A dimly lit room, bondage wheels, wooden crosses, whips, leather benches, chains and studded outfits.
A girl tied to the leather bench. It’s clear that she works here. You can tell by her outfit, the discarded eight-inch heels. There is an older man, fogging glasses. Bending over her.
This girl, who is working at a BDSM dungeon, has never had an orgasm before.
The same woman who dresses up in leather, studs, plastic heels, eye liner and streams of mascara. The same woman who plays the dom, or the submissive, who is spanked with a paddle and penetrated with dildos.
She has never had an orgasm.
This evening, in this dimly lit room, with the old man her coworkers call “Turtle Robert”, is the first time she reaches climax.
She is 24.
“Growing up, my mom never spoke to me about my body or sexuality—she even hid her tampons from me,” she wrote in Bust Magazine. “I tried masturbating a few times, but I wasn’t even sure if I could have an orgasm, so when it didn’t feel good right away, I gave up.”
She is not alone. There are some glaring, hugely dissatisfying obstacles in the way of women and orgasms.
A survey of 2,300 women by Cosmopolitan found only 57% of women orgasm during sex in heterosexual relationships. For lesbians, it’s slightly better at around 75%.
Why is the female orgasms so elusive?
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There’s the mechanics. For example, not enough clitoral stimulation (38% of participants), or not the right kind of clitoral stimulation (35%).
There’s the mental side of it, with 50% of participants reporting they would almost reach climax, but often couldn’t find the release.
There is also, as the BDSM dungeon worker shows, the stigma. The lack of knowledge, education, understanding around women’s pleasure – even in people working in the sex industry.
“The men I’d dated in the small punk town where I came of age before moving to New York never seemed very interested in helping me achieve an orgasm,” she wrote.
“And the few women I’d fooled around with were only interested in me for the duration of their drunken stupors. Since taking the job at the dungeon, I hadn’t done much sensual exploring in my off hours, either—to be honest, after eight hours in a dungeon, the last thing on my mind was sex, so there wasn’t a lot of real eroticism going on in my life at all.”
This stigma can quickly manifest into feelings of pressure. Feelings of inadequacy. Feelings that are even more counterproductive to finding pleasure. It’s a difficult, frustrating cycle.
“I meditated on the concept of the huge Magic Wand touching me, and my curiosity mixed with a less-sexy emotion—shame,” she wrote. “I thought about all of this, silently speculating about whether or not I’d actually ever experienced an orgasm, wondering how I’d know if I had or not.”
“My thoughts were interrupted by Turtle Robert,” she continued. “He started droning on about the differences between cantatas and oratorios while pinching my nipples. I closed my eyes and listened to the flutter of violins in the background. Whatever happens, happens, I told myself.”
This story of the 24-year-old woman on the leather couch in the dimply lit room with the whips on the wall is the story of many women.
Not in the way she was dressed, or the person bending over her, but in the feelings of shame and doubt that can cloud a woman’s sexual pleasure. As well as this, a lack of knowledge, an absence of confidence, in exploring the female body, discovering, learning.
It’s not something we talk about often. It’s not something we’re proud of. But why shouldn’t we be?
“Looking back on that strange time of my life, I’m deeply thankful to the dungeon for providing me with a long overdue opportunity to explore my own pleasure and desires,” she wrote. “My time with Turtle Robert revealed to me just how alienated I had always been from my own pleasure. Thanks to him, I now finally know what I’m looking for.”