‘My Obsession With Orgasms Almost Ruined My Life’
The Debrief: It was like being locked out of this amazing secret orgasm club everyone else was a member of
It was spring when I visited mental health services. I can remember seeing white and pink blossoms at the window of the Mile End unit that had invited me in for an appointment.
Almost as soon as I sat down I started crying, just like I had in the GP’s office a couple of weeks before.
The problem? I had never had an orgasm during sex.
Yep, you heard right - and I felt ashamed about wasting NHS resources over what is essentially the kind of ‘health’ problem that Cosmopolitan solves on a monthly basis.
Weirdly, I was not remotely reassured by the fact I could orgasm on my own - because having orgasms during sex seemed to me like some kind of exam you can only pass if you're really cool and relaxed. And I was not cool or relaxed: I was frigid.
I was a bit of a late starter when it came to sex. The first time I got a proper boyfriend, I was 19. We had sex several times over the course of the three month relationship - and when he ended it, he cited my inability to orgasm as one of the reasons why he wanted to end things. As far as I was concerned, I’d been dumped for being frigid, and I started to wonder whether any relationship could survive without orgasms. My anxiety grew. After a few months, I had convinced myself that if I couldn’t come then I was going to get dumped again and again. My inability to orgasm went from being an annoyance to the reason why I would die alone. .
I met my next boyfriend shortly after and went out with him for a couple of years. I was determined not to get dumped this time, and faked orgasms throughout that relationship: something I am still sorry about to this day. He didn’t have a clue what I was doing - but my obsession with orgasms - or lack of - meant that I never even got close to coming because I was so self conscious. But the time that relationship ended I was 25 and still no closer to achieving the Big O with another person in the room.
My next plan? To sleep around with as many people as I could. At first I think I hoped that if I slept with enough people, I would find someone who could cure my ‘frigidity’ (which was how I continued to characterise my lack of orgasm). And also, I think I was trying to fuck the scariness out of having sex with someone. Unsurprisingly, this only made matters worse.
Having sex wasn’t enough for me - I was convinced that if I didn’t orgasm, then the sex was automatically a failure. If I guy offered to go down on me I’d decline - after all, if he did and I didn’t orgasm (which seemed like the most likely scenario) then they’d be disappointed or offended, and lose interest in me. Meanwhile, it felt like my friends are having multi-orgasmic sex every time they went to bed - even if it was with a guy they didn’t really like or trust. And if real-life was bad, films and Tv were worse. Remember that scene in the florets in Sex And The City when Charlotte argues that sex without orgasm can be ok? When I saw the way Carrie and Samantha looked at her, my heart sank.
By this point, my obsession with orgasms was starting to affect my whole life. I had started to feel low all the time, avoided socialising, and when I felt very low had begun to cut or hurt myself on purpose. There were other things going on in my life, sure, but the fact that I hated my boss and I had just broken up with my boyfriend seemed insignificant beside my fear that I was ‘sexually dysfunctional.’
And so I found myself visiting a psychiatrist who assessed me on my first visit and listened to me cry and talk about my worries about my sex life for about half an hour before asking: 'Is everything else OK in your life?' As far as i was concerned, it absolutely was. I was convinced that my unhappiness at work, and around my love life were things I’d be able to cope with if only I could sort out the sex stuff. But because I never explained quite how bad things were (I was too embarrassed to tell him I was self-harming) he told me that my inability to orgasm was ‘quite normal,’ and that was that.
Things continued to get worse, until six months later I was tired of feeling so dreadful and finally went back to the GP, and this time I was honest about how sad I was. I was given a month of CBT, which was a total game changer. It didn’t solve my orgasm problem directly (hey, it can’t do everything), but it sorted my head out. It gave me the perspective to put my anxiety in its rightful place.
Once I learned more about my feelings - what they were, when they turned up, how to reason with them - I wasn’t afraid of them any more. And once I learned to live with my anxiety, I was able to reframe sex as a 'skill' I can get better at, rather than a 'win or lose' event. I felt like I was going back to normal: I stopped self-harming, drank less, started to socialise again and took steps at work to deal with my terrible boss. Basically, when I solved every problem except the orgasm thing, the orgasm thing suddenly seemed like far less of a problem.
A year after I first went to the mental health unit, I met someone who I fell in love with very deeply. He was more experienced that previous boyfriends and because I felt comfortable around him and wasn't super depressed anymore, I had orgasms with him.
There were no fireworks, no marching bands, no epiphanies. And Cosmo was right: all it took was 15 dedicated minutes of cunnilingus. That, and an excellent boyfriend and the right mindset.
The way the GP and the psychiatrist handled the problem was admirable and I wouldn’t change a thing about my treatment. But if there’s one thing that would have changed everything, it would have been reading about another woman having an experience like mine - and realising I wasn’t locked out of this amazing secret orgasm club everyone else was a member of.
I wish five years ago, I could have gone on The Debrief and read an article saying: there's more to life than orgasms.
So, for the little 25-year-old me, here it is.
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