At 29, I had given up on ever having an orgasm. I’d tried everything – female ejaculation workshops, tantric massage, deep and meaningfuls with my besties – until a desperate search through Reddit led to self-diagnosing myself with anorgasmia. To save you the Wikipedia visit, anorgasmia is where a person cannot achieve orgasm despite 'adequate stimulation' (warning: it only gets sexier from here).
I used to pride myself on being a good-time girl. Audaciously confident in my standup comedy career, smashing taboos in my award-nominated Edinburgh shows and shaking off the shackles of an eating disorder which had plagued my late teens and early 20s. Bold. Brazen. Brave. So why the flip couldn’t I come? As 30 rolled around the corner, I decided to make a comedy show about my orgasmic blockage. Dressed as a sperm. Natch.
The logic went like this: my fear that my partner wouldn’t come because I wasn’t coming had become such a barrier against me ever coming that I decided to become…cum. Like most jokes, that one works better spoken, at speed, by a woman dressed as a sperm. The sperm suit became like a suit of armour. It allowed me to ask the audience probing questions about sex: why they had it, what they really enjoyed about it and, crucially, exactly what it felt like when they orgasmed.
I’ll never forget the orgasm descriptions I got in return. "Like a unicorn riding across your entire body as you explode in fireworks of joy!" "Like eating eight mangos at once!" "Like when you fall asleep on your arm, and you wake up, and you’ve got really bad pins and needles, then as the feeling returns there’s this burning, painful, pleasure sensation that you can’t shake off!"
Gloriously abstract, ambiguous and individual. These answers helped me realise that I'd been trying so hard to get sex right, I’d totally lost contact with what felt good. I'd lost the ability to feel the tiny flickers of sensation my body was sending through to my fear-frozen brain. I needed to get back to basics. And to stop trying so hard.
It turned out that all my attempts at radical reconnection with my body (and trust me, there were many: the female ejaculation workshop in an achingly hipster warehouse where the neighbours were playing Nintendo so loud, I felt like Mario was going to beat me to it; the tantric seminar in Sydenham that was more like a casting call for soft porn; the comedy show where I dressed as a sperm and told thousands of random strangers I couldn’t come…) were loud, effortful distractions which ignored the root of the problem. It was time to get really quiet, really naked and listen.
The ironic thing about desensitisation, which of course was why I was unable to orgasm, is that it happens when you’re feeling too much. And oh, there was so much I had to confront. Fear of failure. Anorexia. Childhood trauma. Dissociation. Once I acknowledged all of this, without judgement (crucial), it seemed so obvious why I couldn’t climax, given all the denial I had going on. None of what I was feeling was anything to be ashamed of.
I gradually built towards climax with the help of a genuinely loving partner, lots of extremely honest conversations and this one time where we had sex while roasting a chicken. This is not a euphemism; focusing my mind on the potentially burning potatoes really freed up the rest of my body. When it finally happened, it was completely by surprise (my orgasm, I mean, not the potatoes burning). The sense of totally giving myself over to my body, letting pure sensation lead the way, was so overwhelming that I burst into tears.
I created the podcast Come As You Are after realising that the way I frame and treat my body can have a tangible impact on my pleasure. I wanted to provide a platform for other women and non-binary folks to come to the same understanding and to discuss their relationship with orgasm — a word that, for me, captures one’s relationship with satisfaction, other people and sense of self.
Along the way I’ve interviewed infectiously funny comedians like Desiree Burch, who discussed working as a dominatrix in New York before she’d ever had penetrative sex; Jodie Mitchell, who described overcoming internalised butchphobia and the transformative power of drag; and Karen Hobbs, a cervical cancer survivor whose irreverent approach to life is just the injection of hope and humour we need right now. Every time we get to the question – what does it feel like when you orgasm? – the descriptions are wildly, wonderfully different. But it’s always a pleasure.