Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Simultaneous Orgasms and Other Annoying Literary Tropes


Let’s get one thing straight right now: I’m all over female orgasms. While I’m not necessarily convinced we should make sex as orgasm-centric as we do, I’m nonetheless a big fan of folks valuing women’s sexual pleasure. Heck, in my opinion, unless a woman says otherwise, I think pursuing her orgasm should be a given.  

Peeps haven’t always been so big on women’s orgasms. In fact, Freud popularized the rather – how should I put this delicately? – dumbass notion that women have two orgasms, clitoral and vaginal, and that only vaginal ones are truly adult, mature, and womanly. Mature women, he noted smugly, should only climax through penetration. Heck, even that malarkey was a step up from the Victorian belief that sex was one big, necessary evil step in securing procreative orgasms. Well, men’s orgasms, anyway.  

Convenient, that.

Given the cultural history of orgasms, – or, more precisely, the devaluation of feminine ones -- I dig how most romance novel sheroes almost always achieve orgasm during lovemaking. Go, Team Woman! It’s definitely a step up from this 1894 advice to young brides: While sex is at best revolting and at worse rather painful, it has to be endured, and has been by women since the beginning of time.”

However, I can’t help but think if we’re finally writing about female orgasms, we also might want to do women a favor and not dress them up in fairy tale princess clothing. Sure, many women reading these novels want an escape from partners whose knowledge of female orgasms remains confined to the squawking and flapping of actors with names like Mandi Rugmuncher. But hey, wouldn’t it be kinda cool to provide some escapism along with enough reality to empower women to acknowledge their right to genuine sexual pleasure?

The first thing I want to nix in romance novels is simultaneous orgasms. I have three main problems with them:

1. In romance novels, they usually happen during intercourse and without any extra stimulation, which lends itself to the tired myth that most women (as per Freud) can or should have vaginal orgasms. Truth time: 75% of women cannot achieve orgasm without clitoral stimulation. Sorry, folks – women have multiple sites of pleasure below their belly buttons. 
2. It continues the tired cliché that intercourse is the ultimate act, the home run, the point of no return. For many women, penetration is merely one nice platter in the sexual buffet.
3. Simultaneous orgasms? How often does that really happen? I mean, honestly?*

I get it, I do: Simultaneous orgasms give writers a shorthand for symbolizing the perfect coming together (yes, you may groan at the bad pun) of physical and emotional intimacy. Also, I imagine, especially for writers like me who hate penning sex scenes, it allows us to represent sexual pleasure without breaking down the acts into a mechanical lesson on how to please one’s partner. It’s difficult, at least for me, to straddle the lines between sexual intimacy and porn. In this way, simultaneous orgasms can act as an abbreviation for sexual soul matery.

Except, well, they just don’t happen in real life. Or not very often, anyway. And it’s not a matter of lack of emotional intimacy; as mentioned above, it’s sheer biology. Given all the cultural craziness surrounding women’s jollies, why would we want to saddle women with even more ridiculous expectations?

While we’re at it, can we also eliminate mentions of feminine orgasms during intercourse? As I mentioned above, vaginal orgasms are actually pretty rare, and women have historically suffered when they couldn't achieve them (read: the dreaded “frigid” label). I think we authors could become superhero activists by realistically representing women’s sexuality, including reminding our women readers that they have the right to demand their partners get to work and make sure everyone in the bedroom finds equal satisfaction.

Studies say 68% of adult women fake our orgasms. I would like to think that my novels don’t contribute to the cultural pressure for women to put their partners’ needs above their own.


* Okay, I did a brief Internet search and discovered this very unscientific poll that found 11% of women report having experienced simultaneous orgasms.

4 comments:

  1. I just read an article the other day in which the author concluded that the reason there is a perceived disparity between the sexes' desire levels is because men are so unskilled at sex, and who the hell wants to have sex with someone who can't please them? Good points here.

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    1. I've often thought this, LJ. And it's not really men's fault, or at least not entirely. We leave in an androcentric AND a phallocentric culture. Historically, sex has been defined by the actions of penises. Men just aren't taught what to do when their penises either aren't involved or aren't the center of the action. Sadly, neither are women; we have the incentive to learn through personal experimentation.

      We need better and more honest education. Also, a less androcentric culture wouldn't hurt.

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  2. Go Elle! I second your call for realistic sex. If you can left go of 'what should be,' then the whole experience becomes much more enjoyable for everyone. We'll just have to recreated a whole new cultural expectation!

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