When I’m at the point of orgasm I tend to shout ‘No! No!’ While Freud would undoubtedly have a field day, needing some help in this area and in an uncharacteristic fit of flexible thinking I decided that this didn’t necessarily mean that the website OMGYes wasn’t applicable to me, and took out a subscription.
OMGYes hit the news in 2016 largely due to celebrity endorsement from the actor Emma Watson. It is a paid-content website entirely devoted to women’s sexual pleasure, the main draw being real-life videos, some of which comprise frank interviews, and then completely uncensored and graphic physical demonstrations, by those women, of the different pleasuring techniques that work for them. Finally, the piece de resistance is a dozen or so ‘touchable’ videos showing different vulvas. A voice-over gives you gentle instructions, and using the touchscreen of your phone, ipad or laptop, you pleasure the virtual woman following her guidance until she comes and the video ends. The technology means that the vulva is ‘soft’ and moves in response to your touch.
Aside from the recommendation of a key actor from a franchise, Harry Potter, with which a vast number of autistic women and men adore and feel an intense kinship and sense of belonging, what will draw a lot of autistic women who struggle with the Cosmo style of sex advice are the very serious and scientific credentials. Academic research arising from the project, for instance, appeals to our need for evidence and our distrust of hearsay. For me, though, the draw was the promise of instructions.
Sex advice for women who struggle to orgasm with a partner usually comes down to one thing: communication. Autistic women reading this style of advice might be tempted to despair. Communication, by definition, is difficult for us at the best of times. Communication during sex, for many, might be nigh-on impossible. There is a lot going on during sex – being verbal might be a challenge at the best of times. Giving instructions to a partner in a loving way simply seems extremely difficult.
The second problem, that this type of advice tends to ignore, is that in order to give instructions to a partner, we have to know what instructions to give. Some women are instinctively able to pleasure themselves, or have practised and become extremely proficient – others haven’t. This isn’t just related to autism of course. In my experience, knowing myself, in all ways, has been a challenge all my life. I spent many, many years of adulthood not sure that I deserved or was capable of claiming pleasure for myself, and certainly not deserving of devoting any time to exploring it.
Advice for this particular issue is always along the lines of exploring your own body, the implication being that you will automatically discover what type of pleasure you enjoy.
Guilt and shame aside, autism complicates matters. I’m often not entirely sure what emotion I am having. I’m often not sure whether I like something or not; and that’s not just in sexual terms. The demand I feel is put upon me, when I decide to have a go at trying to discover my body, causes over-processing that inevitably stymies the whole endeavour. Do I like this? If I carried on a bit would it make a difference? Shall I do it faster, slower, harder, softer, in a different position, with different lighting, is it too hot or cold, what should I be thinking about? Do I like it yet? How am I supposed to parse all those variables and decide which thing to try first, and when to abandon it as a thing I don’t like? I feel the urge to make a spreadsheet.
It’s paradoxical, really, for a diagnosis where I’m not really supposed to think in shades of grey (to coin a phrase…), that some of these things seem profoundly mysterious to me, as they are vastly, impossibly complex and difficult with infinite variations and possibilities, whereas it seems some ‘other people’ figure it out very easily.
I can orgasm, but only in one unsatisfying way. I don’t really understand my own pleasure or fantasy. It’s only approaching 40, and five years post-diagnosis on the spectrum, that that fog is starting to clear slightly for me due to the different approach my diagnosis is very slowly helping me to take. It’s not this position or that amount of pressure that isn’t working for me – it’s the whole vague non-concrete approach which is going to be alien to my structure of thinking. And that’s ok.
So, starting point – I know I’m supposed to be telling my partner what I like, but I don’t know how, when or in what words to tell him, and I don’t really know what I like in the first place.
Of course, OMGYes is very valuable for all women, autistic and not. There are, however, various aspects of OMGYes which are potentially revolutionary specifically for autistic women experiencing some of these difficulties in exploring their own sexuality and pleasure. The first is vocabulary.
OMGYes explicitly states that it wants to create a vocabulary for clitoral pleasure in particular. This is reassuringly structured and gives us something concrete to refer to. Something mysterious and abstract and wordless becomes something categorised, known, nameable. I have a range of named things to try one by one and instructions on how to try them. Immediately, the infinite swathe of possible variations is narrowed right down.
Next, it’s the social aspect. I imagine that non-autistic women have female friends they talk to about things. Possibly only a small proportion discuss masturbation with their friends, but at least it’s a possibility. I have some female friends, but having assessed the appropriateness of me asking them about masturbation (by mentally role-playing a few conversations) I don’t think that’s going to be possible. (How do people get friends who they can discuss things like that with? And how do you get to the point in the conversation where that happens?)
Well, on OMGYes the women interviewed chat and laugh with you. They volunteer helpful advice. You don’t have to think of anything to say, or volunteer anything in return, or arrange your face in an appropriate expression, or make eye contact. Then you… watch them masturbate and then pleasure them virtually on the screen. Yes, it’s an extraordinary concept but it’s all done in such a warm, friendly and matter of fact way that it doesn’t feel in the slightest bit creepy.
They have wildly different ways of liking to be pleasured. The whole concept is a celebration of sexual diversity. Each woman talks about her own peculiar way she likes to be touched, whether it involves 3 large circles then 2 small ones repeated, tapping the labia in specific ways, surprising yourself with unexpected touches (paradoxical doublethink ahoy!) or doing a capital D shape on the right hand side only. What’s remarkable about this is that it is perfectly normal for each woman to be entirely, ludicrously different from the next and for each woman’s specific way she likes to be pleasured to be almost hopelessly specific. Attempting to make them orgasm virtually can be tricky. “Not quite there…. a little more on the clit…. now stop… a little faster… not quite, try like this….”
The beauty of what this approach teaches is that one insanely specific masturbation method or another may not work for you specifically at all. One of the approaches might be more pleasurable than the others, though, and maybe if I combined the circly thing that Diana was doing, with the accenting thing that Maria was doing towards the middle of her video and maybe if I do it at the speed that made Lisa come… ok that works.
More importantly, there is concrete proof in the matter-of-fact way these women explain the precise place, speed and pressure that feels best on their personal clitoris that it is perfectly normal to be different from everybody else and that giving instructions to your partner is inevitably going to have to happen, because who could guess this stuff?
And by the time you’ve been through the whole site (or, I should say, season one, since there’s apparently more coming, as it were), you have another whole vocabulary to use – a rich echolalia resource of women telling you exactly how to touch them, that you can record, register and maybe then echo during sex with your partner at the right moment.
The most frustrating thing about orgasm difficulty and pleasure difficulty on the spectrum is overwhelm. I can not work this out on the fly. I can not feel these sensations, and say things, and assess him, and decide whether I like something, and calculate the most appropriate words and tone in which to communicate this, and then still stay in a ‘sexual’ frame of mind.
OMGYes tunes out some of that noise, and that’s why it might just be the key for some of us to finally move out of the fog into our own pleasure.
All images here are taken from OMGYes.