A Life, Replotted: Owning the O

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chelsea henderson for wardrobe oxygen

“You gonna come for me?” my date said more than asked, too matter-of-factly as he unceremoniously slid his hand inside my jeans.

“No,” I blurted out, not giving my mind time to volley between honesty and charades. “I’m not.” As the words came out, a jolt of power rushed through my body. Or maybe it was the sudden drop in temperature. I readjusted myself, sitting up a little straighter. I contemplated trying to explain the situation. But the moment I spent searching for words quickly morphed into an uncomfortable silence.

“I have to get up early,” he announced, a ridiculous proclamation given the hour had long since ticked past midnight.

“Okay,” I responded, opening the car door, relieved to be spared sharing the history of my orgasms with someone who didn’t appear interested in putting thought or creativity into the matter.

Here’s the deal. I spent my entire adult life faking orgasms. Well, I can’t entirely call my actions faking because I didn’t realize the big O wasn’t occurring. I had watched my fair share of rom-coms and read too many cheesy, bodice-ripping romances; I just knew something magical happened toward the end of intercourse. And if you were really doing it right, this big bang occurred simultaneously with your partner’s burst of sexual satisfaction.
Naïve? Overachiever? Hopeless romantic? Whatever you label me, I believed real life sex would be the same as idealized fictional sex. But then it wasn’t. So I got good at recognizing in my partner when that moment was poised to arrive and verbally geared up accordingly. Meg Ryan adlibbed that famous scene from the diner in When Harry Met Sally but her acting skills had nothing on mine because I truly thought that this magical thing was about to happen to me. At times I supposed this magical thing was happening and maybe I just didn’t get what distinguished it from the preceding activities.

The truth is I never actually experienced an orgasm until I was 38 years old. When it happened, by accident after “taking matters into my own hands” upon the advice of my gynecologist and best friends, I was overcome with shock. This is what everyone raves about. This is why sex is fun.

Sadly orgasms during sex remain elusive. I can’t explain why, but to this day, I still struggle to reach that sacred point with a partner. Yes, I’ve tried self-manipulation. Yes, I’ve introduced toys into play. Yes, I’ve communicated intimate details of what I like and don’t like. Still, with one exception, I’ve never climaxed during sex or even come with a sexual partner in the room.

But with time, something else did change: I stopped pretending I had.

A (male) friend accused me of being harsh when I gave a definitive no to my most recent date’s inane and premature question. A (female) friend suggested I fake it next time. The common thread to their advice: if I raised the man’s confidence, he would amp up his game. But that equation doesn’t add up. What would giving him a false sense of security do but lead him to believe orgasms come easily to me? I wasn’t about to discount my pleasure potential to make him feel good about himself. I wasted too many years not taking ownership of my body. Lying wouldn’t have been fair to him, but more importantly, I know now that I deserve better.

chelsea hendersonChelsea Henderson is an aspiring novelist and recovering Capitol Hill staffer. When she isn’t sneaking time to finish writing her second book, she advocates on behalf of clean energy and environmental policy, reads, practices yoga, and single parents her perpetually hungry pre-teen boys. She also periodically contributes to her lifestyle blog, the Chelsea Chronicles and is intermittently good at Twitter.


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  1. Thanks for sharing an intimate story.
    I agree, it’s so weird that you don’t know how things can be… Until you experience them.
    This reminds me to be kinder and open to my body (and my partner’s too).

  2. This is a refreshingly honest piece, and it must have taken a lot of guts to share it with the world. I can’t recall ever having read anything else like it. I wonder how many scores of women out there share similar experiences and have never talked about it because we feel that there is something “wrong” with us. Thanks for putting it out there, Chelsea!

    1. Thanks, Ruth! If by sharing this, I can help one woman realize that there is nothing wrong with her, it’s worth it, even knowing that my dad probably read it too…

  3. Hmm…..Not really sure what this has to do with my wardrobe. Kind of annoyed to see this appear in my blog feed today.

  4. What a thing to say to someone, no more dates for that fellow!
    I’m all for self-love, but I don’t think it’s realistic to think that another human is ever going to produce the experience for you that you can produce for yourself — television and literature aside.

    1. That is true – and I hate that society and culture has led many people to believe that is the norm. It’s nice if you can share those moments of pleasure with someone but series like Fifty Shades give the false impression that orgasm is always easy. And plentiful… And NO, no more dates for the jerk.

  5. You’re not alone! I was 40, always enjoyed sex, and figured the pleasure I had, was, you know, THE THING. A bit of machinery opened my eyes, dear Lord. My then boyfriend definitely experienced some “what do you need me for” feelings. Not in a childish or snotty way, but being needed as a person, not a sex machine, maybe was a little uncomfortable at that stage of the relationship? Anyway, thanks for writing – very interesting!

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