When You Just Can’t Get There

Why Good Sex Does Not Equal Orgasms

Rolling underneath my partner, I see the gaze in his eye peer down towards my crotch. “It’s fine”, I say as convincingly as possible, “Let’s just stop. Sometimes I can’t cum”. “But I like making you cum”, he says, the enthusiasm masking the disappointment that surrounds him. It’s no fault of his, my inability to orgasm from time to time, but I assure him every time nonetheless. I take a big sigh, cuddle up next to him, and reassure myself that this gripe has little to do with us, more to do with the stressors of the world. Especially lately, a climate crisis, a global pandemic, and the fight for black lives has made an orgasm a difficult treasure rather than something granted by the grace of some higher power.

Taking it back several months, pre-pandemic, I cannot help but think about another sexual partner I had during my short lived “hoe phase”. Rolling out of reach of Jake’s arms I become more and more aware of the soppy mess we’ve made on the bed. Jake isn’t his name, but the shorthand is necessary, and I don’t need you to know his real name. Jake was a man I met on Tinder; a quick message came asking what I’m doing came shortly after we matched. The ongoing relationship we had primarily surrounded sex. I would go to his place, an apartment complex in Parkdale, fornicate, have a cup of coffee the next morning, and leave.

What used to only take my hands and some determination now takes nearly an hour and the help of several toys.

There later came complications where he said to me, a black person, that I will “be [his] slave” but that tangent is for another time. Jake was nice, but just incompatible to me outside of sex. He shot guns with his buddies in London, Ontario and didn’t understand the implicit racism of asking a black person to “be his slave”, even in a sexy way. Jake was amongst a string of flings that I entertained in the latter half of 2019 when my confidence was high and my need for male attention was higher. How does a formerly Catholic bisexual cope with the awful “lock and key” metaphor propertied to them throughout their all-girls school? All that aside, this man “fucks”, as the kids say. He took Jiu-Jitsu lessons, mainly for the fitness component, and despite his lean build, he could rough and tumble me all night long if he wanted.

The first time I ever went to his apartment, I told him about my difficulty orgasming and a fire lit behind his eyes. In the throes of it, throwing me under like a champ, he pulls out a cordless Hitachi wand and goes to town on my clitoris. The pulsations make me clamour with delight and surprise as I am sent to the heavens under this man’s arms.

Before taking Lexapro, I masturbated sometimes twice a day. Usually able to handle my mental health with new hobbies or therapy, things became difficult when I found out I had severe anemia. This coupled with a difficult job being a Resident Advisor in a dormitory and dealing with my last year of school made that year a living nightmare. I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t get these terrible thoughts out of my head and I proceeded to experience real social anxiety and have panic attacks after social interactions.

Lexapro is a fairly “agreeable” medication, meaning a lot of people take it without issue and it is typically one of the first medications that psychiatrists prescribe. However, once I started Lexapro, I had such a difficult time orgasming by myself. What used to only take my hands and some determination now takes nearly an hour and the help of several toys. When I did bring this up to my doctor, years after first experiencing it, she suggested that I merely change medication. Change medication… go through the whole rigmarole of adjustment and headaches and sleeplessness and whatever hell may come from Wellbutrin or whatever it may be. While I do want to orgasm faster, I am not willing to sacrifice my mental stability for a quick cum.

Rosella Joseph
However, sometimes, looking straight at a deer, straight at an orgasm, can cause it to run away.

There’s a metaphor my therapist shared with me about the elusiveness of the orgasm. Imagine yourself in a forest, walking along a trail. Maybe you’re with somebody and maybe you’re not. You’re walking along the trail anticipating seeing a deer. Deer are elusive creatures, they symbolize many wondrous and valiant qualities that we should aspire towards: honour, generosity, grace and forgiveness. Here, the deer symbolizes the orgasm. Sometimes on your expedition you may come across a deer. Hear the rustling leaves as its hooves hit the ground. See its beady eyes in the distance stare back at you. Hear your breath come closer to a halt so as not to frighten the creature. This is the anticipation, the reaching and reaching that one may do for an orgasm. The elation comes when the deer eats out of your hand. Playfully and quiet, it  peers up at you as you extend your hand and takes a sweet bite out of the fruit or nuts or seeds you’ve placed for it.

However, sometimes, looking straight at a deer, straight at an orgasm, can cause it to run away. Too much concentration on something so temporal and elusive. Just as one can concentrate too much on orgasming, one can also scare away a deer by looking straight at it. The trick here is to not look at the deer but know its presence. Know that it will come to your hand when it sees fit and having the patience and wherewithal to see that through.

A particular thing I found in preliminary research for this article was the phrase “low sex drive.” “This medication may cause a lower sex drive.” Other articles may call this a “sexual dysfunction” for example, erectile dysfunction. Regardless, there is a huge amount of variance as to what it can look like. I have a friend who has a low sex drive and has no desire to have sex. I, personally, have a rather high sex drive and an inability to orgasm. It is sometimes torturous. Sometimes I make peace with it.

The language of this and many parts of the medical industrial complex makes the afflicted sound as if they have a dysfunction. As if our society is not to blame for our perception of bodies and what they must be capable of doing. I coined the term “sexual side effects” in interviewing for this piece because it suited my goals more. Sexual side effects sounds neutral and straightforward and expands to define a whole lot more aliments that one might have surrounding sex.

I asked sex therapist Tynan Rhea and relationship coach Robin Beatch for their outlooks on these sexual side effects that can take place. Do you ever ask for advice for a friend and actually mean yourself? I went into interviews with this mentally that I would be helping the masses with a piece about my complicated relationship with the orgasm. What I actually wanted was a way to figure out my own relationship with the orgasm. They had excellent advice. Here is a quick numbered list of said advice:

  1. This is a conversation that spans two different stigmas: sex and mental health. Handle these conversations with this in mind. If you’re concerned for your safety surrounding one or both of these topics, tread lightly.
  2. Good sex does not equal orgasms. Good sex means feeling inhabited and full and playful in one’s body. Good sex is explorative. There is a gendered gap between who frequently orgasms during partnered sex (cisgender men) and who does not (almost every other gender). While this is true, centering the orgasm when you have sexual side effects from medication or another aliment that causes discomfort during sex can make sex miserable. 
  3. All pressure is an anti-aphrodisiac. Pressure from the self and pressure from one’s partner(s). Check one’s self for all pressure and disappointment that may come from not achieving orgasm. 
  4. Focus on what you like. While this piece is about the many ailments that may come from sexual side effects, there must still be a plethora of things that make a body feel good. Tell your partner what you enjoy and what helps you feel within your body. Affirm to your partner by being vocal when you enjoy something! Moan! Thrash around! Say yes!

There you have it! A quick digestible take on the elusive site of sexual side effects. Every partner is different. While I love and care deeply for my current partner (I know you’re reading this), sometimes we just can’t get there. And while Jake was fantastic in bed, I could not make any sort of conversation with him without cringing at the end of it.

Please take this away, be patient and present. The world is a scary place, everything is harder now and coupled with existing ailments it only gets harder. Sex can be freeing, tapping into something greater than ourselves but that is integrally within our bodies. Pleasure is essential work, take it back for yourself. 

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