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I need to be allowed to be sexual, to be encouraged to be sexual, to experience myself as a sexual being. When I'm in that place my energy is boundless and beautiful, and I am free, happy, and healthy.
I was born in 1952 in rural Scotland. A friend of the family molested me when I was a youngster; the trauma left me believing that sex was evil and dangerous. I grew up hating my body and convinced that nothing relating to sex should ever be talked about. I was also taught that, as a female, I did not have the right to say no, and did not have control over my own body. I understood that my needs were always secondary to those of men. So, by the age of fourteen, I was allowing my body to be used by various fumbling teenage boys, who were intent on proving their virility. My mind vacated my body for their use and I kept my gathering rage under wraps. I certainly never investigated my genital area. Why would I, when I had only experienced sex as intrusive and unpleasant?
It may be difficult to understand why I wasn't able to assert my right to say no. I was brought up in a social setting where great importance was placed on appearance. As long as everything appeared to be okay, it didn't matter what was actually going on. What mattered was that no one got upset in public. I learned to make light of any and all problems. The more upsetting something was, the more important it was to joke about it or ignore it. And that is how the subject of sexuality is generally treated. If it is treated seriously, it's usually onlyin an academic fashion. When I was growing up, there was no opportunity for me to express my distress about sex. This is still true for many children, teenagers, and adults today.
By observing the people around me, I concluded very early on in life that women were powerless and inferior to men. So I decided that I would grow up to be a man. I was appalled when I began to develop breasts. But my fate was irrevocable I was going to be a woman. I might go to university, I might even have some kind of a career, but the fact that I was born without a penis meant that I should be married with children by the time I was thirty. I would be responsible for keeping the house clean and looking after the children and cooking for my husband and his friends. I would be dependent on my husband, whoever he might be, for money. My primary job would be catering to him.
Although I knew that everyone around me saw this as my destiny, I could never quite imagine it. I coveted the idea of independence, and couldn't imagine that I would ever willingly give it up once it was within my grasp. In the meantime, I made the best of my miserable circumstances. Having accepted that my place in the world was to be a woman, I utilized the only source of power I could my ability to seduce men. I caved in to the pressure to give up my tomboy ways, learned to wear dresses, and made myself as sexy as I could. I flirted with boys at every opportunity until they succumbed to my charms, and then I dropped them. No, I didn't just drop them I trampled them in the mud.
The disadvantage of this game was that I had to have sex with them, and that was never pleasant. I didn't see that I had a choice. I actually "lost my virginity" when I was very drunk at the age of seventeen. It's a sordid, all too common story and I won't go into it. But by the time I was eighteen, a strange thing happened I started to enjoy sex. I still had no idea that such a thing as a clitoris existed. I was twenty-one before I realized that women were supposed to have something called an orgasm. I certainly never dreamed of talking about sex that would have been far too exposing. However, in spite of all my negative conditioning, my body, of its own volition, occasionally responded eagerly during intercourse.
I wonder how different things would have been if I had been able to ask for what I wanted, or if any of the boys or men I went to bed with had had any idea how to give pleasure to a woman. I hope that this book may help teenagers to make more positive choices around sex, and to avoid the destructive power games of seduction that were the norm when I was a teenager.
Time passed. I stopped playing seduction games as I fell in with a different crowd of people. I became a hippie and dropped out of the environment that would have molded me into somebody's wife. I stopped wearing dresses altogether -- then and there I abandoned that persona completely (although it was some years before I came out as a lesbian). Slowly, I began to learn that I had a right to say no, although like most women, I only exercised that right when I was really sure I meant it. Since I did not regard ambivalence as adequate grounds for refusal, I still frequently acquiesced when I wasn't really sure. My priority was always to please my lover when we were in bed. I rarely thought seriously about what I wanted, and I tried to avoid any feelings that might be considered inappropriate. This is the coping mode of many women in many cultures. It doesn't make for satisfying, quality relationships.
When I was twenty-four, two of my close female friends persuaded me that in order to have an orgasm (which I'd finally decided I had not had, and they assured me I ought to be having), I should learn to masturbate. I was beginning to feel a little better about my body, so I made myself practice touching my genitals. I didn't enjoy it a whole lot, but I dutifully lay in bed at night and manipulated that sensitive little nub of flesh that I figured must be my clitoris.
All Work and No Play
At first it was too much work, and I stopped as soon as I got to the edge of something that felt uncomfortable. I didn't think that uncomfortable sensation could lead to an orgasm, because orgasms were supposed to feel "good." But more conversations with my friends informed me that I should push past the point of discomfort. I returned to work. One night, when the tension in my body built to that now familiar place, I gritted my teeth and kept going. The sensation became unbearably intense. I stopped and let my breathing return almost to normal. Then I continued. Following my body's demands, I stretched out my legs until the muscles in my calves were aching. I stopped and tried to relax, and forced myself to carry on. My shoulders, my neck, and my belly became as tight as iron and I felt as though I was going to explode and it wasn't going to feel good. But something else was happening; an urgent feeling had built specifically in my pelvic area, and this feeling seemed to have a life of its own. I had a sense that something astonishing, something much more powerful than I was carrying me like a wave, and then it flung me down on the shore. I lay there panting and exhausted, feeling bruised and shaky. My calves hurt like hell, my clitoral area felt like it had been burnt, I was trembling all over, and I wanted to cry. I curled up and held myself, comforting myself with the thought that I never had to do this again. Powerful aftershocks racked my body for several minutes.
Could my first orgasm have been a better experience? If I had been brought up in a sex-positive environment, I believe my whole history, sexual and otherwise, would have been much better.
As you can imagine, I wasn't too happy about my venture into the realm of orgasm. My friends persuaded me that it would improve with practice. However, something else happened right around this time, something that changed my life completely: without any premonition that I would do so, I fell in love with a woman. Sex with her was completely different from anything I had ever experienced before. For the first time in my life I understood why the sex act was called "making love." It was my first encounter with the concept of love.
We had a passionate affair, she left me, and I set out to find other women. I embraced the label "lesbian." For a while I was in bliss: deeply grateful for my woman-ness, and for the complete acceptance of other lesbians. I very quickly left behind all my body hatred. I loved other women's bodies, and as a result I loved my own. Those feelings have stayed with me to this day. Ever since I became aware of my attraction to women, I have been very thankful that I was born female.
Sex with women was a completely different experience than it was with men. I became more aroused and felt emotionally connected in a way I never had before. But it wasn't exactly a bed of roses, or at least it had plenty of thorny areas. Had I remained with men, I would probably not have bothered much with orgasms. But my female partners wanted me to come and they noticed if I didn't. I tried diligently, both because I wanted to make them happy, and because I wanted to be a functional and healthy person. And I now believed that functional and healthy women had orgasms.
Some of the time I did manage to come, but it was a couple of years before orgasms became relaxing or fulfilling. Mostly they were more agonizing hard work than anything else. I thought I was taking far too much time coming, and I worried that my lover would get bored, or would be alarmed (as I was) by the way my legs would jerk for several minutes, even as long as half an hour, after I'd come. Gradually I began to learn to manage my sexual energy, and I got to the point where I could actually achieve a fairly complete release, so that I was not left with an uncomfortable sense of inner vibration. It helped when I realized that I need to come several times in one session.
I still didn't talk about sex very much, and still didn't feel able to ask for what I wanted. I rarely thought about it: in fact, I was careful not to, but if I had articulated what was going on for me at this time, I would have had to say that I felt it was not okay for me to be in touch with what I really wanted. I lived in a lesbian feminist community where there was great pressure to be politically correct in thought, word, and deed. This even extended to what you did in bed, and one of the things you were not supposed to want was penetration. I did enjoy oral sex, but the truth was I also desired penetration. I didn't want to admit that at the time, even to myself.
More than that, I felt that I could not tell my lover how to make love to me for fear of offending her. I somehow thought that I should like what she liked to do to me. I felt too inadequate and insecure to say anything if I didn't. Like many women, I occasionally faked orgasm to avoid dealing with the ramifications of why it wasn't happening for me. Faking was not an active lie, it only involved omitting to mention that I hadn't come. Instead, I would act like I wanted more and wanted it harder, which I often did.
Into the West
Time passed, and strict views on sexual behavior began to soften. Meanwhile I moved to northern California. This provided me with opportunities I had not had in Britain. Firstly, it was much easier for me to heal from the wounds left over from my childhood. I worked on my old emotional pain with some excellent therapists, and after a few years I succeeded in reversing many of my ingrained childhood beliefs about sex and about being a woman. I began to feel that it was perfectly fine for me to be who I was and want what I wanted.
Secondly, moving to California provided more opportunities to meet and be lovers with women who were already free in their sexuality. Encouraged by my lovers, I began to play around with a variety of sexual practices, including penetration, and I found that it added a whole new dimension to sex. While I still need (and enjoy) clitoral stimulation in order to have what I recognize as an orgasm, I have peaks of enjoyment during penetration that are a different kind of climax. And I like to experience penetration at the same time as I am having my clitoris stimulated, so that I can come with something inside me, which makes my orgasms much fuller.
I began to talk with my lovers about the nuts and bolts of being sexual: the actual nitty-gritty of tongues and hands and clits and vaginas. I even began to venture into the land of sex toys. The more women I made love with, and the more open those women were willing to be with me, the more amazed and delighted I became at the diversity of our sexual responses. My sex life blossomed.
Of course I had heard about Freud's theories on female orgasm, and I had long ago dismissed the concept of a vaginal orgasm as ridiculous, since all the women I had been with, up to that point, liked to have clitoral stimulation along with penetration, or without any penetration at all. For years I had firmly believed that all orgasms were clitorally based. Then I began to ask other women what they thought, and found that a number of them related to the concept of a vaginal orgasm. When I finally found Judy, who has very clearly separate vaginal and clitoral orgasms, all my questions and speculations began to coalesce into the idea of writing a book.
I cannot stress too strongly how deeply healing it has been for me just to talk about sex. Speaking openly and honestly about my desires and listening to other women speak openly and honestly about theirs has released me from the veil of shame that shrouded the subject of sex when I was growing up. It has also been, and continues to be, incredibly informative. The learning process is ongoing. Our bodies are capable of the most extraordinary things, particularly when they are in a state of sexual arousal. And what limits our sexuality are the concepts we cling to of what we think is meant to happen.
A New Vocabulary for Sex
Sex is like life. Our concepts of what sex is are shaped by our expectations; our expectations are shaped by our culture and our culture is shaped by, and shapes, our language. At the present moment we have a very limited language to express what sex is and what our sexual experiences are. In order to expand our view of sex, which is essential for most people if they are going to experience true fulfillment, we need to alter and expand our language. This can only happen if people are willing to communicate openly about sex.
Although I know that not everyone will agree with me on a clear-cut definition of what sex is, I think most people would agree that, at least some of the time, sex is about love. I have heard women say that they are tired of fucking, and they want to be making love. I believe what they mean is that they want their sexual play to involve a heart-and-soul connection, or that they want to settle down with one partner. These two situations are by no means always the same!
Either way, they are using the word "fucking" in a derogatory sense, to mean sex that isn't really loving. I don't personally use it that way, I use it to mean the act of penetration. Until a few years ago, the word had the same derogatory connotations for me as it does for most people: it indicated something vulgar, coarse, a little bit disgusting. Why did it change for me? I think because I gradually began to need a functional word that described a physical act (penetration) that was pleasurable and at the same time denoted an instinctively animal passion.
I am careful where I use the word fucking because of the derogatory spin it carries for most people. I try to use it only in situations where it is clear that I mean it positively. Sadly, sex can be sordid, and often is. But for me, my sexual play, whether it involves fucking or not, is about "making" love. I make lots of love when I'm being sexual. I often feel filled up with love; I feel surrounded by love; I feel open and vulnerable, and powerful in my vulnerability.
When you truly let your sexual energy flow freely throughout your entire being, you'll feel as though you're making love every moment of every day with everything and everyone even during a root canal. Annie Sprinkle
For the sake of clarity, I often use the terms doer and receiver. The receiver is the one who is having something done to her, and might appear to be the more passive partner; the doer is the one who is doing, and might appear to be the more active partner. (Obviously there are times when this division is meaningless.)
The other term I frequently use is sexual play. It is vital that we begin to define sex as a playful exchange, so that the games we engage in and the roles we adopt are openly acknowledged and discussed between willing participants. I do not use the term "foreplay," since it denotes a goal, a beginning and an end, and I've never related to it. While there are (possibly) beginnings and ends to particular acts during particular sexual encounters, sexual undercurrents are going on all the time, between all kinds of people. Whether or not we choose to bring these undercurrents to the surface, and act on them, should always be the result of consensual agreement between adults.
Traditional sexual interchanges all too often involve one person initiating an act that the other person feels ambivalent about, due to her past experience, or the likelihood that she won't get her needs met, or both. Consensuality and negotiation are extremely important concepts that are sadly lacking in this kind of exchange. Good sex must always be fully consensual, which means that both partners consciously agree to it, rather than doing things a certain way by default. Women rarely have a clear concept of their right to define what happens to them in their lives generally. Until we assert our right to self-definition in all our interchanges, we cannot be fully present. And even then, it may take a long time to make meaningful changes in the sexual arena.
The Best Medicine
One of the main problems we have with sex is a lack of playfulness. Instead of a natural act that has a flow of its own and arises out of a healthy desire, it often becomes stilted and laden with "issues"; it becomes something that we are afraid of or something that we desperately want, and either way we are terrified of failing at it. We try to make it flawless, perfect, romantic, and our need to have it this way only leads to tension and awkwardness.
The times I remember best are the times when there was laughter as well as passion.
The best antidote to an overdose of seriousness is laughter; I'm not talking about the inane "dirty" jokes that reinforce tiresome and damaging stereotypes, but loving laughter that stems from a down-to-earth feeling of joy. Whether it's a giggle or a good deep belly laugh, it's wonderful when lovers can roll around together in hilarity. The things that we get so anxious about, be they lack of orgasm, lack of erection, or anything else, are exactly the things that don't have to matter at all, and we need to learn to be flippant about them. If a man could look down at his limp penis and say, "Uh-oh, looks like it's not coming out to play today," or a woman, instead of faking it, could say, "I can see this orgasm out of the corner of my eye, but I think it's running the other way," then we'd be able to relax and have a good time, instead of fixating on what's not happening.
Being goofy and playful takes me a lot further. Laughing breaks down a certain barrier that makes it possible to open up more sexually.
Laughter can also be part and parcel of an orgasm.
Once we were making love in a place where we had to be really quiet, and when my lover came she was desperately trying to stifle her moans, but they kept breaking through as loud snorts, a mixture of laughter and sexual pleasure. We both laughed helplessly for several minutes, and the ripples of suppressed laughter shook my body just like an orgasm.
These days, sex is laden with fear of disease, and it may be difficult to be spontaneous. All the more reason to be able to laugh, as you drop the condom on the floor, or it splits as you're putting it on, or you roll off the edge of the bed as you're reaching for it.
When the telephone by the bed rang, I reflexively picked it up. It was a repairman telling me what was wrong with my computer and how difficult it would be to fix. And here I am, on my hands and knees, getting it really hard and really well doggie-style with this huge hard dick, on the verge of coming, and more or less shouting into the phone, "Oh yeah, whatever it takes, just do it. Do it. Do it! DO IT!!!" And, the nice thing was, they both listened to me and did it ...
I would like the reader to understand that most of the women I have interviewed are unusual; they are the ones who have been willing (and often eager!) to talk about what sex is for them. Their experiences represent some of the possibilities within the range of female sexuality.
Because I don't want to leave the reader with the idea that we are all having sex as good as those of us who are happy to talk about it, I have made an effort to include some women who are not satisfied with their sex lives. I am extremely grateful to the women who are not confident in their sexuality, for being willing to talk to me; I know it wasn't easy for them and I feel their input is extremely important in revealing the truth that many women today have not yet experienced sexual fulfillment.
In this day and age it would be irresponsible to write a book on sex without including some information on the risk of disease. I prefer the phrase safer sex to safe sex, since we do not know enough about modes of transmission to be certain of being absolutely safe, and the only completely safe course of action is no action, that is, abstinence. Safer sex is a more viable option for many of us.
Some diseases, such as herpes and chlamydia, are spread primarily by sexual contact, and others, such as hepatitis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can be spread by a variety of methods, including sexual contact. One of the most common modes of transmission for AIDS is shared needles among intravenous drug users. There are some high-risk professions, also, including healthcare workers who routinely come into contact with blood products.
While it is impossible to lead a life in which you will never be exposed to any kind of disease, it is also true that a little care goes a long way. I believe it is unethical to omit some basic precautions. It is a little like crossing the road: if you run out into the middle of a busy freeway (equivalent to having unprotected sex with everyone you meet) and expect to remain uninjured, you're living in a fool's paradise. But if you always wait until you can see no moving vehicles in either direction before you step out (equivalent to never having sex at all), then you will spend a lot of your life standing anxiously on the sidewalk. You may stay alive, as long as some crazy driver doesn't mount the sidewalk to mow you down.
You may get tired of hearing this, but the most important factor is honest and open communication with your partner. Discuss your sexual and health history with all potential partners. Make an agreement about what kind of precautions you are going to take, and stick to them. It's vital to be able to trust your long-term or short-term partners not to violate your agreements. There is a behavior continuum from ultra-safe: "If it's wet and it's not yours, then don't touch it;" to safer (better than no precautions at all): using condoms for vaginal or anal intercourse but not for fellatio, for instance. You may decide to use no barriers with a primary partner, but to be very careful to avoid any exchange of body fluids with all other partners.
You want your partner to be honest with you, so be honest with your partner. But you should not base a decision not to do safe sex on what your partner tells you; people who have diseases tend to be stigmatized and this makes it hard for them to tell the truth. Moreover, illegal drug use and unsanctioned sex (sex outside marriage or sex with a prostitute, for instance) are things that even usually trustworthy people may lie about.
If you have sex with multiple partners, you and your partners should get tested regularly for HIV. Testing is available that is totally anonymous, absolutely free and no longer involves having blood taken, since there is now an accurate saliva test. However, if you do contract the virus, it may take up to six months to show up in your blood. So be aware that even if you have a negative test result, you could be carrying the virus if you have indulged in risky practices within the previous six months.
If you are in a monogamous relationship, and have been so for at least six months, and you have recently had a negative AIDS test, don't work in a high risk profession, and don't share needles, then your only concern is that you are not carrying any other disease, such as hepatitis, chlamydia, genital warts, syphylis, gonorrhea, or herpes.
I recommend the following as basic safety precautions:
1 Get regular checkups. Chlamydia can cause sterility in women, yet its symptoms are often minimal or non-existent. A herpes flare-up will go away of its own accord, but it means you are a herpes carrier, and you need to know that so that you don't pass it on to others. If you have any kind of sores on your labia, or any sign of a discharge, go to a doctor.
2 Use condoms. Don't just think about them use them. Use them regularly, as a habit. Use them on dildoes, use them on penises. Use them for vaginal intercourse, use them for anal intercourse, use them for oral sex. If your partner objects, discuss alternatives. These might be no intercourse of any kind or using a vaginal condom (the Reality female condom is available from any sex store, but it needs a little practice to use properly). There are many kinds of condoms, and some are much more comfortable and allow more sensitivity than others. Try different kinds. To increase sensation, try applying a little lube before you put the condom on.
Condoms occasionally break (usually because they are not put on correctly). Learn how to put them on properly. If you want extra safety, try using two together, but put a little lube in between them so they don't stick to each other, which would make them more likely to break.
3 Use latex gloves (or some other kind if you are allergic to latex). They are inexpensive and easy to use. If your hands are very clean and free of cuts or abrasions, and you're not using them for heavy penetration, gloves are not absolutely essential. But have a box by your bed for the times when your hands have cuts on them or you're doing anal penetration, or fisting (vaginal or anal).
4 If you are performing cunnilingus or anilingus, use dental dams, female condoms, a glove cut open (with your tongue in the thumb hole), or plastic wrap. Again, using a little dollop of lube next to the receiver's skin can improve sensitivity.
5 With latex, don't use mineral oils or any lubricants other than those that are water-based, as they will destroy it. There are alternatives to latex, such as nitrile gloves, and polyurethane condoms.
6 Wash all toys after use, with antiseptic soap and hot water, or follow the instructions that come with the toy.
7 Avoid getting semen, vaginal secretions, blood, or feces on any broken skin: that includes the skin in your mouth. If you're performing oral sex without a barrier, then don't floss or brush your teeth just beforehand. And remember that the herpes sores that appear on lips are directly transferable to genitals. It is best to use a barrier!
8 Always dispose of used barriers safely, and never attempt to reuse them.
9 Eroticize safer sex. It doesn't have to be more difficult or unpleasant than utilizing any other contraceptive methods. Putting on a condom can be fun. Try doing it with your mouth.
An Orgasm Sampler
I feel the sensation of my orgasms up inside me, and all the way out to my outer lips. They're deep, pulsing, throbbing, clenching. They're emotionally overwhelming and all-consuming!
The energy builds in my pelvis, or sometimes throughout my whole body, even my brow furrows. Everything gets pulled in to the point where the energy is pushed outwards, that's the point of orgasm. I most often feel it go out through my feet or straight upwards from my pelvis.
I feel trembly and like I'm headed to a cliff, then I'm lifted up when I come, and float back down when I'm done.
I could be in a life-or-death situation and not stop if I was having an orgasm.
My orgasms are a combination of water waves and electricity. The front of my body feels electrical from my shins up to my face. The rest of my body feels liquid, like waves washing through it. Exquisite is too small a word: I feel like my whole body has been hit with a baseball bat.
I don't have the words for it, except that there is a buildup and then release and that I really enjoy it. Plus there is a tot of variation between orgasms, some even verge on boring but necessary.
Orgasm is like a chord that resonates through my whole being, like total release, total fusion with my partner.
My strongest orgasms feel like I am exploding in a ball of blue light, an intense deep blue. The lesser orgasms are like riding an undulating wave of intensity with blue flashes here and there along the way. The strongest leave me drenched in sweat, heart pounding and exhausted. Even the lesser ones are very exciting.
Orgasms are like rolling waves, sometimes sweet little ones, sometimes crashing thunder. They're about sensitivity, playfulness, love, and open sharing!
There is a feeling of surfacing, emerging (maybe like birth!)
For me, orgasm is a release of tension, especially if I'm masturbating. There are definite muscle contractions, sometimes just a few, sometimes lots and lots that go on for quite a while. A very good orgasm with a partner is just completely overwhelming I can't even begin to describe it. I can orgasm basically whenever I want to, and sometimes in only a few seconds.
An orgasm feels like being possessed by power, and then being flooded by it or flooding it.
Trying to describe orgasms is really difficult, like trying to describe an acid trip. I usually feel tension building up a definite tingling or tickling, mainly in the pelvic region, also in my nipples. There's a sense of shortness-of-breath, as though I'm very nervous. At the climax my whole body convulses. It feels like a rush of pleasure and heat starting with my clitoris and rushing quickly through my entire body, something like an electric shock. This happens in several waves with diminishing intensity. The first wave is very intense.
Orgasm is a concentrated buzz that builds to an explosion throughout my body.
Orgasm is an all-encompassing heat that increases in power and depth to an explosive and cleansing release.
Orgasm is electrifying, my body held in position, frozen solid waiting for it to end, pounding, rising, warmth, elation, laughter, wild, crazy, like nothing matters except that one moment, everything else falls away. Swept up and up, a rush to beat all rushes. Trying to hold it, hold on and slowly having it recede to end in calm contentment.
As these lyrical descriptions of orgasm illustrate, women are starting to define their own sexuality and it is wonderful to see us go beyond the limits that have held us in a state of shame. We still have a long way to go to dispel the old damaging ideas about how sex is meant to be, but we are finally beginning to celebrate the glory of our bodies' capacities. Put another way, we're having a lot more fun when we're not so desperate to be "normal."