How To Have An Orgasm (in Five Stories)

One subject I am very familiar with is orgasm.

After all, I’m a doctor of human sexuality. However, my understanding of orgasm comes more from personal experience than anything I’ve studied. The orgasm, like many things in life, is experiential. It must be explored, felt, witnessed, and experienced in order to develop regular access to this most incredible of experiences. The orgasm is also something individual, and in the same way that no two people have the same fingerprint— no two people have the same network of nerves and fantasy that escalate their arousal to orgasm.

Everyone wants to experience orgasms, and yet many have never experienced one, or the ones they do experience are small, short, or lacking pleasure. I could lecture on orgasms from many perspectives, but since storytelling is one of the best teachers, let me share five sex stories that can lead you in the direction of, what is for many, the elusive orgasm. For those who haven’t experienced an orgasm, who find it difficult to achieve one, or who are interested in having greater variety and intensity, I think you will find some clues hidden here.

 

Story 1: Pure Sensation

When I was a girl, I often played sex games with two of my female friends. Our senses were heightened as we role-played all we knew about men, women, and sex. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was arousal. One time, I was straddling my friend who was lying on her back and grinding my genitals against hers “playing sex” when suddenly this uncontrollable wave of pleasure went cascading through my body. It scared her and she asked me to stop. That was my first orgasm. As an adult, I’ve found that pure sensation in the form of clitoral stimulation can regularly bring me to orgasm. Pure sensation can also come from a partner in the form of breast sucking, oral sex, and really good fingering, or by using a vibrator. If I’m relaxed and my headspace is ready to “play” with sex, I will find my way to orgasm with pure sensation.  

 

Story 2: Pure Fantasy

Every so often I am having sex with a partner and my first orgasm refuses to make an appearance. I’m grinding and enjoying and relaxed, but I can feel that there is a long divide between where I am and where I want to be. That’s when I dial up my fantasy. What is the most taboo thing I can imagine happening at that moment? Some of my personal fantasies are imagining that it’s my “job” to make my lover come, that I’m a sex worker or concubine, that I’m younger than I am, that my lover is going to come inside of me and make a baby, or that we’re being watched by others. Focusing on really erotic thoughts or taboo aspects of my relationship, along with focusing on physical sensation like how our genitals feel together or the sensation of my chest against theirs will almost always bring me to orgasm, and quickly!

 

Story 3: Pure Mind

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had orgasms in my dreams. In my dreams, I can be doing any number of sexual things with a man or a woman. Then when I start to orgasm, I wake up and either let the orgasm finish its wave on its own, or I reach for my vulva to rub and hold it to continue the orgasm for as long as possible. I’m not alone in this experience. Science has shown that we can bring ourselves to orgasms through thought alone. We also know that orgasms often happen during sleep as blood circulates and engorges the genitals in both men and women around three to four times per night. Basically, men aren’t the only ones waking up with an erection! One time I remember I was staying at my aunt’s house and sharing a bed with my mother when I woke up having an orgasm in my sleep. Luckily, I don’t think she heard me.

 

Story 4: Pure Intensity

The first time I experienced vaginal orgasm was after my normal clitoral orgasm on top of my boyfriend. I had come really quickly, so I got on my hands and knees afterward to feel him from behind me. He was standing and thrusting in and out of me when I started having these waves of orgasm. They were softer than my clitoral orgasms, but seemed to have no beginning and no end and they were clearly centered in my vagina. The more I breathed, relaxed, and vocalized, the more intense they became. My body and mind entered a trance-like state, and I didn’t want the sensation to end. In fact, I wanted it deeper and harder, and the longer it went on the better I felt. Now it made sense why someone would want to have penetrative sex for hours and hours! There was all this pleasure potential inside of me just waiting to be woken up.

 

Story 5: Pure Naughtiness

Sometimes no matter what I do, I cannot reach orgasm. Usually, it’s from fatigue or some mental distraction, or maybe my partner has ejaculated instantly and I am left to find an orgasm on my own. This is when pure naughtiness comes in. Focusing on anything forbidden is a rapid way of intensifying arousal that never fails to bring me to the pleasure I’m looking for. For me, having my partner looking at my genitals while I masturbate, spanking me, touching my anus or penetrating it, telling me what a bad girl I am or how slutty I’m being, or sharing a fantasy of something we’re doing together will take me to the doorstep of an orgasm every time. This is the one benefit of all the sexual taboos in our culture— we can use them to have even more fun!

 

Orgasms are unique and individual to everyone and always changing throughout our lives. I hope these stories throw some fuel on the fire of your orgasm and help you discover all the pleasure your body is designed for. Because you are designed for pleasure! It only keeps getting better the more time and love you give it. Shame, trauma, and lack of education can slow down the process, but your sexuality is always inside of you wanting to express itself. So make time and explore. The world is awaiting your orgasmic, sexy self. Your orgasm is beautiful.

 

Want to learn more about orgasm and female sexuality? Check out Lauren’s courses, books, and upcoming sexuality summit at www.LaurenBrim.com. Or read even more sex stories in my first book, “The New Rules of Sex” available on Amazon.

Dysphoria

It’s been 10 years since I graduated high school. I can’t help but sit here and think about how different my life would be if I had known that I wasn’t an awkward ugly duckling who was going to turn into a swan. I was a man trapped in a woman’s body.

I always see dysphoria described as this constant, nagging hatred towards one’s body— a struggle people often describe as a lifelong feeling. But for me, I really had no idea I was experiencing dysphoria until my mid-twenties.

Looking back now, I find it so silly. I wish someone had told me, “Hey you aren’t crazy, all these feelings you’re having, this constant questioning— other people feel this way too. You aren’t alone.”

I spent so much time insisting that I didn’t have dysphoria, that I wasn’t transgender, that one day I was going to meet someone and things were just going to line up. I’d feel at home in my body. Sex would seem fun. My family and I would start to smooth things out, and I would be so happy that I waited for things to get better.

That never happened.

In 2014 I began to see this girl, and she was going to spend the night. I hadn’t had many sexual experiences, which I chalked up to me being nervous and slightly awkward. But I remember that night as a crucial turning point in my understanding of myself. Suddenly, I knew that it wasn’t me being awkward, it wasn’t me being nervous, but it was in fact dysphoria causing me to feel this way.

We were making out and she tried to move things a step further. I completely disassociated and got very quiet. At that moment, I was so afraid because whenever she touched me, there was only one thought running through my mind: I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I didn’t have a penis when I so desperately felt like I should. I knew this was dysphoria, but I still didn’t want to accept it.

I tried to live as a lesbian, but it didn’t feel right. I was always dating or pursuing straight women, but something about me felt different. These relationships would always end in heartbreak for one reason or another.

I tried to live as gender fluid because I knew that my family wouldn’t be accepting of me as trans, and I was afraid of their rejection. I thought that I could have the best of both worlds and that as long as my friends and significant other saw me as masculine, and my family saw me as female, I could appease everybody and still live my life. But it wasn’t enough. I always felt something was missing, and the more that people began to gender me as male, the more right it felt.

It took three more years until I garnered the strength to take hold of my life and accept the inevitable. I moved to California and began working for a prominent TV company. One day while discussing an episode with some of my female producers, everyone went around commenting on how they could relate to the production’s female star and the hardships she was going through as a woman. When it was my turn to speak, a horrifying realization overcame me. I could in no meaningful way relate to this woman’s experience. While I had lived some of the implications of being deemed a woman by society, I was not having the same emotional reaction as my female coworkers. I did not feel the connection, the bond. I simply couldn’t relate.

So on this day, at the age of 26, with the knowledge that I could support myself and that I had insurance from my job, I made the decision to transition from female to male. This decision saved my life.

I remember waking up the day after my first testosterone shot. Already, I felt different. A feeling of peace washed over me, and the racing thoughts were gone. Within the following weeks, my anxiety began to fade. I was no longer waking up with panic attacks. I was able to sit down and watch movies again. The constant need to see some form of masculinity within myself stopped. I no longer spent every waking second of my life trying to sort through my racing thoughts.

While I’m still very early on in my journey, being only one year and five months on testosterone, I am more and more certain every day that this was what I needed to do. Not everyone needs hormones or surgery to feel complete, but I am so grateful I had the opportunity to take charge of my life in the way that was best for me. I can now see a future for myself. In 2014, I really didn’t see one. I want to encourage anyone feeling lost or alone that it’s never too late to create the life you always wanted. To come out and be yourself— not what society wants you to be.

You can find happiness. You don’t have to be consumed with anxiety or feelings of isolation. You can have a sex life, you can have a successful job, you can have a family, you can find love. It’s okay to experiment with your gender. You don’t have to go on hormones overnight or get a major surgery. Gender and sexuality are a huge part of who we are, and sometimes we have to do a little experimentation in order to figure out what truly fits.

Although life is still challenging and anything but perfect, I never dreamed that I would one day be able to wake up and start my day without being crippled by the anxieties caused by my dysphoria. Now, I can breathe, and that in itself is so much to be grateful for.

Catholic Sexual Suppression

From as young as I can remember, I was taken to Catholic Mass every Sunday morning by my mom and dad. I was sent to private Catholic school from kindergarten until university, and everyone in my immediate and extended family is Catholic. Throughout my childhood, we prayed as a family before meals, and in school I studied the Bible as doctrine. Despite all of this, I was a skeptic, even when I was young. I remember being six years old and asking my teacher why gold ornamented our church when, according to her, millions of people were living in poverty. I pondered aloud to my classmates and within earshot of my teachers why women weren’t allowed to be priests. And it was this question in particular— after my teacher told me I was breaking a moral tenet in even asking it— that prompted me to question all that I was told never to doubt.

My parents never spoke to me about sex. We never watched movies as a family that mentioned it, and they never acknowledged it. As a result, I grew up thinking that sex was wrong, that speaking about sex was wrong, that embedded in just that syllable there was something wrong. Though I was outspoken in some ways, this didn’t seem like a topic that I was even allowed to think about, let alone talk about in school or to my parents. And so I was shamed into dealing with the confusion myself. My resulting ignorance led to years of frustration, confusion, sadness, anger, and resentment, and this experience is not unique to me.

I remember so many nights when I was young; my friends and I would sit on each other’s beds asking the same questions over and over, guessing, hypothesizing, wondering without satiation, without answers, ever. We would keep our voices hushed, always, checking outside the closed door and down the hall to make sure that no parents were lingering— but never asking what it would mean if they were.

“When are we going to learn about puberty? When are we going to learn about how babies are made?” I remember asking those questions, verbatim, to older girls who had finished Catholic grade school and moved on to high school. They all told us the same thing: that they weren’t comfortable talking about it, but that there was a section in sixth grade science and religion classes that would answer our questions.

Finally, sixth grade came, along with its much anticipated section: Family Life—not “Sex Ed,” unless you wanted to be chastised by a teacher after class. A few days before this new unit was set to begin, my peers and I were sent home with slips to be signed by our parents, soliciting consent for the school so that we could learn about sex. I gave the paper to my mom silently. She asked, “Do you have any questions?” to which I said that I didn’t, because how could a 12-year old girl who had never learned what sex was have any questions beyond “What?” “Why?” or “How could you?”

I expected that after this class I would have a firm understanding of what sex was. By this time, I still didn’t know how I had even come to exist. I was told over and over that my parents prayed to God and after that my mom miraculously had my baby brother in her womb. At one point, when I was ten, my friend tried to explain sex to me. I didn’t believe her, figured she was trying to deceive or corrupt me, but I was too nervous to ask anyone else or to ever bring it up. I wasn’t even aware enough of my own biology to know whether or not what she described could be possible.

Needless to say, I was very excited for the class section. But once the program began, I was continuously dissatisfied. In gender-seperated units, we talked about hormones, about the endocrine system, about puberty and the very, very basic parts of human anatomy. We kept waiting until eventually one student just brought it up: “What is sex?” she asked. But my teacher refused to answer. Not only would she not tell us, but she revealed that she didn’t think that this unit should exist in schools at all. In the religion component of the program, our teacher told us to dress modestly and to avoid boys.

The curricula that came later, in 7th and 8th grade and then throughout my high school years, were equally horrifying. I learned that contraception, abortion, premarital sex, and gay sex were wrong; somehow, though, natural family planning is okay, which means that “pulling out,” or strategically having sex and hoping (maybe praying) that you don’t get pregnant, is okay. But using a condom isn’t. I came away with the understanding that sex is wrong, that I shouldn’t think about it or engage in it. I left the program convinced that I would never enjoy sex and that— more importantly— I shouldn’t.

To feel suppressed, stifled, and shamed into not being able to openly talk about sex is both dangerous and deeply damaging. For years of my life, I literally did not know how I had come into this world. I was forcibly exposed to sexualized bodies of women in the media but never offered an explanation for why this was happening or how I was supposed to feel about it. I couldn’t understand my own biology; I couldn’t understand evolution. Sex for me was a highly charged word and concept. I really believed that it was wrong to even think about it. As a result, I developed severely negative perceptions of anyone who I’d come to find out had engaged in it, and held the burden of resentment in my heart for years. I felt betrayed by all the adults that I was supposed to trust, by anyone with children, even.

What has maybe been the hardest part, though, has been understanding my own sexuality. Parts of my body, so intimate, were foreign to me. I was unfamiliar with my own composition, and unfamiliar with any kinds of emotions or feelings attached to it. All of these situations, and the problems and frustrations that accompany them, are avoidable. Sex is not inherently charged with negativity, despite how it has been treated historically.

If you are in this situation too, or something like it, know that you are capable of and responsible for creating, developing, and deciding your own views on sexuality. You are not responsible for upholding anyone else’s perspective. This means that you are allowed to talk about it and to ask about it. It is not your responsibility to censor yourself for the sake of other people’s comfort, especially when it means cutting yourself off from vital information that you deserve. Not your parents, not your school, not your peers, not a millennia-old tradition like the Catholic Church has authority over your curiosity.

Eventually, thanks to conversations with friends and reading that I did on my own, I became familiar with and developed my own opinions on sex. Throughout my first few months at university, I realized that I do not deserve to live with residual fear or discomfort. I don’t deserve to feel like I can’t ask questions, and I certainly don’t deserve to feel like my curiosity is anything other than healthy and right. Neither do you.

 

Oppose SESTA-FOSTA

Written with Annabelle Schwartz

This week, the Senate is expected to vote on FOSTA-SESTA, a bill-package that will put sex workers’ lives on the line- especially transgender sex workers. The bill is designed to prevent sex trafficking by making websites liable for their online speech. Online platforms are currently protected by a law referred to as Section 230. The proposed legislation would force sites to censor any posts that allude to sex work. The issue with this is that there will be no differentiation between sex trafficking and consensual sex work. If this bill passes, websites that help sex workers screen clients will be shut down increasing the danger for a job that already sees high rates of violence.

Due to the dire economic situations many trans individuals find themselves in because of discrimination in education and the workplace, many trans people engage in underground sex work as a necessary means of survival. According to The National Center for Transgender Equality, people who are transgender are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty than the general population. Despite the prevalence of poverty and low incomes, less than 13% of trans individuals who participate in sex work receive any public aid.
Transgender people who struggle to support themselves financially are often placed in harsh situations due to the stigma, discrimination, and violence they face on a day to day basis. Many turn to sex work to sustain themselves, where they can fall victim to violence and arrest. All sex workers participate in the trade for different reasons. However, every sex worker deserves to be safe from harassment and assault.
By defeating this bill, the transgender community, as well as all sex workers, will have the necessary tools to screen clients, report violence, and find safer employment within this industry. If online sex work communities are shut down, more sex workers will have to move onto the street. And to escape arrest, they often move into alleyways and cars where the rates of violence skyrocket. According to The National LGBTQ Task Force, 30% of U.S. sex workers homicide victims were transgender.
According to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence, the transgender community experiences the highest levels of harassment and violence, often at the hands of police. 72% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against trans women. And 90% of those were transgender women of color. Trans people are 3.7 times more likely to experience police violence compared to cisgender survivors, and transgender people of color are six times more likely to suffer physical abuse from the police. We need to call attention to the violence the transgender community faces and protect these internet spaces that allow for a vetting process and ultimately more safety within this line of work.
We’ve created a sample letter for you to sign and send to your senator, or you can use our list of senators (with their D.C addresses) who we believe are the best targets to reach out to about protecting these vulnerable communities. You can also use this letter as a script if you want to call or email your legislators to get in touch with them as soon as possible.

You can download our sample letter to Congress here: 

You can also reach your senator by calling the senate switchboard 202-225-3121 and tell them who you want to be connected to.

Please find below a list of senators and their addresses. We chose a diverse list of senators, including eight Republicans, thirteen Democrats, and one Independent. They represent many states because we wanted to reach out to both those that we know already support trans rights and those we need to be working hard for their transgender constituents. 

Elizabeth Warren – D – Massachusetts – 317 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Ron Wyden – D – Oregon – 221 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg. Washington, D.C., 20510

Bernie Sanders – IN – Vermont – Dirksen Senate Office Building, 332 2nd St NE, Washington, DC 20510

Patty Murray – D – Washington – 154 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

Ted Cruz – R – Texas – Russell Senate Office Bldg 404 Washington, DC 20510

Marco Rubio – R – Florida – Russell Senate Office Building, 2 Constitution Ave NE #284, Washington, DC 20002

Kamala Harris – D – California – 112 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

Cory Booker – D – New Jersey – 359 Dirksen Senate Office Building  Washington, DC 20510

Tammy Duckworth – D – Illinois – 524 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Doug Jones – D – Alabama – 326 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

John Kennedy – R – Louisiana – SR383, Russell Senate Building Washington, DC 20510

Catherine Cortez Masto – D – Nevada – 204 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510

Maggie Hassan – D – New Hampshire 330 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Todd Young – R – Indiana 400 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Chris Van Hollen – D – Maryland 110 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Kristen Gillibrand – D – New York – 478 Russell Washington, DC 20510

Mitch McConnell – R – Kentucky – 317 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Chuck Schumer – D – New York 322 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

Pat Toomey – R – Pennsylvania – 248 Russell Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

Lisa Murkowski – R – Alaska 522 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Susan Collins – R – Maine 413 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Brian Schatz – D – Hawaii – 722 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING Washington, DC 20510

Trans Awareness

Last night we had the wonderful opportunity to host an event for Transgender Awareness. It is an honor as well as a privilege to have as many readers and the outreach that we do. It is our duty to shed light on issues and topics that don’t get the attention that they deserve.

Zil Goldstein, The Director of the Transgender Center and Program at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, was so kind to come and speak. We also heard from Daniela Simba, who shared her personal story as a transgender immigrant woman. Over the next week, we will be putting up video content from the dinner so even those who weren’t physically there, can still have access to the knowledge we gained from these incredible women.

Daniela said it best, the first step as an ally is being ready to listen and learn. Here are some tips from GLAAD on how to be a better ally for the transgender community because many of us don’t know where to start.

You can download and print our ally sheet here:

HOW TO BE AN ALLY:

Don’t make assumptions about a transgender person’s sexual orientation. Gender identity is different than sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is about who we’re attracted to. Gender identity is about our own personal sense of being male, female, or outside that gender binary.

If you don’t know what pronouns to use, listen first. If you’re unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to the person.

Respect the terminology a transgender person uses to describe their identity. Respect the term (transgender, transsexual, non-binary, gender fluid, genderqueer, etc.) a person uses to describe themselves.

Understand there is no “right” or “wrong” way to transition, and that it is different for every person. Respect, listen and know that every individual has their own transition story that is unique and particular to their personal experience.

Challenge anti-transgender remarks or jokes in public spaces, including LGBT spaces. If you hear something, say something. Passive allyship does not create change.

Support all-gender public restrooms. Encourage schools, businesses, and agencies to have a single user, unisex and/or all-gender restroom options.

Help make your company or group truly trans-inclusive. If you are part of a company or group that says it’s LGBTQ-inclusive, remember that transgender people face unique challenges and that being LGBTQ-inclusive means truly understanding the needs of the trans community and implementing policies address them.

Listen to transgender people. The best way to be an ally is to listen with an open mind to transgender people speaking for themselves. Talk to transgender people in your community. Check out books, films, YouTube channels, and blogs to find out more about transgender people and the issues people within the community face.

Know your limits as an ally. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful.

Is Grindr A Subculture?

*The featured photos are selections from gaytona.beach, a project highlighting photographer Andrew Harper’s experience on Grindr in Daytona Beach from the age of 19. 

 

In 1979, the British sociologist Dick Hebdige published an extra-thick wad of social science on similarities between subcultures in a book called Subculture: The Meaning of Style. Don’t worry, I read it for you.

If you want to know whether the crowd of people you’re looking at belongs to a subculture, look out for these things: inventive language, distinctive dress, a common favorite music genre, an exclusive media channel, and, most importantly, a bold philosophy that explains their opposition to mainstream culture. In most cases, the subcultures Dick Hebdige studied had at least one other thing in common: heterosexuality.

Mainstream culture has always been a very serious threat to gay men. Masculinity is the norm, heterosexuality is the law. Disobeying either can threaten your livelihood, if not your body. Years ago, you’d get beaten and/or killed. Today, the abuse is more often psychological than physical. And so, for gay men, repressing our identities has always been an act of self-preservation such that the only place gay men can find acceptance, free from the threat of the mainstream, is in an all-gay space.

At least for younger generations, those all-gay spaces are increasingly virtual – they’re supplements to the physical spaces gay subculture has long inhabited (i.e. clubs, bars, bathhouses, community centers).

Enter Grindr, “the world’s largest gay social network app.” Yes, it’s a media channel for gay subculture, but now it’s also a subculture of its own.

This makes perfect sense when you realize that not every gay man uses Grindr and not every Grindr user is a gay man. The ability to self-select into Grindr is part of what makes it a subculture. Those who choose to use it get to know their sexuality in a space that’s intentionally separate and safe from mainstream culture. Curiosity has a place there. Sexual-expressive freedom is Grindr subculture’s philosophy. And those who use the app quickly realize that its users have a language of their own.

On the platform some key terms were carried over from gay subculture – terms like “top,” “bottom,” and “versatile” that describe a gay man’s sexual preferences (the “top” likes to penetrate, the “bottom” likes to receive, and the “versatile” man likes both). But Grindr users often abbreviate them to single letters which are faster and easier to type: T, B, or V.

Among Grindr’s host of custom (sometimes NSFW) emoticons that have their own sub-textual meanings, there are bunk beds – one depicts a man on the top bunk (for the tops) and one depicts a man on the bottom bunk (for the bottoms).

Of course, that library contains a purple eggplant (an emoji that now cross-culturally represents a penis), but there’s also one that’s brown, one that’s white, one shown through a magnifying glass for the less-well-endowed, and one displayed in a polaroid (sent as a substitute for requesting nudes). There’s a peach and there’s a peach with a phone over it for a booty call. There’s a set of handcuffs, a man with a bear paw for the “bears” (those are hairy, bulky, older men), a man in leather chaps wearing aviators, and the lower half of a man wearing a jockstrap.

Grindr users message each other “looking?” or “DTF?” – shorthands that ask whether the person on the other end of the chat is looking for sex right now. Some users even change their profile name to a “looking eyes” (👀) emoji to reach a wider audience.

“Grindr tribes” offer an even deeper dive into a user’s identity and sexual preferences. Bear, Clean-Cut, Daddy, Discreet, Geek, Jock, Leather, Otter, Poz, Rugged, Trans, and Twink describe the physical and psychological categories a gay man identifies with and/or is looking for in a partner. After all, Grindr exists for sexual exploration.

So, Grindr is a subculture that is also its own exclusive media channel. As a subculture, it also has a philosophy and an original language.

To be sure, Grindr’s place and purpose are complicated by its neighbors – Scruff, Growlr, Hornet, etc. I suspect that technological shortcomings are not why the gay community loves to hate Grindr. I think it’s more about our relationship with shame and our relationships with one another. On some level, we love to hate ourselves. What we see in one another reminds us that mainstream culture taught us to hate homosexuality. If you need proof of that, consider the fact that there’s not a homo among us who hasn’t been asked, “Why are gay people obsessed with sex?” or wondered it themselves in a critical tone.

For gay men, the act and topic of sex is not just a rejection of the idea that we ought to hate our sexuality, it’s a rebellion against the idea that we ought to hate ourselves for it. And that’s why there’s hardly a Grindr user I’ve met who hasn’t deleted the app (often seeking out another) and returned to it because gay sex has never been so freely discussed between so many of us as it is there.

Orgasm Equality

“Nope, I never have.”

He was asking me, again, as if I hadn’t already told him I don’t orgasm, as if it was just so appalling that I couldn’t possibly have been telling the truth the first time. In a twisted way, it was amusing that he was so insulted by what people with a vulva experience. I was a 21 year-old and had never had a orgasm. For most people who are socialized as a female, this isn’t surprising. 

But of course I hadn’t. Even after living in a school district that covered (slightly) more than abstinence in sex-ed, even after voraciously reading every sex listicle or Yahoo answers thread, even after watching people fuck on TV and Chrome Incognito, I had barely heard anyone talk about what makes a vulva feel good.

Every mainstream magazine targeting women boasts the same derivative kind of article like “29 Ways to Drive Him Wild.” Movies constantly show women having a orgasm from penetration, when in reality, a majority of people with vulvas don’tI literally once read an article about how to cut a grapefruit for the use of stimulating a penis, yet I’ve never read about how to stimulate a vulva. God forbid we want to pleasure ourselves, or our partners with vulvas.

The closest magazines get is usually along the lines of “Here’s how to accidentally get off during vaginal intercourse…” implying that intercourse is the only sexual act that matters. Laurie Mintz describes in Becoming Cliterate that language exemplifies the ways society centers sex around the male experience. Most people understand the word “sex” to mean vaginal intercourse between vulva and penis.  This reliably leads people with penises to orgasm, and simultaneously negates the experience of non-hetero sex, manual, and/or oral sex— which are generally a more reliable route to orgasm for people who have a vulva. 

Same goes for the overuse of the word and focus on “vagina.” The reason why Mintz encourages, rather, the use of  “vulva” is that it’s more anatomically correct, plus it includes all of the different machinery that, depending on the person, may be more crucial to their sexual satisfaction than the vagina. The fact that the anatomy of female genitalia is not common knowledge, and that society frequently use the wrong word reinforces the idea that these bodies and their subsequent needs are not important.

What further proves this lack of consideration is the normalization of female pain during intercourse. 

“A casual survey of forums where people discuss ‘bad sex’ suggests that men tend to use the term to describe a passive partner or a boring experience… But when most women talk about ‘bad sex,’ they tend to mean coercion, or emotional discomfort or, even more commonly, physical pain,” asserts  Lili Loofbourow in her incredible article The Price of Male Pleasure: Female Pain.” Heterosexual women are taught to expect little from sex or else face disappointment. We’re taught that our bodies are for satisfying men, not ourselves. That our partner’s pleasure is more important than our pain. That’s bullshit, and I’m angry about it.

Unfortunately, it is normal for a person socialized as female not to orgasm or enjoy sex. If you’re someone in that situation, know this: you are normal. You are not alone. If it doesn’t always feel that way, I understand. It definitely didn’t to me. Most of the time I felt like I would never enjoy sex, and any attempts to change that felt hopeless. I felt like a freak, worried maybe there was something medically wrong with me. I tried so hard to do everything I could to please my partners that when my lack of orgasm hurt their ego, I felt like I had let them down. I wished I could orgasm to make them feel good.

So that’s how I got to be 21, an expert on all things dick-approved but completely at a loss for what to do with my own vulva. I finally decided I deserved pleasure as much as my partners did, and that I would pursue mine as eagerly as I had theirs. As unfair as it is, I wasn’t going to stumble across sex-positive media centered around the female body and experience, so I had to seek it out.

I started masturbating. I bought a couple of vibrators. On OMGYes.com I found videos of people with vulvas explaining and demonstrating exactly what motions and rhythms worked for them. I read Come as You Are and Becoming Cliterate, which are both books specifically geared towards helping people with vulvas revolt against the toxic sexual norm and craft the fulfilling, reciprocal sex lives that we deserve.

Reading about other people who had struggled like me and had gone on to learn to enjoy sex gave me hope. It also made me feel normal for the first time. I could recognize how society had lead me to this position, which gave me the knowledge to walk away from all of the ideas that didn’t serve me, and walk right into my bedroom and give myself my own goddamn orgasm.

Deciding my pleasure was important  and worthy of time and effort were the biggest factors leading to my orgasm, and in fact, it many ways more important than the orgasm itself.

In reality some people with vulvas don’t orgasm, and that’s okay, too. They can lead just as exciting and satisfying sex lives as everyone else. However, what good sex does include is knowing you and your partner’s body, which is why the lack of education on vulva satisfaction is so upsetting. When I initially admitted to a partner I had never orgasmed, I thought a lot about how his shock reaction revealed how little he understood the female body. Although, through the months and the books and the vibrators since, I was surprised to find out how little I understood about my own body, as well. Both parties needed to change.

If you’re having sex with someone, your pleasure should be as important as theirs. Oral sex should be reciprocal. Everyone should be taught where the clitoris is. Female masturbation should be as widely accepted by society as male masturbation. Public and private sex education should cover pleasuring people with vulvas! Additionally, emphasis should not be placed on vaginal intercourse as the sole valid form of sex.

More than anything, we need to talk about sex: as a community, as a society, with our parents, with our children. Reassure your friends that they are normal. Ask your partner to tell (or show!) you what makes them feel good. As Loofbourow says, “sex is always a step behind social progress in other areas because of its intimacy.” So, let’s talk about intimate justice and orgasm equality. Let’s give the next generation the education they need to have mutually satisfying encounters, instead of struggling and scrambling for years like many of us have. Let’s tell them what we wish our partners had known. And what we wish we’d known.

On Loneliness

Being lonely is something that I have dealt with for the majority of my life.

I’ve been fortunate to have loving and supportive family members throughout my life who have been there to reel me back in with loving affirmation when the emotional turbulence has become too much to bear. Unfortunately, though, there are sometimes situations where loved ones can only do so much. The instances in which I’ve felt most alone have been in some way related to segmented, peer-based experiences: meaning that while the safety and reassurance of a nurturing parental bubble feels good, in order to live and function in the world as a productive member of society, the bubble must be exited as one ages into adulthood.

Loneliness has manifested itself in several ways as I’ve grown, changed, and experienced different aspects of life. When you’re younger, loneliness, really any feeling, is easier to chalk up to being an evolving human being. In this stage of life, emotions and feelings are believed to be less substantive — whatever you’re going through at the time is said to be a hormonal driven “phase.” But people questioning the legitimacy of someone’s thoughts and feelings, discrediting one’s experience rather than attempting to understand it, can make coping that much more challenging. 

This has lead me to believe that loneliness, although a universal feeling, manifests in a variety of different ways depending on the circumstances of our unique identities.

I grew up as an adopted black kid raised by a white family in a predominantly white area of New York. Most of my peers came from sheltered, conservative upbringings. Because of this, I was continuously subjected to stereotypical comments about my race and skin color: assumptions that I knew the name of every rapper, (even though I primarily grew up listening to alternative rock, pop punk, and screamo) and jokes like “Where did Caleb go? We can’t find him!” Even those who called themselves friends would routinely say outlandish things about other ethnic groups and assume it wouldn’t affect me because I wasn’t really black. I was anoreo” as they dubbed me several times, in what I would now describe as an attempt to distance me from my own blackness.

As I grew up and gained more self-confidence, I began speaking up for myself. Nowadays, I have removed most of these toxic figures from my life and have moved on to focusing on myself and my goals. The process of solidifying one’s identity can be a lifelong journey, it is a journey I am still on, and each person should have the right to experience that journey without denigration.

Beyond my peer experiences of my youth, much of the loneliness that I’ve experienced in the last several years as an adult has been a result of a decision that I made. Even though I believe that this decision — moving across the country to a city where I did not know a soul in pursuit of a dream and personal growth — was one of the best decisions that I have made in my twenty-two years, it has not been without sacrifice. I have made wonderful, hopefully lifelong friends, and been able to experience things that I could previously never have imagined, altering my trajectory in an irreversible and impactful way. The relationships that I’ve formed, as well as the the opportunities and experiences that have come into my life, are things that seemed outside of the realm of possibility in the place where I grew up. My eyes have been opened to previously unexplored aspects of the human experience and my mind has expanded based on those realities.

All that said, even though I’ve had great fun in this new environment, it’s served as only a temporary suppression of the very the very human fears and concerns that, at some point, will infiltrate our consciousness. Regardless of my numerous attempts to lock these fears out, they always seem to have their own key.

Over the holidays I went back home, and although it was only for a couple of weeks, it was the longest period of time I’d been home in months. Seeing family was nourishing for my soul, and I am truly grateful for those weeks. After my trip home had concluded, I sat on the first of several flights to return to where I am as I write this, an apartment in Southern California. I tried my best to hold it together, and I did, at first. I eventually could not contain myself, however, and the tears erupted from my eyes as another passenger in my row slept peacefully in the window seat. It was at this point that I realized my attempt to suppress the sadness I felt was ultimately pointless. I cried because even though I was trying to tough it out, the reality of leaving my family meant returning to the ever-looming solitude of the recent past. It was an early flight, so the cabin lights were turned off, concealing me in darkness as I wept.

This was a couple of months ago, and I have since been in a brighter place, but throughout my life loneliness is something that I have never been able to completely shake. Being relegated to expressing sorrow in silence is something that has long plagued me as a black male who often felt that society had specific predetermined expectations for who I should be, and how my experience relates to others. An expectation to be hyper-masculine at all times, and to reject ever displaying anything that could be interpreted as weakness. 

As a teenager, I can remember countless instances where my sexuality was called into question by peers because I spoke, and specifically dressed, in a certain style. Not only is this harmful because it shames those who might choose to explore self-expression in a personal way, but in turn, it also tries to compartmentalize something as complex as human sexuality into unrelated yet equated quantifiers, whose only basis is in stereotypes and ignorance. Thankfully, in recent times a clear transition has begun to take place. Openly expressing emotion has slowly become more accepted, even encouraged.  But this was not always the case.

Today I am comfortable expressing that I have a great fear associated with death. Furthermore, as an individual who does not know if there is anything beyond this life, and who has spent a great amount of time doubting that there is, my primary focus has been living my life in a manner where I can express myself as freely as possible, while empowering others to do the same. The older I get the more focused I’ve become on spending time with people I feel truly value me; my family, my closest friends, and those who are committed to making the world a more accepting and loving place for all.

I want to tell anyone reading this that it’s okay to be afraid. It’s okay to think about how much time you have left with people and how best to spend it. It’s okay to feel like you don’t belong. It’s okay to be vulnerable. No matter where you fall along the spectrum of gender and sexuality, it’s okay to be emotional, to cry. It’s okay to fear being alone. Irrespective of your race, gender identity, sexuality, religion, or whatever you self-identify as, you should feel free to be yourself, and not feel as though you are being externally relegated to solitude or alienation based on who you are. I would not wish the loneliness that myself and countless other possess on anyone. For all I know, many of us may never stop feeling it, but I hope whoever reads this, no matter who you are, finds comfort knowing that they are not in pain alone, I stand here as an ally for you and with you.

Much love.

 

A (W)hole New World

To depict with accuracy what purchasing my first vibrator was like, I recommend that readers obtain some type of music device and listen to ‘A Whole New World’ as performed by Lea Salonga and Brad Kane, for its contents are integral to today’s topic.

I had been toying with the idea of buying a vibrator for months, years even. Having one time come so close to ordering a dildo online in the shape of Sailor Moon’s Cutie Moon Rod, I opted instead for a pair of white platform shoes. Eighteen year-old me had not yet felt the full wrath of a libido thrust upon her. The closest feeling was the thrill of arriving at university and not having to wear a kilt and blazer to school every day.

Fast-forward to three weeks ago. I entered the store with enthusiasm, a titillating sense of badassery accompanying me along with a wallet full of cash and an unraveling composure. Simply being inside the store was arousing on its own. The store’s squeaky-clean glass windows juxtaposed the seediness of other sex shops I had visited. I stared in awe at the sunlight streaming through like a heavenly beam onto a table of assorted cock rings. I expected a middle-aged man with a wiry beard and beer belly to look at me with disdain. I would then valiantly retort, “That’s right! I’m a young Asian woman in a sex shop! Screw your normative gender expectations!”

Instead, I was greeted with the firm smile of a frizzy-haired woman behind the register, a purple leash fitted loosely around her hand—the same purple as the shop’s sign. The other end was clipped to the collar of a chocolate brown dog who pattered towards me panting, tongue outstretched as I got my bearings, nodding and smiling sheepishly. I began to scan the merchandise, quickly deducing that the front of the store was beginner’s play. I marched with great gusto to the back, where a black velvet-lined wall showcased a series of phallic objects with circular bulges. I studied them quietly. It didn’t take me long to realize I was looking at the butt stuff.

I snapped back around, finally settling on a gentler, pink wall with an array of less intimidating toys delicately sprawled across a glass table. An older customer stood reading the back of a box while rocking a stroller back and forth. An infant in a yellow beanie slept peacefully inside.

I wasn’t there for very long. I chose a member from the pink wall that didn’t seem too overwhelming and took my purchase to the counter. With a dull face, the shopkeeper scanned and packaged it. I had prepared myself for judgmental looks and being handed a pamphlet with the words YOU’RE GOING TO HELL lambasted on the front, there was nothing of the sort. Instead, she handed me my bag and picked up her phone, turning to take snaps of her dog.

I recommend that readers now press play on their listening device. I rushed home, and once in my room, ripped the box to shreds. My hands fumbled as I opened my new toy in my own private space. There was something so completely foreign about this moment, yet the toy and the moment were mine. All mine.

A whole new world.

Yes, I am the Jasmine in this situation. And my Aladdin? My new, hot pink friend Emilia, with 12 different vibration settings.

A Case For Social Accountability

The United States has a rape problem. Even those with the most limited understanding of the topic know that that perpetrators rarely face justice. Out of one thousand rape cases, only 57 reports lead to an arrest, and only 6 of those lead to incarcerations.

As a society, we have only just begun waking up to the issue of sexual assault, thanks in part to the advent of many female-led movements, both in public and private. One goal of these movements is to help people feel more confident in openly speaking out against sexual assault and breaking the “culture of silence” that survivors often find themselves in. As we are discovering new ways to deal with sexual assault, both preemptively and through supporting survivors, a strategy that comes up often involves the complete social alienation of predators. In lieu of a legal framework that truly supports survivors, could a strong-knit social system provide a reliable deterrence policy and a level of accountability for to-be predators?

Social circles of young adults, where such cases are prevalent, are an apt place to test this system. It would go like this: person A has been sexually assaulted by person B. A goes to their friends or other members of their community, and the community decides not to be associated with/include B in gathering spaces (i.e. concert venues, parties, study groups, etc.). It takes more than those closest to A to make this work, as it is the concept of herd immunity, meaning the majority of people must be on board to ensure spaces will be safe.
This strategy, however controversial, works for two reasons: it prevents the predator from being in a space where sexual assault is more likely to occur, and it validates the survivor’s emotions. The majority of assaults are committed by someone close to the survivor. Perpetrators gain access to potential victims through social circumstances. If a rapist is part of the social group, and the community does not discuss what they have done, a potential victim could be keeping a perpetrator close without knowing it. In colleges particularly, people are be sexually assaulted at parties — so you see the urgency in employing such a method.

Social situations are of particular danger when you consider that half of all rapes that occur involve alcohol consumption, by the perpetrator, victim, or both. Women should be allowed to drink and be in social settings without fear of assault, but perpetrators often take advantage of situations in which inhibitions are low and reasoning compromised, not to mention drinks can be spiked with date rape drugs. So assuring predators are not included in such scenarios is vital.

Another reason why we have to exclude predators from our watering holes is more obvious: we have to validate the survivor’s claim.

To allow someone who has sexually assaulted someone else to remain in your life is to say that you do not believe that perpetrator is dangerous, and what’s worse, your social convenience is more important than a survivor’s experience. We also have to consider that when we permit alleged rapists to hang around, we create a triggering environment for their victims, which stands for more than just hurt feelings. 94% of women who have been raped reported symptoms of PTSD two weeks after the attack happened, and many survivors report symptoms similar to those of PTSD for the rest of their lives. Survivors are also 10 times more likely to abuse hard drugs than non-survivors. Therefore, not distancing oneself from rapists means that survivors have to limit where they go in order to avoid their assailant. 

This behavior would be difficult for local or federal governments to regulate, because it is solely based on choices by the parties involved. There is no registry that marks alleged rapists, but rather it is based on information traveling by word of mouth and/or social media. And considering data on how many sexual assaults go unreported, this technique can serve as a form of grassroots justice.

Naysayers of combating abusers by social alienation say such a strategy is too radical. But is it not a natural instinct to distance oneself from someone or something that may harm you or those close to you?

However, this strategy does require survivors to essentially “out” themselves to at least a small number of people, and this can be traumatic. In a more perfect world, where this strategy includes always responding to complaints of sexual assault by “cutting off” perpetrators, we are still putting the burden on survivors to begin the process. We have to question if there are ways of exacting these tactics without putting more pressure on survivors. 

As we continue to search for a holistic approach to the issue of sexual assault and how to deal with rapists, we must consider how we can hold perpetrators accountable in our own social groups. Of course, the simplest way to lower the number of sexual assaults is to teach consent at an early age, but until this discussion is widely implemented, and until we have a complete overhaul of the way our justice system deals with rape, we have to consider possibilities that may start with the people we choose to include in our lives.