Orgasm does not equal pleasure

Jay Dee

Orgasm does not equal pleasure

Sep 28, 2016

Yesterday I was writing about some orgasm facts. And my last one. Which I wanted to split into a separate post, is that orgasm does not equal pleasure. Unfortunately our media keeps telling us differently.  Cosmo covers are full of orgasm tips, positions for better

orgasm-does-not-equal-pleasure-squareYesterday I was writing about some orgasm facts. And my last one. Which I wanted to split into a separate post, is that orgasm does not equal pleasure.

Unfortunately our media keeps telling us differently.  Cosmo covers are full of orgasm tips, positions for better orgasms, ways to have multiple orgasms, ways to make your orgasms longer.

This has the effect of making us believe that not only does orgasm equal pleasure, but that orgasm is the goal of sex.

You can have an orgasm without having pleasure

As I mentioned yesterday, orgasm is a function of two major systems and a bunch of other ones.  Sometimes orgasm has a lot to do with what’s going in in your brain.  It’s even possible for some few women (it’s extremely rare in men) to have an orgasm without being touched.  This is because our brains have a strong say in what makes us aroused.  However, mental arousal is only half of the puzzle.

It’s also possible to have an orgasm without being mentally aroused.  And this is something our culture has tried hard to ignore or bury, and it’s very unfortunate.  In fact, it’s damaging and even dangerous.

Myth: If you are wet, then it means you want what’s happening

One such example is from 50 Shades of Grey.  I have not read the book, except for one section.  I only read it because someone alerted me to it, and I just couldn’t believe it was true.  Well, it is.

There is a scene (Chapter 16 for those who care) where the lead male character spanks the lead female character, repeatedly and to the point of making her cry out in pain.  She doesn’t want to be spanked.  In fact, she’s restrained at the time.  She doesn’t enjoy it, but her body reacts.  Why?  Because of arousal non-concordance.  Her brain noticed a sexual context and responded.

However, the lead male inserts his fingers inside of her, proclaims her to be “wet”, and therefore says she enjoys is.  He then proceeds to have sex with her.

Reframing the scene thanks to arousal non-concordance

Now, if you don’t know about arousal non-concordance, I can see why the hundreds of thousands of Christian housewives who read this would think it’s incredibly erotic.  Because women have been taught that they’re not allowed to enjoy sex, this looks like a liberating experience.  The man lead her to sexual pleasure she wouldn’t have been comfortable with, and because she lubricated, that means she “really” enjoyed it, and so it’s a good thing.  She gets pleasure, without the guilt of wanting something sexual.  And for a housewife in a loving relationship, I can understand this.  I mean, if you have a committed, loving relationship, and your spouse has permission to arouse you, then yeah, go ahead and do things you are willing to do in order to get aroused at times when you just aren’t feeling it.

But that’s not the case here.  These two are not married, this is her first sexual relationship, she’s tied up, and specifically says she doesn’t want to do this.  So, if you know about arousal non-concordance, the narrative takes a disturbing turn.  I read it like this:

The man in power (a 27 year CEO) tied down a younger woman (a college student reporter).  He sexually assaulted her.  Then he convinced her she enjoyed it, and proceeded to rape her based on that premise.

Myth: If you have an orgasm, then you “really” wanted what was happening

And you may think I’m exaggerating here, but this is a serious issue, especially in a world where one in three women experience sexual assault.  Because here is what happens a lot of the time:  A woman is sexually assaulted, but her body responds.  Her brain just sees “this is a sexual context” and so self-lubricates, her genitals engorge with blood, and she’s physically aroused, even though she may be mentally terrified.  In fact, while her body is gearing up for sex, her brain may be shutting down in “freeze” mode because the stress is so real and imminent that her brain just basically shuts down to escape reality.

This is the same thing that would happen if a lion attacked you.  Your brain either goes into fight (I can take the lion), fright (run away from the lion) or freeze (I can’t fight or run away, so I’m going to play dead and hope it goes away).  Well, since men are typically stronger and faster, many women just shut down.  It’s too big of a threat to deal with, so their brain checks out.

And sometimes what happens is that she has an orgasm, because there’s still sexually relevant stuff happening, there’s still physical arousal building up, there’s still tension there to be released, and the part of her brain that’s supposed to be saying “THIS IS NOT OKAY!” has checked out.  And that’s very confusing if you don’t know what’s going on.  Because many of these women are then convinced, by their assailant, by themselves, or by others, “Well, you got wet, you had an orgasm, you must have really wanted it.”  No!  She didn’t!  Her body just reacted.  Because orgasm does not equal pleasure.

Sexual myths like this cause long term psychological pain and confusion

And so this woman goes through life very confused about what happened, what she responds to sexually and if maybe she really did want to be raped.  The man walks away thinking “I didn’t rape her, she really wanted it”, and so goes on to have more encounters like that, believing, incorrectly, that everything is consensual … if only in retrospect.

I cannot express how angry this makes me.  We have this book that is being held up as this bestselling book, this “romance novel” that is in our churches being read by Christian wives, and I hear them telling others “you should read it, it’s fantastic”.  I want to scream at them “It’s a book that glorifies sexual assault!”  I mean, on top of the fact that it’s basically porn in written form, it’s damaging to our society!  It promotes the assault rape of women on the basis that “They’ll really enjoy it, so it’s okay”.

And I wish we could stop this narrative from continuing, so we could tell women who have been in this situation, who are confused that it’s not okay what happened to them, that it doesn’t mean they enjoyed it or welcomed the assault.  That it’s not their fault.  Maybe more women would get help if they knew.  So, please, tell people about arousal non-concordance.  It’s not a “cool” sex thing.  It’s important.

Alright, I’m going to get off my soap-box now so we can continue.

What does this mean for our marriages?

That our goal in sex shouldn’t be orgasm.  After all, if you can have an orgasm without having pleasure, then having an orgasm should not be your measuring stick for whether your spouse enjoyed sex.  And I know some of you use orgasms as your gauge!  I know, because you tell me.  I get emails that say things like:

My wife says she enjoys sex, but she doesn’t always orgasm.  Is she lying to me?

And when I tell them about arousal non-concordance, and about orgasm statistics, and about how orgasm should not be their gauge, the next question is usually:

Well, how will I know she enjoyed herself then?

And my regular readers can probably guess the answer: Ask her! Will she lie? Maybe.  But her orgasm can lie too.  She could even fake an orgasm (Women: don’t ever do this!).  My point is, you are far more likely to get an accurate answer if you simply ask.

You can have pleasure without having an orgasm

How often do you orgasm during sexOrgasms shouldn’t be our goal in sex.  Pleasure should be.  Connection should be.  Intimacy should be.  Don’t get me wrong, orgasms are good.  And they can be a method of getting pleasure, building connection and intimacy.   This is especially true for men, because orgasm makes our oxytocin levels jump through the roof.  For women, oxytocin levels are generally as high as our’s peak during sex.  I think this may be why many women are less interested in orgasm.  Or rather, are less dependent on orgasm in order to feel the same benefits. They don’t need it as much to feel that same emotional connection and intimacy.

That doesn’t mean women don’t want orgasms!  What it means is that if your wife says she’s okay not having an orgasm on a given night, believe her.  She’s probably not lying.  In one of our surveys we found that about 75% of women don’t orgasm during every sexual encounter and most are okay with that.  Yes, some orgasm every time, and some orgasm multiple times every time, but most don’t.  I think women generally understand that pleasure does not equal orgasm.  It’s us men who often have the problem.  And for men, orgasm does often equal pleasure, but we mistakenly think that women’s sexuality is the same as our own.  We think that if our wife doesn’t have an orgasm, then we’ve done something wrong, that she didn’t enjoy herself.

Stress about orgasming makes it harder to have an orgasm

And we need to stop that mentality, because often what happens is we build up a lot of pressure for our wives to orgasm, this pressure creates performance anxiety for them, which is a type of stress.  From a physiology standpoint, stress releases cortisol which counteracts dopamine, which is needed for arousal and orgasm.  From a psychology standpoint, this stress is a trigger for the sexual inhibition system which plays a large part in whether or not one feels mentally aroused, which negatively impacts their ability to orgasm.  In short: pressuring your wife to orgasm is less likely to make her orgasm.

Wives, the same goes for men.  If your husband suffers from either erectile dysfunction (ED) or delayed ejaculation (DE), then pressuring him to orgasm will only make the situation worse.  And as much as you may want to say “well, he needs to just suck it up”, the truth is it’s a chemical reaction.

Stress chemically counteracts arousal.  All kinds of stress, be it “hurry up and orgasm” or a bad day at the office, or the children being difficult, or the dishes left in the sink, or the negative balance in your bank account.  These are all stress factors in our modern life, and they will all affect your ability to orgasm.  More and more in our increasingly stress filled lives, we need to understand that orgasm does not equal pleasure, because we can still have fun, even while we’re having orgasm difficulties.

For those who made it to the end, or just skipped to the end, my point is: Orgasm doesn’t equal pleasure.  Don’t make orgasm your goal.  Believe your spouse when they say they enjoyed themselves.

Looking for help?

17 thoughts on “Orgasm does not equal pleasure”

  1. Norah says:

    Wow Jay, your tackling the heavy stuff. Perfect, I really loved this post. I loved how you put into perspective the section on Fifty Shades of Gray. I to have NEVER read the book nor do I tend to. I wish more Christians would realized what it really is, porn.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think there is another side to this. Many times a wife will say she doesn’t want an orgasm because she knows it will take too long or require too much effort which is different from her wanting an intimate connection whether orgasm happens or not.

    To this end, I am perfectly happy to not have an orgasm if my husband doesn’t have an orgasm either. However, this is not the case and he will still want to have one but then not want to put in the time or effort for me to have one.

    Our solution to this is we both plan on having an orgasm every time we have sex. The exception is if we are having sex more frequently than every other day I won’t want an orgasm every time but if we are having sex every other day I will want an orgasm every time.

  3. pepupyourmarriage says:

    Jay Dee, I agree with Norah, you are tackling the tough and I might add, deep subjects.

    The overall premise of your topic is mind blowing to most men. They believe that their wife cannot achieve true pleasure until they have a climax or orgasm. This is most likely why so many women “fake” an orgasm so their husband will believe he performed.

    Such a good negative and positive side to this topic. Thanks!

  4. Jane says:

    . The woman enters into the relationship knowing full well the situations she and he will be in. She has a safe word. They do fall in love pretty quickly and start a “normal” relationship, with marriage and children.
    It seems like you took the part you read and assumed she was raped. Maybe my perspective is wrong about the post, but it seemed to center on that portion that you read.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      No, the post stands without the quote, it was merely an example from our culture.

      As for the rest of the book, I not willing to read it. It’s porn from the pieces I could see while flipping through it.

  5. Amy says:

    “For women, oxytocin levels are generally as high as our’s peak during sex.”
    Actually, oxytocin levels in both men and women increase during sexual activity/arousal and orgasm at about the same rate. Women do not necessarily have higher levels of oxytocin just coursing through their bodies unless she is breastfeeding or in labor.

    Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and secreted into the blood stream by the pituitary gland when the neurons in the hypothalamus become excited or stimulated. Oxytocin levels increase in women during uterine contractions (labor) and breastfeeding (milk letdown), and in both sexes during feelings of contentment, touch, and sexual arousal and orgasm. While both men and women will experience an increase in oxytocin levels during orgasm, the difference is how the male and female hormones interact with oxytocin.

    While oxytocin is found in both men and women, the female hormone, estrogen enhances the effects of oxytocin so a woman will tend to experience the effects of oxytocin more strongly than a man. This is a way to help a woman become emotionally bonded to her spouse.

    For men, while oxytocin levels also rise during orgasm they tend to drop fairly quickly and an increase in vasopressin, another hormone, occurs. Vasopressin is a hormone also produced in the hypothalamus by both male and female. It creates a feeling protectiveness, loyalty and responsibility and the male hormone testosterone enhances the effects of vasopressin causing a man to feel the effects of it more strongly. The increased levels of vasopressin after sex help a man bond to his wife and is likely what causes those feelings you describe of wanting to talk and bond afterwards.

    Therefore, I don’t believe that women not wanting an orgasm has anything to do with oxytocin. I would suspect it has to do with other factors, at least I know it does for me. I agree with the comment above that a woman might decline one due to time constraints or it taking too much effort, perhaps the couple has sex almost daily and it becomes too much for the woman. She may feel so well satiated that skipping an orgasm once in a while is no big deal. There may be discord in the relationship and the wife isn’t feeling loved, maybe she doesn’t feel attractive, she’s dealing with too much stress, there is a lack of communication and/or she just doesn’t feel she deserves the pleasure.

    And finally, I would say neither the wife or the man has a problem. Orgasms do equate pleasure and although shouldn’t necessarily be the goal of a sexual encounter with your spouse I think it is a great way to end that time together and gives both spouses immense pleasure that we can only get from one another.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      I’ll try to find the scientific paper that I based that statement on. It was a few years ago. I read it, and using their findings, I wrote this post: You are the first in 4 years to challenge it, and not the first researcher who reads the blog.

      What I was taught about these hormones is different then what you are describing above. I’d love to see your source if you happen to have a reference to see if it’s newer, assuming I can find mine back.

      1. Amy says:

        Most of what I wrote is from over 20 years experience as a childbirth educator, so primarily what I know about oxytocin. In researching earlier to make sure I remembered things correctly I could not find anything suggesting men have higher levels of oxytocin after orgasm or that women naturally have higher levels of the hormone, it just increases during those things I mentioned above.

        A couple resources I found which simply explain how hormones work during sex:
        (second resource removed as it got hacked)

        Much of what I learned years ago was from midwifery books and anatomy classes, and information through the childbirth organization I trained with.

  6. Jeff says:

    The “1 in 3 women experience sexual assault” metric doesn’t sound right. Do you have a source for that?

    1. Jay Dee says:

      1 in 5 report it (the official stat), but if you talk to therapists and counselors, they tend to think it’s somewhere between 33% and 50%. So, I decided to be conservative. The 1 in 3 metric I hear over and over again from professionals in the field. But, since most will not report…I don’t have an official source that has it that high.

      1. MaBeck says:

        I know more woman that HAVE been assaulted than haven’t. Numbers are right on, and thank you for talking about “arousal non-concordance”. This knowledge may help others who’ve experienced this.

  7. Kaye says:

    One thing bothers me about your statement that you read only one chapter of the book. So many people take one chapter or one verse out of the Bible and distort it to something it is not. I read the books, and enjoyed them. When I read them, my perspective was that she wanted him from start to finish. If you had read all of the books, you would find at the end she was the one who wanted to continue their adventures in the playroom along with their more conservative lovemaking.

    1. Mary says:

      You are exactly right. It went from the 50 shades books into talk about orgasms. Then women being assulted. This could have easily been 3 posts.
      He does not take criticism very well. I have since unsubscribed to the emails.

      1. Jay Dee says:

        I disagree, in three posts there would have been no point. Together it makes a point. That orgasms do not equal pleasure.
        I am curious how I could accept criticism better though.

        And, of course, it’s your right to unsubscribe. Farewell.

    2. Jay Dee says:

      Frankly, I was disgusted by the little I read. It wasn’t even a whole chapter. I didn’t need to read any more to realize that it was garbage that I didn’t want filling my mind. I couldn’t believe that Christian women were defending this … well … porn.

      1. George says:

        Christian is a term that has a huge spectum of maturity vs immaturity. Pastor Andy Stanley says it well regarding being a disciple tends to be those seeking to follow and emulate Jesus.
        Porn damages everyone.

  8. Juan Pedro says:

    Nice post.
    There is so much misunderstanding of female orgasm…. more, more and more communication is the key.
    Thanks for sharing

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