Anorgasmia—A Pleasureless Existence?
Given the overwhelmingly positive response i’ve had to my series on vulval pain, it’s becoming very obvious to me that what we’re being told about sexuality and gynaecology—what should happen, how it should happen, what’s normal, how stuff works, who does what, what’s wrong, what’s right, etc. etc. etc.—is near enough completely at odds with lived experience.
So, with that, i’d like to expand my focus on vulval/pudendal genitality and sexuality.
First up is a guest post authored by my friend Captain Labia. This is not, unfortunately, her “real name”, but for privacy reasons she shall be known by her superhero name. She has anorgasmia and will shortly (fingers crossed!) be beginning psychotherapy.
If you would like to pass any messages on to Captain Labia, please do so via my Ask Box and i will make sure she gets them.
Anorgasmia—a pleasureless existence?
Anorgasmia is a condition, affecting both men and women (mostly women), that prevents them from reaching orgasm. To put this into perspective, about 15% of women report difficulties with orgasm, and as many as 10% of women in the United States have never climaxed, while many women who orgasm regularly still only climax about 50-70% of the time.
All over the world there are people with this condition for any number of a variety of reasons. For some its is a physical inability due to paralysis, spinal injury, diabetes, MS, Cardio-vascular disease, drug and alcohol addiction, pelvic surgery or trauma, while for many others psychological distress triggers it, most commonly noted are caused by an individual’s incidence of rape and sexual abuse.
Male impotence has gained attention for centuries, but it has only been since the 1960s and the beginning of the sexual revolution that female orgasm has gained its rightful place in our attentions. For this reason the treatment of anorgasmia is relatively new and somewhat surprising. While in some cases changing medications and repairing nerve and tissue damage (as much as is physically possible) is the way forward. One woman took part in an American clinical trial of a device fitted to her spine which engaged the orgasm reflex for her. When her husband was given the controls she described it as “the best foreplay I’ve ever had”. In other cases fixing the psychological “negative learned response” is far more complex and far more self-directed.
Most patients are encouraged to engage in masturbation to allow themselves the freedom to explore themselves and their sexuality without the pressures of the presence of a partner, slowly introducing the idea of allowing another person to engage in this with them. Without published recovery rates it is difficult to quantify my own experiences into facts. There are however, many sex therapists that specialise in this area of psychotherapy and the success rating they each claim is impressive.
When I tell friends that I have Anorgasmia it’s always a tough subject to discuss. Many don’t understand it while others make broad assumptions about me, my partner and our sex life. All of my sexual partners have tried to “cure” me, making childish remarks about previous partners. It’s a condition where it is easy to point fingers and often as a sufferer it is easy to point fingers at yourself. In my case Anorgasmia stems from sexual abuse I suffered as a child. Now an adult, my “negative learned response” is to deny sensation when I lose control or to push my partner away. This learned fear controls many sufferers while in others it manifests in other ways with the orgasm remaining elusive despite significant and sufficient stimulation. Unsurprisingly, this has caused such problems as anorexia, depression, self harm within my life and has broken up many of my intimate relationships.
This makes life as an anorgasmic sound unfulfilling, frustrating and sexless but it is far from it. It would be incorrect and insulting to be labelled as an asexual person, likewise an asexual person would find being labelled an anorgasmic incorrect and highly presumptuous. In my case, having never experienced an orgasm it is not a sensation that I can actually miss. While I know there are those out there who feel betrayed by their bodies (something which I feel from time to time and continue to struggle with) I am still able to enjoy the sexual experience and it is something which I long for and enjoy. As a self confessed serial monogamist I love my partner and because of that our sex life is intimate, enjoyable and pleasurable beyond and regardless of whether or not orgasm ever happens for me.
The stigma in our society is that to be a “whole person” one must first have experienced orgasm. I find this view insulting and entirely vacuous. It is also non-representational of the population and ever growing number of anorgasmic’s within the population. In a pleasure orientated society it is easy to lose yourself in promises of ecstasy and all too easy to overlook the realities of the lives of others. I have come to accept that orgasm may or may not happen for me and that is the bottom line for me.
P.S. In spite of my “autovaginadentata”, i still have really great sex.
That’s two fingers up (pun definitely intended) to anyone who says heterosex has to involve vaginal penetration to be good.
ok i’m going to ask some detailed, very personal questions, which you don’t have to answer if you choose not to. i am afraid i’m dealing with the same condition and i’m not sexually active, and i feel very daunted that i can’t be in the future because of this. how do your sex partners or potential sex partners react to you not being able to be have penetrative sex? have you had any long term relationships, and did not being able to have penetrative sex affect that relationship in any way? how do you usually tell people, that is if you do? thank you in advance
Firstly, i want to say that i absolutely encourage you to seek treatment if it’s causing you a lot of worry. Not only from a sexual perspective but from a freedom perspective—for example, whilst i don’t really think i’m missing much in the sex arena, i’d really like to be able to have the option of using tampons because sometimes using pads can be really gross. Riding a bike can also be painful for me.
There are lots of treatments available—psychosexual counselling, pelvic floor exercises, steroid treatment, drug treatment to address the chronic pain aspect, anaesthetic treatment, graduated dildo treatment… i could go on. If it’s troubling you, please go to the doctor.
I’ll try to answer. A lot of the answers cover multiple questions—i’ll try to keep it as logically-structured as i can.
"How do your sex partners or potential partners react to you not being able to have penetrative sex?"
It varies. There are three people with whom the topic has come up.
Person A, who i was involved with around the age of 16/17 (and on and off into my twenties, but that’s… the folly of youth), was quite understanding at the beginning, because he put it down to my being a virgin and being nervous rather than an actual medical problem. I thought that’s what it was, too, and i thought it was “normal” that virgins feel pain when they have sex, so eventually i ended up gritting my teeth and letting him do it, thinking that’s what all virgins have to go through. I saw him again at the age of 19 and he was less patient… and i was drunk… so again i let him. On both occasions my vagina tore. Let that be a cautionary tale. I got officially diagnosed at the age of twenty and from then on was quite adamant with him and anyone else that there’s no way i’m putting myself through that sort of torture just so he could blow his load. He was a bit of a tool about it.
Another guy, Person B, was pretty whiny about it. But on the other hand (as i will cover in the answer to the next question), it also allowed him to blame me for his sexual shortcomings…
"Have you had any long-term relationships, and did not being able to have penetrative sex affect that relationship in any way?"
As covered in the previous answer, i guess there are three pertinent “relationships”. With Person A it was less a long-term relationship as a serially short-term relationship sustained over a period of four or five years (a sort of friends with benefits thing)—and i’ve detailed how sex with him worked above.
With Person B it started off as a casual thing but degenerated (and that truly is un mot juste) into a long-term relationship characterised by my: feeling like shit nearly all the time, getting drunk if i knew i was seeing him and trying to break up with him for a year before successfully accomplishing it. It took up two years of my life.
I can’t/won’t share many details, but one pertinent point i should stress is that he was (still is, i’ve heard—but if i never see him again in my life it will be too soon) extremely overweight. He ate like crap and was extremely unhealthy, which meant that he had trouble getting/keeping it up, for starters. He also has an unusually small penis. This was exacerbated by what i think is known as “buried penis syndrome”—he was so fat that the fat on his groin sort of engulfed his penis and made it appear even smaller. These factors combined meant that there was little to no chance he could get it up/in anyone—but my problem meant that he could pretend his problems didn’t exist. Anyway, i hate him.
At this moment i want to pause to say that i know that person B is anomalous and that most men are not actually phenomenal dickheads who i wish would rot in hell.
For example!! I am currently dating a guy—this doesn’t really count as a long-term relationships but i want to end on a high note so please forgive—and the sex is great. Best sex i’ve ever had. My self-hating pussy isn’t even an issue. I cannot stress that enough. It is not an issue. Sex is so, so, SO much more than lying back and thinking of England whilst a dude rams his piece up your vag. There are so much alternatives to PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex.
The 69, whilst it can be distracting (“how can i focus on sucking this cock when what’s going on with my cunt feels so good?!”), is often an underused weapon in one’s sexual arsenal. Speaking of arse… I know plenty of women who very much enjoy anal penetration.
And, of course, your sexual activities and pleasures don’t have to be simultaneous. I really like giving blowjobs, and it means that i can focus on making my partner feel really good without worrying about my own orgasm. Likewise, he really likes going down on me. We can take our time—neither one of us has to worry about whether we’re going to come “too soon” or “too slow”. It’s great. And a boon is that i don’t have to really worry about getting pregnant, either (although i’m really a belt-and-braces girl on that front so i’m on The Pill, too).
Sex isn’t about following a script or a rulebook or something. If it feels good and you both want it, do whatever you like.
"How do you usually tell people, that is if you do?"
With the person i’m currently seeing, it didn’t coming up until he asked about it—asked if i was nervous about penetration. And told him honestly what the deal was. I’m quite open about it with my friends when we talk about sex.
I hope these answers have helped. I really would encourage you to seek treatment if this is distressing you—but i will also emphatically state that it doesn’t have to be a “sexual” problem if you don’t let it—you can have a fabulous sex life without vaginal penetration.