There's a YouTube video making the rounds of a flash mob inspired by the famous deli scene in the popular movie When Harry Met Sally. The whole restaurant suddenly erupts into woman after woman feigning orgasm. The reactions of the wait staff and the other customers tell us a lot about the evolution of women's sexuality over the last several decades.
I’ve been working in the area of women’s sexuality since the early 70’s and have seen many changes over the years, but what’s happening now is just amazing! Some women who haven’t had their attention on their sexuality are now making it a priority. I think this is partly because the baby boom generation is starting to reach menopause and there’s some sense that it’s now or never to fully experience their sexuality. I also find that with younger women there is finally sufficient support for deeply confronting their sexual trauma and alienation. Women of all ages are feeling more empowered to discover who they are sexually. They are less afraid that saying “yes” means they’ll no longer be able to say “no.”
A lot of women have used sexuality as a bargaining chip with men. They know they have something that men want and they use it to get their needs met. This leads women to the conclusion that sex is really for men. Even after all these years of raising women’s consciousness and feminism, the deeply held belief that women’s sexuality exists mainly for the benefit of men has remained. While engaged in sex, women have been preoccupied with the pleasure enjoyed by the man. Her orgasms are for his pleasure!
More recently, when women began putting the focus on their own pleasure and their own deeper desires and needs, they sometimes were told, “Your orgasm is your responsibility. I’m here for me and you’re here for you.” The message was “be self centered like me.” But if women actually do this, or put sexual demands on a partner, or try to use him as a masturbation machine, the man often fails to cooperate. In general, men haven’t been conditioned to play this role in the way that women have. The exception is that men who’ve been sexually abused as children often have the same challenges as women in claiming their sexual sovereignty.
I’m going to switch gears here and shift from talking about men and women to talking about masculinity and femininity. What I’ve said so far is partly about the way our culture has created the experience of being in a man’s or woman’s body. We all have both masculine and feminine energies, so what I say next could be equally true for both genders depending upon which energy they’re connecting with at the moment. I also want to say that I’m aware that it’s somewhat arbitrary which energies we can masculine and which we call feminine.
I’m going to go with the cultural conventions here with the understanding that masculine and feminine represent a polarity where the masculine primarily derives satisfaction from giving pleasure and the feminine primarily derives satisfaction from receiving pleasure. The masculine primarily desires to penetrate and to let go and the feminine primarily desires to be filled and to contain. Obviously, we can all experience and express our sexuality in both of these ways, sometimes even simultaneously if we are very masterful.
Coming back to the conversation about men and women now, when the woman is preoccupied with the man’s pleasure to the extent that she isn’t in touch with her own pleasure, or perhaps is even faking orgasm, she is inadvertently depriving the man of the joy of giving to her. While it’s possible for the man to be so focused on the woman’s pleasure, he’s cut off from his own sensations, it’s much more likely to go the other way around. I’m not man bashing here, that’s just a fact.
Men have been socialized to believe that they should be experts in sex and of course he wants to believe that he’s an ideal lover. The woman knows that her role is to reinforce that notion, so if the man assumes that she’s come, she is unlikely to set him straight. It’s hard for the man to say, “Hold on, are you really enjoying this?” He’s too busy performing and proving himself. If he doesn’t have any basis to compare what it’s like to be with a woman who is fully present with him and erotically fulfilled, he may never know. There are some men who may not have much experience but who do have the confidence to trust their own perceptions and feelings. But even if he’s aware the woman isn’t fully engaged, what can he do if she denies it?
Women are often afraid to be truthful, or simply don’t know themselves what’s possible. The woman may also feel pressure to perform and prove herself a sexy—but not too sexy—woman. Most people don’t realize that the feminine needs to first to feel safe, comfortable, intimate, and in touch with her sensuality before she’s ready for genital stimulation. She may be afraid to say that she needs more time. She may be afraid to show her real feelings if they don’t fit our pictures of what’s supposed to happen in bed. And she may be afraid to hurt her partner’s feelings by telling him or her that whatever they’re doing isn’t turning her on. This situation is especially challenging if she doesn’t know her body well enough to suggest another option, or if her past experience is that her partner is not open to coaching.
No wonder women end up faking orgasms! It can easily look like the best option. The obvious consequence is that you don’t get to have a real orgasm, but that’s just the beginning. When I was in my twenties I was not exactly faking, but let’s say wildly exaggerating, and was lucky enough to get called on it. The man was very disappointed in my lack of authenticity. That was a significant lesson for me. I realized that I wanted to be with men who were aware enough to see through the pretense, and who valued transparency, so faking didn’t get the results that I wanted.
The consequences may be even worse if the guy doesn’t catch on. As the woman continues to do what’s expected, her resentment builds. She loses respect for the man. There’s no real intimacy. It ends up killing her authentic sexual appetite. Not only does she miss the opportunity to discover what kind of stimulation would really be satisfying, but she develops a storehouse of anger and nothing kills sexual connection faster than anger.
If she’s gotten aroused, but again and again doesn’t orgasm, genital armoring may be present. Dr. Wilheim Reich, the founder of somatic therapy, developed the concept of body armoring. When it specifically impacting the genitals, we can it genital armoring. Body armor is a defense mechanism of the body—the muscles, the nerves, and/or the connective tissue—where chronic tension results in constriction. It’s a protective mechanism shielding us from both physical and emotional pain, but we end up with even more pain, or numbness, and often forgetting the reason why we created these body patterns in the first place. Genital armoring may result in either hypersensitivity or numbness and occurs in both men and women. Usually, we need to find a way to release the armor to restore optimal sexual functioning. To be continued.