We Make too Big of a Deal Out of the Big O!

Orgasms! They are wonderful things. But contrary to popular belief, they are not the “be all and end all” of sexual intercourse. Really, they aren’t. Or they shouldn't be. Then why do Cabrera and Menard (2013) state “according to the Western sexual script, orgasm for both partners is the ultimate goal of every sexual interaction and the most important marker of normal, healthy sexuality”—what is this all about????

We don’t like anything about this rigid script, especially the word “normal”—there is no such thing! To make things worse, orgasms portrayed by the media are supposed to happen easily, consistently, and quickly. Certainly, if we base our expectation of an orgasm on Fifty Shades of Grey, for example, we would probably be quite disappointed: a virginal Anastasia has her first ever, mind-blowing, black-out-from-so-much-pleasure orgasm from ... nipple stimulation! In the movies, women always appear to orgasm, and these orgasms almost always come about via penile-vaginal intercourse. However, in reality, most women cannot achieve an orgasm via penetration alone; clitoral stimulation is usually needed. In these same movies, men are portrayed as highly skilled, “always ready” sexual beasts who can go all night with their orgasms signalling the end of intercourse. Ah, what has Hollywood done to our sex lives?

These sexual scripts and stereotypes need to be challenged because they create unachievable standards for orgasm and for sex in general. These standards are difficult to achieve for typically functioning individuals, but what are these messages communicating to those with orgasmic disorders? When you are being bombarded with the message that an orgasm is essentially the goal and meaning of sex, what does sex mean when you simply cannot orgasm? Most people will have times when they cannot orgasm for whatever reason (like stress, fatigue, drunkenness, etc.) and some people cannot orgasm at all (due to having a medical condition, or sustaining a serious injury). Is the “sex” they are having meaningless – does it count less because orgasms are not happening consistently, or at all? Absolutely not!!!

According to Breuer (2013), “we need to focus a lot more on the journey rather than the destination. If you’ve had an amazing sexual experience where you and your partner(s) have really focused on sharing as much sexual pleasure as possible, why should it matter if orgasm was reached or not?” The media makes orgasms look like a piece of cake, but in reality, a relatively large portion of the population struggle with orgasm difficulties, be it they take too long (as in the case of orgasmic disorder or delayed ejaculation), they don’t take long enough (as in the case of premature [early] orgasm which is a disorder for males, but certainly some women complain that they orgasm too fast sometimes/often), they don’t have orgasms (for many reasons, some of which are short-term and some of which are longer term), or they don't have them in the “right” way (some people can only orgasm via masturbation and not partnered sex). These difficulties can be very distressing to the individuals who experience them, and the media’s fixation on “good sex = orgasm” perpetuates this distress. Therefore, it is important to talk about unrealistic standards for sex that we may have.

As a society, there are a few things we must become more aware of: (a) Orgasmic disorders are more prevalent than many people may think – because nobody talks about them! (b) Orgasmic disorders can be treated successfully. (c) Orgasmic disorders do not necessarily severely impact a romantic relationship, and dysfunction and dissatisfaction do not always go hand-in-hand. (d) Your level of dysfunction depends on the level of distress you feel in regards to it.

Contrary to the media’s overwhelming emphasis on orgasm as the key to sexual and relationship satisfaction, early research done by Frank, Anderson, and Rubinstein (1978) showed that, although 63% of women reported arousal and orgasmic dysfunction and 40% of men reported erection and ejaculatory dysfunction, 86% of women and 85% of men reported that their sexual relations were moderate to very satisfying. Even more surprisingly, sexual difficulties (not sexual dysfunctions), which were considered to be things like “lack of interest” and “inability to relax”, were more strongly related to sexual dissatisfaction than actual sexual dysfunctions were. The overall message of these researchers was that “it is not the quality of sexual performance but the affective tone of the marriage that determines how most couples perceive the quality of their sexual relations”. A couple dealing with an orgasmic disorder could have a far better sex life than a couple with no sexual dysfunction.

It is important to remember that a sexual “dysfunction” is only a problem to the point that it causes clinically significant levels of distress – if it doesn’t bother you, it’s not a dysfunction. The aforementioned unachievable standards put forth by the media contribute greatly to this distress and perhaps with more information and more realistic portrayals of sex and orgasm, this distress could be alleviated—or even prevented. Those experiencing difficulties with orgasm should know that they are not alone, and that these difficulties do not define their sex life – they do.

Sex is so much more than physiology – it’s about two (or more) people connecting. Those struggling to meet the standards for sex that the media has created should take comfort in the fact that they are not alone and that society has the problem, not them. Don’t get me wrong, orgasms are great and all, but instead of making them the grand finale, they should be viewed as a part of sexual activity, whether they are at the beginning, the end, or somewhere in the middle—if they happen at all.

Amber Hart, BAH student studying Psychology at Queen’s University

(Edited by Caroline Pukall, Ph.D., C.Psych.)


Breuer, R. (2013). Fixation on Orgasm. The Science of Sex. Retrieved from http://www.standardinnovation.com/scienceofsex/fixation-on-orgasm/

Cabrera, C., & Menard, A. D. (2013). "She exploded into a million pieces": a qualitative and quantitative analysis of orgasms in contemporary romance novels. Sexuality and Culture, 17(2), 193+. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs12119-012-9147-0.pdf

Frank, E., Anderson, C., & Rubinstein, D. (1978). Frequency of sexual dysfunction in normal couples. The New England Journal of Medicine. pp 111-115. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM197807202990302