I had a good male friend (not a lover!) who is now deceased but who enjoyed a happily active sex life prior to his death. One day we happened to be discussing a partner of his. He told me she had climaxed sixteen times in one session and twenty-one times during another. “I know because I counted them,” he said.
“How many times did you reach an orgasm?” I asked.
“Once,” he said.
“So how did she have all of those?” I queried.
“She rubbed off on my thighs, on my buttocks, and I used my hand.”
“Doesn’t it make you feel inferior when she has all those orgasms and you only have one?” I asked.
“No, because I know the difference between a man and a woman,” he replied.
This reminded me of when I was an 18-year-old woman back in the 1970s. I happened to be looking through a magazine and came across a question that I very much wondered about. The article said that a young man wanted to know “if it was possible to masturbate too much.” Then it went on to say that he said he masturbated once a day!
I almost fell off my chair. Once a day! ONCE a day! Since I had started masturbating in junior high school, I had never been able to keep it DOWN to once a day! In fact, I would have considered it a feat of self-control. Between the ages of 12 to my early 20s, I generally reached orgasm 6-18 times per day, every day. I would often test myself by promising, “Today I will not masturbate.” However, within a few minutes, that soon altered to “Today I will not masturbate more than once.” I believe I was once able to stop at three orgasms. The idea that someone could have an orgasm once a day and wonder if that was masturbating “too much” put me into a bewildered daze.
I hasten to add that I was a completely chaste teen girl and had no assistance reaching these orgasms. As my mother proudly announced, I had been “sweet 16 and never been kissed!”
In fact, the fear of pregnancy coupled with that of a bad reputation meant that, unlike a teen boy with strong physical needs, I remained resolutely virginal. It is even quite possible that this orgasmic imperative helped keep me chaste as it necessitated much time spent in the sanctuary of home. Often at school or church — the two other places I was most likely to be at when not at home — I was watching the clock or checking my watch in my intense desire to get home and to my room.
Eventually, in college, I did get a boyfriend (Tom eventually became my husband and is now my ex-husband). Although I remained resolutely a virgin until I had a tubal ligation in my mid-twenties, one of the first intimacies I allowed him was to watch me masturbate. He was soon aware of how often I did it and often seemed awed by the frequency with which I felt led to reach an orgasm.
I told him about the man who was concerned about masturbating “too much” when he masturbated once a day and how that baffled me. He explained, “Just like the outer muscles of women are weaker than those of men, their internal muscles are weaker. Those wimpy internal muscles don’t flush out arousal so they mean women can have more orgasms.”
That made sense. It also seemed somehow “fair” that the same quality that made it so difficult for women to lift heavy items also meant that we always had something to pass the time on a rainy day.
I no longer have anything like the orgasmic desire I once had. While many women become more sexual as they age, I have done the opposite and basically worn out any interest in it. I have been celibate for years and have every intention of remaining so.
However, it seems to me that there are dangers both in making too many gender distinctions and in making too few. Some traditionalists make too many when they try to rigidly prescribe the public sphere as male and the private as female. Some radical feminists make too many when they try to attribute all evil to the male and all injured innocence to the female.
At the same, ignorance of gender differences can leave someone as bewildered as I once was. My late friend was a high school dropout and far from an intellectual but he possessed an admirable and psychologically steadying wisdom in “knowing the difference between a man and a woman.”