In the film ‘Private Benjamin’, a group of female army recruits sits around a campfire during an overnight exercise.
One of the women says: “I had an orgasm once…” and the others giggle. She goes on to say in a disappointed tone “…but I was alone!” Her girlfriends laugh sympathetically.
In the film, Goldie Hawn plays a spoilt young woman approaching thirty who has been married twice. Happily stoned from smoking marijuana she continues the theme:
“Well, … once when I was with my first husband I got to this place … that was kind of nice and tingly and … I don’t know if this was an official orgasm … but I counted it as one for five years.” She laughs, presumably at her own naivety.
“Orgasm is not just a vague feeling.” (p73 Woman’s Experience of Sex 1983)
Later in the film, she acts as if she genuinely has an orgasm during sex with a new lover. She comments: “Well, now I know what I have been faking all these years!”
Women who think they orgasm during sex when they don’t
To a man, it must be incomprehensible that a woman of thirty can be unsure about whether she has ever had an orgasm. For sexual intercourse to be possible, a man must be at least aroused (in order to have an erection). Women, on the other hand, attribute a whole range of feelings to the experiences of arousal and orgasm in the absence of the knowledge of what real female orgasms feel like.
“When you have an orgasm the pelvic floor muscles always contract. If that does not happen you are not having an orgasm.” (p77 Woman’s Experience of Sex 1983)
In addition to the pelvic muscle contractions, I would describe orgasm as losing full consciousness of your immediate physical surroundings. As a guide, if you are not sure then it has probably not happened yet. A woman who has never had an orgasm thinks of sex as ‘making love’ without necessarily even hoping for orgasm. There is nothing wrong with this approach and many women are content with what they have.
However, it can be difficult to gain any comfort from comparing with others because women account for their sexual experiences so differently. Even well-informed and mature women can believe that they orgasm (when they don’t) simply because they do not know what real female orgasms feel like.