Orgasm School: How I Learned to Own My Big O

Only 30 percent of women regularly have an orgasm during sex, and a full 10 percent have never had one. Lauren McKeon gets schooled in the art of the climax

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It wasn’t that I’d never orgasmed. Yet my moments of sexual climax were few and far between. For me, having an orgasm was a bit like running into an old friend—rare and unpredictable, but pleasant whenever it happened. And I could wait years in between meetings. At 30, with three years of marriage under my belt, I knew things had to change or else I’d be doing the Sally Albright forever, something that felt like a disservice to both me and my husband.

As a journalist, I was comfortable speaking about other people’s sexuality, but the idea of talking to a room full of strangers about my own intimate hang-ups made me feel queasy, like a microscopic gymnast was doing back flips inside my stomach. When Carlyle Jansen, owner of the Toronto sex shop and sexpert extraordinaire, invited me to participate in a workshop about learning how to orgasm, it was as if another, braver part of me said yes.

Many personal pep talks later, I arrived at Good for Her’s sold-out class, which took place on the upper floor of the store. At 20 women, we were a diverse, multicultural group. I was surprised to see ages spanning from 20- to 50-something, and even more surprised to learn that 75 percent of us had never orgasmed, not once, though none were virgins.

One woman, Lori, later told me she’s in the process of divorcing her husband of 16 years. He was the first, and only, man she’d ever slept with. “When our marriage ended,” she says, “I wanted to find out what I was missing.” She wasn’t the only woman who’d gone through a marriage without ever achieving the satisfaction her husband regularly had in the bedroom. Others said they kept dating men who were convinced they’d have the magic touch—they’d be the ones to give these women their first orgasms—but when they failed, they swiftly left. One striking young woman told the group she would spontaneously orgasm while stirring a pot on the stove, but had no idea how to replicate the effect during sex or masturbation. A lot of us divulged feelings of shame—we felt like we were the only women in the world who couldn’t get this orgasm thing.

Even I discovered I was carrying more shame than I thought. At the beginning of the workshop, Jansen asked us to fill out a questionnaire without thinking too much about the answers. Some of my responses shocked me. Next to “good girls,” I filled in the blank with “do what they’re told.” Next to “bad girls,” I scrawled, “often don’t.” When asked to describe my genitals, I wrote that they’re “just there,” and when asked how my partner finds my genitals, I could only come up with “OK.” (Who says genitals? Like, “Honey, do my genitals look sexy in this?”) Next to “Some fantasies that I like are” I put an ellipsis, comic-book speak for “I have no clue.” And when asked which fantasies I didn’t like, I wrote, “I just realized I don’t have any fantasies.” Was this normal? For too many women, it turned out, it was.

Roughly 10 percent of Canadian women are unable to orgasm, a condition called anorgasmia that’s often attributed to both medical and psychological issues—it’s not necessarily permanent, but there’s no catch-all “cure,” either. Even women who can climax often don’t orgasm during intercourse—according to many studies, only about one-third of women do so regularly, and about 90 percent of them say their problem is a psychological one. Jansen says she didn’t have an orgasm until after a boyfriend dumped her when she was 28. She bought her first vibrator shortly after. They remained friends, and eventually she asked him if the reason he’d split up with her was that she couldn’t orgasm. He admitted it was; he always felt like a failure for not pleasing her.

“I was very studious,” she later told me about learning to orgasm. “I was like, OK, I’m going to make this work, but it took me six months before I could use the vibrator and not feel shame—I didn’t even know the shame was there until it went away.” It took all those months of repeating, This is my body, this is my choice, it’s my right, I’m not harming anybody, this is perfectly fine. When she asked how many of  us could relate, every woman put up a hand. We all struggled to get outside our heads during sex and enjoy what was happening with our bodies.

Later, Lori and I chatted about this amorphous sense of shame. “Women in general,” she mused, “are sometimes afraid of their sexuality.” We’ve figured out how to look or act sexy, but for some of us it’s like we’re playing dress-up in our mothers’ makeup: we can’t quite figure out how to make it authentic. Another woman at the workshop, Beth, put it to me this way: “It’s like I have two personas around sexuality.” One is the confident, super-sexy type of woman we see so much in modern media—the one who is dominant and aggressive in pursuing sex. The other one freaks out when it’s time to follow through; she feels incompetent and unsure. Many women, like Beth, have internalized the societal pressure to look like a Barbie doll but never act like a slut—to look good, but not feel good, to be sexy but not sexual.

Related: Anything Goes: Exploring the Sex Party Scene

At the workshop, we learned about vibrators and dildos, giggling as we passed around a buzzing Hitachi Magic Wand, which looks like a giant white microphone. We watched educational videos about the G-spot (it’s not actually inside your vagina, a fact that surprised many women) and looked at diagrams of our own anatomy. Jansen even brought out a giant vulva puppet that resembled a bizarre Sesame Street clam. It was black, burgundy and gold. Through it, we learned various masturbation techniques, such as pushing the clitoris in all different directions. Jansen called it “Rock Around the Clit Clock.”

At one point, we were paired with whomever was sitting next to us. Jansen told us to spend a minute or two instructing the other woman on how to touch our forearm. It wasn’t meant to be sexual; we were trying to practise communication through finding the exact perfect touch, whether it was Fuzzy Wuzzy Bear circles or light tickling or alphabet writing. Jansen encouraged us to tell our partners how much pressure to use, how many fingers, where on our arms to touch us and so on. We were told to give one point of positive feedback—something we liked—and one point to get closer to perfection, over and over again until we achieved it.

Self-conscious about giving and getting an arm job, I made stuff up, and my partner called me out for faking. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do the exercise; I’d just never thought about how I might like another human being to touch me, including my husband and everyone I’d ever dated. As Lori remarked in our conversation, women can spend a lot of time thinking about what they’re supposed to be doing, not what they like: “How are you supposed to be with him? Are we supposed to be like porn stars? Are we supposed to look like them? Are we supposed to make the sounds that they make?”

I wasn’t the only one who had trouble with the touching activity. One woman said she started to cry during it, her eyes watering as she spoke. “What do I want?” she confessed. “That’s not an easy place for me to go.” Another woman said, “When I’m having sex with someone, I’m always checking in, always asking if what I’m doing feels good. I never thought about turning it around.” During the goal-setting portion of the workshop, Jansen suggested we each practise the exercise with our partners at home for 20 minutes, whether during sex or, say, a massage. Every single one of us balked: “Can I start with 10 minutes? Maybe five?” When it came time to state my goal, I promised Jansen I’d start trying to break down my self-imposed sexual barriers. A few weeks later, I took a first step and spent a small fortune on my first-ever sex toy, a We-Vibe. The U-shaped couple’s vibrator is meant to provide extra stimulation to the clitoris and G-spot during sex. Seeing it out of its package and thrumming, I was instantly dubious. “Can we start with just five minutes?” I asked my husband. Seconds later, he smiled as I reevaluated. “Oh. Maybe 10.”

 

 

 

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