By turns uproarious and touching, the memoir of a young woman's search for an orgasm—and for the elusive connections between sex and love
Twenty-six-year-old Mara Altman wanted to know what all the screaming was about. She'd lost her virginity at seventeen; grown up in southern California with sexually free parents; had lovers in India, Burma, and Peru; and spent a year in Bangkok observing all manner of depravity. And yet she was an attractive, successful, single woman in New York who'd never had an orgasm.
And so she embarked on a wildly funny, emotionally resonant odyssey—a journey both inside and outside herself—only to discover that, for Mara, orgasm was connected to a part of her that no vibrator could reach. Thanks for Coming is one woman's look at our obsession with and anxiety over the female orgasm. Her quest to get her own yields poignant results that will surprise even the sexually awakened among us. From sex shows to sex conventions, from a therapist's couch to her own couch, from the bedroom to the bar, Mara Altman proves to be a guide as hilarious as she is investigative.
About the Author
Mara Altman received her M.S. in journalism from Columbia University in 2005. A former staff writer at the Village Voice, she has also written for the New York Times and New York. She lives in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
Thanks for Coming
One Young Woman's Quest for an Orgasm
Where's the Key to My Cli-Taurus?
I called up Dr. Barry Komisaruk. "No orgasm!?" he said when I told him that my orgasm gear—all that stuff "down there"—was out of whack. He must have heard the urgency in my voice, because the New Jersey-based neuroscientist said he'd meet me in the City. But before hanging up the phone, he started taking down notes. "How old are you? You have siblings? Have you tried . . ."
Dr. Komisaruk had recently published a book, The Science of Orgasm, with two coauthors. He seemed to know everything about the subject, and I was hoping he could help me out since nothing I had tried so far was working. Of course, an essential, yet quite counterproductive, part of my problem was that "trying" didn't actually include me touching myself.
But more on that later.
See, I'm twenty-six years old and don't have one climax to show for it. Even the three cats—Buddy, Sika, and Lucy—running around my Brooklyn apartment manage to remind me of that fact. They upchuck, lick themselves, claw at things, and hump each other in front of me, and I wonder how we humans, especially me, got so far away from the instinctual. My instincts seem kaput; they atrophied because I wasn't exercising them regularly. I want to hump a sofa pillow and pat myself on the back for it—good girl!—but I haven't even been able to touch my crotch, let alone hump a pillow. I'm suffering from a case of inhibition, which might be compounded by some love cynicism.
I looked up the statistics. Forty-three percent of women report having some sort ofsexual dysfunction, so I shouldn't be too horrified, but the more I think about my own problem, the more it freaks me out. When I gave a girlfriend of mine the news, she practically dropped to the curb like it was a pew and prayed for me—an especially dazzling performance given that she's an atheist.
Dr. Komisaruk agreed to meet me at an Indian restaurant on Bleecker Street in the Village. I suggested Ethiopian, but he said the last time he ate that cuisine, he got confused and used the flat rolls of bread to wipe the beads of sweat off his forehead. He thought it was a hot towel. It left an uncomfortable doughy feeling on his skin that he didn't want to relive. Neuroscientists can't be smart about everything.
It's not like I haven't had sex; I have, with six men. (Actually, let's call it five and a half, but more on that later.) But back to orgasms—or rather, lack of them. No, I haven't had one. An orgasm seems just as elusive with my own touch as it was with any of my five and a half men, and I want to fix that. I've managed to travel around the world—I've lived in Spain, India, Thailand, and Peru and had plenty of relationship casualties along the way—but I've never ventured inside myself. And so the journey I've decided to take—the one that led me to call Dr. Komisaruk—is going to be about stepping outside my comfort zone and pushing my own boundaries and ending my prudish ways. That's what I told myself anyway, but so far it's proving to be harder than I thought.
My project did not have an auspicious start. A few weeks ago, I'd set up an appointment with a sexologist named Melinda. I was an anxious mess as I entered her office. I was sweating like I'd crawled through a jungle—lagoons under my arms and eddies coalescing on my upper lip.
Melinda told me to get comfortable on her flower-print sofa. The sofa was the wrong fit. If I sat on the edge, my feet dangled, and if I sat all the way back, my legs stuck out like a toddler's in a minivan. Melinda couldn't talk to me about sex while I was sitting like that. It'd feel almost pedophilic. So I settled on Indian-style and tried to be Zen.
She resembled Bette Midler, but puffier. Conjure Midler clad in a football uniform but with longer hair, and instead of slinking around a stage singing about love, she's sitting on a sofa opposite and prodding you to sing about your embarrassing sexual hang-ups.
"I've never had an orgasm before," I said.
I began to elaborate on my theories—maybe I was rebelling against my parents, who are sex-loving hippies; maybe I was defining myself in contrast to my best friend, who lives on orgasms; maybe it could be the result of the Muslim guy I dated in India who didn't even know what a hand job was—but she cut me off and started educating me on what occurs in the body during arousal.
"The genitals get engorged with blood . . . throbbing."
"Hold up," I said. "Can we rewind?" I felt like I was on step 0.03 and she had galloped straight to ten.
"Just go home and touch your clitoris," she continued.
CLI-toris, is that how you say it? I've been saying cli-Taurus, like it was some kind of Ford sedan that needed to be started with a special key before I could take it for a spin around town.
Objectively, I knew I could just shove one of those rabbit vibrators everyone talks about down there and probably get it over with. But I didn't just see this as a physical issue: I wanted to know why, despite having been gifted many vibrators in my life, I hadn't attempted to use them yet.
To change the subject, I told her I was thinking about writing a book about the process. Before now, I had been so caught up in work, so obsessed with making something of myself, that it was entirely possible my pussy could have fallen off and I wouldn't have noticed. The only way I'd get in touch was if I made orgasm the focus of my work, made this odyssey part of my livelihood as a writer and journalist.Thanks for Coming
One Young Woman's Quest for an Orgasm. Copyright (c) by Mara Altman . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.