Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mailbag #4: First Orgasms, and How Women Vary

I've gotten a fair number of messages over the last six months from people who are struggling with the mysteries of the female orgasm.  This one showed up in early May:
Hi Shakti, my girlfriend & I came across your blog a couple of months ago and we'd really like to start learning tantra, but we've been trying to follow your advice to get "the basics" worked out first. The biggest problem is that Sara* can't have an orgasm no matter what we do. She says she enjoys having sex with me. She says she loves doing it & she loves making me come. She acts horny & rubs up against me to distract from TV or studying or the computer when she wants to do it. She takes the intiative a lot, maybe even more than I do, but I know it's bugging her that there's this other experience women are supposed to have & she can't do it.
She's tried masturbating, we got her a Magic Wand, I go down on her & do my best, and she says it all feels real good but she just gets "full" down there & after a long time she has to stop & it fades a way. I'm not superman and I can't do dry orgasms yet, but I'm trying the best I can. We've done oral, then vibrator, then her on top WITH a vibrator, & still nothing. She seems to come really close when we do all that combined, I mean I can see her tensing up and straining but no bombs go off or anything. I'm trying to tell her to relax & just enjoy it for what it is & not to try to force things to happen but that's hard. Then last week she started crying out of nowhere & said she felt like a complete failure, like she wasn't a real woman, and now i don't know what to do to help her!  :(
We're both 19 and I can see from your website that a lot of the women you talked to were older than that when they first had orgasms with a guy, but how unusual is it for a woman not to have orgasms at all in spite of trying? Sara is from a religious family but they aren't freaky prudes or anything, she doesn't believe in that religion anymore, & she says it doesn't bother her that way. She masturbated sometimes in high school but it didn't do much for her, & she was a virgin when we met. Several times you say something about a woman having a "high threshold," but I'm not clear on what you mean by that or whether its something that can be fixed.
We've been together since last September. We're going to be apart for about 6 weeks this summer. She's a wonderful, amazing girl and I love her so much this hurts. I just want her to be happy. I was really hoping to find something that would help us get over this before then or when we get back together. Is there anything you can suggest? If you can help us we will love you forever!!!  :)
Sam*     (*not real names, as usual)

Oh, my.  No pressure here!  I'm not sure I'm cut out to be an advice columnist, but when I get a letter like that I feel I have to do my best, so one reason for the gap in posting here last month was that I was exchanging messages with both Sam and Sara.  A lot of the things we talked about are personal and not all that appropriate to tantra, but there were some chunks I want to pull out and share with you, because they might help others.

First Orgasms

First, let's talk about age and how and when women's bodies learn to orgasm.  As I started to get into the tantra interviews I realized pretty quickly that there was a tremendous amount of variation in the sexual histories and the readiness levels of the women when they started to learn tantra.  So I started to ask about how early they became aware of sexual feelings, when and how they had their first orgasm, what their early experiences with sexual partners had been like, and so on.

And the range of answers amazed me.  My friend Georgina says she doesn't ever remember not knowing "how to make the good thing happen."  She clearly remembers having orgasms in kindergarten and she remembers finding out that she could use an electric toothbrush to have several orgasms in a row when she was 8 or 9.  At the other extreme, Marla said she had masturbated occasionally in her teens, had had vaginal sex regularly during her first marriage, and had still never had an orgasm until she bought herself a vibrator in her mid 30s.

Other women I talked to were spread all across that spectrum, with first orgasms from 5 to 35.  I wasn't prepared for the extremes, but even a little bit of research will show you that they are in fact quite normal.  Quite a few girls do have their first orgasms in grade school. And, sadly, quite a few women tell researchers they've never had even one.

Survey data is complicated by many factors, one of which is that it can't tell you whether a woman can't have an orgasm, or whether she just hasn't had one yet.  This is particularly true when the survey population is college students, which it often is.  Still, the bigger, more reputable studies of the wider population suggest that something like 5-10% of all women will never have one.  (That probably includes at least some people who simply lied about it and others who are asexual or for one reason or another never had much inclination or opportunity, so the number of people who really can't have an orgasm may be even smaller.)

Sorting it all out, it appears that about half of all women start to masturbate in their teens or earlier and that most teenage girls who masturbate regularly do figure out how to have an orgasm by the time they are 19. But the other half, women who seldom or never masturbated in their teens, often don't have an orgasm until their mid or late 20s or later, even if they are sexually active with a partner.

So the first point here is that Sara is absolutely normal.  Not just normal as in "within the wide range of normal behavior," but normal as in "smack dab in the middle of the range."

And as I have been going back over the interviews I've been thinking that the whole question of when girls/women have their first orgasms is determined mostly by four things:

  • how old they are when they first start trying to masturbate or first become sexually active sex
  • their basic level of clitoral and vaginal sensitivity
  • their attitudes toward sex and their own bodies
  • what kind of learning curve each woman's body is programmed to follow

All are important, but the last two seem to be the most important ones for the women who get stuck and can't seem to get over the hump.  Religious and cultural inhibitions can be tough to overcome. And, aside from the girls like Georgie who seem to be born lusty, most women's bodies have to learn to be sexually responsive.  It is not innate, at least not at first.

For most of us, it takes a good deal of practice to get all of the nerves to fire in the right order with the right intensity to trigger the electrical storm in the brain that we call an orgasm.  And some of us simply need more practice than others before our bodies catch on.

Orgasmic Threshold

Now let's deal with Sam's question about what I mean by "threshold."  As I went along, I gradually realized that early sexual awakening and exploration gives some girls a head start, but it doesn't mean as much as you might think in terms of where different women end up after years of really good sex.  So I began asking each person to rate their own and their partner's sex drive, orgasmic intensity, and orgasmic threshold.

Sex drive is pretty obvious:  How often do you think about sex?  How often do you feel aroused?  How often do you have sex?  How often would you have sex if you had lots of time and you had a sexy, attractive partner who was always willing?

Orgasmic intensity is much harder to judge, because there's no absolute scale.  Still, most of us have a sense of how intense an orgasm is compared to other things in life.  The damp squib orgasm that leaves you saying "that's it?" and wondering if it even happened is a 1. An orgasm that is pleasant, like a nice foot rub, might be a 2, and so on.  If you feel like multiple nukes went off and you completely lost any conscious awareness of time and space, that might be your personal definition of a 10.  And, perhaps surprisingly, most partners agreed on their ratings for each person.

Finally, orgasmic threshold is how much stimulation it normally takes to trigger an orgasm in the completely relaxed environment of a tantric massage.  Do you need to slow down and take a lot of breaks to keep your partner from coming too soon?  Do you need to keep up a really vigorous pace to keep him or her revved up?  Or is it somewhere in between? And again, both partners tended to agree on their own and their partner's orgasmic threshold.

Now it gets more complicated, because I also asked how these things had changed.  And in almost every case they had changed, especially for people over 35.  But (with certain exceptions) threshold changed the least, and I've come to the conclusion that most people have an underlying sensitivity to sexual stimulation that doesn't change much from decade to decade once the person is having sex often and is experiencing regular orgasms. Furthermore, the change that does happen is clearly related to gender.

Men:  To generalize a bit, most teenage boys have very low thresholds, men in their 20s who are in regular relationships rapidly lose that hair-trigger sensitivity, and after that the typical man's threshold increases very gradually every decade.  As Cabot said, "At 15, I'd come from a sexy look.  At 25, my 2nd year of marriage, I'd guess I lasted 3-4 minutes on average.  At 45, probably twice that if I was careful.  Now, at 70, if for some reason we just do normal vaginal sex, I can go until I'm too tired or one of us does something to deliberately increase the stimulation."

Tantra, of course, can also have a big influence.  Many women said they started out having to be very careful to use only light, intermittent stimulation during lingam massage, but that as their men got better at meditation, visualization, and arousal control, much more stimulation was possible without ending things too early.

Women, on the other hand, typically have higher thresholds when young. This is why a first orgasm can take an hour of pretty intense stimulation.  But once they become used to having regular orgasms this starts to decline steadily until middle age.

At that point there seems to be a bump as menopause hits, and I really don't have enough of a sample to say what's typical after that.  Three women have told me that their sex drive went down for a year or two and their threshold went up - they took longer and needed more stimulation to reach their first orgasm.  But two of them (and their partners) said that their threshold went back to normal and continued to decline, making it easier for them to reach orgasm after menopause.  And one woman never noticed any change in sex drive, but said it now takes her noticeably longer to climax during vaginal sex than it used to, probably because of tightness and discomfort.

Tension and Expectations

I mentioned certain exceptions to this pattern, and they all have to do with tension.  Nothing increases a woman's orgasmic threshold like being tense about something.  Fear, insecurity, job worries, worries about being interrupted, worries about her body, worries about her lover - whatever is making her tense is going to make it harder for her to reach her threshold.  Even worries about not having an orgasm, about being frigid, about being "bad in bed," or about "not being a real woman," or whatever it is, can stop an orgasm from happening.

And this brings us to the second key point about Sara:  we have such a sexualized culture, we have glorified orgasms so much, that a 19 year old girl who has had less than a year of sexual activity somehow feels defective if she's not having orgasms at the drop of a hat. And all of that cultural pressure backfires by making her tense, and preventing the orgasms she's clearly ready to have.

There were plenty of clues in Sam's letter, and in what Sara told me directly, that Sara was right on the verge.  They had started doing what they call "the triple play" (oral/manual + vibrator + her on top with the vibrator) in April, based on what they had read here, and they had done it only three times when Sam wrote to me in early May.  And Sara told me that when they did that she felt like she was going to explode each time and just couldn't stand the intensity and had to stop.

As I told her, that doesn't sound like someone who can't orgasm because she just can't climb the mountain.  It sounds like someone who got almost all the way to the top and got stuck on the last ledge.  If she can relax a little bit more and stop worrying about the last step, it will happen when she's ready for it.  It might take a few months, or even a year or two, but trying to make it happen is almost certainly going to make it take longer.

Or, of course, it might happen tomorrow...

Okay, I've been being a tease.  Here's the email I got Friday night:

We did like you said and took off by ourselves after exams, checked into the hotel really late Wed night, spent yesterday morning swimming, diving, playing in the water, and lying by the pool, had lunch and margaritas, and went in for a "nap." We meditated and then did long massages, like you suggested, first Sam, then me, then Sam, then me, and we were planning to try a long yabyum after that but we didn't get that far cause the 2nd time for me was AMAZING. OK I'm going to start babbling about you have no idea how amazing it was and of course you DO know so let's leave it at OMGWOW!!! 
So then we did it again a few hours later and nothing much happened. It felt nice like it does but it didn't go anywhere.  Just sort of a happy buzz when he did me, but hey I didn't care so I just relaxed and enjoyed it.  Then we did it again before bed, just one long massage for me, and I think I almost hit the top but maybe I was too tired, cause I felt all full and achy but nothing happened, and I went to sleep kinda sad, thinking maybe it was a one-time thing. Then today, same thing exactly, swim, sun, lunch, 'ritas, meditate, rubs, HOOBOY, even better!!! and I'm thinking the secret is the Margaritas, but nope, we did it again just before dinner and I had ANOTHER ONE!!! WHEEE!!!!
So we just had dinner and champagne to celebrate and I'm writing this while we rest up cause we're here for a week and WE ARE EFFING WELL GOING WEAR THIS THING OUT or maybe die trying, and I really don't think you want a blow by blow on my next fifty orgasms (god I love typing those words! my next fifty orgasms! booyah!) so I wanted to send this now while I can still find the keys.  And also before I sober up and come to my senses and get too embarassed to tell you! :D
LOVE YOU!  Sara & Sam, the f'ing honeymooners

And so I'm sitting here with a great big smile on my face, sharing this with you even though it only has a little bit to do with tantra and even though I know perfectly well that I don't deserve any of the credit for something that was going to happen anyway.  Even the advice I gave them was just what Sam had already figured out two months ago:  "I'm trying to tell her to relax & just enjoy it for what it is & not to try to force things to happen."  And sure enough it worked!

But if it took hearing it from an "expert," along with some assurance that she's completely normal, then I'm happy to do my part.

Ah, young love!  :D


As always, if you have questions about tantra, or anything in this blog, please write to me at  Hugs!  Shakti

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