How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Every Thursday night, the crew responds to a bonus question in chat form.
Dear How to Do It,
I have been trying to do my own research, but I am running into a dead end and would like some input. I am a 43-year-old straight woman in a relationship with a fabulous man. My problem, not that I am even sure that it is a problem, isn’t necessarily with my relationship—it’s with my orgasms. They are Earth-shattering. Mind-bending. A worm hole into another dimension, time-space-warping kind of thing. Typically, it is easy for me to have an orgasm with external help (with which my partner happily assists), though sometimes I may have one spontaneously during intercourse. My orgasms involve all of my muscles locking up throughout my entire body. I stop breathing for long periods of time. I am lucky if I don’t hurt something in the process. If my partner moves a muscle or finger, it triggers another, and I am left gasping for air. I’ve had migraines created spontaneously before (which I have spoken to my doctor about), pulled muscles, and lost track of time. What I think is moments he tells me is several minutes and apparently multiple orgasms. I can’t stand, can barely speak, and do little thinking until I am able to come to rights. The more worked up I am prior, the more likely I am to have random bodily tremors afterwards as well.
Is this weirdness normal? My partner finds it equal parts awesome and hilarious. He says he has to pay attention so I don’t suddenly flex so hard I take a digit (or worse!) off of him! It embarrasses the hell out of me that I am loud, gasping, practically having a seizure, and he might be sweating and having a good time, but he is otherwise pretty quiet. I never really thought about it before, but over the years I have accumulated some feedback from partners that apparently, I am an oddball. Am I thinking too hard about this?
Rich: I ran this by Dr. Tami Rowen, a previous source of mine. She’s an OB-GYN and an assistant professor and director of the sexual health program at the University of California, San Francisco. I just wanted to see if this raised any red flags—in a brief note, she said that while our writer describes is “unusual” in its extremity, “orgasms involve muscle contractions so there are all kinds of manifestations of them.” Nonetheless, I worry about the lack of breathing our writer is experiencing.
Stoya: I wonder if she’s unintentionally holding her breath, and whether it might help to actively focus on breathing through the moment. She may have to practice: Something like getting as close as she can before breathing stops, pausing to calm down, going up to the edge again. Or even asking her partner to help with this process.
Rich: Habituation makes sense. She doesn’t seem too concerned about what this might mean for her health, and maybe it’s nothing, but I would talk to a doctor regardless just to make sure this isn’t another issue manifesting. She says “practically having a seizure,” so … might be good to make sure it’s not an actual seizure.
Stoya: For sure. She should ask her primary care physician. It may be possible to email or call or do a virtual appointment rather than visit the office.
Rich: Run some tests. Make sure this is all in good fun.
Stoya: And she should be detailed. No getting embarrassed and leaving two-thirds of the problem out. Write it out like she has here if need be.
Rich: You told me you experienced something along these lines. Did you feel like talking about it here?
Stoya: I’ve had uncontrollable convulsions during orgasm, headaches with light sensitivity and halo after orgasm, had orgasms that triggered one after another, and had pain after orgasm. Breathing helps me immensely. But I don’t know that that’s necessarily the answer for our writer. I had a habit of holding my breath as I ramped up to climax. Pain after orgasm seems to be an entirely different issue related to sensitivity just before my period.
Rich: Ahhh I, predictably, have no experience with anything like this unless you count my dozens of viewings of Showgirls (I’m talking about the pool scene).
Stoya: I don’t remember this scene. Please elaborate.
Rich: Oh, it’s just a wild unleashing of orgasmic desire by the contortion innovator Elizabeth Berkley as she rides Kyle MacLachlan’s character in a pool. Her waves of desire manifest on the water’s surface. It is unbridled in a way few movie scenes are. I will watch it with a new perspective. And on that note, I understand our writer’s self-consciousness, but I would encourage her to embrace the response—it’s really such a pure expression of pleasure. As her partner, I’d be more thrilled than anything
Stoya: Agreed. Responsive partners are a joy to give pleasure to.
Rich: Makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.
Stoya: I do want to add that she can probably decline to orgasm in most situations if she doesn’t feel like dealing with the intensity that day. Prioritizing female pleasure is truly wonderful, but women don’t need to orgasm every time any more than men do.
More How to Do It
I love my husband. We’ve been together for 14 years. The issue is before we were together, I had an avid sex life. He has never really cared about sex. We haven’t had any in five years (he has a bad back and no sex drive). I’ve tried talking to him; we’ve tried therapy. No changes. Last year, I started sleeping with someone else. It’s amazing. Husband has no clue. My issue is that I don’t feel guilty. I don’t want to leave my husband, but I refuse to live without sex. Am I a bad person? I sleep with this guy about once a week, and to be honest, I’m much happier now and a better wife because I no longer am resentful.