Writing About Orgasms

I’m finally getting close to being finished with a new book, A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Ecstasy. It will be published by Seal Press in January of next year.

I was teaching and commuting between Philly and Brooklyn too much last semester to finish writing it when I should have. Now I’m stuck in the house all summer writing when everyone else is out playing in the sun. Remind me to never have a book due at the end of the summer again.

Anyway, currently I’m writing about orgasms. Here’s the thing. For women, sexual arousal is complex and just as tied to our mental state as a physical one. One reason pharmaceutical companies have yet to come up with a satisfying female-centric substitute for Viagra has much to do with the way we experience the state of being “turned on.” In men, unless something is wrong, arousal leads to erection. Popular pharmaceutical treatments for erectile dysfunction work by relaxing the smooth muscle tissue that surrounds major arteries in the penis. This in turn allows more blood to flow to the penis, creating a firm erection. Erections provide visual feedback, a man looks down, sees that he has a hard on, and thinks “I want to have sex.”

For women it’s a more circuitous process. Even when our bodies exhibit signs of what would presumably be arousal: vasocongestion, engorged labia and clitoris, and vaginal lubrication, we may not actually be in the mood for sex. We need more than ready genitals to desire and go through with masturbation or intercourse.

Interestingly, Viagra and similar drugs has been show to have a similar effect on women as in men, namely increasing blood flow to the genitals. However, increased blood flow did not correlate with female test subjects reporting that they wanted sex. In fact, in some cases women didn’t register any sort of recognizable “turned on” feeling.

Reading the medical literature and studying abstracts from clinical trials, it’s easy to see how little doctors and researchers understand about our sexual response. In one study I read, a doctor was quoted as saying, “Women who are not aroused can still perform.” Perform? Yikes! Rapey, much?

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