Some thoughts on coming.
I was one of the last people in my 6th grade class to learn what an orgasm is. I remember the moment: we were in band class — all sitting in little rows handling the instruments that we could barely play — when Arnold, my crush at the time, turned around and asked me if I’d ever had an orgasm.
When I told him that I didn’t know what he was talking about, he and all of the people who were sitting around us started laughing. Naturally, I asked them to explain. Not surprisingly, 12-year old’s aren’t particularly adept at explaining things as complicated as orgasms (not to mention, we were all Gen X’ers who grew up without an internet to access this sort of information).
They made jerking motions and said that if they stroked long enough that it would feel good enough that “stuff” would squirt out of their penises. This whole conversation, as someone without a penis, was really confusing. Was an orgasm something I could have, too? And what would that look like? They didn’t have answers to this, and I didn’t learn for myself until several years later.
When I had this conversation, I had an idea of what sex was, but like most Americans, I was taught about it from a purely procreative perspective. No one ever bothered to tell me about pleasure, and particularly not the intense pleasure of orgasm. Arnold and his friends, though they were a step ahead of me and had figured out how to have an orgasm, couldn’t explain to me what it felt like to have one, what that could look like for me, or why I should bother trying.
This memory surfaced years later when one of my kids asked me what an orgasm felt like and I realized that it is rather hard to explain to someone who has never had one.
Perhaps it is so difficult because orgasms don’t feel like anything else. In response to my recent call on Twitter to describe an orgasm, Gracey pithily responded that they are “orgasmic.” This, at least, is one description that no one can contest.
Fortunately for me, at this point in my life, I am surrounded with people who can speak much more eloquently than Arnold and his friends (after all, I’m a sex worker).
Interestingly, a few people described orgasms in relation to color and light. April Would, for example, said that an orgasm feels like, “Standing on tiptoe on the crest of a rising wave until you fall into Technocolor lighting.” And R.T. Collins commented that orgasms are, “Tingling sensations building to overwhelming sensitivity, before sinking into a mental pink cloud that’s simultaneously warm and refreshing.” Amanda Sweet says, “It feels like my body is opening, like a door, and there is a glowing light on the other side.”
Many others described it in the language of natural occurrences: waves crashing, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Miss Lollipop describes an orgasm as “The crest of the wave then getting pummeled by the surf.” Slutty Eleven takes this a bit further and says, “It’s like the stars and the universe are exploding in my brain and my body is full of chills and tingles.” And Sacred Ed returns to earth with, “If you’ve never felt a tremor from an earthquake or an explosion before, think of an orgasm as an eruption within our loins.”
Perhaps telling is the fact that it is hard to determine where literal ends and metaphor begins in these descriptions; there are few comparable experiences, and orgasms, themselves, vary over time and between people. I encourage everyone to take some time to experience pleasure in whatever way feels right for them today – and every day.
Jessie Sage is a sex worker and writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s also the co-founder of Peepshow Magazine and the co-host of the Peepshow Podcast. Her words can be found in the Washington Post, VICE’s Motherboard, Hustler Magazine, Men’s Health, BuzzFeed, and more. She’s currently writing a book on sex work, motherhood, and illness called An Unexpected Place (forthcoming on West Virginia University Press).