Group Sex Can’t Be This Stressful

Writing a sex column is not as easy as it looks. It turns out you get to a point where you’ve written four columns, some of which people have liked, and you want to keep up the high standards, but that’s precisely the problem–now, with the specter of Savage trolls on one side and of people who really, really like you (but might stop at any moment!) on the other, you’re feeling kind of overwhelmed.

So you complain about it to your friends and hit upon what you think is a good metaphor. “Goodness,” you say, “having to write for the kids with the vulvodynia and the kids who like the jokes and the kids who want to hear about that neat cunnilingus trick I learned last night, and doing all of that while not getting tarred with the crazy brush, is hard. It’s like being in an imaginary orgy in my head where one person wants me to top and another wants me to bottom and another needs to know where I put the condoms, stat. It’s terrible. I have to think about so many people.”

“Maybe,” they say, “…maybe if group sex is so scary you should write about masturbation.”

I break into hysterical laughter, but we’re not talking the sexy kind.

Like any sex columnist worth their spice rack, I am in favor of masturbation as a healthy and important component of your sex life whether single or hitched, and when talking to women about sex (men are left out because, uh, well, we’ll have a column on ideas of masculinity and how they screw men over soon) I find myself recommending it all the time.

Are you looking for an especially safe and sexy sex practice? Mutual masturbation is almost completely risk-free but can also be incredibly intimate.

Are you able to bring yourself to orgasm, but not get there with a partner? Masturbate for your partner and with your partner–show them how you like to be touched.

Are you having trouble working through triggers with a partner? Is sex confusing for you and are the right physical techniques hard to find? Do you have a hard time orgasming, or have you never orgasmed? You know the answer–work through them alone first. Set aside thirty minutes twice a week to masturbate. It’s an emotional and physical workout that also makes you a more progressive woman! You’ll figure everything out through masturbation!

… this is good advice, advice that works for a lot of people, advice that probably works for you.

It’s just–you know, this is supposed to be feisty, but it’s turning out quiet–never worked for me.

I’m your sex columnist, yes, and I’m supposed to be in touch with my sexuality, but there it is: masturbation makes me nervous. For a while it was what I did when I wanted to make myself cry.

And it’s not like I haven’t tried to learn how to masturbate. I’ve put a lot of effort into masturbating. I’ve had masturbation schedules. I’ve bought sex toys. I’ve read books.

But this is what it’s like for me: miserable. My basic problem with sex has never been communicating with my partner and learning my partner’s needs–I’m good at that–but communicating with myself and being able to figure out what my own needs are.

This is a common survivor pattern (some people have argued that it is also a common woman’s pattern, since, you know, women are socialized to care about the needs of others more than their own needs), but I’m not (yet?) in a place where masturbation can help with breaking it. The reason why is pretty obvious; one of my abusers would coerce me into masturbating for him and would pressure me to masturbate in a way that he would enjoy, which of course I went along with, because when he enjoyed it, it was over faster. By the end I was well-trained in his preferences–what to do, what noises to make, when and how to fake orgasm. This is what I did to survive.

So weirdly, when somebody else is in bed with me, I can focus on them and everything is OK; but when it’s just me, there’s no focus for my attention and nothing to protect me from the triggers that almost inevitably rush in. Even if I’m not directly triggered by thoughts of my abuse, it’s still (understandably) hard for me to enjoy myself, and I start to hate myself for just that. What kind of frigid bitch must I be to not even be able to masturbate properly?

In her (highly recommended for any woman dissatisfied with her sex life–sadly I don’t know of an equivalent for men, although Lonnie has a great book for heterosexual couples as well–the library has lost both of its copies, but I have one I’d be willing to lend out) book for women about becoming orgasmic, Lonnie Barbach writes this:

“One common tendency is to get into the vicious cycle of expecting a sexual encounter to end with your feeling dissatisfied and frustrated, while hoping that this time it will be different. If so, you may find yourself being a spectator of your own lovemaking. As the lovemaking continues, you may grow more and more fearful that the orgasm is not going to happen. So you are constantly weighing your responses as you try to attain the elusive orgasm. The more closely you watch and worry, the less aware you can be of what your body is feeling. As your partner begins thrusting, you begin giving up. As he experiences orgasm, you may feel defeated, angry, sad, alone.”

And that’s me, but during masturbation, and consequently even more alone at the end. “I’m going to fuck up again and this is going to hurt” is the constant specter in my head. “How do I not fuck up? How do I not… I don’t think, crap but I’m thinking, I’m already thinking… time to burst into tears and have an inflamed vulva that will ache for a few hours!”

And time to burst into tears it is. Again and again. The way I deal with this (since I’m still horny, dammit, at least sometimes I am, and even your sex columnist doesn’t have nubile young women lining up to jump in her bed every day) is to give myself the distractions I need.

I didn’t learn to use homework as a distraction–rather, I found that I would find myself masturbating while doing homework, and instead of putting the book down and entering crisis mode, I have learned to just go with the flow. I jokingly call it the “Swarthmore Special,” masturbating furitively under the covers while tearing through another account of the French Revolution and maybe, maybe on a third cognitive level thinking about what I would like to do to the cute girl in the library.

(This third cognitive level has been slowly growing more and more prominent, which I think is progress, but when I let it have my entire mental space, it still, you know, goes all Reign of Terror and “LOOK WHO IS WATCHING” on me.)

It’s kind of funny, sure, and it’s kind of hot, I guess, if you’re turned on by how fast I read, but it’s not my ideal. I would like to be able to give myself half an hour to do nothing but pay attention to my own pleasure. I’m just not there yet. And I shouldn’t force myself.

Despite the fact that everyone says I would be “more in touch with myself” if I masturbated, despite the fact that, you know, I’m a sex columnist, and I can’t masturbate without crying, I don’t have to.

Weird boundary. I know. Probably not your boundary. But there it is–my boundary. And nobody has to make me cross it when I don’t want to. And that–this is the part that takes the longest to learn–includes me. And recognizing and upholding that boundary–doesn’t make me “frigid” or “prudish” or “less of an empowered queer Swattie womyn,” although I don’t know if that last one is desirable–it makes me awesome.

…I would end with some masturbation tips, but let’s be honest. I don’t have any good ones. I’m cranky. I haven’t slept for more than four hours in nearly a week. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen when this gets published. The Pterodactyl Hunt is tomorrow.

(And all this thinking about myself? Makes me want to run back to the group sex… which would be a good fantasy to go with, hey, this Russian Revolution reading I have to do…)

The point is, masturbate if you want to. Don’t if you don’t. But don’t let people pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do by telling you that you’re not liberated. And just like you’re OK with the uneven quality of your sex? Be OK with the uneven quality of your sex columnist.

And please–masturbate while studying for your midterms. You know I will.

Dr. Strokes


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