Searching for a Unified Theory of Orgasm: Part Two

Clarisse Thorne had an orgasm once. Then, she couldn’t have another.

This is the second post in a four-part series from Clarisse Thorn that we’ll be posting over the next two weeks. It’s divided up into eight sections, and we’ll be posting two at a time. You can check out Clarisse’s original post, in its entirety, at her personal site.

♦◊♦

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 15 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.

Read the full, original post here.

—Photo AnnieGreenSprings/Flickr

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Super Villain or Not, Parenting Paranoia Ensues
The Garbage Man Explains Happiness
How To Not Suck At Dating

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Clarisse Thorn

Clarisse Thorn is a feminist sex writer who has given workshops all over the USA. She wrote a book about masculinity, dating dynamics, and sex theory called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser; she’s also got a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist. Recently, she released an anthology about sexual assault in virtual worlds called Violation: Rape In Gaming. Clarisse has also explored fiction with short stories like The End Of An Age: A Ramayana. To stay up-to-date with Clarisse’s work, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Wow. Your ex boyfriend obviously didn’t care at all about satisfying you sexually…then had the gall to make you feel guilty/crazy about it? I’m very glad that you’re not with him anymore. Good for you for asking directly for what you wanted, however timidly. It’s not an easy thing to do. Thank you for your story!

  2. “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.”

    From all what you said, it seems to me it was mostly due to a deep lack of self-esteem.
    But, having read some of your blog, I think you’ve realized it by now. And you got back most of your self, thank God.

    PS: Again, thank you for your honesty and courage. :)

  3. “At one point, he outright shouted at me, “I don’t care about your satisfaction,””

    This cut even me… and he didnt say it to me! But I’ve felt this from someone I’ve loved and it is the most disappointment I think I’ve ever felt. I’m glad you’ve overcome this and moved on to something better. Its unfortunate when these things happen in life. But we cant appreciate the good things without having experienced the bad.

Trackbacks

  1. […] [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ] Filed Under: Featured Content, Sex & Relationships Tagged With: B&D, BDSM, clarisse thorn, masturbation, orgasm, S&M, Sex and Relationships, sex education, sexual identity, sexual orientation, vaginal pain About Clarisse ThornClarisse Thorn is a feminist, sex-positive, pro-BDSM educator and international explorer who has designed lectures, workshops and events for a variety of audiences, including New York’s Museum of Sex, San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, and several universities. She writes about sexuality for a number of online venues; blogs , and Tweets. […]

  2. […] [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ] /* post_widget("#but1"); Filed Under: Featured Content, Sex & Relationships Tagged With: BDSM, clarisse thorn, identity, men, needs, orgasm, partnership, relationships, S&M, sex, women About Clarisse ThornClarisse Thorn is a feminist sex writer who has given workshops all over the USA. She wrote a book about masculinity, dating dynamics, and sex theory called Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser; she's also got a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist. Recently, she released an anthology about sexual assault in virtual worlds called Violation: Rape In Gaming. Clarisse has even explored fiction, with short stories like The End Of An Age: A Ramayana. To stay up-to-date with Clarisse's work, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter. […]

Speak Your Mind

*