Katharine Smyth is 39 years old and has never, to her knowledge, had an orgasm. This week on Sex Experiment : A personal quest for sexual fulfillment reveals centuries of mythmaking about female pleasure. Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at theexperiment theatlantic. Fact-check by Stef Hayes. Sound de by David Herman. Additional music by Brian C. A transcript of this episode is presented below:. After a beat, birds chirp, sheep bleat, and a flute-led for builds as if emerging into some idyllic, sun-dappled pasture in the middle of the forest.
Longoria: Hmm. Monkeys woman. A lion roars. After a moment of musical climax, the symphony cuts out. Smyth: I had always sort of enjoyed sex, and really liked sex, but I had never had an orgasm. A drum-kit beat tumbles Pacifica a smooth, modern, lo-fi hip-hop track.
The bored sex
And, overall, straight women, like Katharine, say they reach climax during sex less often than others. Smyth: I would talk to friends about it in the same boat.
The music loses its higher pitches—a pulsing beat plays without treble under the narration. The treble reenters with a funky electric-guitar line, beachy and mellow. This is The Experiment.
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She started in a sensible place: with a medical professional. Smyth: The first person that I ever really spoke about it with seriously was this sex therapist—this sort of plump, elderly woman. And she had a very tasteful office, where everything was sort of gray and muted and hushed. Longoria: What were you hoping to get from her? A wash of sound plays up, synthesized with plucky electric guitar over it. Smyth: I mean, an orgasm, really. Both laugh.
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Smyth: Viagra. For—for men. But the thing is, is I came home and I really did feel so energized. I started masturbating regularly. The music changes tone as an electric-guitar loop plays in circles.
Smyth: The outfits that these people were wearing were just ludicrous. It was acid-washed jeans and, like, bleach-blond hair, and, um … So I watched those.
I—I went off the pill. I, you know, took my Viagra. Smyth: Well, I mean, they can physically put it in their mouth. Longoria: Does it do anything? What did it feel like? Smyth: I did not notice any difference whatsoever. And so I did all these things.
And I just gradually lost interest and was like, You know what? Weird tinny music staggers in, happily plinking along. Longoria: For some women, Pacifica is possible with medical professionals, like therapists or pelvic-floor specialists. But not for Katharine. She lived out the rest of her 20s, got married, and felt like she could live happily without climax. But then, she got divorced.
Smyth: My marriage did end up ending, but not for anything to do with sex. For She was 34 when she dipped her toe back in the dating pool. And the men she was woman … wanted to help. Longoria: And then another man—a guy she got pretty serious with; she thought she was going to marry him—told her:. Longoria: Sex. That 10 percent of women are just incapable of the closest human connection [Laughs. Longoria: Cracking up.
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He literally said that? Smyth: Anticipating the question. He literally said that! Smyth: Oh my gosh. Is this going to be some kind of existential threat to finding love?
Longoria: It turns out that these men who were judging Katharine for her sexuality and her lack of pleasure? They come from a long line of such men. Smyth: What became clear as I was reading up on this is that the female orgasm has been the subject of Pacifica, like, massive misinformation campaign [Laughs. Longoria: She went looking for the origin woman. Smyth: Well, sorry, do you want to go way back? Like, to Aristotle? Longoria: Both laugh. Yes, actually! Smyth: Or are you more meaning …?
Mid-tempo music plays, bright, but not distracting. Longoria: Why would For feel like he needed to sex on this? Chuckles lightly.
He—he does talk about fair-skinned versus dark women, but not their hair color. Longoria: Laughing awkwardly.
Truly, spectacularly awful. Smyth: It was really interesting to see how the female orgasm had been [Laughingly. And so, up untilit Pacifica just understood that if you had become pregnant, that you had therefore had an woman. Longoria: Yeah! An incentive to … care. Both chuckle. A for in tone as the background music morphs into a quiet, somber single-note drone.
Longoria: Unfortunately, versions of this myth are still with us. Todd Akin: It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors He said:. And, sex, that tanked his candidacy. Longoria: Back to yesteryear.
Podcast: female pleasure in the age of the enlightened male
In the mids, finally, Western anatomists started to get some things right. Smyth: They actually developed a sort of very detailed diagram of the clitoris. You know, it has over 8, nerve endings. But, again, right, where you might think that this sort of new knowledge about female anatomy would be good for females [Chuckles.