Category Archives: orgasm


A few things that will seem disparate until you get to the end:

Thing 1: I have said that the difference between ordinary sex and extraordinary sex is: confidence and joy.

Thing 2: Andrew sent me this story about how The Joy of Sex came to be illustrated. It’s adorable and you should read it – both the story and the actual Joy of Sex, particularly now that it’s been revised and updated.

Thing 3: Bill and Desiree and the Comstock series of non-fiction porn. (H.O.T.)

Bill says, “I think it’s possible for couples to be… to get hung up on the idea that it has to be super all the time, that if it’s not special, it’s not okay. And my experience… life long is that peak experience are just that. Not everything is Mount Everest.”

The complicated point which required all three of these pieces is that extraordinary and “GREAT” are not necessarily the same thing.

See, my point of view is that extraordinary sex is simply non-ordinary, and ordinary sex is the worried, uptight, rule-following sex that most people have most of the time. The sex you imagine when someone says, “What is sex?” You know, two young, thin, middle-class, white heterosexuals in bed, in the dark, in missionary position; she’s worried about her orgasm and he ejaculates too soon. Ordinary. Take that formula and add JOY, and all of a sudden it’s extraordinary. No worry about orgasm or ejaculation. No fretting about erection and lubrication. Just pleasure and delight to be here now with this person you care about.

I mean, do you know how many people struggle to feel joy around their sexualities? Me either, but it’s a LOT.

It is a complicated point for a person who gives sex advice. After all, would you buy a sex book that promised to help you feel joyful about the MEDIOCRE sex you’re having, as well as the excellent sex?

(This, btw, is what I mean by “Enjoy the sex you’re having.”)

What makes it even MORE complicated is that the advice to bring joy to sex, to enjoy your sex no matter what it is, is to advise people to like the other person (or people) involved in their sex life. After all, what’s charming about the original Joy of Sex illustrations is the obvious affection between the two people. What’s charming in Bill and Des’s encounter is the abundant love they share. And what, when you get right down to it, is the difference between love and joy?

Once you really like your partner, the only thing between you and joy is, to put it simply, liking yourself as well.

You don’t have to climb Mt Everest, hell no. Frankly, who would want to? Not me. But when you walk up the local hill, walk it with affection and awareness of this moment. Walk with joy, and it hardly matters where you go.

And because I can’t say it often enough:

Confidence and joy.
It’s not about orgasm
Pay attention to your partner
Enjoy the sex you’re having.

That’s really all the sex advice I have to offer.

Oh, and also lube. Especially silicone lube. But that’s really it.

I want to make my partner come.

So here’s a question I get pretty regularly:

I can’t make my partner come from oral sex. They say they’ve never come from oral sex and that they aren’t particularly interested in it. But I really want to make them come from oral sex. What can I do?

And I get it from everyone, regardless of the genital or gender construction of the asker or their partner.

And part of me is like… “YOUR PARTNER SAID NO! NO MEANS NO!! FOR EVERYBODY!!!!”

And part of me is like, “What is this magical power that orgasm has over people?” I mean, what *is* it about orgasm? I concede that it has powerful sway, culturally; these days, your partner’s orgasm is held up as the holy grail of Competent Lovemaking. And I’m the last person to argue that such a feeling is purely socially constructed. Orgasm definitely is a kind of physiological destination, particularly for the male-bodied among us. Beyond a certain point of arousal, when you’re just a few steps away, your body really does push you along toward orgasm, and arriving at orgasm really is a different kind of experience from non-orgasmic sexual pleasure. All of your physiology changes, with tachycardia and waves of entrained muscle contractions that change your breathing patterns. Orgasm, physiologically, is an EVENT, no question.

And after orgasm, you’re likely (though not guaranteed) to experience yet ANOTHER physiological state, the recovery and/or refraction period of relaxation and general sense of wellbeing – yet another kind of pleasure that sex can bring.

So I get that orgasm is A Thing for people, and that it’s a thing we want to give our partners, the way we want to give them pretty flowers and delicious chocolate treats and jewelry and any other thing that we think is a pleasurable thing to have.

But all these lovely things – orgasms as well as flowers, chocolate, jewelry, and the rest of it – are lovely only if your partner is interested in receiving them, and no amount of You Being Interested in Giving It to Them will make them more interested in receiving them.

Let’s use a metaphor: Suppose you LOVE giving flowers. You LOVE it! You love shopping for them, buying them, carrying them to your partner, handing them over, and seeing the look on their face. You love seeing them in the window the next time you come over. And then suppose that your partner is… well… kinda tired of receiving flowers. They know you love seeing the flowers, so they keep them out, even though they’d really rather just chuck them. The pollen is getting to them and they’re considering taking allergy meds so they can tolerate all this flower-giving. And they’ve tried to hint gently about the things you could bring that might be more relevant, meaningful, or tolerable to them, but you’re just so STUCK on giving flowers, that they can’t get the message heard without feeling rude.

It’s like that with orgasm. There are lots of beautiful ways to give pleasure. And orgasm, though a lovely destination, is not always easy to get to, and if it’s difficult to get to, sometimes you’d rather just go someplace that also lovely and not such hard frickin’ work. (Another metaphor: the Cape! A lovely place, but is it worth a 3-hour drive in Labor Day weekend traffic, when you could just stay home and watch Netflix? You see what I’m saying?)

“I want to make my partner come,” is this very sweet and beautiful sentiment, but it’s only really relevant if it’s accompanied by “… and my partner wants me to make them come.” Otherwise it’s just creating a dynamic where they feel obligated.

I mentioned in a recent post that insisting that making a partner come is a purely generous sentiment – “I want to make them feel good!” – is either delusional or misguided. If you really just wanted to make them feel good, you can do that LOTS of ways that don’t necessarily involve orgasm. If you want to make them feel good, lick them until their toes curl, by all means, OR give them a back massage or do the dishes for them or tell them what makes them the awesome, heart-stopping person they are.

If you want to make them COME, that’s something else. That’s wanting to make them come. That’s your desire. Try not to confuse your desire with theirs.

everybody poops

For the first time in YEARS someone has asked me about poop, in more than just a curious-about-the-fetish way.

So this person who emailed me has a friend who pooped during penetration – not anal penetration, vaginal penetration – and they’re worried it might happen to them. How common is it? How does it happen? How can it be prevented?

Here is what I said:

There aren’t any actual data (that I know of) about how frequently this happens, but I can tell you that in 15 years as a sex educator, you’re the first person I’ve heard from who actually KNOWS someone whom this happened to. It’s pretty rare.

It’s also simple to prevent. Most of the time you have no feces at all in your rectum – it only moves through when you have a bowel movement. But if your diet isn’t great and you have hard little pieces of poop instead of the big soft ones of a person who eats enough fiber, those little pieces can hang out in the rectum until the next bowel movement. So, prevention? Eat plenty of fiber and yet yourself some big soft poop!

But it’s almost never necessary to prevent it. The sphincter muscle at the mouth of the anus is connected to the sphincter muscles of the vagina and urethra. With high levels of arousal, the muscle that connects (the pelvic diphragm) them LIFTS (this is part of the reason you hold your breath near orgasm); at orgasm, they all pulse together, which, under ordinary circumstances, I would say would make it MORE difficult to poop, because the sphincter muscle is closing off really intensely.

But sometimes, rarely, the flux of the muscles of sphincters and the internal muscles, in combination with the mechanics of penetration, may (again, rarely), result in the expulsion of feces.

To sum up: very rare, mechanically difficult to do, and easy to prevent.

All of this is assuming that what your friend experienced was basically just a little bit of poop, just what was left in the rectum. If you’re talking about a full-blown bowel movement, I can only suggest that there might be something more serious happening and she should talk to a doctor.

Bodies are strange, sticky, things, and all the parts are really astonishingly adjacent to each other. I was pleased to read in the questioner’s email that the partner of the person who pooped was TOTALLY CHILL about it, laughing and saying, “I guess I fucked the shit out of you!” Which is awesome and exactly what I would hope for.

(Secretly hoping this will generate a flurry of comments about times when it happened to readers or friends of readers or friends of friends of readers…)

sex toys in lesbianville

If you Google “lesbianville,” you find a series of website about the town where I live.

And there’s this GLORIOUS feminist sex toy shop on Main Street called Oh My. You can friend them on Facebook. I did a fellatio workshop there last spring, and I think I’ll probably do an orgasm workshop in the fall, and I’m working toward the possibility of writing some educational materials for them to give to customers who buy things – stuff about lube and anal play and multiple orgasms.

But even in this woman-centric town, this woman-centric sex toy store doesn’t get the attention it deserves. People feel awkward; they don’t necessarily want to be seen going in; they don’t know it’s there. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told to, “Go to Oh My and get yerself a bottle of silicone lube,” and they say, “Where’s that?”

HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?!?! You LIVE here!! I’m likeNeil deGrasse Tyson, only about sex positive feminist sex toy retail – I want to grab people in the street and say, “HAVE YOU HEARD THIS?!”

But ya know, lesbian and “joyfully sex positive” don’t always go together. Lesbians are just as capable of being sexually hamstrung as everyone else; they have a wide array of reasons to feel really great about their sexuality and plenty more ways that they’ve been taught to feel ashamed. Just like everybody in America.

But at least Lesbianville has Oh My. With a place like that on Main Street, how can we not move ever closer to true sexual liberation, where we all – ALL of us – feel gloriously at home in our sexualities? I believe that such a space can serve as a hub, where people who seek toward joyful, confident sexual self-expression can find the support, the information, and the lube, vibrators, and paddles they need to achieve it.

I mean, how many of these places are there in America? There’s Babeland, there’s Good Vibes, and there’s this small, humming collection of independent, local feminist sex toy stores sprinkled sparingly across the continent. And here’s one right in downtown! I am so fuckin’ lucky to live in one of the towns gifted with a place like this, a community space where women can celebrate their sexual bodies and sexual minds.

If you have a glorious, feminist, sex-positive, local sex toy store in your area, put a link in the comments section and I’ll write a post about as many of them as I can. I’ll organize a frickin’ cross-country road trip to visit all the feminist, local sex shops in America! I’ll make videos! It should be a mini-series on PBS!

And if you come to Northampton, be sure to visit Oh My. Tell them Emily sent you to buy a bottle of silicone lube.

desire for sex, not necessarily orgasm

I’ve had a surprising theme in my conversations with various people lately: not wanting orgasm.

Mostly these have been folks – both people with penises and people with vaginas – who desire sex with some frequency, but desire orgasm with LESSER frequency. They say,

“I just really love making my partner come.”


“I just really love penetration.”


“Orgasm is hard work for me, but sex by itself is really pleasurable!”


“If I come, it’s over. I want it to last.”

To these people, let me say: Yes, you are normal. Orgasm varies from person to person and there are plenty of excellent sources of pleasure from sex that don’t involve orgasm. In many ways, your sexual desire might be MORE functional and healthy than the mainstream orgasm-focused sex we’re all supposed to be having, according to Cosmo.

To their partners let me say: Yes, your partner is normal. It’s not only possible to want sex without orgasm, it’s perfectly healthy. And at the same time, your greater (or more concordant) desire for orgasm is also perfectly healthy. You’re just different.

It’s not a man/woman thing, it’s not a male/female thing. People just vary. It’s one of those things.

Now, orgasm is a limited resource over which power conflicts can emerge. If Partner A has an orgasm, they often want Partner B to have one too. It seems fair. Orgasm takes effort and trust and intimacy and often skill, and if Partner A experiences Partner B as “withholding” orgasm, Partner A may begin to feel like there’s an imbalance. They may feel controlled. They may begin to feel a bit bitter.

Is it possible your partner is deliberately withholding orgasm in order to have control? Sure. If that is what’s happening, then there are OTHER issues in your relationship than just the orgasms, and my suggestion would be to focus on those.

But if not… what is the helpful way of giving the advice, “Let it go”?

Insight can go a long way – i.e., recognizing that you feel controlled by your partner when they aren’t remotely trying to make you feel that way, so now you get to decide what to do with that information. But often people get stuck here and I genuinely don’t know what to tell people past this point.

I bet if I ask nicely, some commenters will have suggestions?

Commenters? Pretty please?

a destination, not a journey.

This is related to the dance post.

I’ve always had a hard time with the saying, “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”

It’s the kind of thing people said to me a lot when I was in early- and mid-adolescence, because I was (and am) an intense, high-energy person who moves at a fast pace. “Slow down, Emily, life’s a journey not a destination. Enjoy the ride!”

Fuck you, I thought, I get motion sick and I wouldn’t be bothering with trying to get somewhere if it weren’t somewhere I thought was BETTER THAN RIGHT HERE.

What I wish someone had told me was, “Life’s a destination, not a journey, and you’re ALREADY HERE.” Which really is just a restatement of the same thing, but it opens up the question, “Then why do I feel like I’m in such a hurry?”

The reason I feel like I’m in such a hurry is because of how attractive all that stuff out there in the future looks to me. And a little bit, sometimes, because of how crappy where I am is.

What has this to do with sex?


I have three Top Tips about sex, and the second one is:

It’s not about orgasm.

The reason this is a Top Tip is because a lot of people get Very Wrapped Up in orgasm. They see it as a destination. It’s not, not really; it’s just one of the places you can be. But where you CAN be isn’t anything like as important as WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

The arousal you have right now, the sensations you have right now, the partner you have right now, the body you have right now. Here you are.

I think people would have better sex if they didn’t conceptualize it as traveling along a path toward orgasm but as simply BEING right here and now.

Indeed, I think this is why sensate focus works so well as sex therapy: it takes away the option of orgasm and demands that you pay attention to the sensations you’re experiencing right now. This inevitably brings to the surface all your historical psychodrama, but with sex stripped down to its essence, it becomes easier to notice what part of your experience is about the here and now and what part is just the historic noise in your head.

I know that arousal can feel like a drive, that sexually appetitive stimuli draw you toward them. But I do promise you that the experiencing of WANTING SOMETHING TERRIBLY (e.g., orgasm) is, in itself, an intense, beautiful, erotic experience.

Give it a try. Arousal is a destination, not a journey toward or away from anything in particular. It’s a state of being that constantly changes as your environment changes. It’s where you are right now. And nothing bad will happen if you stay exactly in this place for a good, long while.

So sit still. You’re already where you need to be, even if where you are is wanting to be somewhere else. If you see what I mean.

the doctor is in

Now here’s something you might not expect me to feel ambivalent about: it’s the New York Times reporting about vibrators being sold in drugstores.

Ya’ll know I am, like, ALL ABOUT women’s sexual pleasure. Totally. And vibrators are outstanding because they provide an intensity of stimulation that organic contact just CAN’T. I advise women women who have trouble with orgasm to buy a vibrator.

And yet.

1. There’s the issue confronted in the article about “discrete” packaging. How far have we come if a woman can buy a vibrator but doesn’t want it to LOOK like it’s associated with sex? “We want pleasure,” women say with their wallets, “But we don’t want anyone to know about it and we don’t want it to be, you know, dirty.” It’s already not dirty, friends, and it’s nothing to hide.

2. I want women to touch their own genitals. I can’t help but wonder how much of women’s acceptance of vibrators is their relief at having a way to create orgasms for themselves without having to put their hands on their pussies. I want to live in a world where women get pleasure from touching their bodies. I’m not convinced that vibrators are helping to create that world – I mean maybe they are but I’m not seeing it.

3. As the article notes, there’s no profit in manual masturbation, and I know that profit is an important part of this process – indeed, I believe it’s the engine of change here. It’s a thing I’ve been wondering about for a year now, since I first saw Orgasm, Inc: where is the profit it helping women to feel healthy just as they are?

I’m all about women’s sexual pleasure. I’m all about helping women to enjoy living in their bodies and experiencing sensation through their bodies. I’m all about releasing women from cultural shackles of shame and self-hatred, which are themselves driven by profit motive. And all it takes is some information, just a splash of knowledge.

But I know that that message doesn’t sell products – can’t sell products, SHOULDN’T sell products. And therefore its place in the media will be minimal, and therefore it will always be an alternative to the mainstream, not the mainstream itself.

I want women to love their bodies and the glorious things their bodies do. Proctor & Gamble want women to feel broken, to motivate them to buy things to make them feel repaired. Who wins?

Urgh, I didn’t intend for this post to be so bleak, but I have been struggling lately to feel satisfied with the tiny pockets of change I can create, the handful of lives I can touch. I know I ought to feel good about what I *can* do, but oy, there is so much more to do, so much pain people are living in just because of plain old lack of knowledge.

In 10 minutes, I can change a woman’s understanding of her sexuality, but she has to give me to the 10 minutes.

Maybe I’ll get a stall at the farmer’s market and, like Lucy in Peanuts, for 10 cents give out advice. There’s a plan.

orgasm questions

In the comments, someone asked:

I’ve read a good share of your blog and finished your book:
The Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms. In Chapter 13 of the book, it suggests that women train themselves to “come reliably in 20 minutes” Is this the minimum, average, or target along the way to achieve a longer duration in which it takes for a woman to orgasm? Is the intent to help a woman build up to 20 minutes so as to enjoy a longer, more pleasurable experience? Would 20 minutes to come be considered a quickie or a long event for most women?

20 minutes is a very approximate “average” time to orgasm for women. Roughly half of women reading that can already do it – and some can come in minutes – and roughly half will have a little training to do, but it’s not really about the 20 minutes. The intent is to build RELIABILITY.

Women vary a LOT, for pretty complex evolutionary reasons. And all of that variability is normal and healthy. For a woman to have knowledge of her sexuality and the various factors that influence is, for her to be able to produce arousal and orgasm reliably, provides her with a foundation on which to build a vast array of satisfying sexual experiences.

The questioner continues:
I’m a bit perplexed on the whether or not my sweetheart (for 10 years) is faking orgasm. I’ve read the “Is she faking” chapter and usually see signs she really is having an O, but as you said, all symptoms can be faked. Is it possible for her to O in just a minute or two? Her “quickie Os” tend to occur after a couple of hours of sporadic (2-3 per hour) seductive behaviors such as suggestive banter, compliments, and bits of touching, caressing, and kissing. She says she gets her quickie Os regardless of stimulation method (oral and/or intercourse). If it has been 5-7 days since her last O, she tends come in 3 minutes or less, but these situations are not accompanied by the seductive behaviors and sometimes it takes much more than 3 minutes. [...] Can a woman come on a regular basis in such a short window as less than 3 minutes? Or is she just really preferring sleep over sex and preferring not to tell me I’m just not doing it for her?

Yes a woman – some women – can come in minutes on a regular basis. Remember that sexual stimulation isn’t just erotic touch; your “seductive behaviors” are absolutely part of her arousal process, both building sensation/emotion AND reducing CNS inhibition.

And as you may have experienced yourself, for some people a wait between orgasm makes the arousal process faster. So yeah, that could absolutely be real. Some women do that.

But is she faking? Only she can tell you for sure.

Faking is often about protecting the partner’s ego. Does she know that your happiness doesn’t depend on her orgasm but rather on her satisfaction? Because if she thinks you need her orgasm in order to be okay, on those occasions when orgasm isn’t there for her, she might fake it to make you feel better.

But it’s totally possible that she’s really coming that quickly. Women vary.

Unless this is all created simply by your uncertainty about the physiological capabilities of women’s bodies, another issue altogether is the communication skills that can bridge the gap in trust that created an environment where you don’t know whether or not she’s (however benignly) lying to you. That’s another post.

top hat question #5: crying with orgasm

From the top hat:

Do many women cry after their first orgasm

Sure. How many? I have no idea. This isn’t something I can get statistics on (as far as I know), but if you watch Betty Dodson’s videos you’ll see that first orgasms are INTENSELY personal experiences that are often accompanied by cathartic laughter or tears – or both.

People cry with orgasms for lots of reasons, not just with their first. Deeply loving orgasms, orgasms that have involved a lot of build up, orgasms that function as a stress reliever, barbiturate, or sedative, or orgasms that you feel ambivalent about are all examples of orgasm in the context of emotional intensity, and they’re all potential sources of post-orgasm weeping.

See, crying is about intensity, not valence. So if emotions are like volume and they can go from mute to 11, then crying happens around 11, regardless of what music is playing, if you see what I mean. It doesn’t matter WHAT you feel, it’s how MUCH you feel. People weep with joy as well as with sorrow. It’s simply the release of intense emotions. Orgasm too is the release of intense emotion – indeed, orgasm research often characterized in the psychology literature as emotion research.

This isn’t what the question is about, but I usually take is as a compliment if someone cries with orgasm – either they experienced something intensely positive or else they trust me enough to show me vulnerability. Of course it’s crucial to check in with the person and listen carefully and empathically, to see if they’re in distress and need help, but if they’re just letting go of some intensity, it’s a super opportunity to bond.

this isn’t at all what i expected

I’ve been attempting to catalogue the questions I get asked – partly for my own reference and partly because I routinely get asked, “What’s the most common question you get asked?” Indeed I’m asked this question so regularly that I’ve begun wondering if it might not BE the most common question I’m asked.

(Actually the most common question I’m asked is some variation on “Am I normal?“)

As I document the questions I’m asked, I notice that I’m asked a lot of questions about vaginal penetration – orgasms with penetration, the g-spot, the hymen, why you might feel like you have to pee… anything and everything to do with sexual pleasure derived from putting something inside the vagina.

I work primarily with college students. Many of them – the national statistics would indicate that about HALF of them – experience their first penetration during these years. So their vaginas are these new, uncharted territories, and there’s all this cultural HYPE about what it’s like, what it ought to be like. And the thing is, it isn’t at ALL what they’ve been led to believe.

To illustrate, collection of “first intercourse” moments, as described in romance novels:

Beyond Innocence, Emma Holly

It felt like her soul was tearing down the middle, not with pain but with gladness. With this act, her whole being made room for him

Lord Carew’s Bride, Mary Balogh

It was – yes, it was by far the most wonderful experience of the day. Perhaps of her life…. There was no pain except for one brief moment when she thought there would not be enough room and then felt him breaking through and realized it had just been the loss of her virginity. There was no other pain, even though there was an unexpected tightness and stretching. He was far bigger than her imagination had anticipated. When he was finally fully embedded in her, she felt very – married, although she knew that this was not all.

As You Desire, Connie Brockaway:

She lifted her hips and there – oh, there – a pressure, not quite pain, not sharp, but a stretching, a deep final ache and – and the promise of ecstasy.

Perhaps least incorrect, Flowers from the Storm, Laura Kinsale:

He came into her, delicious burn, more hurt; her husband – all heat and dark fire; her wicked husband, who knew corrupt worldly things, who held her tight and kissed her and kissed her again while it hurt, stretched his beautiful body over hers, pushing harder, creating pain and soothing it at once, more pain, until she cried out with anguish at the peak. [...] She gulped for air, her tense muscles slow to realize that the sharp piercing hurt had subsided.

What do we learn? That it hurts so good. (I’ll do another post on pain with penetration.) That it, like, kills you softly. That it’s an intense and moving experience.

Well. Sometimes.

I’ve talked a lot on the blog about the importance of context in sexual experience – a sensation in a non-erotic context may hurt while a sensation in an erotic context will feel good. I often use the example of tickling: sometimes tickling can be fun and playful and sometimes it’s annoying and irritating, depending on the context.

Well, with first penetration, you’ve got all these sensations that you’ve never experienced before, so you and your brain and your body are searching for context – past experience, cultural expectations, current circumstances (like your partner and the relationship) – trying to figure out whether this is the fun and playful kind of tickling, if you will, or the annoying and irritating kind. Because really it’s just sensation, and with sensation, “there’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

Penetration takes practice, and it’s often an acquired taste, like coffee or whiskey or asparagus. Maybe it demands a more sophisticated palate than, say clitoral stimulation.

I don’t want to underplay the importance of a moment when you let someone put part of their body INSIDE your body. It’s a BIG DEAL; it takes trust and communication and affection and a willingness to open yourself. It doesn’t matter who’s being penetrated, where or with what: it’s a BIG DEAL to let someone put something inside your body. Yeah.

But it’s not NECESSARILY a very sexy sensation, the first time you decide to do it. Indeed, the first FEW times will not necessarily feel that way.

Unsolicited advice: Come to your first penetration with curiosity and openness to new experience. Don’t expect to feel your soul open or to experience the greatest thing of your life. Expect novelty, expect intensity. Let it be interesting without forcing it to be earth-shattering.