Some myths and half-truths about orgasm
When you sit down with a therapist, you are carrying all your past sexual experiences, both positive and negative, and you will very likely be carrying some messages of shame, from home, school and adulthood. Those messages are matched in influence by the ones you receive from the media and society around you every single day. (Whether this receiving is fully consensual is debatable.)
Orgasms as commodities
You may have grown up in a culture which encourages an obsession with achievement for its own sake, without any guidance on how to manage your feelings around this. In this arena, orgasms can become confused with possessions and goals.
Seeking your own definition of pleasure
To define your own pleasure and reject these influences is therefore a radical act. But you have a hefty selection of myths and half-truths to get past while you figure out who you are sexually and what you want from your sexual connections. Here are some of the more pervasive ones that relate to orgasm:
1) You’ve got to have orgasms
In a goal-obsessed culture, if an orgasm is not obtained and owned, it can create a sense of inadequacy and failure, a kind of vacuum, which is a source of fear and anxiety for both giver and receiver. Ditto with solo sex.
2) You’ve got to have orgasms that are the same as the ones the people shouting the loudest are having
If your orgasm isn’t as noisy or expressive as the next person’s, there must be something wrong with you. Never mind that our experiences are all different, as is the way we report them. Sexual responses (and genitals for that matter – and the inner body is as various as the outer) are as varied as any other aspect of the body, and yet we are expected to have a textbook identikit experience.
3) Your orgasm has to be via your genitals
Rather like penis-in-vagina sex, the peak genital orgasm is promoted as the one true way. This ignores the fact that the body has many ways of experiencing pleasure and intimacy, through breath, sound, and movement, as well as touch. We are rarely taught about other forms of pleasure in mainstream culture and you are unlikely to find out about them at school or via a doctor. If your response is different, or you get more powerful bodily responses from other practices, such as kink/BDSM, this may be seen as a deficiency that needs fixing.
4) Your orgasm has to be via your genitals in a specific way, or it’s wrong
History is full of the ‘wrong kind’ of orgasms. Clitoral orgasms have been called the only true kind, but also ‘immature’. A penis owner, it is said, must ejaculate at orgasm, cannot have multiple orgasms, and will fall asleep afterwards. On top of this, we are taught that vulvas are complex and penises are simple; that women are hard to please and men are easy, and, increasingly, that a woman must ejaculate every time, and when she does, sex is over. There is an almost limitless number of benchmarks to compare yourself to, and goals to fail at.
5) Your orgasm must have an identifiable peak that is observable by another, or it didn’t happen
Much is made of ‘ability to let go’ as if this were a superior personal quality. At worst, calling someone ’repressed’ is used as a method of coercion. In fact, we experience ongoing challenges to our self-esteem and bodily autonomy from our earliest days. We are constantly told that we must live up to impossible ideals, in both our appearance and economic productivity. I can’t think of a more effective way of preventing the state of truly ‘letting go’ than this. Women are sometimes blamed for ‘frigidity’, and men for inability to ‘get it up’ – for being unable, in the moment, to overcome social pressures that are as ubiquitous as the sky.
Actually, in some belief systems, peak orgasms are said to deplete energy and are to be avoided, or experienced only rarely.
6) If you can’t reach peak orgasm with a partner, no one will ever want to stay in a relationship with you, and it means you are insufficiently experienced
A partner may have told you that you are unlovable because you aren’t having enough – or any – obvious peak orgasms. For sure, we can all benefit from learning how to open ourselves up sexually, but the person who told you that is unlikely to be the right partner for you.
7) If you can’t give your partner a peak orgasm, no one will ever want to stay in a relationship with you, and it means you are insufficiently experienced
Sexual technique needs practice, but if a partner is blaming you for their lack of orgasm, they are unlikely to be the right partner for you.
8) Orgasms are your birthright
You may think you ‘deserve’ lots of orgasms because some magazines and websites said so. But I’m not sure that this is helpful when we are all so different, physically and mentally. Feeling that your rights have been denied if you don’t orgasm is not helpful, and may even affect your self-esteem.
Myths have their own counter-myths, and despite everything I’ve said above, the idea that orgasms don’t matter at all may hold you back from exploring your sexual self. What I’m talking about here is the way we can fall into endlessly trying to fit into categories of orgasmic ‘normality’ in ways that do not promote our well-being. Once you start to dismantle the misinformation and ‘rules’ you might have absorbed from a young age, you will very likely find your sexual world opening up in ways you may not have imagined. For some, relationship/sex therapy is a useful tool to help with this.
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About Tania Glyde
Tania Glyde is an author turned therapist who specialises in sex and relationships, gender and sexual diversities, and addiction/recovery. She is also part of the group practice London Sex and Relationships Therapy.