By Anushka Radha Sen
When I was 11 years old, I found Jean M Auel’s Earth’s Children series in the children’s section of a bookstore near my house. The series contains six books, and tells the story of a cave woman named Ayla, her lover Jondalar, and their travels through Late Stone Age in Europe.
It was early in the second book that I encountered a long and very anatomically correct description of an ancient sex ritual. That’s when I understood beyond all possible doubt that this series did not really belong in the children’s section.
Illustration By Aparna Jain
I was fascinated. These scenes were an introduction to a whole new world. They were also my foremost source of knowledge and instruction on sex, and had lasting repercussions on my own sex life for a full decade.
Unfortunately, in these books, the clitoris only ever featured during foreplay. If Ayla had an orgasm, it always happened during or after penetrative sex. In all the pages and pages of caveman sex that they had, not once did Ayla have a purely clitoral orgasm.
So you see, thanks to these super-detailed but slightly off-centre and aggressively hetero sex scenes that I found so early in life, for the longest time, I thought I knew all there was to know about sex. I certainly thought I knew the route to female orgasm, and I believed that it lay in penetrative vaginal sex. A little knowledge is a dangerous things for orgasms.
Age 16. My boyfriend, the First Serious, has just fallen asleep after “finishing”, and I’m lying on my side reading The Purple Flower, which I left in his house in Bangalore for myself to read because I knew this would happen. I remember putting it down and wondering how he managed to sleep so deeply so soon every single time.
We’d been dating for over 10 months now, which I think was more than enough time for me to get over the novelty of having some kind of sex in the first place, and to get on with wondering, with some irritation and concern, as to where my own damn orgasm was. When we’d first started having sex, I convinced myself (and, of course, him) that I was having orgasms on the regular. Multiple even. I really half-believed it myself, I think, and it was certainly what I told all my friends.
But as different things began to wane in that strange relationship, I began to take more realistic stock of my situation. I knew what an orgasm was supposed to feel like. I just wasn’t having one. By now, I had read many more descriptions of sex than just the wrongly shelved books of my childhood — enough to list out some commonalities in literary orgasm symptoms: a feeling of warmth and a rushing of blood to obscure places, a pistoning upward of hips, a crunching of bones, a curling of toes and a couple of seconds of black-out breathlessness.
None of these things were happening to me. Not once, not ever. Not, to quote Priyanka Joseph, with my “hetero as fuck smelling-like-dad-cologne boyfriend”, and not in my own nocturnal explorations of self.
My boyfriend excelled at the kind of sex I’ve learnt many straight men are good at: the kind that works for them, and does nothing for their lady. We’d kiss a bit wetly, he’d bite my neck, play with my breasts, then penetrate me. Sometimes he’d go down on me, sometimes he’d rub my clitoris for a few seconds with dry fingers, but just as often, he wouldn’t.
My own sexual activities were far more romantic, far more elaborate. I’d fill my tub up with hot water, open up a dog-eared Nora Roberts, and start reading about 20 pages before a sex scene. I’d build up to it slowly, taking time to get in to the story, into the mood and the feel of things. When I was ready, I’d either put the book away, or keep holding it in one hand, and slide two fingers in, crooking them upwards deliberately to hit one particular sweet spot.
It felt good. I know now that the G-spot, a part of the female body deep inside the vagina that causes an immediate and powerful orgasm when touched, is a myth. But back then, when I did this and felt something fun, I thought I’d found it. Something was going on when I crooked my fingers that brought me more pleasure than usual; something different from how it felt when I merely pushed my fingers in and out. I assumed then that this little jolt was the best I was going to get, because this is clearly where orgasms come from, and I still wasn’t having one.
No orgasms with another person, and no orgasms with myself. Some mournful Googling of my symptoms pointed me in one direction fairly quickly: anorgasmia. Anorgasmia is a condition where a person cannot orgasm even after sufficient sexual stimulation. It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel sexual arousal or desire, but that you can’t have an orgasm despite it. Google informed me that one in five women suffer from it, and I was immediately convinced that I was one of them.
By the time I was 18, I had broken up with the old boyfriend, and put enough of myself back together to see a few other people. After I diagnosed myself with anorgasmia, I entered what I remember as a weird in-limbo phase. I would sometimes tell the boys I would sleep with that I was anorgasmic, and sometimes I wouldn’t. Even when I did tell them, for reasons that seemed mysterious then, I would continue to fake my orgasms. It wasn’t a good idea (I know now it never is). My partner would feel doubly satisfied with himself and his golden penis, and I would feel resentful towards him, sick of myself and everything.
Age 22. I moved to London for my masters, where I’ve been stoned for about a month straight. I don’t mean stoned like I smoked a joint before dinner. I mean I’ve been smoking a massive hit from a big glass bong every half hour for every hour that I’m awake for weeks now. It’s December. I’ve only been in London for a few months, too soon to be having the great time I soon would have there. Attendance at the university isn’t really mandatory, and even if it was, I don’t think I would go. My body isn’t made for temperatures like that, and plus, the weed is really, really good. No seeds, no stems and soft to the touch, with that thick, lemony green odour that sticks to the curtains and your fingers and the air. A true haze. I was on a steady diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because they were cheap and sugary and I was spending all my money on weed.
It sounds a bit awful, I know, but it wasn’t a bad time. I was the kind of stoned you get when you don’t have time to get sober, just sort of climbing and climbing until you plateau off onto a new normal. I quite liked it. It was somewhere in this haze that I stumbled upon a magazine article on how to achieve a 15-minute orgasm.
The magazine story assumed you were a hetero woman, and instructed you to have your partner pull back the head of the clitoris, and with very moist slippery fingers, rub the top right of your clitoris with quick, tiny strokes, like a metronome. After 15 minutes of this, your partner was supposed to press down beneath your navel firmly-but-not-too-firmly in a pumping action, and voila, a 15-minute orgasm would be achieved.
I was very stoned, which means I was also a little turned on, so I thought okay, why the hell not and just went for it. For the first time in my 22-year-old life, I lay back, pulled back the hood of the clitoris and hooked it back with my thumb, and rubbed my clitoris however it felt right at that moment. Maybe it was the psychological effect of the article or maybe it wasn’t, but soon enough, I was making tiny little motions at the top right of my clitoris. In about 10 minutes, my body was literally on autopilot. In 15, I had my life’s first orgasm. Not a 15-minute orgasm, mind you, just a regular old-fashioned straight-out-of-the-books orgasm.
Hilariously, I remember being absolutely knocked out for what felt like an eternity after. Twenty two years of sexual interest and frustration in one spectacular orgasm. And I felt all of it just as promised: an involuntary movement of hips, a twitching of thighs, a bodily rush and even a weird sort of crunching of ankle bones. It was perfect.
When I came around, so to speak, I remember laughing aloud to myself. I was shell-shocked for sure, but unbelievably excited. I wasn’t fucking anorgasmic, I’d just been doing it wrong my whole stupid life.
It took me 22 years and an article on how to reach a possibly mythical 15-minute-orgasm to learn how to masturbate (small aside: I am still in search for a less gross word. Do you have one?) fruitfully and successfully. The discovery made lots of changes to my life. For one thing, I stayed in my room for about another month after that moment, doing literally nothing but this. My roommate once wondered if I was dead, because she saw and heard so little of me, and a little later, if I was depressed, because I only ever ventured out of my room to go to the kitchen for water looking dishevelled and exhausted in my bathrobe. I was quite the opposite of depressed haha, if only she knew.
That was the time when I came to the important realisation that I’m amongst the majority of women who only experience clitoral orgasms, and not vaginal. I know that I need lots of sustained slippery clitoral stimulation to have an orgasm, and that no amount of vaginal anything will do the trick. I’ve decided to stop faking orgasms, because doing that feels ridiculous now that I know what a real one feels like. Plus, I can just show men what works for me.
Which isn’t to say that it is all smooth sailing, or as easy as I had thought it would be now that I know what to do with myself to have an orgasm.
Successful masturbation for me is now so intuitive, and depends so heavily on the tiny variations of pressure, frequency and lubrication that are very easy for me to do for myself, but much harder to communicate those tiny shifts to someone else, especially in the heat of the moment.
I am of course as much into aesthetic-seeming sex as the next person, and it feels a bit weird to act like a PT teacher shouting out directions to someone who is really trying hard to please me. Considering that it also takes a full 10 or 15 minutes of very specific and precise actions, it can get a bit awkward sometimes. Wondering whether my endless instructions are tiresome distracts me from the very focused attention I need to have an orgasm. And it of course gets frustrating in the moment if after all my directions they still just can’t seem to get it right, and I am lying there half turned on. Plus, I think they get flustered when I flood them with directions that are counter-intuitive to what they’re used to doing, and the anxiety of trying to get it right in such a loaded moment gets to them too.
I have tried having detailed conversations before doing the deed, laying out exactly what works for me beforehand. That goes two distinct ways: it can be a fun, exciting and kind of sexy conversation that gets us both into the mood and transitions very naturally to us having sex, or it can make the entire process seem very clinical and automated, which sucks. It depends on the person and the mood. Having the conversation after sex can be nice too, but I can’t shake the lingering feeling that it makes the person I’m with feel like they’ve just been disappointing or less than up to the mark, and makes the sex we just had less of a happy memory for them.
I thankfully have found a solution that seems to be working. Sort of.
A boy told me that he finds it super arousing to watch a woman get off, and asked me if I would do that in front of him. It felt really exciting and the good kind of weird, and was a doubly sexy way to show him exactly what works for me without sounding like a PT teacher.
That very first time, I surprised myself with the shock and intensity of my orgasm. Every now and then I wonder what it would be like to be surprised by it again, because someone else is working their way to my orgasm. Because then I wouldn’t know it’s coming, haha, that I am coming. That hasn’t happened yet with any boys, but I’ve had a few orgasms around boys with this plan of showing them what an ISI mark female orgasm looks like. Or at least an ISI marked orgasm of mine.
I am optimistic and feel like I am getting closer to my goal. I am sticking to my plan and my sticky fingers. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Anushka is a writer and a painter.