O My God: Discussing The Female Orgasm

Since just about forever, female sexuality has been seen as the Freudian ‘dark continent’, mysterious and terrifying. When I started buying Cosmo at about 13, all the articles (the ones that weren’t poorly advised blowjob tips or how to crimp your hair) were on whether or not you could find your G Spot. Before I’d even let someone take off my bra, I was worried about if I’d ever enjoy sex because enjoying it just seemed so difficult. By the time I was about 16, a few fraught and awkward encounters later, it was all the rage for the problem pages to let me know that most women didn’t actually orgasm through penetrative sex alone. Basically, throughout the many years I devoted myself to glossy-paged self-help magazines, sex advice for women changed a lot, to the extent where they were preaching the exact opposite just a few years later. When filmic technologies were developed, Edison commissioned a single-shot short film called `The Sneeze’, which he intended to be a `pretty young woman’ sneezing, losing control of herself (sadly for Edison, they couldn’t find one so he ended up with Fred Ott who worked at the factory). It doesn’t take the biggest leap of faith to imagine that this capture of an involuntary bodily function somehow correlates with orgasm, and how bizarre it is how preoccupied we are with capturing these moments, since the very start.

Woman’s sexuality has historically been derived from her similitude to man; he has a penis, she wants one; Adam is bored, God makes woman from his rib and so forth. Nowadays, we try as hard as we can to see the female orgasm because we are so accustomed to judging pleasure by the visible orgasm of men. This obsession with ocularity is blinding when it comes to women, because as long as their pleasure is being recognised in masculine terms, they’re fucked; their bodies just don’t work the same way, so there is no point in trying to see the unseeable. If female pleasure can only be understood in terms of masculine ocularity and ejaculation, the visually verifiable, then it can not be understood. And everyone seems like they really want to understand it.

Film critic Linda Williams says that ‘the late nineteenth-century invention of “machines of the visible” [cameras] create even more peculiar forms of blindness’- the more we try to show the female orgasm, the more invisible it becomes. We have abandoned the Keatsian notion that unravishment is the ultimate, that `heard melodies are sweet / but those unheard are sweeter’ but we want to see woman and see every aspect of her, like we can see man. We are compelled to finally comprehend every dimension of her sexuality, we have television programmes which insert cameras into the vagina whilst a woman has sex so we can see what that looks like (who wants to know?!), women in Playboy spread their legs as far apart as they can go, but we still can’t have the equivalent of the money shot of male ejaculation. Knowledge is power, and in order for this power, woman must be known- and you literally cannot see her come. And so the female orgasm is fetishised as the groans, the standardised posturing of a woman’s flung back head, etc in hardcore, but also on your Herbal Essences adverts.

Naomi Wolf points out: ‘The perfected woman lies prone, pressing down her pelvis. Her back arches, her nipples erect, there is a fine spray of moisture over her golden skin. The position is female superior: the state of arousal, the plateau phase just preceding orgasm. On the next age, a version of her, mouth open, eyes shut, is about to tongue the pink tip of a lipstick cylinder. […] for Triton showers, a naked woman, back arched, flings her arms upwards… In these images, where the face is visible, it is expressionless in a rictus of ecstasy. The reader understands from them that she will have to look like that if she wants to feel like that.’

And so the body, the appearance of the female body that is, comes to be innately associated with female orgasm. Men come to expect this as a signifier of their sexual prowess and women come to expect it within themselves. Pornography, implied within advertising or full on hardcore, doesn’t represent real sex between real people; these people are actors and actresses, their pleasure mimed, the sex stopped, started, and stopped again. It presents actual sex with a bizarre aim: to mimic the staged and, quite frankly, we cannot mime the female orgasm because it is internal (with the occasional variant, as I’m sure someone is going to point out somewhere if I don’t: see Samantha’s lesbian encounter in Sex and the City or any number of RedTube clips).

Woman’s ultimate experience of pleasure is now represented as a foil for someone else’s. Having a conversation about faking orgasms on a TV show, one of my friends joked ‘and we all bloody well know how to do that’. I just figured that summed up everything I felt about how much more there has to be done before there is a sense of actual sexual equality. If 21 year old girls are faking it, and faking it in the style of perfume ads or softcore porn or hardcore porn or whatever way female orgasm is culturally constructed, that sucks. Because I don’t know any women that come like that lady in the bathroom on the aeroplane (seriously? from shampoo?) and it’s not just because they aren’t having good enough sex.

I’m not saying that men hate female sexual liberty, or that women hate themselves, or anything like that because it’s not true at all. I do, however, think it’s important to remember that flinging your head back as dramatically as Jenna Jameson, you are probably just going to give yourself whiplash and little else, and that if your girlfriend isn’t screaming like Samantha Jones, it’s nothing to cry about. I mean, if she’s watching Newsnight over your shoulder, it’s not a great sign, but I just think that, when you’re doing whatever you’re doing, the last thing that needs to be on anyone’s mind is if they look like they are having fun. I suppose, if you are having that much fun, it’s not going to be what you’re thinking about anyway.


  • ghostface April 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Really good article. Just like to point out that for the most part us blokes want you to get there, don't be afraid to give us some pointers rather than just faking it

    • mim April 13, 2010 at 4:09 am

      don't some guys feel intimidated by the conversation? I'd think you'd rather know than not know, but a lot of guys take it as criticism. Ps. I enjoyed the article!

      • ghostface April 13, 2010 at 9:02 am

        hm, yes you're right. there are tactful ways of doing it though- don't say anything negative. i think id rather have honesty and transparency than her not enjoying it.

        • jjtee April 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm

          yeah I'd like to know I am doing something right (the guy who advised, “stay wet” hit it on the head!!) :-)

  • besty April 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    very good.

  • nelsonmandelson April 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    You are a genuinely good journalist. Well done.

  • Helen N April 12, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    Love this.

  • Andyyyy April 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    rad article; there should be more mini-essays in platform. although to continue the debate:

    “there is no point in trying to see the unseeable”

    - doesn't your argument of the 'invisible orgasm' make more of a ‘dark continent’ of female sexuality then there was before?

  • Tom April 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Hi I never finished my liberal arts degree either but I read one or two books and I'm ready to let the world know about it!

    • GLDFSH April 12, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      Like you've anything more interesting to say, you dull American

    • guest April 12, 2010 at 10:43 pm

      except she nearly has finished her degree?

    • Olivia Singer April 16, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      Only 6 weeks left, Tom, if I bail on it though I'd love to hang out, you sound pretty rad.

  • Anonymous April 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    Good writer would read her stuff again.

    However, this article does seem like a verbose and convoluted way of saying to women: “hey, don't worry if coming doesn't always make you writhe around and scream”. Well, duh. We know that really. It's just that over the top orgasms sometimes make sex more fun - for all involved. Sex between people is always going involve more drama than masturbation - what's wrong with hamming it up a bit when you come? Or to put it analogously: its polite to show more outward enjoyment for a cake that someone baked for you, than for one you baked yourself. Peace and fucking.

    • Olivia Singer April 16, 2010 at 7:35 pm

      Yeah, I guess so. I just figured that I can't be the only person in the world who spent a really long time thinking that if I don't naturally come like Samantha/herbal essences lady, something is wrong, or that there was something fucked up in When Harry Met Sally. But I think that other person expressed it better than me when they said sex isn't/doesn't have to be social pantomime.

  • yo April 12, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    one of the few times i actually read the entirety of an article on platform. maybe that's just cuz i'm a skeezy dude supremely interested in female orgasms, OR, maybe it's because this wasn't just another trite meditation on some irrelevant personal experience in hispterdom. stay wet (that's how guys really know)

  • Kk April 12, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    This article is really good.

  • jack April 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    In case she's reading this comments section, I'd be really interested to see how far she agrees with Camille Paglia's whole 'chthonic women' theory. This sort of touches on the same area but I don't see what her conclusion is about the whole 'dark, mysterious void' of women stuff.

    • Olivia Singer April 16, 2010 at 7:31 pm

      Paglia seems vile, so I haven't read her. But with regards to the whole, dark, mysterious void of woman, I am saying that she is constructed as such rather than IS at all; when comprehension of woman is orchestrated through masculine discourses, she is always going to be rendered invisible, nearly invisible or Irigaray's 'murmur in phallocentric discourse' and unreflected speculum.

      • jack April 18, 2010 at 6:37 pm

        I see, and agree with you. What do you think could be done to counter this, then? Feminine discourses? As woman is by definition sub-men (as is claimed by de Beauvoir), she is herself a masculine discourse. Do you think there's any way around all of this, other than 'transcending gender' somehow?

        And Paglia is a vile human being, but chapter one of 'Sexual Personae' is dead good. Don't bother with the rest though, just reiteration for 400 pages.

  • am April 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    do you know this girl?? http://clubjobless.blogspot.com/

    • spoiltballs April 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      No and I now know no one wants to.

  • SurferRosa April 12, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Some serious, intellectually stimulating material here. A nice direction for Platform; I think we want to see more.

  • nostrils April 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    I'm of the opinion that there doesn't need to be any 'constructed orgasms' - if one is engaging in something as intimate and personal as sex, he or she should be comfortable enough to orgasm however is natural. Scream, moan, snort, whatever.
    Plus if the sex is good enough, you shouldn't need to ham it up - you shouldn't even be able to think about adding a little drama.

  • james April 13, 2010 at 11:10 am

    great article, thank you. I hope this is a debate that runs a bit…

  • katie April 15, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Great article - more please! :)

  • curiousquirtquestioner April 15, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    what about squirters?, i know not all girls squirt(but i'm not certain, maybe some just squirt easier, ie less licking, fingers etc than others) but those who don't ,are they having as much fun/missing out? is squirting the equivalent of men ejaculating ?( http://www.youporn.com, search squirting ,if you're pretending u dont know what i'm talking about)
    can some girls, preferably a squirter and a non squirter please answer this???!!!!

    • Guest April 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

      I'm a squirter, but only sometimes. It doesn't happen every time I come, as I have to be stimulated in a certain way for it to happen.

      • Anonymous April 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm

        what is that certain way?

        • Guest April 19, 2010 at 11:20 am

          Well, for me, you have to use two fingers inside of me, and lift them up as though you're … 'beckoning' someone. It takes a while to get the right spot but when you do, it feels amazing. It feels entirely different to clitoral stimulation… BUT for squirting to happen, you have to rub my clit as well.

          As I said, squirting doesn't happen every time, the orgasm is just as intense as if I don't squirt.

  • anon April 16, 2010 at 12:36 am

    Great article. Thanks. Although lots of us have read and thought about the impact of pornography (and its mainstream media … dilutions - for want of a better word) I thought this was really well put together. Whatever we may say about immunity to glossed up commoditised sex, I think a lot of us girls feel the pressure to ham it up, if not to actually fake it. I take the point about wanting to show appreciation from the commenter who mentions cake, but I do feel that ideally, sex shouldn't be a social pantomime. This is where the article hit the spot for me - ho ho - in that it recognises that the pantomime preferences a very male way of expressing pleasure. I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of girls who would naturally be vocal/hair tossing/boob fondling when it comes to orgasm, but from a personal perspective, I know I probably wouldn't be, but hot-damn, I still do all those things…

  • Anonymous April 16, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    boring stuck up cunt. fuck off.

    • larsville April 20, 2010 at 11:06 am

      you're so angry! Does your girlfriend watch newsnight over your shoulder when you're having sex? is that why?
      I actually thought this was really interesting although it did read a little bit like an essay for uni. I defo liked it though.

  • MissSinema April 16, 2010 at 8:55 pm

    Nice article :)
    That show that stuck a camera up a woman's vagina when she had sex was fucking monstrous!
    It put me off physical contact for, ooh, all of five minutes.

  • I'm a girl April 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    guys search 'redtube orgasm school' and take note
    you're welcome x

  • takistits April 30, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Interesting. You've clearly not seen the legions of squirt videos though: http://cunttt.com/search/squirting/1/3011/pop/1/1/

  • wow May 5, 2010 at 12:30 am

    it's a bit of an average second year philosophy essay

  • orgasm4real May 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I do agree with your article, a woman orgasm can not be understood nor compared with male one.
    A woman need a lot but a lot longer time the average fuck time to come. And when we do we dont all at once, but many times through the whole encounter. Man should learn to controll them self in order to please a woman… as she needs at least an hour of interaction, that is the real trick to female orgasm…


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    • hearty magazine | ROUND-UP
      Apr 16 2010 at 15:04
      The female orgasm, remember? You learned about it in Cosmo and Sex & the City. Olivia Singer talks about the face of female pleasure, which can commonly be found in yogurt or shampoo ads. [Platform]

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