Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MEG RYAN, YOU BEEN LYIN'! In which I discuss the Performing Seal School of Orgasms

I have always been fascinated by the “Yes, Yes, Yes!” scene in When Harry Met Sally.  You know the one I mean: the 80’s tousled, curly-haired, non-plastically-puckered duckie, Meg Ryan, claims that women can fake an orgasm and no man would ever know; where she, in the middle of the restaurant, throws her head back and exclaims wails of delight for the delectation of Katz’s diner.

It’s a fun scene.  But, you know what, it’s a lie.  A big, fat, cream-cheese-slathered, lox-layered, pumpernickel bagel of a lie, that sets up man and womankind for disappointment.  Man, since he expects his cohorts to warble arias of ecstasy; and we ladies, because we see Ryan’s over-zealous display and wonder… “Are we missing something?”

So, it’s time to eat bagel!  I want to break it down and to discuss why it’s hard for me to swallow.  (No, it’s not because I picked pumpernickel.)  And chaps, since this dating punditry is supposed to be educational, please sharpen your pencil and take note.

Women can orgasm without a murmur.  FACT.  The electrical impulses catapulting across neurones can make us watery-eyed and breathless, perhaps even groan, but most highly-satisfied women don’t NEED to howl and/ or give a running commentary.

Of course, if you look down (or up!) to see your mate gazing out of the window, or perhaps at the TV behind your head, or—Heaven forfend—texting, then chances are, they are not really giving you their all.  But, generally, if you pay attention and listen to them breathing, you’ll know.

So, when a stranger –obviously straight out of Charm School—asked me,

“Hey Cutie,”—yes ‘Cutie!’ The Dicktard alert already started to clang—“are you a moaner or a screamer?” I realized that the When Harry Met Sally or WHMS fallacy had, indeed, been far-reaching.  I also realized that any stranger who would open with such a question was quite, quite deserving of my derision, my filthiest glare, my lean in and my, “You can be assured that you will never know, Dicktard.”  (I held my glass of wine close; it really was far too good to waste on him.)

So, in search of the truth, and eager to right the wrongs of the relationshipworld, I conducted sophisticated and scientifically insignificant research!  Namely, I polled my girlfriends!  It was quite the Pandora's Box.

I selected at random, a panel of ten 30-42 year old professionals, some in committed relationships, some dating, some committed to the asylum.  I asked the following:

1)      When having an orgasm—A REAL orgasm—do you: stonewall/breath loudly/ murmur appreciatively/exclaim at the important bits/exclaim throughout/wail like a Banshee? Honey and lemon for you, m’lady!

2)      On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being Martha Mute and 10 being Wailing Wendy, and you can’t pick 5, how loud do you think you are?

3)      When a chap asks for verbal instructions—I know, typical!  The one time you don’t want a guy to ask for directions!—do you: enjoy giving full colourful commentary as to when, where, how and how much, using expletives, adjectives and maybe even an ode to his Trouser Truncheon?; or, do you cringe, inwardly die a bit, and proceed with the Marcel Marceau guide; or, do you flame with embarrassment, swallow your tongue, eye-bulge in manner of a rutting deer caught misguidedly following lunar inclination to the median of I-81, because he should be able to tell what you like; like he should your coffee (strong, but milky), or what type of pasta you like, (angel hair, regardless of the sauce) and engagement rings, (cushion cut emerald, F.Y.I).

I put the survey to the panel, worried about asking friends such personal questions, and then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  It seems ladies, unsurprising, don’t holler out about their personal mating habits.  Other than the fact, “yes, I’m getting fucked. Quite regularly as it happens,” we don’t really discuss the nitty gritty.  “You are?  That’s wonderful!  Is it good?  Are you happy?” is really about as far as we go, in spite of what Sex And The City would have you believe.  But some brave ladies did come forward and results were recorded. 

Oh please bludgeon me.
Okay, so a bit of laundry here.  I am not a performing seal.  I was, once, for a children’s theatre company.  It was generally humiliating and demeaning.  I wore a seal costume, a pink tutu and bounced balls off my head, whilst “arfing” and clapping my fins together.

This is what I think of when women do the WHMS Performing Seal School of Orgasms.  And I think that this is what men have come to expect: a raise-the-roof, volley of superlatives, squeals, shrieks and general displays of delirium, but what say the panel...

The consensus was that there was no consensus!   In fact, in spite of giving multiple choice answers, the women who polled wrote their own!  Which just goes to show what complex creatures we are. Some are quiet, the lowest vocal score being 3, and some are vocal, the top score being a 9 out of 10 on the audio cues; but, the amplitude can be subject and situation specific.  For instance, if the kiddos are tucked in bed it’s going to be more of Marcel Marceau kind of evening; a tent in the woods surrounded by festival goers, likewise; a well-insulated chalet  in the Alps, with roaring fireplaces, fur rugs and cheese fondue avec l'homme dans les reves, it’s safe for wild abandon. 

Often it comes down to comfort level.  The greater the comfort, the louder the display.  (And by comfort, I mean trust, familiarity and connection.  Okay, the Southern kind can come into it too!)  However, even the shyer Lesser Vocalists stated their quietness was not dissatisfaction.  Au contraire, it was a sign of them concentrating, clenching their muscles, trembling, surfing waves of delight.  “When I am close, I can’t actually say a thing, my brain isn’t in that place, I just have to remember to keep breathing.”
Getting some tips. Yes, I know, it's a sea lion. Same difference.

Being a Biologist-actress-writer, I need to understand the wailing seals more clearly.  My brain wanders to the evolutionary significance; the actress ponders, “What’s my motivation here?”  Are the squeals a manifestation of frustrated teenage cheerleading pyramid dreams?  Are they genuinely the sounds that bubble from the pit of one’s pleasure-making factories to aid reproduction in some way?  Is it all a show to encourage the mate, so the whole process will be quickly dispatched in time for tea and a cookie and the results of Dancing With The Stars?  OR, is it just an attention-grabbing advertisement to inform anyone with hearing that yes, you are having sex, that, bully-for-you, someone finds you desirable.  Is there some sexual selection advantage garnered by advertising desirability?  I suppose so, but then surely that would make virgins undesirable and that’s clearly a crock-of-shit. 

I’ve only had my own experiences, and my Hollywood brainwashing to compare before, but from the Panel's feedback--and they had a lot to say on the subject, ironically--in bed, full sentences and coherent words are a ph-allacy; loud gasps, breathing and random, incoherent words, that’s the sweet spot.

Do animals have orgasms?  Dolphin, Bonobos and Homo Sapiens have sex recreationally.  I don’t mean in parks—although, wait, they do have sex in parks, well, not dolphins, unless you count Sea World—but I mean for fun, not necessarily for procreation.  I wonder, does Flipper make those weirdy little clicks as she comes?

I remember visiting the Animal Kingdom at Disney when I was about 14.  I watched amazed to see two giant turtles getting jiggy with it and them being so vocal in the process.  The groans went on for ages and climaxed to quite the crescendo of turtle tantra.  At that age, the concept of sex was fascinating to me—I’d seen Dirty Dancing and Top Gun; I was quite, quite in love with the England Rugby team and certain that I would, someday, meet and marry my hero, the 6ft 6 Gargantuan, Tim Rodber.  (Erm, I did meet him, in fact, but the whole marriage proposal thing flew off the table I believe when, giddy with excitement and chardonnay, I vomited over my shoes and his somewhere in Fulham.) 

I went to a girls’ school—a school sans boys!—so rainy breaks would often be spent, wide-eyed as we read passages from Jilly Cooper’s Riders or Polo, smuggled in from someone’s mum’s bookshelf.  We salivated over the Bastardly "Rupert Campbell Black" and hoped, someday, we would meet our own RCB and then this new magical world would be revealed to us: one that would set off fireworks, rocket launchers, that would blast us into the sensation stratosphere.  I had high hopes that future me would actually be desirable, that I might—oh please, dear God make it so—fill a bra, and that I would be fabulous at this strange, sweaty, tangle of limbs.

And I hoped that when this new adult pleasuredome opened to me, that it would be with someone who knew what they were doing.  Maybe this is my true blue repressed Brit bit rearing its prudish head, but “No thank you!  I don’t not want to tell you what to do, and I most certainly do not want to ‘talk dirty to you.’”  It’s scary and exposing, and quite frankly, the idea of conjuring amusing adjectives and analogies is my idea of awkward and embarrassing.

But, as the Panel pointed out, I should make a distinction between “giving helpful instruction—otherwise you could be waiting around all day and really that helps no one,” and “making a porno.”  It seems the Panel encourage instruction-- if the poor guy is too dumb to pick up on your breathing/gasping/writhing cues—but it should be done after the fun and games.  Perhaps during pillow talk. 

Am imagining a little post performance review here, like giving acting notes, “Well, George, I love that thing you did with your tongue, but just as I was starting to really get into the groove, you kept changing it up.  Not cool, George, not cool.  This only leaves both of us frustrated.  If you really want me to be Mrs Clooney, I definitely need more tongue and patience.”  Helpful advice, surely saving time and effort.   

A panelist, let’s call her “Rodericka,” answered that she finds men who ask for instructions during sex “EXTREMELY ANNOYING!  Unless,” she added, “he has had an epic fail and then you have to do something to rescue the situation and raise his spirits.  But ONLY in emergencies.  When absolutely necessary.”

“Now, as for ‘dirty talk’ if he wants to express his appreciation, then that can be nice.  As long as it is well worded.”  No pressure, guys.  Another fabulous female wrote “sex should be dirty, but it doesn’t have to be theatrical and certainly not pornographic.  I'm also not willing to coo and purr and name things that already have names.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Cringeville. 

Most of my girlfriends know the words to “Talk Dirty To Me” and can sing the song with gusto after a shotski or two, but really, when it comes down to it, the majority say, "please don’t."  A simple whispered “I love you,” is all most need to seal the deal.

So, you might be thinking, “wow, the Brit’s are really stiff” (or not, as the case may be,) but when confronted with Drunky McCharming’s question it really annoyed me that a) he deigned to ask me and b) that he was assuming I would act in a certain way.  My little scientific survey proved, if not statistically, that women do react differently, and, just to complicate matters, we react differently with the same person in a different situation, at different times of the month.  We don’t all toss our heads back and cry, “Yes, YES, YES!” But you never know when we might howl at the moon.   


  1. I think you're safely ensconced on the more liberal side of stiff-assed Britishness. Myself on the other hand... well, I couldn't read 90% of this post because I have an innate censory system that redacts saucy visual information as it travels between my eyes and brain.

    I could grasp only sufficient gist of your essential thesis as to extend this likely relevant scientific study for your perusal. According to Teh Science, all that sound and fury from the screamers signifies little about there own pleasure so much as a will for their significant other to hurry up and have done with it.

    Can't say it would be my cuppa. The only talking I tolerate during that sort of business is a polite request for assistance on a particularly troubling clue in the Times crossword, which, as a gentleman, I would most certainly oblige.

  2. ACKSUALLLY DKS there does seem to be an evolutionary reasoning for the performing seal school of orgasm! It's TWUE!
    I read this v interesting piece. Here are some soundbites:
    "The observation that women tend to reach orgasm more easily when they are ovulating suggests that it is tied to increasing fertility."
    "Evolutionary biologist Robin Baker argues in "Sperm Wars" that occurrence and timing of orgasms are all a part of the female body's unconscious strategy to collect and retain sperm from more evolutionarily fit men. An orgasm during intercourse functions as a bypass button to a woman's natural cervical filter against sperm and pathogens."
    Who knew?!

  3. Here's the whole piece:

    ENJOY! Arf! Arf!