Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mona's O -- Doesn't Everybody?

Six years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, my OB/GYN asked if I’d be interested in participating in a research study at Local University. They wanted women of all socio-economic levels as test subjects, with the goal in mind of finding out causes of low birth weight. Of course, I said Yes.

The study encompassed a light physical, with reference to my current OB records. For two days I had to wear a blood pressure cuff that went off every few minutes and automatically recorded my levels. (Try sleeping through THAT!) I met with a facilitator and answered a seemingly endless set of questions…multiple choice, short answer, open-ended. Having designed and executed research studies in college and in my place of work, I was very interested in what they were REALLY getting at, how they designed the study, if the questions were well-written or ambiguous. I made some comment about the study, asked the facilitator about her role in it, and she brightened to know that I had also done the job she was doing. We then started to chat a bit after every section, about the questions, the university’s role in the study. I felt like an insider.

"Do you know what an orgasm is?"
“Have you ever had an orgasm?”
“Oh YES!”
“How many times in your life have you had an orgasm: 1-10, 11-20, 21-50, more than 50.”
“Are you kidding? More than 50.”

And the line of orgasm questioning went on and on, and we both giggled at some of the questions and she was amazed at my straightforwardness. Which struck me as odd, I mean, why wouldn’t you just open up? After that section, I laughed and said, “There can’t really be any women who say they don’t know what an orgasm is!”

The facilitator leaned in and said, “Actually, some women in the study have never heard the word!”

It was like she was speaking Martian.

Never heard of an orgasm?

“Some of the women in the study, those in a lower income level, or in a rural setting, some in very religious marriages, have NO idea what an orgasm is. I can’t tell you how many women have asked me to define an orgasm for them! When I tell them the physical aspects of it, that it happens during intercourse, compare it to their male partners orgasms, they just shake their heads and say, ‘Nope, never had me one-a those!’ And some of these women are in their late 30s with other children!”

I sat there speechless. The facilitator and I shook our heads and sort of sighed, I could tell that she’d seen and heard things in this study that made her wonder what womankind is coming to.

How can this be? How can you go through your life and not know what an orgasm is, at least heard the word, touched yourself "down there", at the very least demanded that your partner help you have one? It seems so odd that women can be so unaware of what their bodies are capable of.

I understand that access to education may play a part in this. Feeling guilty about sex, due to your upbringing, beliefs, culture, whatever, can play a part. Low self-esteem, a demanding partner, all play factors.


You had to, at some point in your life, heard the word orgasm. Or cum. And wondered what the fuss was about. Why wouldn’t you find out how to give yourself one, at the very minimum? Are those women really so affected by outside forces that they abandon their own feelings and happiness? Do they really think of sex as merely for procreation? Are they truly happy?

I so much wanted to talk to these women. To show them a diagram of their genitalia, to instruct them on masturbation. To talk to their partners and slap them upside their heads and say, “Make her cum first!” Knowing how much I enjoy an orgasm, I couldn’t fathom losing that part of my sexuality (or having never discovered it), that part of being self-confident, that happiness. Sad, it’s really sad that some women have neither the knowledge nor the want to explore their own sexuality.

The facilitator and I spent several hours together, talking, questioning, laughing. She was good, and I thanked her for being so open with me.

After my baby was born, there were a few more questions and medical records exchanged for the study. I was told that the final research report would be sent to me, as a courtesy. I didn’t hear anything further.

Until two weeks ago.

The study group sent me a letter, asking if I wanted to continue participation. I called the number listed and said, “YES!”, answered a few more questions, was told to expect more phone calls and letters in the next few months. PLUS a copy of the final report, probably next year, as the focus of the study was expanded to include the health of the mother, the child, and any future children.

All that is interesting, and the research-hog in me is extremely curious to see the results.

But I can’t help but be a little sad for those women who answered the orgasm question with, “Nope! Never had me one-a those!” In the six years since the study, have they had an orgasm? And why not?


At 10:21 AM, Blogger Orange said...

When we were roughly 13 and 12 years old, my sister and I discovered a book in my mom's dresser drawer...a small paperback how-to book about masturbation and orgasm. (You wouldn't believe the baby steps in there! "First, clear the house and lock your bedroom door. Grab a mirror and look at your parts. See that one there? That's the clitoris." "Now that you've looked at yourself, try touching. Just a little bit." "Okay, now touch a little more and try a little variety.") While it's astonishing that a woman could reach adulthood without figuring this out for herself, at least my mom wasn't putting out any negative "sex is dirty" messages. No positive messages either, really, but I think kids will figure it out on their own as long as nobody messes with their minds.

A very sex-positive friend of mine had grown up with parents who taught her that sitting cross-legged in a nightgown was inappropriate because her underwear would show...inside the house, with only family present. I believe "touching yourself down there" was also frowned upon. It took her years to get over that, but now she's got an erotica collection, an assortment of toys, and a history of satisfying sexual relationships.

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

So sad. Probably most women in history, though, haven't known what an orgasm is.

I'd be interested to see the ratio of women who have never heard of an orgasm who say ‘Nope, never had me one-a those!’ to those who say 'oh, that's what those things are called. I like them.'

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Julie said...

I either had totally hippie parents (true) or I was a really weird child (also true), because I was a masturbating FREAK as a child. How could people not just figure this out on their own? "If I rub up against (insert object here), it feels good. I think I'll keep doing that. Oh, that feels goooood!"

Mona, like you, this would have been one of those "Huh! You must be kidding!" moments if someone had told me a woman hadn't heard of an orgasm.

At 1:52 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

That is terribly sad...and especially when you think of how much sex some of those women HAVE. What are they getting out of it? I'm not saying an orgasm every time is required (although I must say the husband doesn't EVER leave me without one), but to have never had one...??? wow. and to still keep spreadin' em, year after year after year...sad and weird. and sad.

At 2:12 PM, Blogger jo(e) said...

I always wonder too about surveys that show how many sexually active women have NEVER had an orgasm. Sure, some of these women were maybe abused as kids and have some kind of deep emotional issues around sex ... but what about the rest of them? Did they have really repressive upbringings?

I suppose the word orgasm is fairly clinical. I imagine that there are women who just call it something else. Or maybe some have great sex without seeing the orgasm as separate from everything else, if that makes sense.

These things do make you wonder ....

At 6:30 PM, Blogger your fiend, mr. jones said...

We live in a world where some people still believe that the moon landing was faked and that God made the world in exactly six days. Because on the seventh he rested.

So women not knowing what an orgasm is, doesn't surprise me.

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Mona Buonanotte said...

Orange: My mom never talked to me about sex, masturbation, any of those things (although she did have the menstruation talk in 4th and 5th grade before I saw that 'special film'). I'd LOVE to find out my mom had a book on orgasm! I'll have to search her dresser next time I'm at her house! ;-)

Rob: I'd love to hear those stats as well. If I ever get the study results, I'll share 'em. BTW, is reluctance to tell women about orgasms part of our patriarchical society? I think things would be way different if it were more matriarchical....

Julie: OMG! I was a freak child too! That's gonna be my next installment, actually, I'm glad you're in my 'club'!

Lisa: It just blows my mind. I keep wondering, did these women have orgasms and not know what they were? Or just not have 'em? Boy, if they ever did, can you imagine how much their lives could change??

jo(e): That seems to be the tricky part, defining what an orgasm is exactly. I'm sure there are slight variations from woman to woman, but there must exist some baseline. I saw an HBO special years ago about a clinic that helped women learn to orgasm through masturbation. I dunno, I don't think sticking a dildo in my hoo-haa in front of 20 other women would exactly promote an orgasm for me....

Mr. Jones: And the earth is flat and thunder is God bowling. Yeah, I hear ya!

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Orange said...

As for that HBO special—if you haven't figured out how to come on your own because you're that uncomfortable with your body, how the hell are you signing up for the class that involves masturbating in front of a group ON NATIONAL TELEVISION? That astounds me to this day. Letting your neighbors see (1) that you never figured out this masturbation business, (2) your hoo-ha, and (3) you in the act of figuring out the masturbation business—did none of these women have kids? Dry cleaners? Friends and relatives? Coworkers? Neighbors who get HBO? Ack.

And poor Joycelyn Elders was booted out of the surgeon general position for suggesting that kids should find out about this masturbation thing instead of jumping each other's bones.

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Mona Buonanotte said...

Orange: Joycelyn got a bad rap. And boy, that abstinence thing is sure gettin' the crap beaten out of it!

At 11:04 PM, Blogger Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Jo(e): A recent study by Dunn et al says that inability to orgasm is about 45% genetic. In other words, given the same repressive culture 45% more women would be able to orgasm, if they just had the same genetic code. With the wrong genes, even ordinary levels of uptightness can make one non-orgasmic.

At 8:16 PM, Blogger Pisser said...

I think I know one of these women.

I wonder if it's all in their head(s) or if it's physiological...?
The one I know is INCREDIBLY anal. I mean...but not...er.

Poor things.

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Melliferous Pants said...

My sister is one of those, women. It is terribly sad to not understand, or care to know, your own body.

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Orange said...

But...but...but how can the inability to orgasm have a genetic basis, Rob? How can it be that such a basic physiological function could be inborn? That would be very sad.


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