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Regarding the recent column on women who can't have orgasms [1/30/08]: I hate to say it, but it looks like you phoned this one in. Where are the partners in the equation? If you were the boyfriend, wouldn't it seem rude for your girlfriend to say, "I'm going to put you on hold while I play with toys to feel better sexually"? I think it would be better for her to say, "We need to talk," then describe what's going on with her sexual responses and feelings. Why shut him out? That doesn't help the relationship. They can figure it out together; maybe it can even be a playful exercise in experimentation. If he can't deal, then he wasn't the right boyfriend for her anyway.
I really do enjoy your column.
All about the Teamwork
Hey, that's OK. I really do enjoy your feedback. I actually didn't phone this one in, though. I told the young women to put their boyfriends on hold for a while because partnered sex was not working for them. And desperately trying to have a good time works about as well in bed as it does out on the town on New Year's Eve, which is to say, not at all. If I neglected to tell the young women that they ought to at least notify the boyfriends that they would be checking out for a bit to do some exploration on their own, well, that was sloppy, and I do apologize. (Girls, tell your boyfriends why you're not having sex for a while, OK?) But I stand by my original suggestion that they should, indeed, skip the partnered sex in favor of masturbation until they can at least say with some conviction that they know what an orgasm feels like.
I said in the original column that it isn't fair, but women often get out of touch with their sexual responses in a way that's pretty rare for men. And although women certainly have no lock on extreme self-consciousness, what gets in our way is a mostly female blend of "Oh no, he's looking at me and he'll see I don't look like [insert current icon here]" and "Oh no, I'm taking too long. What if he thinks I'm selfish or gets bored?" plus fear of losing self-control and looking slutty. And sometimes the only way to ditch all of that stuff is to run away alone.
I also mentioned Lonnie Barbach and Betty Dodson but somehow forget to include Julia Heiman and Joseph LoPiccolo, whose Becoming Orgasmic (Prentice Hall, 1976) has been around since the '70s and originated some of the ideas I toss around as though they were obvious, which I realize they are not. Heiman and LoPiccolo do not begin their program with "tell your partner what you like" or "masturbate in front of him" or any of the other fairly advanced techniques that sex experts throw at women who are having trouble with orgasms (I'm sorry, I'm enough of a geek that I can't see that phrase without thinking, immediately but unhelpfully, of tribbles). Instead, it starts way back, with examining your history and your ideas about sexuality before you even get close to literal physical examination and when you do get there, you get there alone. (For those who prefer their sex help with early '90s hair, there is a video version, also called Becoming Orgasmic [Sinclair Institute, 1993], which you can order online.)
The idea of solo exploration before allowing the partner back into the bedroom reminds me of something else (besides tribbles, that is), and now I realize what it is. It's all very similar to the late, lamented (he seemed like a nice guy, and he sure wrote a useful book) therapist Bernie Zilbergeld's well-known program for overcoming premature ejaculation in his (please forgive me) seminal book The New Male Sexuality (Bantam, 1984), which was rooted in the work of Masters and Johnson. You start slowly, with guided imagery and masturbation, and not even particularly fun masturbation. Gradually, over weeks or months, you add partnered activities. The program works much better for men in stable partnerships, but that doesn't mean the partner is involved every step of the way.
So no, I didn't mean to imply that the anorgasmic girls' club ought to nail up a permanent "No boyz allowed" sign, and of course I think it would be silly and almost certainly destructive to embark on such a program without fully informing any partners first. But if the problem is compounded of various parts self-consciousness, bad messages, fear of judgment, and just plain fear, then no, I don't think taking one's very first, faltering steps toward sexual self-confidence in front of an audience is necessarily the best idea.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don't do that. Just ask her a question.