We believe that we were created by God, in His image (or the image of Heavenly Mother, for women). And we believe that our physical bodies are an important part of our eternal progress, a part that will be with us for eternity. As pointed out in an earlier thread, we have strong religious reasons to believe in the sacred nature of our bodies as created. The significance of bodies raises an interesting question: What is the religious reason for the gendered differences in ability to experience orgasm?
Differences in Orgasm Ability
We’ll need a brief descriptive section here, to lay out exactly what I’m talking about. A warning — I’m not going to try to be overly prurient, but I’m also going to be as frank as I think is necessary to establish these points. Also, a caveat — I’m not a sexologist. I’ll be drawing somewhat from my own observations, experience, and reading. Please feel free to point out errors on my part. This is not my area of expertise. (Stop laughing, guys).
So, what are the relevant differences? There are two basic, major differences between male and female sexual experience.
The first is that it is substantially easier for men to experience an orgasm. In fact, it’s remarkably easy for most men (particularly at young adulthood) to experience orgasm. It happens every time a man ejaculates. Unless sex ends prior to ejaculation, it always has a “payoff” for men.
This is not the case for women. Women have differing ability to experience orgasm, but that orgasm does _not_ necessarily occur every time that a woman has sex. In fact, I’ve heard secondhand about women who have been married for years, borne several children, and never had an orgasm. Female orgasm requires more work than male orgasm. Men can enjoy sex that is essentially “thrust, thrust, ejaculate” — the proverbial “quickie.” Many women cannot. Female orgasm requires some amount of clitoral stimulation that simple vaginal sex may or may not provide for a particular woman. In particular, quick sex with little or no foreplay is unlikely to allow the woman to have an orgasm.
The second major difference is that, once aroused, women are able to experience multiple orgasms in relatively quick succession, which is generally not possible for men.
These sexual differences (principally the first) have, throughout history, resulted in a massive imbalance, along gender lines, in the production of sexual pleasure. Female orgasm has not been widely emphasized until recent times. (Indeed, in the majority of the world it is still devalued, and in Africa it’s considered a bad enough thing that forced clitoral removal is the norm).
That is, for most of the thousands of years of the world’s history, male orgasms have been commonplace and female orgasms have been happy accidents or the province of libertines and lesbians. Men have enjoyed their ability to have sex with women and achieve orgasm, and women have been passive participants in the process, forced to tolerate the fact that their bodies were being used to provide pleasure to men, but seldom receiving pleasure themselves.
If one accepts a naturalistic explanation of gender differences, this might make sense. After all, it is not necessary, for gene propagation, that both genders enjoy sex equally. It is only necessary that the stronger gender enjoy sex, and members of that gender will then force sex on the members of the weaker gender because they (the stronger gender) enjoy the process.
Spiritual or Religious Explanation
But as church members, we don’t generally subscribe to the naturalistic model for why gender differences exist. So the question which we face is this: Why did God create these differences in the ability to experience orgasm? Why does God apparently want men to be able to more easily enjoy sex than women?
I don’t have an answer to this. It seems that there are several possible responses to this. I’ll go over a few that come to mind. But I find them all somewhat unsatisfying, and I hope that this discussion can perhaps point me in the direction of a better answer to the question:
1. One possible response is that the question is inappropriate and not deserving of either scrutiny or answer. This position is that people shouldn’t worry about orgasm at all. Sex is to be used for procreation; any pleasure is a mere side effect.
I don’t think that this position is consistent with some (recent-ish) church teachings and discussions, which indicate that sex can be a spiritual experience that can draw a married couple closer together.
2. A second possible response is that women are simply not meant to have as many orgasms as men. There are many possible reasons for this. One possible conceptual reason is that, if women were able to easily achieve orgasm, they might be more tempted to have sex outside of marriage. (That reason doesn’t answer the question of why men are able to easily have orgasms, however). (That is a reason given in Africa for female clitoral removal).
2a. An important possible variation of response number 2 goes along these lines: Women aren’t meant to have orgasms, and modern encouragement of female orgasm is wrong. Female orgasms are an abomination, and (perhaps) are causing the downfall of society. The prior model of male enjoyment and female toleration has worked well for thousands of years, this response would assert. Why try to change it? [*redacted text] We need to tell women to lie down, tolerate a few minutes of sex, and not worry about whether or not they’re getting pleasure from it. Increased emphasis on female orgasm and female ability to enjoy sex is correlated with increased divorce, promiscuity, feminism, and homosexuality.
I disagree with that response, but it is a conceptually coherent statement. The idea that society should return to the sexual mores of centuries past suggests that the female orgasm should be deemphasized or delegitimized.
3. A response that appeals to a progressive or liberal mind might go along these lines: Perhaps the differences are a God-created incentive to force couples (in particular men) to work harder at communicating and strengthening the sexual aspects of their relationship. This response resonates with me. I do believe that as women become more aware of their ability to enjoy sex (and more demanding of their husband) that better marital communication can be the result. And I do believe, as Russell suggested previously, that sex can be about more than simply gratifying one’s own desires, and that when it is about more than personal gratification, it becomes more meaningful.
That said, a progressive ideal of gender differences in orgasm as a prod to foster marital communication seems incredibly out of touch with the reality of history. If it was indeed intended as a prod, it has failed miserably throughout most of human history. Why would God choose to create such an ineffectual prod, resulting in the sexual misery of women for thousands of years, just to benefit a few lucky women who happen to be born at more enlightened places and times?
Those are my initial responses, and I don’t find any of them very satisfactory. I’m at a loss here. As Mormons, we value our bodies highly. We believe that they play a vital role in the Plan of Salvation, and that they will be part of our eternal existence. I think that our theology all but demands a God-given reason for the gender differences in orgasm ability. But I’m at a loss as to what that reason might be. Ideas, anyone?