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The finger that changed my life

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JUNE 14, 2022

All it took was one single finger to change my life.

Specifically, this finger was awkwardly stabbing at my vulva, an attempt at pleasure that was far from it. The finger belonged to a man who — despite my insistence that I appreciated the effort but I was not going to orgasm so could we please move on — was determined in his campaign to make me come. 

“No,” he said. “I can tell you’re almost about to come, just let me keep going.” 

I had told him earlier that I wasn’t a fan of fingering in the past, but he seemed to have decided that his finger would be different. I just explicitly told you I’m not going to orgasm, I thought. Why on earth would you think otherwise?

He was not the first man I’ve experienced this issue with, nor was it the first time I’ve encountered this belief that my male partner knows my body better than I do. I’ll tell my partner I don’t like something, and they’ll tell me I’m wrong. This belief — that sex with them is different, that they’re special, that I’ll like whatever it is that they want and I don’t — has been prevalent with almost every man I’ve slept with.

It’s a phenomenon I never understood. I couldn’t wrap my head around why my partners couldn’t do for me what I would do for them. I don’t argue with you and tell you what you actually like in bed, I’d think. Why couldn’t my explicitly vocalized desires be taken at face-value?

After one unorgasmic finger stab too many, I was haunted by the realization that I had spent years of my life having unsatisfying sex. It was clearly necessary to make a drastic change. 

Thinking that it might give me a sense of authority in my sexual encounters, I applied to a certificate program in sexuality education. I reasoned that if I was certified to teach people about sex, then maybe, just maybe, men might actually listen when I tried to teach them what I liked during sex.

The program accepted me, and so began my career as a sex educator, along with my journey toward pleasurable sex.

I found a new sense of confidence when it came to sex. I had already known what I liked and disliked in bed, but all of a sudden, I felt capable of articulating — and defending — my desires in a way I never had before. 

Where did this confidence come from?

A lot of it boiled down to one simple thing: validation. I spent countless hours reading research about sex, and a lot of what I read focused on the orgasm gap. Finally, I thought. I’m reading peer-reviewed journal articles that are actually relevant to real life.

What I read was what I already knew: Cisgender women who have sex with cisgender men often have less orgasms and experience less pleasure during sex than their partners. The research echoed my own experiences, and I suddenly felt less alone. 

While it wasn’t cheerful to read about the bad sex other women were also having, it gave me the revelation that the lack of pleasure I had during sex wasn’t personal — it was systematic, entwined in our society’s sexual script that has historically prioritized cisgender men.

Armed with this knowledge, I started talking about sex extensively with potential partners, long before we got into bed. I spoke loudly about the orgasm gap and my own experiences with it. I talked about what could be done to solve this issue, voicing my opinions on what would work for both society and for myself.

By the time we got naked, it was established that I knew what I was talking about and that I knew what I wanted.

In doing this, I also made it clear that I wanted to have sex that prioritized my pleasure. If they showed any red flags, any indication that they were going to be selfish in bed, I cut my losses then and there. 

And it worked. Partners started to treat me differently. The change was simple: Most of them listened, without argument, when I told them what I wanted in bed. It made sex easy, in a way it never had been before. 

If I told someone I wanted to add a vibrator during sex, they would enthusiastically agree, no longer trying to convince me that their penis alone would be enough to make me come. A partner would mention they were into anal, and there’d be a refreshing lack of argument when I politely stated my preference otherwise. I felt like I was finally treated as an equal in bed, like sex was a collaboration instead of something they were doing to me.

Eventually, I ended up in another uncomfortable fingering situation. 

Except this time was different than all the others. When I told my partner his fingers weren’t quite doing it for me, he listened. He asked what I wanted, and when I told him, he did exactly that.

And while his finger didn’t make me come, the simple act of listening — of letting me be the expert when it came to my own body — well, that did. 

Rachel Musselwhite writes the Tuesday column on sex. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter
LAST UPDATED

JUNE 16, 2022


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