That Elusive Orgasm

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Many women in India do not climax, and men alone are not to blame

It is 11 pm and a party is underway at a posh Juhu bungalow. The crowd is mostly filmi. There are actors, scriptwriters, directors, photographers, cinematographers, film archivers and the odd journalist and lawyer, too. A group of five is talking about whether Lootera is worth a watch, another about the message of Ship of Theseus, and yet another about how one can afford to live in a bungalow with a garden in Mumbai.

In a corner of the room, I am standing with a 37-year-old lawyer from Delhi and a 32-year-old screenplay writer who works in Mumbai. The lawyer is unmarried and the screenplay writer got hitched a few months ago.

As party conversations go, this one has taken an interesting turn. We are talking of the female orgasm—or lack thereof. “My grandmom told me when I was 17 that women often have the best orgasms when they pleasure themselves,” says the screenplay writer, “I think she said it so I wouldn’t go and fornicate at that age, but today, I feel she is right.” She then rolls her eyes. “No way, I told her then; I was going to have mind-blowing sex. But it’s a lot of work. Faking it just seems so easy.”

The lawyer nods knowingly: “Men can’t really know what to do—a woman has to be in control of her own orgasm, or else it really won’t happen. You need to own your orgasm and work at it.”

Some days later, as we watch a band sing retro hits at a Mumbai club, I broach the subject with a 30-year-old married friend, and she whispers, “So right! I faked it on my honeymoon. I just couldn’t get into the mood and wanted to get it over with. There is just too much you need to invest in an orgasm, and it doesn’t happen most of the time. It’s an elusive being.” It has taken around 15 conversations with women across lines of age, marital status and profession for me to say this, but the female orgasm may need to be put on the endangered list.

Most women I have spoken to admit they first orgasmed only once they took matters into their own hands. Others say they need to stimulate themselves during sex, or that penetrative sex does not make them climax. Many say they often don’t even bother with the big O.

A multitude of studies endorse those findings. Among many others before and after, a 2010 study by British researchers from University of Central Lancashire and University of Leeds reports that almost 80 per cent of women fake their orgasms.

According to another study by Farnaz Kaighobadi, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, women often fake orgasms to hang on to their partners. This piece of research, published in America’s Journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2011, notes that almost 54 per cent women simulate the external manifestations of a sexual release. According to the findings of a study done by researchers at University of Pennsylvania and published this June in Evolution & Human Behavior, women tend to achieve better orgasms with handsome, masculine and dominant men.

You might remember Meg Ryan giving Billy Crystal a lesson on how easy it is to fake an orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. A 30-year-old public relations consultant I spoke to says though she had been caught faking it a couple of times, she could often fool her husband. But lately, she has turned frank, telling him, “Honey, it ain’t happening tonight.” Says she, with a laugh, “We got into a huge fight the other day because he insisted on having sex on a weeknight. I was like, ‘Why don’t we save this for Sunday afternoon?’ On Sundays, we’d have time to try different positions and other inventive stuff. And I need to get used to things before they start working for me.”

She is clear about what she wants. She does not like being rushed, and does not want to try acrobatic positions that girls in porn clips make look so easy. She has a pink vibrator that she uses to get herself off after a sex session that does not satisfy her. “My husband understands.”

The rarity of orgasms is a common affliction, she agrees. “First of all, it takes time for a woman to get turned on. It takes a lot of foreplay, a lot of teasing, and slowly but steadily you start reaching that point. It can’t be rushed. And sometimes it just takes too much time to bother with it.” Second, she says, most men don’t really know what to do. “If they get one thing right, they get another wrong. It’s a combination of many things. I orgasm every time I do it to myself because I know exactly what to do.”

That could mean the PR consultant knows how to locate her G-spot. That is, if it exists at all. According to Wikipedia, the female ‘Gräfenberg Spot’, named after a German gynaecologist who first reported it, is supposed to be a bean-shaped part of the vagina, an ‘erogenous zone which, when stimulated, can lead to strong sexual arousal, powerful orgasms and female ejaculation’.

Many women consider the G-spot a myth, and sexologists are often concerned that women think of themselves as dysfuctional if they can’t locate their own. A 2012 study by Adam Ostrzenski, MD, PhD, Institute of Gynecology in St Petersburg, reported in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, suggests that the G-spot indeed exists. After studying a cadaver (imagine that), Ostrzenski wrote that the G-spot is a well-delineated sac structure located on the dorsal (back) perineal membrane, 16.5 mm from the upper part of the urethral meatus, creating a 35 degree angle with the lateral (side) border of the urethra.

If not mythical, that sounds like Greek, and as the 37-year-old lawyer says, “If there’s a magical spot, wouldn’t it all be easy?” She has had these conversations with her friends and now knows that no one is alone. An orgasm is rare so long as it’s left to a man. “Many women feel bad they can’t orgasm,” she says, “because we are conditioned by the books we read and porn we watch—which show women orgasming after five minutes. Even men think that’s possible and they get frustrated when it doesn’t happen.

” The lawyer says she didn’t have an orgasm till she was 30, despite having been sexually active in her twenties. “I realised that enough was enough, and I [stimulated] myself during sex and that’s how it happened the first time. Also, in your twenties, men are not mature enough to enjoy oral sex, especially if they are the ones giving it.”

She also says that for most women, it has more to do with the mind. “While having sex, men keep their minds blank. But women are thinking about many things… and they really have to focus on orgasming. You have to focus all your energy on it—till you reach an edge. For a long time, I thought I was frigid, but most women I know now are going through this.” She spends a lot of time pleasuring herself now, and says she is glad to be with a man who understands its necessity. “Also, for women, sex is not necessary to be in love or a relationship.”

That an orgasm is a woman’s job is a belief widely shared. “For men, it’s a functional thing,” says a 27-year-old journalist, “They might be watching cricket and can orgasm like that. But for women, you need to be comfortable, in the mood and turned on.” For example, she says, she was recently with a man she found attractive. The first time they had sex, she was drunk. All she remembers is that it was acrobatic. The next time, though, as she headed off to meet him at his place, she knew they were going to have sex and so she had ‘titillated’ herself in her head well in advance. “I kept thinking about him all day. I thought of what we would do to each other, of how sexy he was. By the time I reached his house, I was wet and turned on enough… and when we had sex, it was awesome.”

The journalist remembers another time with another lover. “The first time we did it, it was okay. But as I rolled off and lit a cigarette, he pulled me right back. And that was surprising and erotic and I orgasmed rightaway.”

Often, she says, she fantasises another man while in bed with her boyfriend: “You think about having sex with George Clooney in a shed. It works every time.” She also thinks that men should not take offence if a woman pleasures herself during the act. “It’s good for them as they find it erotic to see a woman touch herself. But when you are having sex with a man, you are also stroking his ego. That gets hurt sometimes if you don’t make him feel like he is the best lover in the world.”

Her best lover is her vibrator—which she says gives her an orgasm each time and doesn’t need a pep talk. “You just need to switch the batteries.” But she also says there are times that she does experience awesome orgasms with her man, even if it takes extra work. “I don’t consider myself an unfulfilled woman as now my lover knows all there is to know about what pleasures me. He knows how to push all the right buttons. I can come in a matter of minutes at times, and that’s the best feeling ever.”

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, author of Faraway Music, who is currently writing a work of erotica titled Sita’s Curse, advocates that every woman pleasure herself. Her book opens with her heroine, Meera, doing exactly that. “[An] orgasm is a very intimate thing for a woman,” says Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, “It’s an internal surrender and a private dialogue.”

During her research for the new book, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu was shocked that several women she spoke to balked at her questions about watching porn or masturbating. “They were shocked, and I was like, ‘What’s wrong in that?’” To her, it’s a superlative experience: like an intensely rewarding read. “A female orgasm is like coming to the edge of a cliff and falling backwards with your eyes closed. A woman needs to be turned on with words, seduced, touched, caressed, licked and sucked. It’s like a story and every chapter builds up to climax.”

Dr Mahinder Watsa, a sexologist who writes a popular sex column for Mumbai Mirror, says most men are in such a hurry to get themselves off that the woman doesn’t stand a chance. “Men get aroused in a second and then just want to orgasm. So they tend to initiate intercourse when women are not ready—since women need foreplay—and hence it never happens for them.”

Women often ask Dr Watsa for tricks to get an orgasm. He has one key piece of advice. “I tell them to ask their men for more foreplay. Or, once the man orgasms, they should help themselves with vibrators or shower sprays. Women can have multiple orgasms in short gaps.”

That ability, sadly, is not being made the most of. Until women start demanding that their lovers spend more than just half an hour or so on foreplay, they will live in a land of no orgasms.

However, as a 30-year-old single man says, women often spoil it by “overthinking it all”. According to him, “This additional information of what turns you on, what leads to orgasms and all that jazz is confusing... There should never be a conversation about good sex or good orgasms—because it varies for everyone. How can you have a checklist of what is good? What women need to do is vocalise what they want [to their lovers]. There is nothing more satisfying than pleasuring a woman.”

The single man also feels that it’s all about living in the moment and enjoying it. “Women are more focused on what they want than what they are getting,” he says with a sigh of resignation. “Enjoy what you are getting,” he advises, “and the rest will follow.”