Freeing the Female OrgasmPosted: November 15, 2013
Spoiler Alert: Details from Episode 6 of Showtime’s Masters of Sex are revealed in this blog post.
There are a lot of orgasms happening on the TV show Masters of Sex—mostly in the name of science. At a hospital during the late 1950’s, women and men are climaxing in their bodies both solo and together so that the two lead characters, William Masters and Virginia Johnson, can study their sexual responses.
You would think that with so many people climaxing, no particular orgasm would stand out. Yet in Episode 6, one female woman’s sexual release was so profound, I had to write about it.
Played by the wonderful Allison Janney, Margaret Scully is in her fifties. She is lonely in her longtime marriage and has no idea why. Her sex life with her husband is nonexistent. When she finds out about Masters & Johnson’s study, Margaret goes to sign up.
Only Masters & Johson won’t let her. Margaret has never had an orgasm and they can’t test her response to sex if she doesn’t have one.
“But I’m a fast learner,” Margaret tells them. “I taught myself Italian.” Still, they turn her down.
Margaret leaves their office. The expression on her face when she gets in the elevator is one of humiliation and hopelessness.
When a handsome doctor hits on her a few nights later—her husband won’t even go to the movies with her—Margaret willingly joins him in the back seat of her car. And when he enters her body and she climaxes for the first time—it is to an orgasm bursting as much with ‘Oh, thank you, God, ‘ relief as it is with the ecstasy of pleasure.
Watching Janney’s Margaret made me think of one of my earlier semesters in college when I lived with seven other women and how all they wanted to do together was talk about was sex—how they weren’t getting any sex, how they weren’t getting enough sex, how the sex they were getting wasn’t even that good. But more than wanting to have sex, what most of them wanted—longed for—was to have an orgasm.
Even though most of them had been having sex for a while, only one of them had ever climaxed. The rest of them could only talk about it and hope that it would happen to them.
Because I was still a virgin at the time, I didn’t have a lot to contribute to our conversations at first. I remember being astounded that so many of them had never come during sex.
What was going on? Didn’t orgasms just happen whenever people have sex, just like on TV? Or was climaxing like winning the lottery—you either got lucky with it or you didn’t. Which one was I going to be? I mean, if six out of seven women who were sexually active had never had an orgasm before, maybe this wasn’t that uncommon?
Sitting up late in our pajamas, we sounded like typical, sex-curious coeds. But looking back I can see that beneath all the commiserating and joking around about getting laid was this authentic yearning to experience sexual pleasure and a great deal of worry what it might mean about us if we never did. (I have since lost touch with my housemates so I never did find out how their sex lives have since unfolded or why they were where they were at when I knew them.)
All our talks about sex got to me—and I soon slept with my then-boyfriend. I stressed out about having an orgasm … if I don’t will it mean I’m sexually frigid, bad in bed, have a defective vagina… until I finally did. Later, I would learn that depending on what is happening in a woman’s life, just because she is able to have an orgasm doesn’t mean her vagina can or will even want to have one.
We live in a world where for many women and girls it isn’t even safe to fully inhabit their female bodies let alone experience sexual pleasure. Sex abuse, rape, domestic violence, distorted ideas about sex, religious beliefs that make feeling good in the body seem taboo… the list of reasons go on… can shut down a woman’s connection to her own body. How can her body open to pleasure if she can’t even feel herself? But that doesn’t mean she is defective. It means there is still a lot wrong with society.
Also, there can be other reasons. They may not be as traumatic as what I just mentioned but that doesn’t mean they are any less valid. If anything, understanding whatever the reasons are can be the doorway through which a woman can begin to liberate her orgasms as well as herself.
Imagine what kind of world this would have to be if women and girls everywhere could easily and joyfully climax in their bodies. I’d like to live in a place like that, wouldn’t you?