Stop Telling Women Who Aren't Sure If They've Orgasmed They Haven't

After all, you've never experienced anyone else's but your own.

woman in bed Eugene Partyzan / Shutterstock

It’s been a long time since I’ve ranted so, you know, brace yourselves.

Please. Stop saying, “If you’re not sure if you’ve had an orgasm, you haven’t.”

Stop it. Just stop.

You’re not helping. In fact, you’re being a smug jerk. Also, you’re very, very wrong.

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With all the hype that surrounds orgasms, the vast differences in the way each body experiences each feeling, and how hard so many of us are on ourselves it makes perfect sense that folks are not entirely sure.


My first orgasm came after years of reading Cosmo-crap like “Better, Huger, Toe Curling-er Orgasms EVERY Time!!!!!” listening to friends who made it sound like this experience would be the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me, and watching ridiculous depictions in the media.

Basically, I expected an orgasm to feel like a sonic boom followed by something like the tactile equivalent of that sparkly thing the vampires in Twilight do.

Also, screaming. Oh, the screaming ...

My clitoral* orgasms actually feel more like this: A buildup of really enjoyable tension (seriously all of my muscles get involved) with a bunch of awesome, intense sensations along the way, and then some spasms and finally an awesome sense of calm.


(*Note: I have come to realize my orgasms can involve stimulation of the clitoris  which, remember, is huge and runs down the length of the labia, the perineum and the urethra. There’s a whole mess of good down there!)

I may be vocal in bed but I am usually at my quietest when I come. No massive explosions, no exorcist-like convulsions, no screaming.

This did not compute.

For the longest time, I thought I was just messing it up. When things don’t work as I expect, my default response is to assume I am doing something wrong. This is most amusing with stuff like weather. 

I thought that I was getting close, but being overwhelmed and quitting before it happened. Like I was playing chicken with an orgasm.


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Then I got my hands on a copy of The Good Vibrations Guide To Sex, which said things no one had ever said to me before, like: “Your expectations of orgasm may manifest as anxiety about what type of physiological response truly ‘counts’ as orgasm.”

Anxiety? Fear that what I’m doing doesn’t count? Me? Quelle surprise!

And, that it is quite likely “to feel a discrepancy between … physiological experiences and a hazy, romantic ideal of orgasm as an earth-shaking event.” 

Wait, the movies lied? Does this mean I should stop waiting for John Cusack to show up with a boom-box too?


Then I read someone else’s description of misunderstanding her own orgasms. She said, “I read my mom Cosmo magazines and — because I didn’t understand what was happening — kept thinking that if only I could get past these spasms, I’d find out what an orgasm was.”

That was the experience I was having. Holy shit — I was totally normal!

Someone who comes to you and says, “I’m not sure if I’m having orgasms,” is making themselves vulnerable.

By firing off a smug, snarky quip that implies your sex life is clearly superior to theirs, you are cementing in your friend’s head the idea that they are broken. You have taken someone’s insecurities and made them worse. You, based on nothing but your own limited experience deemed yourself fit to pronounce someone else’s experience invalid.


And before you think, “I’m super experienced!” — let me remind you that the only orgasm you’ve experienced from the inside is your own. You know nothing. 

I kid, but seriously, cut it out.

While we’re at it, let’s stop with the goal-oriented sex. Journey not destination, folks!

I’ve had awesome sexual experiences shot to hell by partners who kept stopping to ask if I had come. While I appreciate the concern for my pleasure, the emphasis on the specific goal of orgasm actually sucks the pleasure out of the experience and makes it into something stressful.

Try something for me: Imagine you’re enjoying a beautiful scenic drive. The scenery is amazing, the temperature is perfect, you’ve got great music — you are genuinely enjoying the experience. Do you have that picture in your head?


Okay now keep that picture, but add a child in the backseat who, every five minutes, shouts out “Are we there yet?!”

How does that change the experience? Suddenly you’re stressed out and just want to get where you’re going as quickly as possible.

Here’s the thing. In the first (childless) version, you eventually would have gotten to your destination — or maybe you wouldn’t have because something different and awesome caught your eye — but either way you’d get somewhere and enjoy yourself along the way.

Journey not the destination.


Here’s the what folks. Everyone experiences everything differently. Maybe your orgasms are earth-shattering definitive moments that leave you in a puddle on the floor and you’re reading this going, “What the hell is she talking about? Who can’t tell whether they’re orgasming?”

But that’s your experience. It doesn’t make mine less valid.

I love the hell out of my orgasms and have them often. But get this, I have some amazing sex that doesn’t even involve orgasms at all (what?! crazy talk!). That’s my experience and it’s not a measuring stick for anyone else’s.

By qualifying and quantifying sexual experiences, we create a structure for “success” and “failure” that leaves a lot of people confused and sells a lot of crappy “women’s” magazines (I’m using a lot of quotation marks in this piece, if I was speaking it there would be a lot of sarcastic air-quoting going on), but that’s really all it does.


So, stop it. Please.

Let’s end the orgasm over-hype.

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JoEllen Notte is a writer, speaker, and researcher who has been writing about sex, mental health, and vibrators since 2012. She is currently working on her first book, "The Monster Under The Bed: Sex, Depression, And The Conversations We Aren't Having."