Come to­gether

Or­gasm used to be the con­sum­mate goal – the gleam­ing ring af­ter which we all toiled, many of us for years.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - LEAH MCFALL -

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.

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