Let’s Talk About Women’s Orgasms and Casual Sex (Because Everybody Else Is)

Sarah Lutkenhaus

I’m not sure if there’s anything I like more than being told (explicitly or otherwise) that I can best achieve fulfillment (sexually or otherwise) if I’m in a committed, monogamous relationship. Oh, hmm. Maybe there is something I like more than that. Maybe I like literally anything more than that, but maybe what I especially like more than hearing about what kind of a relationship I should or shouldn’t be in so that I can achieve prime orgasm potential is, you know, just having a fucking orgasm.

Oh. Was that too blunt? Maybe. Or maybe it just seems so blunt because of the way that the female orgasm is usually written about. Which, usually, it’s either written about like it’s some sort of mystical, transcendental phenomenon best experienced with a background soundtrack involving that song Sting wrote for that car commercial that one time, or like it’s just this utterly transactional, prosaic mutual conclusion to a healthy heterosexual helping of the missionary position. And while I’m sure that some women do come that way, there’s plenty more women who don’t. But what all women can benefit from is not being told that the sex they’re having is preventing them from being sexually fulfilled, or—even worse!—that, because they have casual sex, their sexual experiences are not as worthwhile as those that occur in committed relationships.

In a column for the New York Times’s Well blog yesterday titled “In Hookups, Inequality Still Reigns,” Natalie Kitroeff reports that “many young women…are finding that casual sex does not bring the physical pleasure that men more often experience. New research suggests why: Women are less likely to have orgasms during uncommitted sexual encounters than in serious relationships.” The article goes on to hammer home the point that these women would be way more fulfilled if they could restrain themselves from having sex with just any old guy and hold out for someone who really loves them, maybe someone like “Duvan Giraldo, 26, a software technician in Elmhurst, Queens” who says that during casual sex, “I’m not going to try as hard as when I’m with someone I really care about.” Yeah, women. I think we can all agree that the answer is definitely not to sleep with Duvan Giraldo unless you’re seriously dating.

Kitroeff does eventually back away from the implication that the only fulfilling sex that a woman can have with a man is in a committed relationship (which, that’s yet another problem, why are all the articles about women’s orgasms so heteronormative? is it because it’s just assumed that lesbians are all dwelling in orgasm paradise? is that probably a safe assumption? I mean, probably, but still) by relaying the information that some women might get more out of casual sex than just an orgasm. That’s right, some women might be fulfilled by “mediocre sex” because of the “the freedom to be able to enjoy it all,” and because “hookups are often much more about two people giving each other the sense of intimacy, however brief, they need to get through the week.”

Ok, so now this is making me sad. Why does a woman’s choice to have casual sex have to be related to a search for intimacy, “however brief”? Does anyone ever dissect a man’s need to have casual sex this way? Or is it just commonly understood that men are dealing with a biological urge which is not necessarily related to wanting to settle down and have millions of babies? The fact that casual sex doesn’t always result in a woman (or even a man!) having an orgasm isn’t just related to the lack of intimacy. On Salon, Katie McDonough offered a rebuttal to the Times piece, saying, “the orgasm problem, it seems, is mostly about the attitudinal and mechanical things that can make some sex really bad sex.” And, even more concisely, “men ejaculate quickly, everyone communicates poorly during casual hookups.” Which, yes! All true. The real reason casual sex is sometimes bad (and really, only sometimes bad, sometimes it is actually the best) is the same reason that sex at the beginning of a relationship, or losing-your-virginity sex is bad—it’s new! You don’t know what you’re doing. Having sex is not actually like riding a bike, it’s not something you can just abandon and pick back up on a whim and expect everything to be perfect. Bikes are reliable. People are not. Bikes don’t come in all different sizes with the brakes and gears and bells and whistles in all different places. But people’s bells and whistles are all over the damn place. And so, it takes some time to for sex with someone else to feel good. Time, but not necessarily love. Admittedly, time and love frequently go hand-in-hand, but it’s the time factor, the Gladwellian 10,000-hours-of-practice-at-something-is-needed-to-make-you-an-expert theory, that makes a real difference in the quality of sex.

But so, love. What does love have to do with an orgasm? And why is it always only the female orgasm that gets tied to love? I mean, I can only speak to my own experience, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that boredom is far more of a motivating factor for me when it comes to having orgasms than love. Boredom and procrastination. But you know what? I bet that’s the case for most women and most men. Because the kinds of orgasms that come from procrastinating while you’re delaying meeting a deadline are generally the self-induced kinds. Which, love has nothing to do with those orgasms. Intimacy has nothing to do with those orgasms. Those orgasms are just about feeling good, and because most people have way more orgasms by their own hand over the course of their lifetimes than they do from anyone else, women and men are much better at getting themselves off on their own terms. Because it’s really just about practice! And that’s a good thing, obviously, because once you know what you need to have an orgasm, you can do it whenever you want. Even during one of those casual sex hookups that everyone’s been having for ages all the kids are having these days! The point is, when it comes to orgasms, you shouldn’t even have to rely on a partner, you should be able to get things done for yourself. And that way—even if you accidentally wind up having casual sex with someone who went to Brown of all places—you’ll still have a good fucking time.

I’m not say that being in a loving and committed relationship isn’t an important goal or part of many people’s lives. I mean, obviously. If that’s what you want and that’s what you’re ready for, then go for it! And maybe the sex will be great. Maybe it won’t. (Spoiler: many people in long-term relationships have sexual problems too!) But so, the real problem is much more that in making the female orgasm seemingly contingent on something as mercurial as “love,” we wind up invalidating the other ways that women can have orgasms that have nothing to do with long-term relationships. And then we wind up with orgasmic meditation classes where women pay tons of money to have someone finger them. And really, we can do better than that. Much better. That’s the bottom line, really. Instead of waiting for love or commitment or the orgasmic meditation guru to stick his fingers in you, women should just take care of themselves. At the very least, it’s a good way to pass the time once you’ve caught up on all of Breaking Bad.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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