22 Dec 2014

More on Pleasure and Pressure

I wanted to give a shout-out to this excellent Bustle article, titled "Are Vaginal Orgasms a Myth?" for summing up the conflicting anxieties about their sexuality to which modern women are subjected. Situated somewhere between Cosmo, self-help guides, porn and reality, the pursuit of female pleasure remains a complex one. As Gabrielle Moss points out, even women who feel that they're pretty in touch with their sexuality are still made to feel like failures for not being able to tick certain boxes (pun sooo very intended) "I think of myself as someone with a pretty good handle on my genitals, literally and figuratively — I can knock out as many as 15 normal orgasms a day...But I’ve never been able to quite wrap my arms — or legs — around the issue of the vaginal orgasm. And yes, it bothers me."
I think it bothers a lot of us. Considering yourself liberated from the socially imposed toxicity of body shaming and sex negativity, which bombards us with so many conflicting messages that a logician would weep - be sexy but not for yourself! Act sexual but don't have sex! Have sex but only do it to please men! Have multiple screaming orgasms but only so your partner feels manly! Actually wait, don't do any of that, cos that means you're a big whore! - is a precarious state to occupy. It can so easily be unseated by an unwelcome piece of information about the type of sex acts that everyone else is performing, or the kind of orgasms everyone else must be having, or pretty much anything that you're not doing. Because our society is prescriptive. It likes to tell us what we should be doing, and make us feel bad if we're not doing that thing. A big reason for that, I've always been convinced, is capitalism. Satisfied people don't buy stuff. Anxious, afraid people who constantly fear being deemed inadequate buy lots of stuff to try and address that inadequacy. But there'll always be something newer, shinier and better to aspire to. And that's how the money machine keeps on churning.
So what is the relevance to sex? Well, as Moss puts it, our culture is highly invested in keeping women in a state of perpetual anxiety about their sexuality. If we were to stop, hang up our vibrators and say "Whew, 15 orgasms in a day, I think I can leave it there!" then Ann Summers, most women's magazines, lingerie manufacturers, porn producers, sex therapists and sex manual authors would all go out of business. As Moss also points out, there is a long and pretty sexist tradition of women's orgasms either being disregarded altogether, or ignored if they don't originate from penetration of the vagina by a penis. Women have both feminists and sexologists to thank for deconstructing this myth, otherwise we might still be lying around wondering why our experiences are nothing like those of the women in porn, who Moss notes always unfailingly "exploded into screaming orgasms if you simply penetrated their vaginas." I'd also like to blame Sex and the City for perpetuating the latter myth, as there seem to be hours of footage of Samantha climaxing from just a few thrusts while magically never touching her clitoris - there may be some ways in which that show was feminist, but in terms of realistic depiction of how women come? BIG fail.
And yet, as Moss writes, there's still always another study emerging that says vaginal orgasms are real, and if you haven't had one, well damn girl, you just can't be trying hard enough! And as she also goes on to say, "The problem with most of the advice out there about how to have a vaginal orgasm is that a lot of it amounts to “Figure out how to have a vaginal orgasm, and then go have one.”
Yupppp. I'm so glad someone has finally said this. Cos you know what, supposedly friendly dispensers of sex advice? I KNOW where my G spot is. Funnily enough, I know where everything is down there, as one would hope after 31 years in this body. I know what makes me come, and what leave me utterly indifferent, and what actually just chafes. And do you know what pressing on my G spot does?
I'll let Moss answer this one:
"I read New Age guides to finding your G-spot, but all jabbing around at my vaginal walls ever did was make me have to pee." 
And speaking as someone who already has an overactive bladder, that is in no way ever, ever fun.
That's the problem, though. Pretty much all sex advice on trying to have a vaginal orgasm ends at the point of finding that supposedly elusive spot. No one dares suggest that once you've found it, touching it may not only not feel orgasm-inducing, but may actually feel kind of uncomfortable and weird. Someone really needs to address the false epistemic leap between "find G spot" and "amazing sensations will follow". After all, given the right instructions, I'm sure I could locate Glasgow city centre - but actually having a good time there? Well, that just may be something you can't guarantee.
So why, as Moss wonders, will no advice on vaginal orgasms ever just fess up and say  that if touching your G spot "doesn’t feel pretty darn good, you are shit out of luck; you don’t have any sensitive tissue there, and you’re definitely not going to have a vaginal orgasm. Sowwy!”  Why, she asks, do even supposedly feminist and female-friendly sex toy stores such as Toys in Babeland, refuse to "admit that there is a chance that you are just not built for this?"
This is where sex positivity is a double-edged sword. The expectation that our bodies perform like three-ring circuses is not feminist, or sex positive - it's prescriptive, limiting and attempts to shoehorn the preferences of 3.5 billion individuals into one-size-fits-all advice. But being a feminist and having sex with men can be a tricky balancing act. As Moss writes "My boyfriend knows I have stowed away my attempts to have a vaginal orgasm in the same box in the attic where I store my old Von Dutch hat and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle DVD, but I knew part of him was always bummed about it." Yup, I hear that. Sounds like the similar kind of 'bummed-out' that men have experienced when they find that however diligently they attend to me (or think they're attending to me...), they can't get a screaming porngasm out of me without my help. And it is frustrating. It would be lovely for sex to involve simultaneous orgasms, but c'mon, it's like expecting the same behaviour out of a dog and a cat, and whoever propagated the idea that sex is only good if both partners go off like rockets at the same time really does need putting up against a wall and, if not shooting, then at least smacking around with a large vibrator for a bit.

But the guilt is pernicious. Moss says that her partner was clearly subject to a different angle of the same pressure, feeling that "If he were a real man, a “good lover,” he’d be able to “give” me vaginal orgasms, the same way that if I were a “real” woman, I’d be able to have them." As heterosexual feminists, we want to balance the importance of the world knowing "YO, FOLKS! VAGINAS EXPERIENCE PLENTY OF PLEASURE THAT AIN'T GOT SHIT TO DO WITH HAVING PENISES INSIDE THEM!!" with the fact that we have sex with men and we enjoy it. Because it's not a zero-sum game - just because you don't experience vaginal orgasms (or indeed, if like Moss and I, you question whether they even exist) it doesn't mean you don't enjoy penetrative sex per se. C'mon, there's a reason a lot of vibrators are man-shaped - and it's not just about the phallocentric patriarchy, because women don't generally waste their money on sex toys that fail get them off - it's cos they feel good. It was Germaine Greer in the 70s first pointed out that orgasms with something inside you can feel a helluva lot better than ones without, but why has this idea since been twisted to mean that women should be seeing God just because someone penetrates our vaginas but does nothing to our clitorises (or should that be clitori??)?

As Moss puts it, "Vaginal orgasms are like the AP exams of sex: a totally nonsense test that claims to measure your worth and actually measures nothing, but a test that people get obsessed with nonetheless." And it's that kind of obsession that is the most sex-negative of all, because it stops you seeing sex as fun, and makes you start seeing it as a goal-oriented box-ticking exercise. Which is precisely the opposite of what feminists have been fighting for in the battle to free women's sexuality from being viewed as nothing other than something to please men, or something to censor, or repress, or punish, or commodify. Everything else in society is already a test for women - our appearances, our relationships, our careers, why subject our private pleasure to the same insane scrutiny? "Who was I trying to impress with my vaginal orgasms? My boyfriend? The ghost of Sigmund Freud? God? I’m pretty sure all three already think whatever they’re going to think of me, and that a hands-free orgasm isn’t going to change anything. It was just going to change me into a crabby monster who hated sex."

I'm glad Moss wrote this article, because it speaks a lot of sense that's just simply not heard enough among this cacophony of sometimes well-meaning, sometimes deliberately undermining, sex advice for women. So I'll leave the last words to her:

"I can’t have a vaginal orgasm. Maybe you can’t have a vaginal orgasm, either. And you know what? Who cares. 
It doesn’t make you more or less liberated, more or less sexy, more or less fun. Being able to have vaginal orgasms doesn’t make you a special little flower — that’s a conspiracy ginned up by old-fashioned sex advice and porn. Don’t buy it. Because whatever kind of orgasm you’re having? It’s already perfect." 

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