There’s a great video clip featuring a smiling woman in bed. All that’s visible is her face and the occasional movement beneath the sheets. She starts off blissfully happy… “Hmm, that feels good..Wait, wait, oh yes, that’s so good.”
But then thoughts start to intrude: “Shit, he’s getting bored.” And then, “Oh no, don’t go down there. I didn’t get waxed this week.” So it goes on, all her worries start crowding in – about her weight, how she’s got to work out more, all sorts of crazy thoughts.
Her ramblings are interrupted by a stern message from her cranky vagina – “Will you shut the hell up and let me enjoy myself?”
It’s actually a video advertisement, made by upriseworldwide.com, to promote a San Francisco company which encourages women to “embrace their sexuality.”
It nails one of the major problems preventing women from reaching orgasm, namely that our overactive minds never shut the hell up and let our bodies just take over.
This is the issue at the heart of the difficulty many women, particularly young women, have in enjoying regular orgasms. The percentage of women having trouble reaching orgasm drops steadily from nearly a third for women in their late teens to just over a quarter in their late forties, according to The Sex in Australia Survey of nearly 20,000 people.
Female arousal is notoriously distractible – the evolutionary psychologists argue this is because mothers aren’t meant to be bonking all the time. We are supposed to be looking after our children and that’s why we have such trouble concentrating on what’s going on beneath the sheets. I’ve had hilarious conversations with women about the things they think about when they are supposed to be making love: Does the ceiling need painting? Have we got cornflakes for breakfast tomorrow? The thoughts keep crowding in, tuning out fickle sensations of pleasure.
One of the standard lines trotted out about problems with female arousal is that it’s all men’s fault – women don‘t climax because men don’t know what they’re doing.
Sex commentators often argue that most women climax easily through masturbation but when they are with their partners they struggle because of men’s failure to provide the right stimulation. Of course there’s some truth in that – we all know women need more foreplay, more hors d’oeuvres rather than just meat and potatoes. There’s simply too much time spent on the main course, on bonking – which isn’t the best way to bring many women off.
Yes, it is true there are men who haven’t a clue or who simply aren’t interested in women’s pleasure. Yet most men are keen to be good lovers and often complain that women won’t teach them what to do. One man taking part in my research on male sexuality (published in What Men Want) complained the only way a man can appreciate the complexities of female sexuality is if a woman TELLS them “I mean a man is pretty straight-forward,” he said. “How can you miss finding a penis? A clitoris, well seriously, if you aren’t attached to it you need a Navman with voice-guided instructions to hunt it down.”
The problem is also what’s going on in women’s heads. There’s a very entertaining book about sexual desire called by Joan Sewell which acknowledges how impossible it is for men to keep women in the Zen-like, anxiety free state needed for arousal and orgasm. Getting a woman aroused and responsive during sex is “like building a fire in the damp woods on a windy day” she writes, noting that her own libido just can’t take distractions and often “walks off leaving her body as passionless as a dead trout.”
On her own, Sewell does just fine, admitting that she has “bowed her own violin and can get her own strings to sing like Pavarotti.” But the presence of a man distracts her, worries her, makes her feel anxious and slows down arousal. “I feel like I am catering a party,” she explains. “I am not a doormat; I’m a welcome mat. In hostess mode I can’t enjoy the party: I’m too worried about how the guests are doing.”
That’s it, you see. We lie there worrying about how the guests are doing: Is he getting bored? Does he think I am taking too long? Is his jaw about to fall off?
All that chatter stops our bodies from just letting it happen.
It’s no wonder men tear their hair out trying to work out how to make us happy. There’s a British comic Jenny Lecoat who captures the problem this way: ‘He, labouring away, pauses to ask, “Are you nearly there?” “It’s hard to say,” says she. He plunges on. “If you imagine it as a journey from here to China, where would you be?” She considers. “The kitchen.”