Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: Which is another way of saying no-one is.
– The Incredibles (2004)
I’ve enjoyed April 2017. I’ve really enjoyed it a lot! There have been a number of reasons for this, but one of the biggest has been this month’s focus on female orgasms. There must have been something in the water! For me at least, it started with Tabitha Rayne‘s #30DayOrgasmFun project that she launched at the end of March. She suggested 30 days of daily orgasms as a form of self-care; taking that time for ourselves everyday to provide a boost, a quick (or not so quick!) high to improve our mental health and well-being. And, wow, this was a lot of fun! Quite a few bloggers enthusiastically joined in, fewer actually completed the challenge, and I’m looking forward to reading their thoughts on this project soon.
And the focus on female orgasm was bigger than this project. From insightful blog posts about the gender orgasm gap, like this from Girly Juice and Exhibit A’s response from a male perspective that I will link to when his site is fixed, to Exposing 40’s brilliant post on the pressure to come, sex bloggers have been discussing their experience of orgasms, and writing some pretty epic haikus on the subject too!
But much of the wider interest in female orgasms was directed towards a new phenomenon – the Super Orgasm. Channel 4 showed a documentary on the Super Orgasm, that you can watch on All 4 until May 13th, and the world exploded. Here were a group of women who came like no one else, who experienced pleasure in a way most women can only dream of…and so they experimented on them to find out why!
It was an interesting documentary but there was a lot about it that annoyed me. For a start, I couldn’t quite get over how the narrator never used a definite article when referring to Super Orgasm, as if it was its first name, and I felt a bit cheated by how the hyperbole of the ad campaign was immediately revealed once the show started – these women didn’t have ridiculously rare sex superpowers, they were just multiorgasmic! Now I know by saying ‘just’ that I risk alienating the many, many women who struggle to come and who have never experienced multiple orgasms, but multiple orgasms are not that rare and the hyperbolic presentation seemed to fetishise and denormalise what is a relatively unremarkable aspect of the female sexual experience.
The outcome of the show, spoiler alert, did however separate these women who can experience a super orgasm from the general population – their arousal levels were higher, they had increased oxytocin levels, the alpha waves in their brain helped them to stay relaxed; they are different from the rest of us.
Huh. OK. So are they ‘not normal’ or is it the rest of us who are deficient? And how does this help all of those watching who struggle to orgasm? Should we just give up because we are biologically different? I finished watching the documentary with so many more questions than answers, and a renewal of my annoyance at how science was represented on TV. What was the null hypothesis? What happened to the control group? Why hyperbolise what could have been a genuinely interesting discussion? (I know, I know, clickbait sells…)
So when Scarlet Ladies asked me to attend and review their Super Orgasm panel, I absolutely leapt at the chance to meet some of the women involved in the documentary and ask them questions about their orgasms.
Scarlet Ladies are a London-based female members club that aims to empowers women around the world through frank and open conversations about sex, feminism and body image, and is run by two extraordinary women, Sarah and Jannette.
‘Our community is open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or preference. By destigmatising the conversation around female sexuality, we help women grow in confidence, love their bodies and live boldly in all aspects of life, without fear or shame.’
The Super Orgasm panel was the third event that I have attended in as many months and I have not been disappointed by the professionalism of the organisation and the diversity of the people on their panels and within the discussions. It was held in the exclusive upper floors of 23 Paul Street, a ‘house of striptease’ that may be the most opulently glamorous place I have ever been. Hidden behind a bookcase, the private rooms we were invited into were decorated like a colonial library and certainly made up for the four-floor climb to reach them. Considering the obvious expense of the location, I’d hope there would be a lift if I’d been unable to use stairs, although I didn’t see any evidence of it. Waiting for us inside were prosecco and soft drinks, and a very generous gift box full of lube, condoms and a finger vibe from Pasante, who had sponsored the event.
As with previous panels, the host was Alix Fox, sex journalist and broadcaster, who led and adjudicated the discussions and, almost acting as a panel member herself, spoke of her difficulties coming and the concentration often required, which provided a useful counterpoint to the experiences of the multiorgasmic women on the panel. These three women were Natalie Wright, an engineering student from Bournemouth who ‘dabbled in kink,’ Jannette Davies, one of the founders of Scarlet Ladies and self-confessed masturbation evangelist, and Romany Regan, a San Diego born PhD candidate who was actually cut from the show, a fact that I found more and more interesting the more that I heard from her.
Because it quickly became clear that the final version of the documentary was not at all what the women were expecting or an accurate representation of their experiences. They all felt that the ‘Super Orgasm’ was used as a selling point and was actually only thought up halfway though the production process. ‘I really hate the term,’ said Jannette, and Romany agreed, adding that she wasn’t ‘super orgasmic…just regular multiorgasmic.’ Romany suspected that this attitude was why she didn’t make the final cut, telling us that she had wanted to use the show as a ‘massive feminist soap box’ to promote the idea that all women could be multiorgasmic and show that there wasn’t anything special about her, which clearly wasn’t the final message!
Jannette especially expressed worries about how the show presented the participants, describing her concerns about looking smug or about making other women feel inferior or dysfunctional. As sadly seems to be the case with almost all aspects of female sexuality, however, there are enough women who are ashamed of their multiple orgasms, due to accusations of faking it or being shamed by their partners for being easy, that she wanted to give these women a talking point and let them know that they were ‘normal’ too.
But what about the science? asked a sexual health therapist in the audience. Didn’t that prove they were different? The therapists praised the ‘medicalisation’ of the female orgasm, stating the value of knowing that it is a physiological response and not just a psychological phenomenon when counselling women who struggle to come, but had already to answer numerous questions about super orgasms and the physiological differences between women that the show has promoted. The consensus from the panel? The science was ‘bullshit.’
‘All I learned [from the results of the experiments] was that all women are different,’ Jannette told the panel, adding that she thought that part of the documentary ‘shitted on a lot of women.’ According to them, there was no clear evidence for a ‘higher level of arousal’ and even the claim about higher levels of oxytocin was suspect – Jannette claimed that her oxytocin level was actually the lower end of normal, whereas Romany’s was sky high. Curiouser and curiouser…
So could these women teach us anything about multiple orgasms?
Actually yes, they really could, but none of it was mentioned in the documentary!
‘Jesus fucking Christ, stop putting so much pressure on yourself!’ declared Natalie, in a statement that I loved so much that it was nearly the title of this post, ‘Don’t feel like [you] should be doing this or should be doing that.’ Natalie is described as the most multiorgasmic of the trio, and I wonder if her laid-back and relaxed attitude towards sex contributes to this.
Because all three women discovered their ability to experience multiple orgasms when they relaxed and stopped worrying about coming and stopped seeing sex as a performance. Once they had learned to separate ‘sex as a theatre for men,’ to steal Romany’s brilliant phrase, from sex as a route to their own pleasure, the orgasms didn’t stop coming! Jannette described how she struggled to orgasm when she saw sex as a performance for her partner and how it took time to be comfortable enough with herself to ‘give up caring’ about this performance and allow herself to orgasm freely. Romany simply ascribes her ability to be multiorgasmic to how well she knows her body, rather than a unique abnormality in her biochemical makeup. She has masturbated so often and for so long that she is confident in her body and what she can do. She can just relax and enjoy it!
I was also fascinated by their insight into the technicalities of multiple orgasms. All three of them only experienced multiple orgasms with G-spot stimulation and agreed that clitoral orgasms often require more concentration to achieve. But, as Natalie attested, G-spot orgasms are ‘sneaky!’ A few women in the audience even spoke of their difficulties achieving orgasm from G-spot stimulation, despite much experimentation. The sensation is just so different from clitoral stimulation, seeming to build and swell almost unnoticed until the orgasm floods in. According to Romany, this ebb and flow is what allows multiple orgasms – G-spot orgasms don’t peak and crash away like clitoral orgasms but just ‘roll,’ allowing the multiple peaks and multiple climaxes that add up to the multiorgasmic super orgasm.
All of this really fits my own experience – so subtle are the early stages of a G-spot orgasm that I’d always thought that I didn’t have an active G-spot and didn’t recognise the waves of pleasure for what they actually were for a really long time, and occasionally still worry that I’m over labelling them as they can be so delicate when compared to the thump of a clitoral orgasm. They are also incredibly flighty! Unlike clitoral stimulation where concentration is often needed to push my pleasure over into orgasm, G-spot orgasms seem to vanish when I notice them. I need to relax and let them happen, and they usually do! Over and over and over…
So despite everything that Channel 4 tried to portray in its documentary, there is no secret formula to achieving a super orgasm or anything physiologically special about the women who achieve it. I am superorgasmic and I’m sure the same is true of many women reading this post. Attempts to demystify the female orgasm in this way are always going to fail because they start from a position of assuming that there’s something mysterious about the female orgasm! There isn’t. There’s just a lot of hype that creates expectation…which in turn risks creating failure and anxiety. To quote Natalie again, ‘Jesus fucking Christ, stop putting so much pressure on yourself!’
But that’s not to say that the panellists aren’t special – their open attitudes towards sex and obvious confidence in their bodies was inspiring, and I am so grateful for the Scarlet Ladies for giving me the opportunity to meet them, but they aren’t wonder-women or freaks of nature.
They’re just women, like you and me…
The Scarlet Ladies invited me to attend this panel and review it, but all the opinions are my own.
The next event on Body Positive Sex is on 2nd May – hope to see you there!