What Sexologists Don't Know About Female Orgasms

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There's a big difference between male and female orgasms, but the experts aren't telling.

Many (if not most) women have known the disheartening frustration of being with a lover who somehow falls out of sync with them close to the approach of their orgasm. The lover may change his or her stroke, pressure, rhythm, or in some cases may even remove the intimate touch that is working so well, thinking that the inevitable is about to happen - indeed, that it will happen, no matter what that lover does from that moment on.

Many (if not most) women have known the disheartening frustration of being with a lover who somehow falls out of sync with them close to the approach of their orgasm. The lover may change his or her stroke, pressure, rhythm, or in some cases may even remove the intimate touch that is working so well, thinking that the inevitable is about to happen - indeed, that it will happen, no matter what that lover does from that moment on.

And of course "nothing" is what usually happens when the touch changes during those critical moments. This means that a woman's approach to orgasm is typically interrupted by the change or cessation of stimulation, then drops back into what Masters and Johnson first dubbed the “plateau stage” of the sexual response cycle. The considerate lover, or the proactive female herself, must then take matters in hand and begin to build excitement all over again – or else suffer various forms of resentment, resignation, or simple erotic frustration.

“Women take a long time to climax.” This is a concept deeply embedded in our Western notions of sexuality. But why is it that “look, Ma, no hands!” works for those with a biological penis at the “point of no return” but not for those possessing a gloriously complex clitoral structure? Is it really something about Mary?

Well, yes, actually. And yes, something else too… But before we get into that, let’s turn our gaze to one of the most brilliant and least regarded sex research pioneers of the last century, Mary Jane Sherfey (1918-1983). Sherfey died just as American women finally blasted into outer space, but what I really deplore is that she missed the age of blogging. If there’s any sexologist’s ghost that I’d be willing to channel on a dark and stormy night, it would be Sherfey. Of course I’m not alone in my admiration. Sherfey has influenced early pioneers of the feminist women’s health movement, such as Suzann Gage and the other women who co-authored A New View of a Woman’s Body (1991, Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers). Authors such as Rebecca Chalker, of The Clitoral Truth, are solid Sherfey fans.

Others may give Sherfey a nod (and a wink?) but seldom address her depth. The authors of Sex at Dawn cite her, but inadequately, considering that the main premise of Sex at Dawn is exactly what Sherfey was talking about! As for me, I first learned of Sherfey from Ed Brecher’s book, The Sex Researchers. I could not rest until I tracked down her work: The Nature and Evolution of Female Sexuality. The rest, as we say, is mystery…

Fast forward to the present, where we inhabit a swirling internet world of “sexperts,” sexologists, sex therapists, romance advice divas, blissful tantrikas, and snarky bloggers – all jockeying for position. And yet the reams of advice written to women who stop short of orgasm, and to those who profess to love them, must by now wrap around the earth three times or stretch to the moon and back. “Give plenty of clitoral stimulation”, “don’t miss the g-spot,” and when all else fails (or before it does), just make your vibrator your own best friend. These are all good things to consider and do, but does anyone ever ask “why?”

I'm here to tell you an astonishing thing. Sexologists forgot there was a “why.” And so sexologists forgot to tell people about it. And probably the reason we forgot is that we didn't exactly know why in the first place. Sherfey was one of the very few who identified an important fact, but it remained buried in a book that few women (or men) have ever read. So you see, most of us never really knew this fact to begin with.

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