When I was maybe 21 or 22, I found out that a female friend of mine regularly orgasmed during sex, without any help of a hand, mouth, or toy. I was astonished.
“How?” I asked.
“What do you mean how?” she responded.
“Like… how does that happen?”
I didn’t even know what I was asking. It had literally never occurred to me before that real-life women could feel so much pleasure during sex, with so little anxiety, that they just REACHED ORGASM.
To me, this was like hearing that Cinderella was real, and that she and her prince lived just down the street. It was mind-boggling.
My personal experience with orgasm at that point had been more of a desperate chase to offset the never-ending “blueball” feeling I was so used to, of having a lot of sex with no climax.
No other human had ever been involved in my orgasms. Sometimes someone else was present, sure, but I seemed to be the only one motivated and capable of occasionally making this difficult, annoying, mostly-broken thing (my orgasm) happen.
For every 20 sexual encounters I had– even in long-term, caring relationships!– I might have (maybe) had one orgasm, given to me by myself, and usually achieved after a tediously long period of desperate trying.
The truth is, until a few years ago, I didn’t feel much sexual pleasure, or much sensation at all.
I could feel turned on, certainly. Very much so. But I had absolutely zero connection to my own pleasure, and measured how “good” sex was by how much pleasure my partner seemed to feel.
Since I was literally completely numb in certain parts of my body (including my vagina) I focused my attention on other things, like being adventurous AF in bed.
I would try pretty much anything, and was really proud of being a girl with such diverse and kinky sexual experiences.
Looking back however, I can see how clearly this adventurousness was a compensation; a replacement for the sexual sensations and pleasure which I couldn’t experience.
Being able to experience pleasure took over a decade of healing for me, and unfortunately I’m not alone in this.
While I don’t shy away from talking about the effect that early childhood sexual trauma had on my sexual identity, it would be a mistake to say that those traumas were the only reason I couldn’t feel sexual pleasure as an adult.
I can also trace my lack of pleasure to the messages I was given as an adolescent, about being “jailbait” for older men, which was always intended to be a compliment but was actually an incredibly dark threat.
I can trace it to the fact that every single partner I ever had eventually disregarded my pleasure as an inconvenience, a chore, or simply not his job, because it was so complicated and difficult. I cannot tell you the damage this message did when I internalized it.
“There’s something wrong with me. I’m broken.”
I can trace it back to every time I rushed through foreplay to get to the “main event,” because I thought that’s what every guy wanted, and I didn’t want to burden him with the “warm-up” stuff since I wouldn’t enjoy it anyway.
I can trace it back to every time I gave a blowjob to keep the guy from escalating his whiny/angry pressure to have sex, so as not to have “led him on” or “left him with blueballs.”
I remember enjoying the fact that I had so much power over him, but something inside me retreated a little further every time.
I can trace it to every time a sexual partner tried to act out his porn star fantasy role, saying ridiculously stupid things like “yeah you like that, baby?” and I would roll my eyes into a pillow and think nope, not really and kinda mumble “mmmhmmm” because I knew I was supposed to.
I don’t know what it’s like for men, but I know that for women can experience sexual trauma even when we have given our consent.
We can feel threatened even when “nothing actually happens.”
We can freeze and retreat inward, even as we put on a “sexy” performance that our partners neither notice nor care is just smoke and mirrors.
And trust me when I say that all these experiences and many more are why so many women struggle to feel sexual pleasure. (Particularly heterosexual women, since it’s been shown that the orgasm gap doesn’t exist among same-sex women.)
This poem, written by a young woman I worked with, broke my heart. It resonates painfully in my bones, and reminds me of how many women in our culture have experienced sexual trauma in all of it’s forms.
We must talk more openly about this.
Many women have experienced some kind of sexual trauma, from overt violation to subtle threats of violation, to the vicarious trauma of knowing that something bad happened to someone else.
Also, most women struggle to feel as much sexual pleasure as they want. These things are not unrelated.
This is a sucky situation for girls and women.
For me, sexual pleasure and sensation didn’t show up until I had done years and years of healing, and in my private coaching practice, sexuality is very often a topic my clients have to examine, process, and heal as well.
Why is our society like this? What can we do about it?
Self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-love, and self-trust are all a big part of the healing solution, because having a body whose messages we hear and honor will keep us from being in many of the squicky situations that perpetuate our sexual self-identity as interchangeable objects and pleasure-givers.
But how can we teach our girls to be both sex-positive and self-positive, from an early age? And what about the men? What do they need to know, or understand, or do differently?
For the record, I now strongly believe that a woman’s sexual pleasure is one of her greatest sources of power and magic, and that feeling regular, ecstatic sexual pleasure is our goddamn birthright.
I also believe that being a woman who feels truly safe, seen, loved, relaxed, and desired enough to experience profound sexual pleasure is not only good for us (duh) but also good for men, our family, friends, and communities, and our progression as a human race.
As such, I’m committed to continuing to open up dialogues around sexuality and sexual pleasure, and dragging this traditionally shadowy topic into the light of day.
If any of this hits a nerve for you, or you’re currently struggling with numbness, dissociation, trauma, or wanting to feel more sexual pleasure, please be kind to yourself today, and know that I’m here for you if you need me.
And for anyone who is currently in the depths of your sexual healing: I salute you. This shit is hard, and heavy, and scary, and painful, and also so, so worth it. Keep going.
Yours in powerful healing,
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