Orgasm used to be the consummate goal – the gleaming ring after which we all toiled, many of us for years.
Can we talk about orgasms? On a Sunday?
I expect we’re at the point where we can, and the day of the week doesn’t matter. We’re at this point because our culture is probably post-orgasm: it’s faded as a key signifier of success. I mean, when was the last time anyone called it the Big O?
Orgasm used to be the consummate goal – the gleaming ring after which we all toiled, many of us for years. Our quest led us into crummy clubs and through dull dinner dates, costing us a fortune in mouthwash and laser hair removal. Sometimes the ring was worth the pursuit and sometimes it was a cheap imitation and a bad fit, but still, we quested.
Because orgasm was considered important to secure, yet remained elusive, it used to be everywhere. It sold us hairdryers (not only did the models writhe with ecstasy during the blow-dry, they finished up with “I-just-had-one” hair at the end). It sold us chocolate bars (“lick this and you won’t be sorry!”). It sold us cars and stick deodorant.
Meanwhile, movie stars kept having them. They had them smooshed up against bookshelves, folded frontwards over furniture, or gymnastically in bed. In the 90s we watched more orgasms than we had, and everyone else’s orgasms felt better than ours.
But now? The orgasm just seems less of a big deal. It’s become almost naive to want one in the first place. It signifies nothing more than a nice-to-have, a bit like a four-burner barbecue. We seem rather blithe about this, as if we’ve accepted that every party eventually comes to a finish. The climax has left the building, and we paid for its cab.
I know what you’re thinking. Well, she would say that, wouldn’t she? For one thing, she lives in Karori.
I appreciate your point. It’s not just Karori, either, but any suburb with a service station, a supermarket, and maybe a Subway. Anyone who says to you:
“It’s so easy living here because it’s so well-serviced,” actually means: “I will never have stand-up sex again.”
I’m sure a bit of it has to do with not seeing as many ads any more. If you don’t watch network TV, it’s easy
to avoid the sexy products which, for all I know, are still glistening with ripe possibility.
But only this morning I stopped at an intersection not far from the Beehive and watched two blokes in fluorescent vests unfurling a billboard on the side of a building. It was a gigantic close-up of a woman eating icecream.
Not long ago, you could have banked on the cone being reliably phallic, and the model eating it with suggestive intent. Today, she looked like she hasn’t thought about
good sex in years. She was gobbling the icecream for her own darned reasons: you might even say her gusto was unattractive. That’s what the contemporary orgasm is dealing with: the woke household shopper.
In 1989, the orgasm was all anyone could talk about. More specifically, the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. I’m not even sure I’d heard the word said aloud before Meg Ryan, as Sally, faked one in a New York deli to prove a point to Harry.
Harry is neurotic but there’s one thing he’s sure of, and that’s how good he is at sex. There’s no way any lover has ever faked it with him. Sally, in what women
“Our quest led us into crummy clubs and through dull dinner dates, costing us a fortune in laser hair removal.”
everywhere fondly remember as a feminist act, pulls off such an extravagant, convincing climax that she finally renders him speechless. Harry, who talks like a two-stroke throughout the whole movie, and for the most part about himself.
For 20 years I loved that scene like any other woman who likes to think she’s in control of her own sexual destiny. But then I watched the bonus feature.
It turns out that even though faking the orgasm in public was Meg Ryan’s idea, her comic interpretation of a good time wasn’t good enough. After a disappointing early take, director Rob Reiner impatiently took her place and showed her how to amp it up. “Yes! Yes!” he apparently shouted, repeatedly thumping the table. Filming resumed, and she did it his way. So, the most famous female orgasm in movie history was mansplained to the actress by a beardy, tubby older man. How anti-climactic is that?
Women’s desire has changed, and the Big O didn’t like it. I hope to see it again one day, framed differently. And, when it does reappear, maybe we’ll all come together.