When Daisy M. was a teenager, she remembers watching television and movies where the heroine would lose her virginity to the cute, nerdy underdog. “She would be passionately making out with a cute guy and then all of a sudden she would be in bed saying how great the sex was-— and her bra was always still on,” Daisy recalls, chuckling. “They were just supposed to naturally have an orgasm, right? Together! At the same time! But obviously, that’s rarely the case, and it’s not really talked about.” Daisy has struggled with pleasure for as long as she can remember, but recently went on a personal quest to orgasm— for the very first time. “I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with pleasure, or is looking to understand themselves better sexually,” Daisy said to me over the phone on her evening walk around her neighborhood. “That’s why I want to talk about my experience, and hopefully encourage others who have struggled, too.”
Do you remember your earliest connection to the word or idea of an orgasm?
I thought hard about this, and truthfully, I can’t really remember, and I think that shows what little education I had on the subject. Despite being very close with my parents, I grew up in a Catholic household where sex wasn’t ever discussed, and I don’t remember talking about it until high school, where we didn’t really learn anything besides putting on a condom, really. I didn’t really start to think about the female orgasm until college, when I had friends talk about it often and pretty casually. At the time, I still associated having an orgasm with men. I didn’t really think of it as being connected to my own pleasure.
When you started talking with your college friends, did you experience an aha! moment in regards to your own pleasure?
I didn’t have one big aha! moment, but as I felt more comfortable being vulnerable with my friends, and listening to their own experiences of pleasure, I had this quiet, steady realization that there was more to pleasure than I was experiencing. I was like, “Wait, there’s so much more to this! I’ve just scratched the surface.” I feel like I played along because I didn’t want to seem naive. I was suddenly in a world where everyone was hooking up all the time and seemed really sexually liberated, and I was struggling with the idea of losing my virginity to my boyfriend, and even masturbation. When it came to sex and pleasure, I just felt totally stuck and suffocated by shame.
When were you able to start recognizing your shame? Who did you turn to?
The first time I openly acknowledged that sex was something I felt shame about and wanted to understand better was with a therapist. I remember I kept circling around the subject without actually saying it, and I remembering getting to a point where I just said, “Okay, fuck it,” and freed myself of carrying this secret, and it felt really, really good.
The show Girls was also pretty revelatory to me. These women were just a few years older than me, and the way they talked about pleasure and sex so openly was so eye-opening. Again, it helped change my perspective on what pleasure is; I had always subconsciously been thinking about my partner's pleasure before my own. My partners would ask me: “What makes you feel good?” and I would respond that I didn’t know, because I really didn’t! I hadn’t explored it! I started feeling less shame and more like I was waking up. I remember thinking, “There is nothing wrong me. I’m a sexual person, and I wanna figure this out.”
What resources did you use on your journey to claim your pleasure?
My therapist started recommending books, podcasts, articles, and other resources. She recommended female-focused porn sites, but I’ve come to the conclusion that porn isn’t my thing, and that’s okay! Whenever I try to watch it, I start worrying about their health and working conditions, and it stops me from enjoying it. So I started listening to an erotic storytelling app, which I really enjoy-— I realized audio fits my needs better than visual stimulation.
Another big step was realizing I needed a good sex toy. I had a vibrator that I bought a long time ago, but realized I needed an upgrade tailored to my needs. I felt comfortable enough to talk about my vibrator hunt with close friends, and someone suggested their own-— so I bought it and I love it!
I also watched an episode of Goop Lab on Netflix that centers around female pleasure, and I highly recommend it. They interview the first famous sex therapist, Betty Dodson, and one of her associates actually orgasms on camera. Watching this 90-year-old woman talk about orgasming in such a matter-of-fact, shameless way, made me feel better. Suddenly, orgasming didn’t feel as insurmountable. Listening to a group of women discussing orgasming and the path to finding female pleasure reminded me “oh yeah, we’re all figuring this out together.”
Now it’s time for the moment of truth (drumroll please). Recently, you did experience your first orgasm! How does that feel?
It felt really triumphant! I finally felt like I could say that I know my body, and know it is capable of experiencing pleasure. Not being able to do something that was so deeply human was sad and frustrating to me for so long, and I felt like I was missing out on such a beautiful thing. So once it happened, I felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief. For so long, my idea of pleasure was wrapped around the idea that someone else had to do it for me. And then, when I was having sex, I would get frustrated that my partner could cum but I could not, and that only made me more anxious and frustrated. It was a cycle. When I orgasmed for the first time, I was alone. It was just me. I was able to bring myself to a place of pure pleasure, and that’s so gratifying. And then I called my best friend, and she was happy for me!
You mentioned earlier that you never discussed sex with your family, despite being very close with your mom. Has that changed throughout this journey?
I’m curious to know what sex means to my mother, but I don’t think this is a topic I will likely bridge with her anytime soon, if ever, and I’m okay with that. I do remember telling her when I was planning to lose my virginity, because I was scared and needed guidance, and that was the first time she admitted to me that she had sex with someone before my dad. She had previously implied that she had only ever been intimate with him, so I appreciated her sharing that with me. But in terms of my virginity, we talked about contraception and the pill, never pleasure, and I feel like that’s common. However, I think we need to make room to discuss pleasure, even if it’s awkward. I do not want my daughter to struggle with pleasure until she’s close to 30 years old. I do think about the generational gap a lot— and I don't know, I think my moms traditional views of sex were so subconsciously ingrained. Therapy has helped me figure a lot of this out (laughs).
What advice would you give to someone who is struggling to connect to their own pleasure?
First: don't be afraid to talk about this with people that you really trust. You'd be surprised what type of insight you can receive! Once I could talk about it out loud, I felt empowered and reaching orgasm felt less intimidating and shameful. I would also try exploring alternative avenues to pleasure. As I said before, porn isn’t my thing, but I really enjoy erotic fantasy through storytelling. Yoga has been helpful in understanding the connection between my mind and body. The breathing exercises I’ve learned have helped me stay calm and present when I’m having sex or masturbating— it helps me from getting impatient, frustrated, or stressed that I haven’t orgasmed yet.
Also, believe in yourself. Believe others who say you can do it. Laugh when you feel like laughing. Seriously! It helps!
And—this is very important— get a good sex toy.