Monthly Archives: April 2010

emily can has pink viagra

So last night I went up to Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to see Orgasm, Inc, a documentary about the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and women’s sexuality.

It was super, interviewing some of my favorite sex researchers, including the marvelous Leonore Tiefer and my favorite behavioral neuroendocrinologist Kim Wallen, and it made me think about a lot of things, many of which will be appearing on the blog eventually.

The very short summary is: when Viagra turned into a megadrug that gave old and middle aged men erections like they hadn’t had since they were teenagers, the next goal was to see if it would help women too.

It doesn’t.

(Or rather, it doesn’t help any more than a placebo, but I should mention that sex drugs have the strongest placebo effect of any medication. In the FDA approval meeting for a testosterone patch that didn’t get approved, we learned that 50% of the patients on the drug wanted to continue taking it; nearly 40% wanted to continue taking the placebo.)

But WHY doesn’t it work?

Well it’s because of this thing I keep saying over and over, that women’s sexual responsiveness is context-dependent. Situational. What pill can you take that will fix a situation like having to work 50 hours a week, having a fight with your partner, being too exhausted and strung out from childrearing to have energy for sex, or hating your body because it doesn’t look or behave as it should?

Part of the situation is, or should be, fairly easy to fix: women understanding their own sexuality.

In the film, two women go through different surgical procedures to increase their likelihood of having orgasms with penetration. Both of them can have orgasms from other stimulation, but both believe that their inability to orgasm through penetration means they’re broken, abnormal, diseased. Then when Liz informs one of the women that in fact she’s in the majority (it’s been days, I think, since I mentioned that only about 1/3 of women are reliably orgasmic from penetration), she more or less instantaneously embraces the idea that she is healthy and normal! Hurray!

And in Polly Vernon’s recent Observer article on the film and its concept, she mentions a friend who learned from the internets that women’s sexual desire can be – often is – responsive rather than spontaneous. Just learning that fact and knowing that it’s okay to start having sex when you’re willing, rather than when you’re interested, apparently brought her back from the sexual dead.

I routinely forget that women don’t know this stuff, but it’s information that transforms women’s relationships with their bodies.

Still, I drove home last night worried.

“There is no profit,” I thought, “In telling women they’re normal and healthy. The power is where the money is. So what can anyone do?”

But this morning I’m feeling more optimistic. I’m pretty sure this is a message women WANT to hear, and I’m utterly certain it’s a message that can change their lives for the better. And it’s a message that loads of us feminist sex researchers, educators, counselors, and therapists are spreading (Debby Herbenick, Petra Boynton, Heather Corinna, Susie Bright to name but a few).

We’ll never get on Oprah with that message – as you learn in the film, Oprah is attached to the Berman sisters, who are attached to the pharmaceutical industry – but I wonder how loud our shared voices CAN be? How can we make it so that everyone knows the stuff that I forget people don’t know?

Yeah, the film reminded me of things I forget. I forget how powerful and rich and wrong-headed pharmaceutical companies can be. I forget how little women know about their own bodies. I forget how monolithic and impermeable is the media’s representation of women’s sexuality. Consequently, I forget how important it is that I do the work I do.

Every day. Over and over. Less than a 1/3 of women are reliably orgasmic from penetration. Women’s sexuality is often characterized by responsive rather than spontaneous desire. There’s not a great correlation between what a woman’s physiology is doing and how she feels. Have I said that yet? Should I say it again? Have you all heard me? Have you all told your friends?

There is no pink viagra because there is no medicine for a culture that tells women they’re broken.

Oh wait, yes there is.

It’s me.

what women want (12): leave that clit alone

Women want…

… well, some of them want you to leave their clitorises WELL ALONE.

Have I mentioned lately that WOMEN VARY? One of the ways that women vary is in the directness of clitoral stimulation that they enjoy/can tolerate.

Some women are enthusiastically pro-diddle – they are strongly in favor of you planting a fingertip lightly but firmly just south of the glans clitoris and bobbling it rapidly up and down. Indeed, you may feel very pleased with yourself that you’ve found that a flicky tongue along the clitoral shaft can get your gal to the heights of ecstasy – very good, congratulations – but if that relationship ends and you find yourself with a new woman, you CAN’T assume that what worked for Lady A will also work for Lady B. Lady B might HATE IT when you flick her clit. Lady B may want you to leave the clit utterly alone and run your tongue in soft circles along her left labium.

For women like Lady B, direct stimulation can be irritating or even painful. Direct stimulation like that is way, way, way too much. You can’t know until you get there (or until she tells you, which is even better) whether or not she’s a direct stimulation kind of gal.

One clit-related truth that is nearly universal (of course nothing is truly universal among the female-bodied) is that you must pre-heat the oven, as it were.

This one Monty Python got genuinely right:

“What’s wrong with a kiss, boy? Why not start her off with a nice kiss? You don’t have to go leaping straight for the clitoris like a bull at a gate; give her a kiss, boy!” Then: suck the nipple, stroke the thigh, nibble the earlobe, knead the buttocks, “and so on and so forth. So we have all these possibilities before we STAMPEDE towards the clitoris, Watson.”

All in aid of getting the “vaginal juices flowing.” (Except of course we all know by now that just because a woman is well aroused doesn’t mean she’s necessarily well lubricated; and vice versa.)

A decent rule of thumb is to begin peripherally, delicately, and slowly, and gradually work your way closer to the clitoris, with increasing intensity and speed. Just HOW close, intense, and fast will depend on the woman, and will vary greatly from woman to woman. You have to play close attention to her arousal level and get all the feedback she’s interested in giving you.

(This is a classic men-women difference. With guys – again it’s not universally true, but it’s a decent rule of thumb – you can accost him after a shower and just put his whole, soft cock in your mouth if you like; you’ll catch him off guard, but the penis doesn’t need the warm-up act in the way the clit does.)

Context, context, context. Create a sexy context first, then commune with the clitoris.

your body is meant to.

Today I was asked maybe the most complicated question I’ve ever been asked:

“The toe-curling, body-flailing, scream-inducing experience that the media tells us orgasm is – is that the experience we’re biologically meant to have?”

Well, I mean… the short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is sort of but not really.

The real answer is: geez, what is a woman’s body meant to do, sexually? Given all the possible behaviors, from hugging to fucking, all the possible consequences, good and bad, all the possible influences on a woman’s arousability, all the possible goals and experiences…

The problem this student was confronting is exactly the problem I’ve been stewing about for a few years now. In brief: there are two streams of knowledge about sex in our culture right now. There is the stream of science, which is telling us more and more about the mechanism underlying sexual response, which allows us more thoroughly to grasp the complexity and diversity of sexual experience. And then there is the stream of mainstream media, which is taking increasing advantage of people’s fears about being normal, healthy, acceptable, and adequate.

Even as the limits on “normal” slip away, as we follow Kinsey down the yellow brick road toward a sexual utopia of nearly infinite diversity and variety, the media manipulate our fears and neuroses by telling us what we ought to be.

We are told there is one body, one shape, size, and color of woman who has orgasms, and she has orgasms from penetrative intercourse. She is straight, she wants a husband; she’ll be sexually ravenous once she has an emotional commitment… until she gets married and has kids, at which point she will lose, long for, and mourn the loss of her sexuality. Mothers don’t fuck. Women of color may fuck, but only in a bad way, or as fetish objects for white men. Fat women DEFINITELY don’t fuck – who would want to fuck a fat woman? Old women don’t fuck – ditto. In a wheelchair? Missing a limb? Got cancer or cerebral palsy or Down syndrome? No sex for you.

What are are going to do about all these terrible lies?

There are lots of voices trying to shout them down. And yet.

Maybe sex researchers and sex educators should get together and start a glossy magazine dedicated to the true diversity of sexual expression. (Is there one? Someone tell me there is one and I’ve just been ignorant for years!) Full of stories and pictures that show readers that EVERYONE has sex, is sexual – some of that sex is burning hot and some of it is routine and dull and some of it is definitely bad.

Because the reality is that your body – everyone’s body – is designed for sex of various kinds. Some people are more interested in sex than others, and you may be more interested at some times in your life than at others, but sex is in there, waiting for you, like a book of short stories you carry in your cells. You may choose to read some stories and not others. You may show some stories to your partners; others you may keep to yourself.

A human body is meant for sex – for some form of sexual expression. That’s what it’s meant to do. The screaming, squirming, flailing orgasm? That’s a tiny fragment of the whole, a paragraph in a story – maybe from a favorite story that you read over and over, or maybe from a story you open to but rarely. Or never. But sex is everywhere and everything. Your body is meant for it. In some form.

delicious, delicious crow

So imagine you have a teenage sister who thinks you hang the moon. She wants nothing more in life than to be just as good as you at everything… well, or maybe just a little bit better.

And you’re talking with your little sis and she says, “How old were you when you first had sex?”

Now, you know that whatever you say will be taken not just as information about your life as she catalogues details of your biography for future publication; it will be taken as a mandate, as a moral lesson for when and where and how sex should happen.

So what do you tell her? What do you say? You want to be honest and open, but you don’t want her to think that there’s any one right way for a sex life to develop. You don’t want her to make her sexual decisions based on your experience, you want her to make the choice best for herself and her circumstances.

What do you say?


I think you talk to her about “what counts as sex.” I think you talk to her about the false distinction between “virgin” and “person who has had sex.” I think you talk to her about all the ways that love can be expressed and pleasure can be experienced.


Yes, yes, just a couple days ago I said that defining sex – deciding what counted as sex – was a boring waste of time. Yes, I defended that position in the face of a humblingly well-written definition of sex by guru Heather Corinna. Yes, I am now saying (almost) the opposite.

In my paltry defense, I said that the question, “Is XYZ sex?” is what doesn’t matter, but that’s a precisianistic distinction, the argument of a women whittling her claim down to its smallest possible space in order to skirt the implications of that claim. The fact is that tonight I gave exactly the advice I thought was useless and uninteresting: talk about what it means to “have sex.”

I think, in fact, that a conversation about “what is sex” with your teenage little sis would probably be both extremely useful and extremely interesting to her.

100th post: a letter to my favorite species

Dear Homo sapiens,

Douglas Adams, my authorial hero, said, “The thing about evolution is, if it hasn’t turned your brain inside out, you haven’t properly understood it.”

Right on. I find it thrilling – I literally feel a physical thrill – when I consider what we are as a species, particularly what we are sexually. At the sex retreat I led a this winter, I actually cried, like the girly nerdy freak I am, while talking about the wonder that is the evolution of life on Earth. Embryology, man. Embry-fucking-ology.

My point is this:

Boiled down to our essence, we’re monkeys (in fact we’re apes, but monkey is a better word; monkey monkey monkey). We’re savannah dwelling, omnivorous large primates, generally polygynous, and predictably sexually dimorphic based on our size, social structure, and habitat. We also happen to have brains the size of planets and the ability to walk upright, which leads to cephalopelvic disproportion (little narrow hips to walk upright + big giant skull for big giant brain = most dangerous childbirth on earth), which leads to utterly dependent offspring, which leads to powerful attachment mechanisms and the necessity of multiple adult caregivers, which leads….

And we’re off to the races.

So here we are. Almost none of the sex we have is reproductive, yet we’ve managed to populate the planet beyond its capacity to sustain us. We use sex to every end – as a commodity, as a weapon, as a status marker, as plain old recreation. In everything that makes us most human – our economy, our wars, our art, our language, our complex relationships and social systems – sex plays a role.

Perhaps most remarkably, we fuck with gender, power, and sex in ways no other species can – not even bonobos have silicone dildos or leather collared ball gags. No other species has even considered the possibility of cock and ball torture, schoolgirl role play, vibrators, or even lingerie.

All the ingenuity of millions of years of natural and sexual selection have led to a world where we can quite literally change our bodies from male to female and female to male. We can prevent conception with a pill. We can broadcast images of live sex instantly around the globe.

Basically what I want to say here is just holy shit man. Is all.

“Emily, if you could be any animal, what animal would you be?” I’d be a human, any day of the week.

Why, then, with all this genius, all this creativity and innovation, can we not stop using sex as a weapon of war, when we have so many other weapons? Why can’t we let women’s sexuality belong to the women in whose bodies it resides, rather than treating it as a commodity in the public domain? Why can’t we even just let two people who love each other get fucking married, without worrying about how their genitals might fit together?

What, in short, the fuck is wrong with us?

I know some of the answers to these questions – I know that sex will never be separate from politics because, evolutionarily, who controls sex controls nothing less than the genetic destiny of the species. I know that we’re made less of reason than of rage, that “mine” is as much a part of our makeup as “ours.” I know the morals of “purity” and “hierarchy” are as deep in our genetics as are justice and caring for those in need. I know.

But I’ve been writing the blog for a few months now and it’s made me think a lot about what really I want, and what I really want is for us to spend just a little more time thinking about how to make the world a place where sex is a vehicle of peace and justice.

We’re the coolest monkeys in the history of the world. Surely we can get this right eventually.

Love and kisses,

boys and the hookup culture

Here’s what a lot of men say to me:

“Well, but I think it’s true that a lot of men are just after sex and they don’t want relationships…. Not me – any random, non-relationship sex I’ve had was initiated by HER – but most other straight dudes aren’t like me.”

I have yet to meet even one man who says, “Yeah, I’m mostly just looking to get laid these days. I don’t want a relationship, I really just want to have sex.”

It could be that at least some of these men are lying to me, absolutely.

It could be that the men who tell me about their sex lives are wildly non-representative – though I would mention that my sample does include your notional “frat boy” type.

Or it could be, couldn’t it, that we’re all told the same story about what it’s like to be a guy, and all the guys out there are busy believing that it applies to most men, even though it doesn’t apply to themselves….

My theory is that it’s quite a small proportion of men who actually prefer relationship-free sex, and that the idea of women “competing for men on men’s terms” is driven by an untruth about men’s desires, which men are unwilling to contradict in public, for fear of being thought a wuss for not wanting all the sex they can get, no matter who it’s with or how it happens.

So I’m putting out a call: if you are a male bodied, congruently gendered boytype who just wants anonymous sex and doesn’t want a relationship at all, please comment. If you have ever, in the past, had such a time in your life, please comment. If you know someone like this, who has mentioned that this is true, please send them this way and ask them to comment. Surely there are SOME of you out there.

And if you’re a boytype who’s willing to say out loud: “Yes, I prefer sex with someone I know and like” or “Yes, I prefer sex in the context of a mutually respectful and caring relationship” or anything similar, please say that too.

In this instance, I’m okay with anonymous comments (though if I know you, I’d appreciate a hint to that effect.)

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

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questions that don’t matter (1)

I firmly believe there’s no such thing as a stupid question.


That doesn’t mean that all questions are important. There are a lot of questions whose answers just don’t matter – especially questions about sex. There are all these deeply unimportant questions that people are burning to ask, because these are the questions the ridiculous media present as being important.

People ask them all the time and I try REALLY hard not to roll my eyes or sigh heavily or otherwise indicate how little I care about the answer, how little the answer will make them healthier or happier, and how little the answer will make the world a better place. I’ve got a list of them, these questions that don’t matter.

Here’s one:

Is oral sex/anal sex/manual sex “sex”?

Who fucking cares what “sex” is? Why does this matter? Why is it important that 80% of young adults don’t think oral sex is sex? So what?

The claim I hear to justify this question is related to prevention of STIs: if a teenager doesn’t think anal sex is sex, won’t that mean they think they can’t get a sexually transmitted infection?

I have yet to see a single study that indicates that identifying a behavior as “sex” increases the likelihood of using protection with that behavior. If you know of that study, PLEASE, for the love of mike, send me a link. Until I see such evidence – and I doubt I ever will – I’m bored out of my mind by this question. I just don’t care if oral, anal, and manual count as “sex.” I’ve never seen any evidence that these artificially imposed categories are important from a (physical or mental) health perspective.

The important question, instead, is “Are there any STI risks associated with oral/anal/manual/vaginal/whatever sex?” So ask that one and report about it. The answer would tell us a lot more about what young people do and don’t know, and tell us more about what we need to teach them.

I’d like to take this opportunity to add that, in fact, manual and oral sex, while not remotely “risk-free,” ARE lower risk for STI transmission than penile-vaginal intercourse and they are superb contraception. So from a harm reduction perspective… right on.

EDIT: It is a strange and bewildering coincidence that the same day I post this, Heather Corinna’s very thoughtful article on “What’s Sex” was also published.

duck rape

In an episode of the new Green Porno series (well, this time it’s “Seduce Me”), Isabella Rossallini says,

“Ouch! Ouch! One of them is raping me! I don’t care.”

She’s in the role of a duck at the time.

Which made me think… Is there such a thing as duck “rape”? Or is rape a strictly human concept?

I’ve already asserted that there’s no such thing as a “gay” penguin, as “gay” is a human cultural phenomenon, superimposed over a behavior. There are penguins (and individuals among numerous and various species) who exhibit homosexual and homosocial behavior. The behavior doesn’t make them “gay.”

Indeed, other cultures construct different meanings for homosexual and gender-variant behavior in humans. Among the Navaho – forgive the DESPERATELY oversimplified explanation I’m about to give – a female-bodied, masculine-identified person can have a relationship with a female-bodied, feminine-identified person – in other words, a homosexual but heterogendered relationship – and that’s fine, whereas for a female-bodied, masculine identified person to have a relationship with a male-bodied, masculine identified person – a heterosexual but homogendered realtionship – is as taboo as incest. For them it is the social role, not the body, that matters.

Cultures construct forced copulation in humans differently too. My (brilliant, marvelous) intern has spent time doing sexual health education in Tanzania (this is an understatement; she actually built a program in a hospital from scratch). She and I have talked about the culture around rape in that country, how women view non-consensual sex as a part of life, just one of those things. They described to her not feeling particularly traumatized. It’s culturally different.

Returning to the point: behavior is one thing. Cultural construction is another.

Based on this idea, I also don’t think that there’s non-human rape. Non-human forced copulation is forced copulation, not rape.

Undeniably there are varying degrees of mutual interest during sex between non-human animals. Ducks are one example – indeed male waterfowl in general use a forced copulation strategy. Subordinate male orangutans, too, use a forced copulation strategy.

But is that “rape”?

Rape has a deep moral, as well as legal, meaning. Rape is (briefly) penetration without consent. Can a duck give consent? Can an orangutan?

You may say I’m an arrogant human, but as far as I’m concerned, NO, a duck can’t give consent. (If a duck could give consent, I’d feel like a terrible, cruel, and, what’s more, cannibalistic person when I ate one. Personally, I can’t eat something to which I apply the same moral standards as humans.)

It’s not so easy to avoid imposing human moral standards on orangutans and chimps; they’re so like us, they’re so close to human. But we must avoid it. It’s not appropriate to overlay moral meaning on animal behavior; chimps commit infanticide, but that’s just part of being a chimp. It’s not immoral or wrong, it’s just… chimpanzeedom.

There’s something in us, some apparently innate tendency, to find lessons and moral standards in nature. This is, in part, the naturalistic fallacy – the conclusion that if something is natural it must be right or good. Just as mistaken is the conclusion that something in nature is bad or wrong because it violates a human moral standard.

Ducks aren’t wrong or cruel or bad for using a forced copulation strategy. They’re just ducks.

But you can’t say that about humans. The standard is DIFFERENT.

I won’t, in this post, address the controversial and, in my opinion, nonsensical research on the “evolutionary adaptiveness” of rape in the human species. That’s another post (and one I dread writing).

But I do want to mention, in closing, that female ducks have remarkable vaginas that Isabella Rossallini describes in her movie; Radiolab tells us about duck vaginas too. They’re amazing. They’ve evolved a variety of mechanisms for controlling which male’s sperm actually makes it to the egg. There has been an evolutionary arms race between male and female ducks; males want their sperm to fertilize as many females’ eggs as possible, and females want to control which male’s sperm fertilizes her eggs. This is, in itself, beautiful. It’s neither right nor wrong nor good nor bad. It’s just nature and holy crap is it glorious.

The power of evolution. If you can think about with your moral judgment in neutral, your brain will grow six sizes, man.

but what if I *don’t* know?

Through the miracle that is Twitter, I was introduced to this blog post by Charlie Glickman on asking for what you want.

None of it is wrong. All of it is right. Sometimes you don’t have language for what you like, sometimes you’re ashamed of what you like, or ashamed to talk about it, and sometimes you’re worried about whether or not your partner will be responsive if you do express what you want. That’s all true. And finding ways to say what you want – whether it’s through yes/no/maybe lists or shopping online together or whatever – will help everyone involved get more of what they want.


Except that I work with a lot of women who genuinely, seriously, honestly, DON’T KNOW what they want. Maybe because of inexperience, maybe because of a history of trauma, maybe because they’re in the middle of a rejection of the social norms they had previously accepted. Lots of reasons why a person might be unclear about what they want.

Part of me wants to simplify this by talking about bodies: male bodied people experience a high degree of correlation between physiological arousal and psychological arousal. Dick hard = turned on, wanting more (about 85% of the time). The female bodied have no such clear relationship.

It’s more complicated than that, obviously. Gender roles for example – well-behaved young ladies who perform their gender extremely well, they may inclined to… just… sort of… go along with things if they’re feeling uncertain, rather than, um, well I mean, you don’t want to be RUDE, do you, or hurt the person’s feelings? No. God no. Hurting the other person’s feelings is definitely much worse than doing something you don’t feel quite comfortable doing… I… suppose?

But if you’re female bodied and feminine gendered, what do you check in with? Your body? Unreliable. You heart? Possibly telling you more about what you think your partner wants than about what you want. DO I want to do this, you think, mid-make-out?

I’d like to offer some controversially tepid advice to well-behaved young ladies who aren’t sure what they want. I’m not going to say, “Don’t have sex until you know what you want,” or “say no to everything unless you feel REALLY GOOD about it,” or “If you feel pressured by your partner, leave them.” Christ, if only it were that simple.

But I am going to say:

Go. Really. Slow. It’s completely groovy to go slow. You don’t have to know what you want ahead of time and you don’t have to worry that maybe your partner is a potential rapist if they want something you don’t want. But you are TOTALLY allowed to keep the brakes on for as long as you’re not feeling the untempered zzzoooOOOOOMMM of intensely and unmitigatedly experienced passionate lust.

“God, that feels SO AMAZING,” you can tell your lustbucket as they fondle your breasts. “Gosh, I’m not ready to go any further than that.”

“You feel SO GOOD,” you can say as your cuddlenoodle, “This has been GREAT. Thanks.”

With practice, it’ll get easier. Your inner voice that says, “Yes!” and “No!” will gain confidence and clarity and pretty soon you’ll be able to go fast. It’s maybe like driving or riding a bike? With practice comes skill and ease.

Sorry it’s not easy to start with. But I promise it’s worth your effort and patience.

orgasm 11: was it fake?

Coupla months ago I wrote a bit about why women fake it sometimes.

Allow me to offer a kind of counterweight to that post: how to tell if it’s fake. Coupla things:

As a person grows increasingly aroused, first their breath will deepen and their respiration rate will increase, like they’ve been running, then they’ll begin to hold their breath as their muscles clench rhythmically. This is a necessary and universal predecessor to orgasm. You’ll hear rhythmic gaspy-chuffy noises and see their bellies rise and fall sharply with the sounds.

Don’t mistake noisy for intense. Many people are nearly silent at orgasm. When a person goes all quiet and still but tense, that’s a sign of a high level of arousal. Which brings me to…

Muscle Tension
The reason people hold their breath as they approach orgasm is because their thoracic diaphragm is clenching rhythmically along with their abdominal, buttock, thigh, and pelvic muscles. Orgasm, being the explosive release of sexual tension, is preceded by a build-up of tension that comes over your partner like the tide coming in. You’ll be able to see and feel the tension move through your partner’s body in waves, hear it in their breath. If their abdomen isn’t taut and their feet aren’t tense, that’s something to wonder about.

Caution: it’s really not about individual body parts – the feet alone or the abdomen alone can’t tell you anything clear about your partner’s arousal level. Be skeptical about any advice that tells you there’s a “foolproof” sign or that any single sign will tell you what you want to know.

(Sadly, I’m assuming here that ASKING your partner if they had an orgasm isn’t foolproof either. However, for lots of people, asking WILL get you a truthful answer!!)

Instead, it’s a holistic thing; pay attention to the way their body’s movements and breath interrelate, how they change over time. What’s hard to fake is the coordinated whole of escalating arousal.

Hip Rocking
Distinguishing between real rocking and fake rocking takes careful attention. Earlier in arousal, hips move less rhythmically and less reliably. If your partner is a hip-mover, you may notice a kind of rolling, searching motion, like their pelvis is feeling around in the dark for the light switch. (How’s that for an unsexy simile?) But as they become increasingly aroused and myotonia (involuntary muscle contractions) takes over, the pelvis movements because more purposeful, more thythmic, more thrusting.

Don’t mistake size of rocking for intensity of rocking. Small movements can be just as indicative of arousal as big movements; it’s a matter of the tension in the muscles, not the external, behavioral manifestation of that tension.

Facial Expression
There is no particular facial expression that indicates orgasm; instead what’s important is that at orgasm your partner is not thinking about their face. The “O” Face – jaw dropped in an elongated O shape – is only one possibility among many. They may have their lips barely parted, jaw tense. They may have a crinkle between their eyebrows, or their eyebrows may be raised up into the hairline. Lots of people close their eyes at orgasm, the better to focus on the sensations inside their bodies, but it’s not at all necessary. (Orgasming while looking into your partner’s eyes is an intimate and lovely thing. Do try it if you haven’t.) The thing to notice is that it’s utterly unself-conscious, that their attention is turned away from their appearance, the social mask is gone, and you have an unmediated view of the person under the persona.

Now, a really gifted faker can fool you; they’ll know all the tricks and there’s just nothing you can do. Every symptom of orgasm can be faked, it’s really a matter of knowing that it’s a symptom and knowing how to reproduce it convincingly.

But. The reason I think it’s worth posting this is because a partner who pays close attention to their partner’s arousal is a better lover than one who doesn’t. The quality of your attention to your partner is a major factor in both your own pleasure and in your ability to give your partner pleasure.

An illustrative example that uses brain scans, which means it’s inherently true and important (<– that was self-mockery):

My sister tells me that research on the human mirror neuron system shows that adult humans can distinguish between the motion of an arm that reaches to pick up a cup and the motion of an arm that reaches to take a drink from a cup – I mean BEFORE the arm actually reaches the cup, our brains respond differently. At a neurological level, we are sensitive to this kind of distinction.

It appears that some people are more sensitive than others. Think about it in terms of watching an actor. Some people can be convinced and moved by a screwed up face and a trembly voice. Others can tell when an actor’s doing something real and when they’re… well, faking it. (Like, why is Hugh Laurie so totally, totally amazing? Cuzza stuff like…he says that while he’s shooting “House,” his leg really does hurt. We’re all convinced because he’s convinced himself.)

Some people can’t tell the difference between the person and the persona.

If you’re an insensitive lover, inattentive to the details of your partner’s arousal and unable to discriminate between the person and the persona, you’ll be easy to fool. A few panting sighs and you think she came all over you.

Be sensitive, pay attention to the details. Notice how your partner moves and breathes. Not only will it be clear to you how real their orgasm is, you’ll be a better overall lover.