NOTE: This article features sexually explicit and mature content & language.
Writing by Cris Mazza // Image by Zoila Molina
In fifth or sixth grade, I found some crudely produced porn, folded up on the dirt road shoulder where I walked home from school. There were no women in the thumbnail photos, approximately 9 on the page. They were all penises. I believe they were semi-erect, or even recently-erect but semi-flaccid. Even in this phase, these penises were enormous. I think I could barely even stare — perhaps glanced quickly, but over and over and over. I had just recently learned what intercourse was. Now I was facing (even if obliquely) the mammoth objects that were supposed to go inside me. Instantly fear burgeoned. Fear that had already been germinating due to how sex had been described to me on the playground the year before as being “stuck together” butt-to-butt like the silkworm moths in our classroom terrarium. Maybe I’d have been better off seeing real ones on boys my age. Because President Roosevelt was right, fear is the greatest enemy. It can cause reactions more harmful than the object of fear itself. Even when it comes to sex.
Ten secretly-fearful years later, a mentor said to me “Obsessing is like over-cooking an egg. The cell breaks down, corrodes, and gets really ugly.” Oh, yes.
Because there was something else to worry about. From literary sex (this time not represented in photographs) I learned I was missing a “clear burning desire.” Clear … in that sentence it’s not modifying the way the desire is supposed to feel, but that it should have been obvious: obviously there, and obvious what it was. And since it was not only not obvious, but obviously not even there, how did I know I was supposed to be feeling something? From books. Those I read, not those I wrote. Meanwhile, in the 17 books I wrote, I tried to understand, and create, what I was supposed to be feeling and how it was supposed to work.
There are sex scenes in books, published in 2014 by friends of mine, that I’d like to call bullshit. People slide so easily in and out of each other. Men even “fuck women’s brains out” — the cliché still too easily and readily used. And the women feel something and have orgasms doing it. Yet wasn’t Freud’s “vaginal orgasm” itself bullshit? Why do fictional heroines still a) lose their virginity so easily and without anxiety, self-doubt, pain or awkwardness? And b) feel so much during male thrusting? And c) come every time? Truthfully, I can’t read these fictional scenes anymore. They just seem like bullshit. I want every woman who wrote one to sit in a therapy group with me and honestly describe her own sexual experience, so I can gauge her fictional renditions.
Why do women still seem to write the male-centric view of sex? Men so desperately want penis-thrusting to be the ultimate sensation we can experience. This shown to me in one line in a book by a famous male writer, in a novel where he wrote from a female point of view: “She came as soon as he entered her.” What is this, a teenaged boy’s fantasy? All it takes is his penis pushing in and she’ll be in ecstasy. Either that or the author had a lot of women faking it. That’s what I mean by male-centric sex scenes, or penis-centric (or fuck-centric). Women characters who experience so damn much pleasure from the friction of penis-vagina intercourse; it makes me crazy. But this kind of obsessing does no one good, when “the moment is right,” as Cialis says.
But back in girlhood, after the page of penis photos, my next significant (and non-classroom) sex lessons came in high school from The Happy Hooker, a popular pornographic memoir by an infamous madam. (In the 70s, porn was either a movie in a theater or written in prose in a published book, thus the oxymoron adult bookstore.) From The Happy Hooker, I don’t remember anything specific except that, to the author, size mattered, which stirred memories of that page of penises. After that, but before I was brought to a porn theatre — by a friend and her boyfriend — to see Deep Throat, my literary sex education had continued from Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and its sequel How To Save Your Own Life. Without going back to reread now, 30 years later, I do believe (the fictional) Isadora Wing’s orgasms were always clitoral, and seldom achieved during “regular” intercourse. She masturbated like crazy to get herself off, she had a lot to say about some men’s ineptness, she never mentioned pain, but she did not like going down on another woman; she vilified the smell. I’m sure this greatly assisted my own body loathing, although I was by this time at least 20 years old, and had myself never masturbated.
I’ve heard masturbation is essential to a woman being able to orgasm with a partner — “teaching yourself how to feel” without the pressure of needing to please a partner at the same time. There’s a recent article extolling the same message, except in the 2014 version, it doesn’t even include the idea that masturbation is supposed to teach girls how to orgasm, it just says they need to orgasm. Like it’s a given they always will.
If you’re wondering why any of this matters, I’ll tell you. Orgasms are good for you. And masturbation means no partner or drama required. Have a migraine? Masturbate. Feeling stuck creatively? Masturbate. Feeling blue? Masturbate. Can’t sleep? Masturbate. Mired in stress? Low self-esteem? Sex drive in low gear? Chronic pain? Masturbation is good for what ails you.
It’s also good for what doesn’t ail you. It feels good to slowly tease yourself until you can’t take it anymore. It feels good to rub or buzz or pound yourself into a frenzy full-steam ahead. It feels good to get off and it’s empowering to be able to do it for yourself. It’s your equipment. There is absolutely, positively, no reason not to use it.
Which brings me to my point — masturbation is really important. It’s really important for all women and it’s equally important for teenage girls.
It’s vital for them to know their bodies. It’s imperative for them to have a way to relieve stress. But more than anything, it’s paramount that they know they don’t need anyone else to bring them pleasure. They can “take care of business” all by themselves. No risk of pregnancy or disease or slut shaming or anything.
“The Most Important Thing Teen Girls Should Do But Don’t: Masturbate” by Jenny Block
Difficult to argue with any of this, except it didn’t/doesn’t apply to me: I didn’t do it, and not out of shame. I had no desire driving me to do so. It wasn’t something I did simply because my body had/has never asked me to try. And masturbating wouldn’t have alleviated any “need” to seek pleasure with another person because I didn’t have any drive or desire to get it that way either. I never risked pregnancy or disease to get satisfaction because … what was satisfaction? And what was supposed to drive me to get it?
Where was it, that feeling I was supposed to have? That thing called horny that boys obviously had, that some girls claimed to know, and I didn’t? That old cliché about raging hormones … what did it feel like? What had caused it to leave or never materialize?
Perhaps the culprit was fear.
And fear did have another consequence in store for me: Pain. And anorgasmia — the physical inability or continued failure to orgasm. Which wasn’t something I worried about a lot at first, being too consumed by the pain which also led to celibate marriages.
Painful sex and anorgasmia … the latter can be experienced without the former, but really, how could one suffer the pain and not have unqualified anorgasmia?
To regret one has a vagina or own one with distaste and resentment … to wonder what the “ecstasy” and pleasure — pleasure written about in both fiction and memoir, shown in film (or porn), or alluded to by friends — is all about or even begins to feel like … to describe sex in words like friction at its best, or scraping, raw, and searing at its worst. These were initiations into a club no one would ask to join: female sexual dysfunction.
Fear had an unfortunate partner in sending me into sexual dysfunction in the form of an equally unhealthy boy who never kissed me, hardly ever talked to me, we never sat together in a movie or coffee shop, but on the way home from school in his van he pinned my resistant body so he could touch parts of myself I wasn’t advertising or offering. I resisted hard enough to not allow the tussle to lead to intercourse, but not enough to stop him completely, and not enough to only allow it to happen once. There was another message fear was delivering: if you don’t like this, something’s wrong with you, something that will make boys — and then men — not want you. So it was several times a week, for several weeks. Memory mashes it into one category of sweaty anxiety. Considering the prevalence of sexual assault on girls who think as I did, I got off lucky at the time. Instead I paid with my future.
I remained a fearful virgin until I was 24. The fear I stewed myself in was not only aberrant but probably the largest part of the cause for my lifetime dysfunction. I waited to seek professional help until a failing marriage might have been (but wasn’t) saved with (abysmal, it turns out) sex-therapy (which is also not going to a doctor). When I finally got a diagnosis, I found it myself, I don’t remember where, but it was before the internet was available. Now it‘s easy to find: vaginismus. But the syndrome only describes the symptoms without explaining the cause.
It’s easy to theorize that surely the mushrooming fear of intimacy that overwhelmed me in my late teens and early 20s set me up for the involuntary muscle spasms of vaginismus. And once the cycle starts, and a conscious mind is anticipating how much sex hurts, and is going to hurt again, it’s easy to see how each subsequent encounter will result in the same pain. There are physical therapies for vaginismus, but none for the simmering brain that cooked it. My sexual dysfunction could have been prevented by some things I couldn’t control (I couldn’t un-see the porn I accidentally found), and by some I could have controlled (run, and run fast, from that first boy who touched me).
But here’s the best therapy of all: a man who cares more about how you feel than he does about his own pleasure. A man who cares more about your happiness than he cares about how sexy you look or how well you conform to culture’s depiction of a sexy and sex-loving woman. I actually had to go back to my past to find him. He was back there waiting for me. That’s a longer story. I’m not sure I would trade it in, now, for a complete and normal sex life. But that shouldn’t mean a girl can’t have both.
Portions of this essay appeared, in different form, in “In Conversation with Cris Mazza” published in The Nervous Breakdown, June 30, 2014.”[share]