Mar 042013

Simultaneous orgasm has plenty of cultural capital; it doesn’t need my assistance. But this NYT article about “dating” culture among 20-somethings makes me want to put in a word for the culturally crowned Ultimate Sexual Experience.

This is the paragraph that did it:

Traditional courtship — picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings). Not so with texting, e-mail, Twitter or other forms of “asynchronous communication,” as techies call it. In the context of dating, it removes much of the need for charm; it’s more like dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.

It’s the conflation of synchronous communication and intimacy, vulnerability, emotional courage that does it.

If relationships begin with asynchrony, will that change how a partnership moves toward synchrony? (Did couples who courted through letters move differently toward synchrony than couples who courted face to face?)

Texting or FB messaging is the opposite of simultaneous orgasm – minimal information, minimal connection, minimal synchrony.

Simultaneous orgasm nearly always requires that you both be fully present, attuned, and connected with your partner RIGHT NOW, RIGHT HERE, eyes open, hearts open, lights on, clothes off, breathing and connected, locked into each other, together, now, US.

So if the Millennials’ dating world minimizes and delays vulnerability, openness, and emotional risk-taking, then what prepares them for the intimacy of attuned, passionate, connected sex?

I dread that they will set up camp in relationships where the sex is half-engaged, half distant, more akin to side-by-side masturbation, using someone else’s genitals as your sex toy, and not even realize what else there is.

I don’t mean to say that there can’t be AWESOME sex in random hookups or any other kind of sex outside an emotionally attuned partnership – by no means! There’s great sex available, fun, beautiful, transformative sex. Someone I know recently decided to have their first pseudo-random hook-up as part of a long-term effort to recover from an agonizing break-up, and it was LIFE CHANGING for them.

But there is some unique and intense sex to be had in the context of a long term, emotionally attuned relationship. There is an important place we can all go, but getting there requires traveling through someone else’s mind and body, while we allow them to travel through ours. There is sex that I would dare to call uniquely human, and we can only have it when all the layers of us and all the ways of knowing we have are aligned, attuned, and paying attention right now to how we feel, how our partners feel, who we are together.

It’s important because of what it teaches us about ourselves. It’s important because of what it builds in our partnership. It’s important because, when the going gets tough (as it inevitably will), the tough can look back on a moment of profound unity, vulnerability, tenderness, and think, “We have bound ourselves together in joy.”

Not the way peanut butter holds two slices of bread together, but the way four arms hold two bodies together, when all those arms are joyfully moving toward the place the other person occupies.

You don’t need to STAY in synchrony, you just need moments of it. Enough moments to build muscle memory of it, a map to it, so you can get there even from the most (emotionally) distant place.

It’s not necessary, by any means. Not necessary. But I say it makes a worthy goal. Even if you never achieve it, the process of aiming for it will break down the asynchrony and build the sense of us-together-yes.

Emily Nagoski

  17 Responses to “hypothesis: hook up culture makes simultaneous orgasms both more difficult and more important”

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  1. I find that trying to time my orgasm is actually very distracting and prevents me from being fully “in the moment.” If my partner’s orgasm, instead of being a thing I can enjoy for its own sake, is a deadline—”You have three seconds to start orgasming, now GO!”—I feel distinctly less connected with him. Asynchrony means there are twice as many distinct orgasms for me to appreciate, from two different points of view.

  2. Emily, reading this made me happy on a gray day. For the first time (and I have made it past 30 and a bit) I have a lover that I get to experience simultaneous orgasms with. We both enjoy each other’s orgasms greatly when they are spaced apart, but it never feels as good as when we come together. Just because of the intense feeling of togetherness that we both experience. It happens regularly too, we know each other and just need to read each other’s signs. I couldn’t help but relate this to what you wrote the other day about accepting yourself and your partner 100%, that just seems to be part of the formula.

    So, today was a sucky day, in part because my lover is not here, but your post reminded me of how happy I am to get to experience all this sexy goodness.

    And it made me worry about these asynchronely communicating kids and wonder what I can do in English class to help them ;)

  3. I agree with @cd.
    For me, simultaneous orgasm seems too much like a performance; difficult (for me, at least) to achieve, requiring timing and concentration. It takes me completely out of the moment. I can’t help but see it as something that puts unnecessary expectations onto sex. Pressure and performance anxiety etc.
    I think putting expectations/importance on trying to orgasm at the same time is a kind of weird goal, compared to the goal of just trying to give each other the maximum pleasure possible and having fun together.
    Besides (and I realise this is just my experience and not everyone’s), when I orgasm I’m off in my own world – I’m not really aware of my partner and what he’s doing, I’m utterly absorbed in the sensations in my body. The couple of times we have (accidentally) simultaneously orgasmed, it hasn’t been any more special or connected. In fact it’s been less so, because we’re both so wrapped up in our own pleasure that we’re not getting to vicariously enjoy the other’s pleasure, like we do when we orgasm asynchronously.
    Tl;dr – Simultaneous orgasm seems too much like a performance (with unnecessary expectations and pressure ruining the moment), and I don’t see any pay off, IMO. I don’t understand the hype.

  4. I’m really confused by that article, because what it seems to be describing sounds to me like what I would describe as people who are getting to know each other first, without the pressure of spending a lot of money on “dating,” but it’s getting described as hook-up culture, which, wha? I mean, if you don’t know someone well, inviting them to come hang out with you and your buddies to see if you all have fun is a perfectly reasonable social thing to do, seems to me, and I’m far from twenty-something. (Indeed, articles on the demise of dating have been around since at least the 1960s, if not earlier.)

    Now, obviously in some cases there’s a clash in expectations, because some of these folks thought the other person meant a DATE date, but this is not some new social phenomenon. I remember a college friend saying he was too busy to spend time with new people unless he scheduled something, but if he tried to schedule some one-on-one activity with a woman he didn’t know well in order to get to know her better, she’d be quite naturally apt to think he was expressing a more specific interest than he actually felt as yet, and it was hard to know how to phrase the invitation. Mind you, he was going at it from the perspective that the woman might well become a friend even if she didn’t become a girlfriend, which seems to be something that is getting overlooked in the NYT article. People in their twenties (and beyond) are building social groups as well as marriages.

    Where hook-up culture enters into the matter, seems to me, is that people are occasionally willing to have sex on short notice even if they — horrors! — have not had a formal date beforehand. Which seems to me to be a big ol’ bag of “So?” It was ever thus. Not with everyone, but it isn’t everyone now.

  5. So my entire relationship was formed in more or less asynchronous communication. (web chat, ICQ, AIM, only on the telephone once we were both very invested in each other)

    To my way of thinking, it made us way, way closer than people would normally get, especially since we’re both fairly introverted. It made us MORE open to each other than we would have been with people in the same room, since there was a little time to think about things before responding. And the sex we have now (and even when we first started), I’d describe as spectacular, close, and very, very connected, since we had a LOT of time apart to discuss what our individual turn-ons were.

    Twitter is another beast entirely, but I wouldn’t say people who form relationships asynchronously are in any more danger than anyone of not being in synch once the relationship is a more solid entity.

  6. And I’m going to chime in with @cd and @MelissaF. Chime in but not agree completely.

    I’ve been on a bit of a tear about the 1970s lately, when I came of age sexually. There’s just so much stuff back then that we all “knew” that just turns out to be wrong. Or if not wrong then waaaay over-emphasized.

    “Simultaneous orgasms” was one of them. All the sex “manuals” talked about them like they were the holy grail. Written sex scenes almost always ended with them and when they didn’t it was almost always made clear one of the partners was a Bad Person. A staple of 70s sex “advice” columns was how to have them or what was wrong with one or both partners when they didn’t.

    The presumption, of course, was that these would be simultaneous orgasms from PIV intercourse. Use of fingers or vibrators to help was an admission of failure.

    Cunnilingus was ok “for foreplay” before intercourse and, of course, “for seduction?!?!?” in order to get intercourse (for the man) but terminal cunnilingus and especially fellatio was looked at askance. Unless it was during “soixante-neuf” (oolala for 69) where simultaneous orgasms were again the holy grail. Or why bother?

    I realize now that it wasn’t till very much later, when I finally climbed out of that cultural fetish, that I actually started to enjoy sex instead of seeing it as an accomplishment. :-P

    That said, when they’re not the holy grail they’re actually very nice. And while all sorts of other cultural assumptions made it harder to figure out they’re actually sort of easy. Even if during intercourse. (Hint: face to face, woman on top, woman taking a non-performative but primary active role.)

    But even when it’s a source of performance stress, when you’re only real experience of a partner’s orgasm is when you’re having one of your own you actually miss a lot! Also, not to put too fine a point on it, when simultaneity is your intention it can become almost as mechanical and detached as the side-by-side masturbation you mentioned, Emily. The first time I (reluctantly, anxiously) “let” a partner give me an intentional solo orgasm was a revelation! (I’d been having sex for almost 20 years.)

    Again, that’s not to say people shouldn’t bother (at all!) or that it’s not a good thing (it is!) but just that it it’s way better when they’re a result of good sex together and not an objective.

    Final point: reading between the lines of this post I’m wondering if in 20 years people coming of age sexually today will be working as hard to get over contemporary sexual asynchrony as I’ve been to get over its 1970s opposite.


    • I’m not sure I care that much about absolutely simultaneous orgasms, but it would be nice to be able to both get off from essentially the same activity (rather than one of us having to slow down in order to get the other off, which is inherently less exciting all the way around — in the old days we could just wait a bit and have a second session, but of course these days we’re both snoring before that could possibly occur).

      Being on top has never done much for me, not sure why, so that wouldn’t have occurred to me as an easy route to orgasm for either of us, let alone simultaneous orgasm.

  7. Another lady chiming in to say that when I orgasm, I become totally unaware of the other person for a few seconds. Therefore i ‘miss’ their orgasm. I have to check what their body is doing (or ask) to determine whether they actually did or not. I do like them to be relatively close together, but I really would prefer them not to be simultaneous.

    I’m grateful for the term ‘asynchronous communication’ though. There seem to me advantages The ability to really think about your response – your first emotional reaction to something isn’t necessarily the wisest (although of course it’s always valid). And for linguaphiles, there is real pleasure in crafting an elegant, witty email, and delight in receiving one. That is super-hot flirting to me! Alongside other, synchronous kinds of flirting.

  8. –There are a hell of a lot of options other than ‘simultaneous orgasm’ and ‘taking turns masturbating with each other’s body’.

    For example, ‘simultaneous *pleasure* but not orgasm’, and ‘taking turns pleasing and delighting the other person’s body’.

    Also, why should email be ‘dropping a line in the water and hoping for a nibble.’? You can direct an email to one specific person, craft it just to please them and what you know of them, of course you can! Hand-written letters were just as, if not more, asynchronous, and they weren’t general ‘fishing’ they were directed! (Or could be)

  9. I disagree with asking for a date by text making you more distant from the process.

    It is pretty much the only way I organize dates, unless it is done in person, because I find phone calls rather terrifying.

    I love/hate the waiting for a reply, which could be minutes or hours, but I am almost always thinking about the person I have asked and hoping and longing for the yes. It is the most wonderfully agonizing wait, and I would not give it up for the world. :)

  10. I love texting. And simultaneous orgasm is a great metaphor for synchronous communication. Still, I’ve heard it said about simultaneous orgasm that it’s great when it happens, but trying to achieve it every single time is usually not worth the effort and not advisable.

    • With my spouse we probably achieve silmultanous orgasm about 20-25% of the time. It’s a thing I like a lot, enough that I will specifically aim to achieve even if it ends up being a less intense orgasm than it would be otherwise, but not a thing I require. I think that if I were to NEVER put effort into achieving it, it would happen randomly maybe 5% of the time. If I were to try to ALWAYS achieve it I might get it up to 50% of the time but the other 50% I would be severely frustrated for having failed (instead of being otherwise satisfied with my non-synchronous orgasm or with only one of us achieving orgasm). By putting a little effort into making it happen at the times where it seems pretty close to happening I get more of a thing I want without ending up too frustrated most of the time. Seems like a pretty good balance to me. Obviously that balance will fall in a different place for other couples.

  11. I think some people use online dating sites specifically in ways that avoid vulnerability, but I definitely don’t think that “asynchronous communication” as a whole is less vulnerable or less intimate. Dating sites let people feel less vulnerable about making advances because they connect you to people who you’ll never have to see again if they reject you. But when you’re asking out someone who you have some sort of ongoing relationship with, how they feel about it is going to be important to you and have an effect on your relationship with them regardless of whether or not you have to wait a while for their response. If you are emotionally invested in what you’re saying, I think, then the vulnerability and connection and so forth are there, whether you’re communicating them through an email or a letter or a poem. And likewise, if you’re determined to not be emotionally invested, you can do that even when you’re talking to someone face to face.
    I know I’ve sent some emails that took a lot of courage and thought, and one of my friends knows from recent experience that rejection definitely still stings by text message.

  12. I’m not much more keen on accepting that asynchronous communication is ruining intimacy than that simultaneous orgasm is the best thing that ever happened to sex. I mean, you’d think there was never an ENTIRE GENRE of epistolary romance.

  13. Another “but why simultaneous orgasm” comment; ignore if you like.

    My boyfriend identifies as asexual and has never had an orgasm. Combining that with the way my body works, it’s pretty likely that I will never experience simultaneous orgasms. And you know what? That’s okay with me.

    I masturbate side by side with my boyfriend; I use his body as a sex toy, because that gets us both off (in different ways). It’s not distant or disconnected, I assure you. If he ever gets to the point where he wants to/ is able to come, watching him do so will be one of the most hot and intimate experiences of my life. I want to be able to see it all; I don’t want to be distracted by my own orgasm at the time. I like it when he watches me, too.

    In my experience, simultaneous orgasms are unnecessary for “uniquely human” and connected sexual experiences. Yeah, you did say that, but I’m sort of baffled that I’m being told I should attempt to have them. It would just distract me from being present in the moment.

    • Yes. Yes. Definitely the point of my post is to tell you – you specifically, with your specific partner – what you should do in bed.

      Seriously? Seriously? I’m telling you what you should do?

      I give up.

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