The Little Woman in the Canoe

Thursday, May 05, 2011


I’m a 35-​year-​old queer woman. I’ve been happily masturbating to orgasm since I was 12 and have had a full and adventurous sex life with others, starting at age 15. I am not a sexual trauma survivor and have never had issues with clitoral orgasm until this past summer. When I masturbate or am having sex with my partner, I feel the regular buildup of pleasure and then have a kind of contraction that signals orgasm, but no feeling of actually coming. It’s sort of hard to explain. There is a small muscular release, but no actual orgasmic sensation. It’s as if my body has “forgotten” the pleasure part of the orgasm. I know I’ve come, but I don’t actually feel it.
The first time it happened, I didn’t think much of it – and it still doesn’t happen all the time – but about a quarter of my orgasms end this way now, and it’s starting to upset me. It doesn’t seem to be connected to stress or any other factors I’ve thought of. It happens both when I’m extremely turned on and when I’m mechanically jerking off. I’m starting to worry that it’s age-​related, or something has changed with my body. Have you heard of this phenomenon before? Any suggestions?


Hmm. Your letter sounds suspiciously like one I received and answered several months ago from a 34-year-​old queer woman who was having the same kind of trouble. Let me be clearer, C Diddly, if I wasn’t on the first go-round.
1. What has changed in your life over the past year? Are you taking any medications that might have an impact on your sexual response, such as SSRIs, antihistamines or blood pressure meds? 
2. While it’s true that you are on the young end of things to be considering age as a factor in changing sexual response, it does play a role. As you mature, your estrogen drops, and this has an impact on blood flow to erogenous areas. I would suggest you speak to your gynecologist about having your estrogen level tested.
3. If you are a woman who has usually had one orgasm during each transaction (be that during partnered sex or masturbation) and then stopped at that, I would encourage you to keep hunting for another. I’m not talking about lying around making sweet, gentle love to yourself. I’m talking about throwing on some filthy-ass porn, looking into a more industrial offering from the Hitachi line ( and riding that fucker till your ass cheeks have seized up. I realize this goes against the “it’s not the Olympics – don’t be so goal-oriented” approach. It may even hurt at first. Worked for me, mind you. 
Alternately, try cutting back on coming – you know, hold off until you’re just gagging for it and then treat yourself to one. Either way, don’t be hesitant to switch up your system a little. Get the machete out and carve some different pathways to your pleasure. 
4. If you don’t have a gynecologist you like, get on that. Ask women in your community who their gynecologist is and if they feel comfortable talking to him or her, not just about the physical state of their reproductive organs but also about their function in pleasure. Here’s a start on some books:

  In addition to this brisk, martial list, I offer you my psychic solidarity. I want you to know that we are all in similar boats, bashing around with equipment that on the one hand seems so simple and on the other so capricious.
As the controversial Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder has said, “If our human brain were so simply constructed that we could completely understand it, then we would have been so stupid that we wouldn’t understand it anyway.” Sexual response is deeply connected to the human brain, my dear, which is a vast, complicated and ever-changing arena. 


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