Shortbus and Orgasms

I watched Shortbus for the umpteenth time tonight, because I felt a little contemplative and lonely and it was just a Shortbus night in general. I consider it my favourite film, something I’ve even filled out on forms or surveys that ask you that question. I love Shortbus because it looks beautiful and feels beautiful, and its sex-positivism makes me feel comfortable and at peace with the general idea. The main characters tend to start out disconnected from each other; they’re having a lot of sex but there are problems, largely emotional ones. Then the whole film is about finding each other and making those connections. It’s about sex. It’s about New York. It’s about love. It’s about the modern world. It’s about coming to terms with yourself. It’s great.

I’ll talk in spoiler-ish terms below the “read more” whatsit, so continue if you don’t mind that.

In particular, I identify with Sofia, one of the protagonists, whose key plot point is that she cannot have an orgasm. The second time I watched Shortbus (after I’d gotten the first “big picture” impression of it), I watched really carefully for what Sofia did. She talks to a crew of queer women in the Shortbus club, who are shocked and sympathetic. They suggest she do what I believe are Kegel exercises, and I know I’ve sat on the toilet and tried controlling my peeing muscles in imitation. She talks to a professional dominatrix named, ironically, Severin (Severin is the submissive male protagonist of Leopold Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs; if you hadn’t guessed, Sacher-Masoch is where the term “masochist” comes from), who tries to help Sofia expand her inner sexual self in exchange for Sofia counseling Severin about her inability to have a real relationship that’s not limited to her clients. She tries to connect with her husband, but he’s jacking off to what appears to be kinky porn and he eventually hires Severin — Sofia doesn’t seem too interested in that side of things, and she needs to figure herself out before she can cement her relationship with her husband.

So I’ve tried. I don’t know any prodoms who can counsel me, though god knows my queer friends have been very helpful. I’ve tried the Kegel exercises; I don’t have a vibrator but I’ve done my best with my hand and the showerhead, porn and fantasy and all that emotional shit. All I can think is, I don’t have it as bad as Sofia because I’m young and I don’t have a husband for whom I’m faking my orgasms.

It’s left ambiguous, but my interpretation of the end of the film is that Sofia does have an orgasm. At the Shortbus club, while the power is out and there are candles everywhere, she finds a couple (who I think are completely beautiful; the woman is gorgeous) who begin to make out with her, and then there are various things going on with them. Then Sofia gets this kind of “orgasm face” and the shot fades out and all the lights in New York City come rushing back on. I think this is her mental blockage being cleared and her newfound ability to have an orgasm.

But clearly it doesn’t take a power outage in Manhattan and a threesome in a sex club, so what’s wrong with me? All my friends can do it. They don’t have what I have, what Sofia describes as “a mental blockage between my brain and my clitoris”. Obviously I’ve got a lot of repression going here. I don’t want to touch my vulval region — I think if I just didn’t have a desire to, that would be okay, but I think that most of the reason I don’t have a desire to is because it feels like that’s something you’re “not supposed” to do. It feels wrong to. It feels unclean. Then my hands smell funny and everything’s so sensitive down there I don’t want to hurt anything and I only looked at my vulva in a mirror once; I’ve never even put in a tampon; I don’t have a clear sense of what’s what. I’m scared of my body.

I had this rationalization theory for a good while that one of the reasons I wasn’t getting along with masturbation is because of my submissiveness, that it felt weird to me because of that to be pleasuring myself. I don’t know if that makes any sense, and on the other hand I don’t think it’s true anyway. I think it’s just plain and simple repression, which is more or less what Sofia goes through. She’s worried about pleasing her husband, and she’s kinda uptight, and for all their spiritual jargon she has a lot of difference from herself and from her husband. She is too invested in other people and not enough in herself. Is that my problem? I don’t know. I really have no fucking clue.

I realized early on in this little “journey” that it was going to be problematic, and maybe impossible, to have a proper physical relationship with anyone else unless I could touch myself and feel comfortable with my body on my own account. I’m worried about that, because I want very much indeed to have such a physical relationship (not, of course, that this is at all on the horizon) and I want to be touched by someone else, who I am comfortable with and trust, and maybe even love. But you have to love yourself first; you have to be comfortable with and trust yourself first. Do I not trust myself?

Every once in a while a friend will ask me, “How’s the big O coming?” I’ve kinda stopped making any sort of progress, though. I came to the conclusion that for the present, work and non-sexual fun were more important things to focus on. But I dunno. I hadn’t watched Shortbus in a while, and doing so tonight reminded me how wonderful physical connection is, I think. It made me feel really fucking wistful for what I don’t have, and reminded me of the things I decided I need to do to make that more possible.

I just have no. fucking. clue. how to proceed.


2 Responses to “Shortbus and Orgasms”

  1. The first thing you need to do, if you can, is take a step back and relax. Stress does not make the finding of the orgasm easier. Orgasms are great for stress, but much more difficult to acquire when you’re tense in a bad way. In general, I’ve found that the more I’m stressing out about wanting to have an orgasm (in any situation) the less likely I am to have one. And then I start to feel like an orgasm failure and… there goes any chance of one showing up at all.

    Second, you need to know that it’s extraordinarily unlikely that you’re going to hurt anything by masturbating. You’d pretty much have to actually be trying to injure yourself to do so (or masturbating with a Dangerous Object such as a knife).

    Third, if you don’t like the way your hands smell after touching yourself, try wearing latex gloves (I’ve done this) or touching yourself with an easy to clean object (if you use a pen, make sure to not use the writing end or you will draw on yourself. Sadly I am speaking from experience here)

    But most importantly, the thing you have to know is this…

    You are PERFECTLY NORMAL. There are a lot of women out there who have never had an orgasm (I could look up the stats for you if you’d like, but I don’t have them at hand), lots of women who are uncomfortable touching themselves, etc. You need to proceed at a pace at which you feel comfortable, and not let your friends (or yourself!) put any pressure on you.

    Good luck!

    Also, vibrators are pretty awesome and can be acquired relatively cheaply from various websites (the one I review for is nice because it has reviews, and they’re pretty honest. They also ship in boxes labeled “Atlantic Innovations” so no one needs to know what you’ve ordered). It’s certainly possible to have an orgasm without one, but trying one may make things easier, or not (they don’t solve the discomfort with being touched problem, which really can’t be helping you in your quest :) )


  2. Thanks so much for all that advice, Rona.

    I am perfectly normal. *repeats to self*

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