice women will only accept from women, the same applies for men. NO, that would not have been a good idea for you, and not what I meant.

  28. 28
    Cross Cultural Comparisons says:

    Try Karezza. Its the whole-body-no-orgasm-orgasm technique.

    Read Cupid’s Poison Arrow.

  29. 29
    Mandolin says:


    Try the not being condescending in comments technique.

    Read “don’t assume other people have no knowledge of basics on the subjects about which they are speaking” 101.

  30. 30
    Helen says:

    I love this post so much – going to save it for the future. Thanks so much for posting.

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