A Sexologist’s Thoughts on Orgasm Day

OK, first I want to apologize for skipping National Foreplay Day, which was yesterday. But—sorry-not-sorry! Because separating foreplay from the rest of sex means we run the risk of skipping or devaluing it—we already know that for some people, foreplay is merely an “extra” that can be dispensed with. And dispensing with foreplay can really ruin your National Orgasm Day festivities.

Not only that—the very word “foreplay” gives us the impression that something more important will follow. But when we elevate intercourse that way and undervalue the arousal activities that precede it, we leave people with the impression that intercourse is the very definition of sex. And you know what, I hear that all the time. Someone enjoys a blowjob or a very hot and orgasmic heavy pet and says, “but we didn’t have sex!” Yes, you did!

And there’s this: The acts that we loosely call foreplay are often THE ways same-sex partners do their sex thing. Not only that, these are the erotic acts more likely to result in orgasm, especially for people with clitorises. So let’s honor them today, right along with orgasm!

Now, here are my wishes for International Orgasm Day.

I wish that more people knew about orgasm’s association with sexual arousal.

Several useful insights flow from this: If a person isn’t aroused enough, they likely won’t come. This might be a function of how long sex play has gone on, but it’s not a “last all night and drive your woman wild” kind of thing. If what’s happening isn’t arousing enough, extending its duration doesn’t help! The way to an orgasm is almost always “increase arousal.”

I wish more people knew about intercourse’s orgasm deficit.

The “orgasm deficit” is shorthand for the fact that not all people are equally likely to come in a sexual situation. And the people least likely to orgasm—this is science, people, I am not making this up—are heterosexual women, and this is almost certainly because so many heterosexual couplings focus on intercourse as the culminating (or sometimes the only) sex act. But intercourse doesn’t always result in orgasm for people with clitorises—in fact, it’s more likely not to. Clits and penises work essentially the same way, and clits don’t always get stimulated enough during intercourse. It’s comparable to trying to make a person with a penis come by rubbing the area next to it.

I wish people knew that it’s possible to talk yourself out of an orgasm.

If a person is too nervous, distracted, up in their head, and/or dealing with shame or triggering thoughts, it’s very likely the orgasm fairy will not come. Wondering if you’ll stay hard, wondering if you’re going to come this time, worrying you make a funny face when you come, hoping your partner isn’t thinking about their ex… all these things and more are mental exercises that derail orgasm.

I wish more people would add blended orgasms to their sexual repertoire.

A blended orgasm is one resulting when more than one erotic area is stimulated. If you have more than one hand, you can try this yourself at home! Stimulate one part (let’s say penis or clitoris) and then add stimulation of another part—vagina, anus, nipples, explore it all! Adding another source of erotic pleasure often raises arousal and makes orgasm more likely and more pleasurable. There’s an easy way to try this during intercourse, too—add some direct clitoral stimulation (or indirect, if you’re the sensitive type).

I wish people would stop faking orgasm!

I know, it’s your prerogative. There are good reasons why someone would choose to do this. But its effect is always to let a partner believe that something worked that, well, didn’t work. We are teaching our partners to be less successful lovers when we fake it, and I would prefer to teach excellence, savvy, skill… and comfortable communication.

I wish more people knew that there isn’t just one way to orgasm.

Too many people still have an idea about what “normal” sex and orgasm looks like. It may look that way for you. But I guarantee it looks different to someone else—many different ways to many people. Staying wedded to one normative idea probably prevents plenty of people from even finding their own path to orgasm in the first place! And it can lead us to put down partners whose arousal and orgasm path isn’t what we expect. Let a thousand flowers bloom!

I wish more people felt good about giving themselves an orgasm.

At Good Vibrations, we’ve been saying it for years: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Solo sex play is great in so many ways—including that you learn a lot about yourself when you do it, and you’re always there for yourself on a Saturday night! So why do so many people still think masturbation is second best? It is the fundamental way we can experience sexual feelings and orgasm. Let’s give it a hand! (Or two, if we’re going for a blended orgasm.)        

Oh hey, do I sound a little cranky? I don’t mean to be—I just want people to receive good pleasure-based information about sex, and it’s so frustrating that we still live in a society that skips all talk of pleasure in sex education. Pleasure is your birthright, but there are still too many people writing the rulebooks who think it’s somehow dangerous to acknowledge it. By the time some of us untangle the reasons why we don’t have enough pleasure in sex, a lot of wasted time has passed. Let’s all appreciate sexual pleasure on Orgasm Day, whether we’ve had orgasms yet or not. Almost everyone can be orgasmic if they learn enough about themselves and what they respond to. Today is a great day to start that journey!

And one last thought for you: Don’t just celebrate this fine holiday today. May the spirit of International Orgasm Day stay with you all year.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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