-- Keith BowersDo you have Female Sexual Dysfunction? Do you not have an orgasm often when you have sex? Are you a little stingy with your natural lubrication? Are you a woman?
According to the Female Sexual Function Index questionnaire, I qualify. And so would most of the women I know. I struggled with that pesky orgasm business for years. So much so, that if I had been offered a pill that promised to fix me, I would have become an addict.
Would I make that same choice now? No -- even though the actuality of that pill seems suddenly very possible. Alista, created by the pharmaceutical company Vivus ,seemed to be just that miracle pill. The company's research reported a 50 percent increase in female sexual desire. Promising, but not proved, as the drug failed to get U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Why did it fail? Because the pill didn't work. Similar to Viagra, the drug that revolutionized male sexuality, Alista increases blood flow to the genitals. But having an engorged vagina, it seems, doesn't do the trick for women. Fancy that.
The FDA clinical trial for Alista is covered in the documentary Orgasm, Inc., which recently screened at the Roxie Theater and will screen at the Red Vic Movie House in June. Calling Orgasm, Inc. a documentary is a bit broad. The film is instead a fierce, indignant attack on the pharmaceutical industry. Objective it is not. Director Liz Canner, (a former employee of Vivus) accuses the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, and Vivus of being sexist, greedy, and potentially dangerous to women's health. And after watching the film, it is hard not to agree with her as Vivus is, ostensibly, creating a cure for Female Sexual Dysfunction, also known as Hypersexual Desire Disorder. The latter is the new term for a condition most commonly known as frigidity. Frigidity, like hysteria, is a particularly female condition concocted by certain medical professionals who stood to gain financially from providing treatment. It is the pharmaceutical industry that is funding and creating most of the research of Female Sexual Dysfunction. And as eloquently explained by San Francisco's own sexologist, Carol Queen, the preferred treatment for hysteria -- providing an orgasm -- was booming business for doctors and vibrator manufacturers.Why couldn't I have an orgasm during sex? It was not because of depression, or a side effect of medication, or a fault of my biology. As stated by Robin Mills, sexual health education program director at UC Berkeley, who spoke at a panel discussion after the Roxie screening, "We are born with everything we need -- our left and our right hand." Indeed. I could always masturbate, and so could most of the test subjects featured in the film. That includes Charletta, a middle-aged married woman who allowed herself to be subjected to the Orgasmatron, a machine that involves attaching electrodes to the spine to induce orgasm. The machine doesn't work on her, nor does it help "the war in her head" that occurs when she thinks about trying to have an orgasm. Charletta believed herself to be diseased but when told by Canner that many women don't reach orgasm from penetration alone, she says, "Well, then, you have absolutely washed the idea of what is normal out of my mind!"
Like Charletta, I also thought there was something wrong with me. Let me take you through a typical sex session of mine circa 1997. Making out is hot, the clothes come off, penetration occurs, and then -- bam! "What does he think I look like? Will he be nice to me? Is this dangerous? That's not the right spot. Oh no, there he goes off into jackrabbit mode. Will I make him insecure if I say something? Goodness, my floor is so dirty. I want a cigarette. Time to fake it."
That was my experience. Having never been married, I can't speak to what maintaining desire for the same person over time entails. Perhaps being so stable, some women grow weary of the routine or forget what excites them. Or perhaps they never knew. Lack of sexual education and an open dialogue about female desire as well as the still-too-prevalent issue of sexual violence against women are far more obvious culprits for the inhibition of the female orgasm.
A drug cannot solve these issues. Ecstasy certainly can get the motor running, but the comedown is rough. And a la Annie Hall, being a little stoned has been known to do wonders. But despite the insistence by Vivus that Female Sexual Disorder is not caused by psychological issues as previously thought, the guaranteed female orgasm continues to be elusive. Of course, there are women who suffer from genuine sexual disorders, as there are a few who suffer from another exaggerated condition, premenstrual syndrome. But these cases are in such low percentages that they are not economically viable for the pharmaceutical industry.
While they are figuring it out, I'd like to offer five free methods that have the potential to ensure an orgasm during sex.
1. Clitoral stimulation (the sweet spot). If your partner can't figure out how to get it right, it is entirely acceptable, and in fact encouraged, to do it yourself while he or she watches and helps.
2. Imagine. Have a file in your head of surefire mental fantasies, your favs, and use them. There is no shame in thinking of something or someone other than your partner. Intimacy and orgasm don't always go hand in hand. It also helps with those pesky body issues that have an awful way of showing up just when somebody is enjoying that very body you are judging.
3. The tease. How long have women been accused of this? It's time to turn the tables. It's time for you to be teased. We have all had that experience where in a simple touch is insanely hot, and yet at other times, your partner can be going to town but might as well be stroking your elbow. Make your partner wait and wait and wait until you can't make him or her wait anymore. This trick can take time. (Afternoon sex rocks.)
4. Communication. Duh. Everyone says this, but it can be one of the hardest things to do. Saying what you want can be very scary, especially if you are not sure what that is. I suggest practice. Talk to a close friend. Ask that person what he or she likes and see if you can begin to say what you want out loud.
5. Relax. You don't have to come. Not having an orgasm is not the most terrible thing in the world. It's the experience that should be fun, and if you are not all wound up and trying so hard, you might just surprise yourself. By the way, your partner doesn't have to have one either. The female orgasm can be like the search for the Holy Grail; it's all about the quest.
Orgasm, Inc. screens the Red Vic Movie House in June 29-30. The DVD will be available for purchase on June 21. For more information visit the Orgasm, Inc. website.
Read More: No Orgasm? She's Not Broken. Learn How to Come at LA Weekly