The Elusive Orgasm: Book Review

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By Aleks Trkulja

In 2007, Dr Vivienne Cass wrote an informative book enlightening women on the mystery of orgasms. Its conversational tone provides clarity on the understanding and influences on female orgasms. Dr Cass highlights important information on female orgasm:

  1. How underestimated the Clitoris is.
  2. The five types of orgasm problems women experience.
  3. The causes of orgasm problems.
  4. Self-awareness via quizzes and questionnaires following the causes, which allow the reader to explore how relative these might be.
  5. Thorough breakdown of sexual and non-sexual changes that can be applied to help create change with ones sexual satisfaction.

The book is primarily based on Dr. Cass’ 20 years of research experience on female orgasm and does not target a specific age groups or generations.  She takes care not to categorise or pathologise women with non-existent, dissipating, or specifically triggered orgasms. Dr Cass recognises that every individual experiences arousal differently.

The literary style is not highly theoretical or intimidating. It speaks to the reader like a passionate, and well-educated friend. Dr. Cass brings to light some incredibly simple yet influential issues affecting female orgasm.

One concept that struck me most was the importance of arousal. A common misconception is that both men and women’s sexual arousal is similar. Tanya Koens recently wrote an insightful blog, Sex: What's the Rush? on the importance of female sexual arousal. She explains;

Think of female sexual arousal as like a pot of water on the stove that needs a flame underneath it to bring it up to the boil.  Male sexual energy is that flame.  They can arouse quickly and burn bright and it’s this energy that helps females get to their arousal.’

Although a quickie is enjoyed by some every once in a while, most women appreciate and need the time to work up to an orgasm. This dedicated time increases our sexual energy and connection to our partner.

Especially amongst younger sexually active people, the gap between orgasms is still large. Author of The Orgasm Gap, Lisa Wade observes that:

For one, we often bifurcate the sexual experience in line with gender norms: men are sexual (they experience desire) and women are sexy (they inspire desire). The focus on men’s internal wants and sensations also draws our attention to his satisfaction. Thus his orgasm, but not necessarily hers, becomes a critical part of what must happen for a sexual encounter to be successful and fulfilling.’

 Dr Cass addresses these gender issues by acknowledging the bias between a man and women both confident in their sexuality, but women are shamed with words like ‘slut’, whereas men are praised. She suggests shame and guilt can affect female sexual arousal.

On the the opposite end of this, knowing exactly what makes one's body happy is the first step in reaching orgasm. It is a lost cause going into a sexual relationship with someone expecting them to understand exactly what to do without knowing yourself, and then communicating it. This book encourages a cognitive-behavioural approach in understanding yourself physically and mentally.

Each chapter encourages the female reader to acknowledge that their arousal is within their power and responsibility. One's expanding knowledge of their own body initiates an empowering process of understanding and increasing female sexual arousal.

Dr. Cass’ focus on arousal is followed by suggestions of external (or internal) triggers on a spectrum ranging from every day stress and anxiety, to sexual abuse or medical conditions (medication/vulvodynia). These causes are followed by questionnaires and quizzes that allow the reader to tailor their personal experience to these ideas.

Not only does Dr Cass’ book inform the everyday woman about her potentially expansive sexual arousal, but helps health professionals understand that sexual arousal is unique to the individual, and that their upbringing, religion, culture relationships and education all affect their sex lives.