Sunday, December 12, 2010

Clean Slate

I see big pictures, I think in relationships, and I can't fit into boxes. Categories confuse me, discrete separations and definitive endings don't make sense to me. I laugh at straight lines.
I am wound up in spirals; from the DNA strands in my cells, to the muscular wrapping of my body following the same patter, to the continual and ever-evolving relationships within myself, and between my environment and I. I see connections, and I have a hard time grasping the concept that any two things would not be interdependent.

My frustration with the formal education system stems from this way of thinking, because it clashes with our traditional structure of learning- one that names, categorizes, and differentiates concepts into their own personal vacuums, away from interactions and "safe" to probe, analyze and draw empirical, yet meaningless data. I say meaningless because the world is the furthest thing from a vacuum, everything is constantly interacting and influencing everything else. It simply made no sense to talk about aspects of this world as if they didn't affect each other. When I would ask a question in class, most of the answers I got were unsatisfactory and along the lines of, "That is beyond the scope of this class," or "That's an interesting question, you should research it," or "There is no way to answer that question within the realm of what we know empirically to be true."
I would leave class both excited about the possibilities science has to unfold really important questions about the universe, health and our existence, while simultaneously feeling unfulfilled and disappointed that science seems to be more concerned with finding the smallest unit of life (a search which continually proves fruitless), making life easier and/or more unhealthy (as in radio-technology, and genetic modification) and also angry that my so-called liberal arts college would not support the quest for knowledge of our world and instead sent me away with discouraging answers to my questions as if deeming them inconsequential.
And so began a search for a new direction. My path has been winding.

I struggled with the decision of whether or not to leave the systematized and accepted structure of institutional higher education in search of finding other pathways of learning that would fit better into the way my mind works, to engage in the real world in the job market, to take the classic "misfit/alternative" path of backpacking through some obscure country to "find myself." I questioned if this was a question of discipline that I simply needed to apply myself and try harder to fit into the system of education this society values; to grin and bear it, get my diploma and then find my place within the system (or outside of it). I addressed issues of guilt over the cost of a piece of paper that supposedly gives accreditation to an individual's knowledge and worth, and weighed the advantages of opting for massage/yoga/Ayurveda school instead.

So after a long period of indecision, oscillating between a number of possibilities, and opportunities; after more tears than I care to admit, and more second opinions than first ones, I have finally almost come to a decision. For now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing behind
one sees the path
that never will be trod again.
Wanderer, there is no road--
Only wakes upon the sea.
Antonio Machado

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fake It Till You Make It?

Not in this case.

(Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, the terms "man" and "woman" will refer to heterosexual men and women, unless otherwise indicated.)

Orgasms. We all think about them, dream about them, talk about them, go to the ends of the earth to experience them, read about how to give them and yet... there is still this gap between what we want, and what we're getting. We all want to be pleased, and for the most part, we want to please- so why is it that we aren't being satisfied?

To begin with, we live in a culture that builds up this hype around sex. It's on TV, in the movies, and on the newsstands. And despite all the coverage it gets, we grow up with this elusive idea of sex as this mysterious, fantastical life-defining act that 1) will fill you with ecstasy, and 2) will fill you with ecstasy every time. We've been told at a young age that sex is a wonderful, sacred thing. We never see, hear, or read about the awkwardness, the physical pain, the weird noises, smells, or tastes- and so we go through life looking for that seductive, wordless, "natural" sex, because that's what we think it is "supposed" to be.
"For some reason sex didn't meet the expectations I had, which had all grown from so much of what I was seeing in the media, hearing from people's own stories, etc. SEX was supposed to be the most amazing thing that a human could experience, right? And it wasn't that for me at all."
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, at some point we all have to face the reality of the situation- the disappointment: the lack of orgasm. So how do we deal with the disillusionment? Apparently, we don't, really... we just pretend. Because there is this expectation to please your partner, and the pressure to climax, not meeting those expectations (i.e. not orgasming) means letting your partner know they have "failed" and/or admitting to failing yourself. And, thus, to avoid this "awkwardness," there is a strong tendency in both women and men to simply fake it.
"I figured if we both left the experience feeling unsatisfied and unaccomplished, it would put a damper on the whole night, so in my mind, faking it was a viable option."
In all my conversations with women regarding sex, and orgasms in particular, the very fundamental issue that we face is the same. Whatever is happening on the bed (or against the wall, or on the floor, kitchen table etc.) just isn't working. The general consensus is; men want to please the women they sleep with, but they aren't, and women for some reason can't seem to break it to them. Many of the women I've talked to, say something along the lines of,
"He wanted me to orgasm - a fake, real, semi-fake orgasm. He wanted an "anything" orgasm. As long as I moaned he was content. So that's what I did... I wanted to make him happy somehow and that's where the fake orgasaming started."
In general, I think our society focuses more importance on men's pleasure as opposed to women's, and this definitely has an effect on the way women view their own satisfaction, as one woman related to me,
"I allowed my pleasure to take the backseat to his... I just thought that intercourse continued until the guy climaxed."
And another woman told me,
"I definitely would expect to have an orgasm when having sex with a woman more so than with a man. My experience having sex with a man was very one-sided. I never came... I just felt like I had to suffer through the pain in order for him to feel pleasure."
Granted, each and every experience varies between every individual and set of surrounding circumstances, I think we can make a fairly broad statement that most people have had at least one unsatisfying sexual experience. When faced with those situations, we have two choices: 1) be vulnerable: honest, discuss better tactics for giving pleasure, or 2) fake it, pretend everything's fine- in fact, pretend everything is AMAZING. The problem with this ultimatum is that option 1 means vulnerability, it means facing, even embracing awkwardness, and it means facing the fear of the possibility that a partner does not actually want to give you pleasure. Option 2 on the other hand, is an easy way out, for the time being at least. However, somewhere down the road (if this is a "down-the-road" type of relationship), all hell will break loose.
"It gives a lot of guys false confidence they don't deserve, and it inhibits them learning how to actually please a woman."
After talking with a number of women and absorbing each of their individual perspectives, I can say with some confidence that there are basically three reasons:
1) It's not going to happen, but we don't want to hurt our partner.
2) It's still not going to happen, but because you faked last time, and your partner expects it...
3) boredom.
I think it all comes down to the detrimental effects of these expectations, and then not knowing how face failure to meet them. One woman plainly told me,
"It's awkward to say to a guy, "I want to stop having sex.""
There is also this guilt involved, because we know (or at least we hope) the men we sleep with want to, and try hard to bring us to orgasm and if we don't, then we feel badly for them. Especially since there is pressure on men to "perform" in that way, as one man related:
"There is an expectation, perhaps just in my mind, that I need to fulfill a woman's sexual needs that is most obviously displayed in the culmination of an orgasm."
And another woman said,
"I think I faked it the first time to make him feel good, but then he expected to make me orgasm every time after that so I had to keep doing it. Sometimes I do it just to get it over with, but I fake it so often that now he almost expects to make me cum multiple times, so now I have to fake it multiple times just to get it over with... This is sad. I do love sex. And I love my boyfriend and he's wonderful, but he's not the god at sex he thinks he is, and that is MY fault!"
So, essentially, we (women) are sacrificing the possibility of our own pleasure to ensure that we don't hurt the feelings of our partners, and in doing so, we also ensure that they will almost never pleasure us.
"If you pretend to enter a state of ecstasy just to escape uneventful sex, the guy is going to think he is doing something right. That's classical conditioning for you. Faking it sends all the wrong signals and if you are looking for better sex, it is all about being honest and communicating."
Now, when I first decided to write something on this topic, I was focusing on the woman's perspective, and I had sent a number of emails out asking women if they might feel comfortable sending me some of their thoughts on the subject. I then got a response from a man asking, "What about men?" and it made me realize that women are not the only ones dealing with this issue. Men, it turns out, have quite an interesting take on the topic (at least the ones who spoke to me). Reasons I encountered from men who have faked an orgasm ranged from boredom, to inability to cum, to sexual encounters with partners inept at pleasing. Again, it all comes back to a lack of communication and fear of failure.
"Sometimes faking it is just easier than dealing with the problem, and sometimes dealing with the problem, depending on who you are with is nearly impossible because no one wants to deal with the idea that they can't get another person off."

"Neither of us wants to be the one to say "stop". In order to avoid that awkwardness, I have found that faking orgasms is the best exit strategy. Blue-balls are better than an awkward conversation."
This issue of "lasting too long" is an issue that I hadn't ever really considered previously, but in getting feedback from multiple men, I can say that it isn't so uncommon. One man put it this way:
"Not being able to finish sucks not only for the obvious reason, but also because it’s a problem that no one takes seriously. Everyone assumes either that I’m lying, or that it’s a good thing that I have no rite to complain about."
Another man directed responsibility for his inability to "finish" to women:
"[Women] my age are dreadfully inexperienced and, far more importantly, don't watch any porn. They are, therefore, pitifully incompetent when it comes to navigating the human body... Most of them don't even know how to pleasure themselves."
This raises an interesting point, that in order for a person to be able to please another, they must have a certain level of understanding and ability to give their selves pleasure. However, because our society focuses so much sexual attention on pleasing heterosexual men, women very rarely learn how to please themselves and are thus more likely to be dependent on others for their own sexual pleasure. Women then expect men to know how to bring us pleasure, to stimulate the clitoris when we don't know where it is, and to bring us (as if a lost child) to our own orgasms, when we don't know how to do it!

One man had a solution,
"My diagnosis? Women need to watch porn."
Except, wait- porn is probably least honest representation of sex there is out there, and creates these expectations of out-of-this world orgasmic sex as being typical. The take-home lesson, I think, is honest communication. Learn what you like, what you want and what you expect, and get comfortable communicating that.
"Faking is not honest and is more about fear of being judged or fear of hurting someone. If authentic individuals enjoy each other on all levels and are present to each other in the moment there is no faking anything."

I’d like to extend special thank-you to all who were so honest about their experiences and open to sharing them with me.