Carla was young when she met Jacob. ‘I used to drink a lot. We both did. And when I drink, I don’t orgasm, so I got into the habit of faking it,’ she told me. Two years ago, they married. ‘I want to have wonderful, intimate sex with Jacob but, because I used to fake it, he can’t understand why I don’t orgasm in five minutes any more. Reaching orgasm can take a while now and need lots of gentle clitoral stimulation.’ But Carla feels she has duped her husband. ‘He married this hot, young thing who was crazy for sex but essentially, I lied. Do I tell the truth? How do I create a new era of mature sexual connection?’
This describes the experience of many women. First, let’s put the ‘faking orgasm’ issue in the context of poor sexual education and the persistence of myths and stereotypes about sexual performance, that reaching the finish line signals the deed is done. The result is one of utterly dissatisfying sexual experiences. Orgasm is not just that climax moment; it’s a full body pleasure, not just one event.
Second, we need to address how Jacob might react if Carla confesses. What if he reacted badly, seeing this as a lie, a betrayal or, worse yet, a ploy to get him to fall for her? Those are weighty feelings to balance. She needs to address this tactfully, and must also look at what’s in it for him if she decides to tell all.
Perhaps Carla needs to focus on how to best start an ongoing conversation about creating a new, vibrant sexual script together. She needs to let Jacob know those things that used to turn her on aren’t working for her any more. Perhaps she could suggest an expedition of curiosity and exploration to discover together what really turns them both on. Then, add to that what Carla knows (and what all the research shows), that as women age, we need more time and stimulation to get fully aroused – like more clitoral stimulation. She needs to tell Jacob this. Men are not mind-readers! Most men, once they know, and see the pleasure you experience, are more than motivated to do it again.
She could also allude to the fact that when she felt less secure, she didn’t allow herself to experience full pleasure. In fact, the ‘orgasm’ was a way to cut it short, to end it and make him feel good. Wouldn’t it better to focus on what could be different and new now? Bodies change, we do not have just one sexuality; we can discover new turn-ons and preferences.
Carla needs to tell Jacob she’d like to explore others ways to be sexual together. Once she has him engaged, they could watch some DVDs together and she can show him new ways to touch her. She could play at engaging in ‘the slowest sex we ever had’. She could practise ‘energetic touch’, where other parts of the body, such as the neck, arms, knees are caressed, but the clitoris isn’t. The clitoris is just the tip of the volcano; women have a largely unknown network of structures responsible for arousal and orgasm. This could be the start of a whole new era. I suspect there are exciting times ahead for both Carla and Jacob.
Read Women’s Anatomy of Arousal: Secret Maps To Buried Pleasure by Sheri Winston (Mango Garden Press, £11.95)
Download The Orgasm Answer Guide by Carlos Beyer-Flores et al, (John Hopkins, £10.95)
Join Esther Perel for an online class on Love, Sex and Power at estherperelclasses.com
ESTHER PEREL is a psychologist, author and speaker regarded as one of the world’s most insightful voices on sexuality. GOT A QUESTION FOR ESTHER? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘ESTHER’ in the subject line
Photograph: Christopher Lane