Orgasm, Inc. has its weaknesses. It's extremely heteronormative, for one thing, and a bit scattered. The viewer certainly wants more before-and-after interviews with test subjects (was taking a laser to her labia worth it, we wonder). But Canner's film provides a great primer on the topic of the quest for the Big O — one that opens the floor to more in-depth discussions like the one that will follow a screening at SPACE Gallery on March 25, organized by sex-boutique-owner Gina Rourke, and featuring New England Women Center nurse and midwife Holly Frost, and Hope Counseling Services social worker Jennifer Wiessner, who is training to be a certified sex therapist.
"Women are not broken," Wiessner says after watching the film. "[Even though] we cannot have an orgasm on demand, in the missionary position, we are not broken."
What women want
So, how did the medical industry get the idea of FSD to stick? Frost, who practices in South Portland, attributes it to "the utter lack of a definition of what constitutes female sexuality."
Indeed, if no consensus exists about what turns on women, what brings a woman to orgasm, how to navigate the delicate balance between physical and psychological aspects of the sexual act, how can we possibly diagnose such a wide-ranging disorder? Especially when the causes of women's sexual problems range from unrealistic expectations to a lack of sexual education to childhood trauma to self-esteem issues to relationship problems to — gasp — any or all of these difficulties on the part of her partner.
"A woman will come in and she's having trouble reaching orgasm," Feintech says. "There are a number of medical reasons why that could be. But by far the most common difficulty is in the connection with her partner, or the technique, or the sexual dance with her partner."
"The causes of FSD are more psychogenic than organic," Wiessner echoes. By pushing pills or procedures to increase blood flow to the genitals, the pharmaceutical industry is "trying to make something that is more relational into a medical problem," she says.
No one is suggesting that women have the easiest time reaching the heights of sexual satisfaction.
Rourke, who runs the Nomia boutique on Exchange Street, says women frequently come in complaining of "generalized low-level or lack of desire — which is really common and normal for a variety of reasons — one's ability to have an orgasm alone but not with a partner, changes associated with menopause, and so on." The trick, Rourke says, is not to jump to conclusions about the physical, psychological, or physiological origins of such complaints.
"We start by asking a series of questions to help us learn what is really going on with a person, whether sexuality education is in order, how what we sell may or may not be of use, and if warranted, we offer referrals to a medical or mental health provider when we hear issues indicating pelvic pain, for example, or a history of sexual trauma," she says. "Literature can be helpful, a lesson in sexual anatomy, response cycle, or sexual communication skills, and often, what's most important is simply validating a person's own positive assertions of what their sexuality and expression means for them in an informed and supportive environment. That alone can be amazing, empowering, and provides room for exploring sensuality in new ways that are pleasure focused rather than an 'achievement' style race for the perfect orgasm or an imagined, amazing sex life 'out there' that everyone else is having but you.'" (See the sidebar for more tips and tricks.)