What happens when a 26-year-old journalist makes a serious effort to research how to have her first orgasm? Mara Altman explains it all in her book, “Thanks for Coming: One Young Woman’s Quest for an Orgasm.” (Harper Perennial).
From sexologists (people who think about and research sexuality) to physicians, her parents and her grandparents, friends, sex partners and assorted orgasm gurus, Altman learns about the mechanics and magic of orgasms, and her willingness to explore every avenue is astounding. She masturbates while in an fMRI machine so scientists can measure her brain waves during sexual arousal, she buys a pulsating purple vibrator, she visits bodyworkers, and she has intimate visits with Eric, whose job consists of unemotionally but exceptionally anticipating and addressing women’s sexual needs.
The crux of Altman’s inability to orgasm is three-fold: she is disgusted by her genitals and refuses to look at or explore them; she assumes her sex partners are equally disgusted by her genitals and therefore limits partners’ access to them; and she expects orgasms to literally earth shattering and is, therefore, a bit overwhelmed by the idea of having one.
As a sexologist and sexuality educator, I know that while the specifics of Altman’s experience are unique to her, the broad strokes, if you will, are experienced by many women. No one tells girls that their labia (inner and outer lips) are supposed to be as unique as fingerprints, each beautiful in their own way. So, like Altman, many women who finally do look closely at their vulvas (all the external sexual anatomy) question why it looks different from the air-brushed vulvas in erotic media. Growing up, girls aren’t told how vaginas are supposed to smell or that the aroma can change during the menstrual cycle. It’s no wonder that many women assume partners will find their vulvas unappealing.
I won’t spoil the ending of the book for you; suffice it to say that Altman surprises herself with the results of her research. “Thanks for Coming” is must reading for women interested in orgasm as well as for their partners who may gain some technical tips.