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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
This might sound odd, but I’m a 35-year-old woman, and I just found out that the female screaming orgasms you see in movies aren’t actually typical…
That’s because I’m lucky enough to orgasm in that way. Occasionally, I’ll have an enjoyable orgasm that’s a little more restrained. But for the most part, I’m full-on Meg Ryan in the restaurant scene in When Harry met Sally, except mine is real and not at all a performance. I realize this is the opposite of a problem. However, my question is: Have most or even all of my partners assumed I’m probably faking it?
Rich: I love that she’s proud of her screaming orgasms, but this is not a problem. This is lucky. So I’m happy that she’s owning them. What do you think?
Stoya: Well, I have this unique insight, because I took my intensely expressive orgasms and went into pornography where then lots of people watch you have sex and your orgasms, and then comment about you. So, I’m going to guess that a significant chunk of this woman’s partners have thought she was faking it.
Rich: There exists the idea that women fake orgasms—because sometimes they do. We hear from them. (Men too!) As a result, there is that potential for suspicion that may arise after a particularly pyrotechnical display. I also assume that at least some people, even if they suspect that screaming orgasms might be fake, want to believe that they are real… Men will take any opportunity to feel flattered or responsible for something good, especially sexually: “Hey, I did that!” So, I’m sure that there are people who thought she was faking. I’m sure that there are people who thought that was absolutely real. And I’m sure that there are people who thought that was probably fake, but thought, “I’m going to choose to believe that it was real because of what that does for my self-image.”
Stoya: Or also a fourth possibility of them expecting that this was overstated to some degree, but a genuine orgasm.
Rich: Yes. Plus a certain level of enthusiasm is still real enough that it doesn’t even matter ultimately whether it was entirely real. It’s like if you invested that much in this kind of screaming production, you’re probably having some kind of fun, right?
Stoya: Oh, Jean Baudrillard, whose book Simulacra and Simulations I have not yet finished, has laid out a very clear case for the idea that for the past several centuries—long before the invention of the printing press, much less radio, television, and the internet—nothing has actually been real. The concept of reality has fractured, and when it comes to sexual pleasure, we can all just let go of trying to get to the bottom of, is this real? Is it really real? Is it really, really, really real? Instead, we should ask: Are you having fun? OK, great. Is anyone in danger of being harmed? No? Then, we can relax.
Rich: 100 percent.
Stoya: I would, in her position, absolutely ask. Right?
Rich: Yeah. “What’d you think of that?”
Stoya: “You may have noticed I have extremely vigorous and loud orgasms. Do you have any thoughts?” I’m sure there’s a less awkward way to phrase that.
Rich: In my experience, when there’s been a kind of explosive reaction to sex, it generally gets talked about after, if we’re on friendly terms, which we almost always are. It’ll be like, “Whoa, I guess you enjoyed that!” Or, “Wow, that was really something.” So, I would look back into the recesses of my mind and see whether these discussions have taken place and what the reaction was. Speaking of that kind of post-truth thing, I think the standard here is a really hard thing to make tangible, as it requires understanding quote “normal female response and orgasm.”
Our writer says that screaming orgasms aren’t actually typical. I don’t really know what that means. Perhaps what’s contributing to this idea of typical is people feel maybe more compelled to hold back to not put on this display because, “Oh, you’re going to think that I’m faking it,” or, “You’re going to laugh at me,” or, “I just don’t want to show that part of myself.” So, that has to factor into it as well, in terms of what we believe.
Stoya: Is it any more or less real to be suppressing your reactions?
Rich: Exactly. People might think that you’re faking it, but I think anybody who has a good amount of sex understands sexual idiosyncrasy and comes to expect it, and accept it too. I think the most ethical, compassionate way to have sex with somebody is to do it with understanding. Go into it thinking OK, this is who you are. You’re showing me who you are, and I’m going to take your word for it because we’re here naked and what else should we do?
Stoya: One last thing to think about. I know with people who are rediscovering their sexuality after a traumatic event or trying to get in tune with their sexuality for the first time, they’re often given the advice to be expressive and make noise—that seems to have an effect of loosening sexuality and getting it flowing. So, also this woman’s very expressive orgasms may be this sort of self-perpetuating, self-feeding cycle.
Rich: Yes. And so, I think the most important thing to do is hold on to all of the good things that you feel. You’re lucky. This is the opposite of a problem. Don’t get in your head about this. Don’t get all self-conscious about it. Just be you. You’re having orgasms. Unless you’re getting feedback that’s like, ”Wow, that’s really distracting and it’s taking away from the experience,” you can assume that it’s only contributing.
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