In every intimate encounter I have, I’ve learned to expect what I call the “inevitable question,” aka “Did you have an orgasm?” In this particular incident, it came the morning after my second encounter with a man named Calvin as we laid in his bed contemplating what to order for breakfast.
“So about what you said last night,” said Calvin, “do you really not have orgasms?” “Oh, I do,” I said. “But not from sex.” There was a brief silence as Calvin stared at me, probably trying to piece together what he just heard. “Don’t worry though, I enjoyed it,” I added. And I was telling the truth. I really had — why else would I go to all the way to Brooklyn in the middle of the night?
Yes, I’m a 23-year-old woman who can’t orgasm. No, it doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the sex.
In the seven or so years that I’ve been sexually active, I’ve had more or less the same conversation with many different people. I’ve repeated it so many times that I once jokingly told my friends I should start carrying business cards that say, “Yes, I’m a 23-year-old woman who can’t orgasm. No, it doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the sex.” But even if I did hand out said business cards, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference, because the trouble usually begins after I tell a partner I have orgasmic dysfunction.
According to the National Center For Biotechnology, 11 to 41 percent of the world’s female population, like me, deals with orgasmic dysfunction. It’s a condition that occurs when someone has difficulty reaching orgasm even when they’re sufficiently aroused and tends to be more common in women than men. Some people with orgasmic dysfunction can’t reach a climax no matter what, while others only can when certain and specific conditions are met. In my case, I can orgasm only through masturbating, preferably with a vibrator.
I first decided to look into my issue at the end of my sophomore year in college. I had just gotten out of an extremely unfulfilling relationship where sex happened often but orgasms never did. I didn’t expect them to either — I didn’t like the guy very much. And yet, after that breakup, neither the introduction of new partners nor the occasional hour I would spend masturbating would produce a climax. A deep-dive into sexual health websites and a quest I went on with a helpful sex shop attendant led me to buying my first vibrator and making peace with my “condition.” Yes, I had difficulty reaching an orgasm, but it was normal, and I was OK with it. The men and women that have been my partners over the years though, they were another story.
It was no surprise to me that men seemed generally more affected by me saying, “There is no way you’re giving me an orgasm,” considering 80 percent of women have admitted to faking an orgasm at least once in their lives. There was an ex-boyfriend in Seattle two Summers ago, for example, who would ask me every single time after sex if I came. Hearing that I did not, he got more and more insecure and resentful. His insecurities brought the eventual end of our relationship. And the women I’ve been with were generally much more accommodating and understanding, though not always. There was a beautiful woman this past Spring who enthusiastically went on a date with me, yet grew cold finding out she could not make me come despite her best efforts. She stopped returning my calls after that.
I eventually realized that as long as someone possessed enough self-confidence, my inability to orgasm was no detriment. A boyfriend this past Summer looked at me after learning I wouldn’t climax without my vibrator and said, “Well, bring it out then!” Another time, a woman at whose place I was spending the night rushed to the bathroom to wash one of her vibrators, came back, and triumphantly said “We are going to get you off!” There were also countless others who made sure to check in with me multiple times during sex, just to be absolutely sure I was enjoying what was happening.
I ended up enjoying Calvin’s company, so we made plans to see each other again. The next time I saw him, he told me he thought about what I had said and he had an idea: “I think if we can get you to relax, and if you tell me what you like, I think we can make you come.” And who knows, maybe some day, we can.