Freeing the Female Orgasm

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?


28 Comments on “Freeing the Female Orgasm”

  1. “How can her body open to pleasure if she can’t even feel herself?” So true. Yet the commercial culture does everything in its power to disconnect women from their bodies– to have us judge them from the outside rather than love it from the inside.

    A big part of being able to truly commune in sex is getting out of our heads and into our bodies. I could write a book about how body/nature/emotions are all demonized and shamed– seen as something to be tamed and controlled– and how that impacts our ability to connect to ourselves, our power, and our partners.

  2. diahannreyes says:

    Yes! So frustrating.. because then women blame themselves. Jacqueline, I would love to read a book about what described above… or a blog post, even.

  3. Found your site as I was looking at feminist theory and developmental issues (the former having a lot to do with the revising of many of our developmental theories about children and adolescents). Interesting posts. Reminds me also of reading V Woolf’s – Room of One’s Own – a major influence on feminist theory. Rudy

  4. diahannreyes says:

    Thank you, Rudy! Glad that my posts made you think Virginia Wolf’s work– that is an honor of a compliment in my book. I am definitely curious about how feminist theory influences developmental theory related to children.

  5. MariaWNorris says:

    This post really struck a chord with me. I think that for women, a combination of having been told over and over and over again that either sex is shameful/dirty/etc plus the constant reinforcement from the media that women should look a certain way, and are not really sexual beings, only being there for male’s sexual pleasure, not our own, has created a situation where we can be quite disconnected from our bodies and our desires.
    There was an article in the newspaper today about an actress (Jenna Malone) complaining that a scene portraying oral sex was cut by censors from her next movie. She claimed that it would never have happened if the man was the one receiving rather than giving oral sex. I tend to agree with her It made me think that scenes of oral sex in mainstream movies are either between women or women pleasuring men. They are about women as sexual objects rather than sexual beings and are never, ever free from the male gaze….

  6. diahannreyes says:

    Yes, I totally agree w/ you Maria! All these negative ideas about sex and pleasure before women and girls get to experience what it is about for themselves. And I’m glad Jenna spoke out. Hopefully things will start to change in the film/storytelling front – so a more accurate portrayal of female sexuality-and not just as sex object is portrayed.

  7. All of the above and a lack of expertise in the male coupled with an unwillingness to explore other options/positions can explain lack of orgasm in women.The physical anatomy of a woman makes orgasms a challenge for those who are for reasons of their own unwilling to let a woman choose positions etc. There are power issues in the sexual act that some males find threatening and will not contemplate. Women are not encouraged by society to speak up about what they need (or explore their own bodies), this transfers into the bedroom. The pornification of sex is also another factor that places unreal expectations on both parties. For many it’s their only sex education. Women have been demonised, clitorectomised (is that even a word?) slut shamed and blamed through the ages because at the very core of it males are threatened and feel inadequate when it comes being able to co-achieve the female orgasm. It is why women fake orgasms, to salve egos.

  8. diahannreyes says:

    You bring up some very important reasons for why some women cannot experience sexual pleasure- and it is unfortunate that there isn’t more frank discussions about all of this. SOmehow dialogue about healthy, empowered sexuality doesn’t get much play — feels even taboo to talk/write about yet- meanwhile the porn industry thrives.

    I’d like to believe that at the core of it all both genders want healthy, empowered connections rather than disconnected, disempowering encounters that leaves no one truly fulfilled ( and may even cause harm) but a lot of people don’t even know what that is/looks like/feels like-which is why it is so important to keep these conversations going, so thank you!

  9. ““I taught myself Italian.” LOL

    To date, the Wayfarer has not touched on private matters of this nature. What she will say is you do narratives very well. I enjoy your engaging posts, D.

  10. BroadBlogs says:

    The first time I had sex I was surprised that it was so boring. My sister-in-law said the same thing. A lot of people are surprised that sex can be so dull for so many women. It seems to be cultural. In sex-positive cultures for women, women are highly orgasmic.

    Really interesting post. Thanks for sharing.

  11. diahannreyes says:

    Thanks for commenting, Georgia! What you said makes me think about how in American culture, just like w/ the myth of Prince Charming we tend to be barraged with unrealistic/fantasy images of what sex is supposed to look/feel like- and then it isn’t.

  12. diahannreyes says:

    American and from different cultural/ethnic backgrounds.

  13. weavergrace says:

    XXX books were left all over the house a couple times, when I visited one of my relatives. I noticed and read them when I was around 13, and easily had orgasms. I recognized that the stories were outrageous, but I still found them stimulating to my imagination. I knew this whole experience was something to keep to myself. I never told anyone until a year or two ago when my daughters started talking with me about statistics about women and orgasms. My sharing brought the conversation from a scientific level to a personal level.

    When I was in college, I felt delighted and affirmed by an article in a magazine by a woman who wrote about the joys of masturbating.

    In the meantime, sex with men wasn’t much of a pleasure. I was so into being popular and attractive and lovable, when I tried to take part in feeling pleasure, my partners told me that I was frigid, worrying too much, or a silly girl. I became ashamed of my sexual beingness, and resolved to being a sex object.

    I was enlightened when I heard or read somewhere, “Sex is a power struggle.” That made such sense. That sentence of so few words explained to me how my sexuality was stifled.

    My youngest daughter enjoys telling me that she enjoys reading Cosmopolitan. That is a magazine that I find appalling, and she knows that I flare up about it every time she mentions it, though it was one of my favorites when I was her age. From my perspective now, Cosmopolitan magazine is all about making men happy. I tell her that she has spent her life making her parents happy. Now it’s time to do what she wants to do, and to focus on what makes her happy. I know I am over-reacting by overgeneralizing about the magazine, but that’s where my head is at. I offer other magazines for her to try, but none have stuck.

    • diahannreyes says:

      Your daughter is lucky to have you speaking such words to her. I used to read Cosmo as a teen-but haven’t looked at it since. I hear Glamour is getting better about having articles that empower girls. Sexuality is such a beautiful thing- especially when unstifled and unobjectified– and quadruple the pleasure for everyone involved. Again, thank you for sharing your experiences. My intro to sex was via Judy Blume!

      • weavergrace says:

        You are terrific at provoking conversation here. I have heard of Judy Blume, but am not familiar with her writing. Thanks for the tip on Glamour. I’ll look into it for my daughter. Yes, sex is heaven with someone who cares, and someone whom we care about.

  14. […] thanks to the influence of my female dormmates in college who would not stop talking about sex: how they weren’t getting any, how the sex they were getting wasn’t good enough, or how they […]

  15. ledrakenoir says:

    Very well written – said with a smile then I think that we often “try to make love without using our ears” – if we used the ears more and better, I think orgasms would come like pearls on a string – no I’m not a pervert, but believe that we not pay enough attention to each other even when we make love – the keyword is listening, I think … 🙂

    • diahannreyes says:

      Ledrakenoir, I agree that listening is absolutely key! Listening with the ears and the body, to the other and the self :). Thank you for adding that element to the conversation here.

  16. ISpontein says:

    Quite informative in a non-boring way. 🙂

  17. Aquileana says:

    Great post!… I have read once that 90% of mechanisms involved in an orgasm are mental… That day I began to practice a sort of neurological mantra… The motto is tedious as I repeats for 10 to 15 minutes: Yes!. don’t stop keep it up… (It might work) 😉
    All the best !, Aquileana 😀


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