This is an article from Playboy magazine, April 1984. It was written by E. Jean Carroll.
A WOMAN HAS PLACES in her body that exist secretly, and when cold penetrates them, they lose heat and exist no more. Nicole West is sitting in a sex therapist's office on Park Avenue with her husband, Rich, a psychoanalyst, listening to the sex therapist explain what he wants them to do. She is smoking a joint and wearing shorts; Rich is not so well built. They have been married 13 years. During that period, they have had sex 25 times. The sex therapist wants Nicole to tell him precisely what it is she doesn't like, what it is she really, precisely doesn't like, and Nicole says she doesn't like Rich to touch her, and the sex therapist says, well, they'll start out with some nonsexual touching, and Nicole says Rich is hairy, she doesn't like his hair, and the sex therapist says, well, they'll start out with some nice foot massaging and says, well, Nicole, take off your sandals. Rich's hands are already starting to sweat, and Nicole--sullenly, gracefully twisting her long body--reaches behind him for an ashtray and flips her roach into it.
"Did the foot massage get things going?" I ask.
"No," says Nicole. "Why not?"
"If there's one thing Rich hates," says Nicole, "it is feet."
This is an article about frigid women. From time to time, I am actually going to try to talk about frigid women (I've changed the names in the case studies), but it is not going to be easy, because it's vague, frigidity. It's a fog that rolls in, spreads, thickens, smothers everything, then recedes. You can't attack it directly, because nothing is there. It's a subject about emptiness fertile with ambiguity.
Sixty to 70 percent of American women experience difficulty having orgasms in intercourse. Thirty percent rarely have orgasms or they have extreme difficulty having them. Using certain techniques, women can overcome the difficulty. The techniques are close at hand and will be dealt with in a minute. But they don't interest me as much as what goes on between the overcoming and the coming, and this is getting suspiciously near what frigidity may be about: the groaning of the bedframe, the burning groin, the gathering gall, the steady glide from the afterglow to the afterglare.
Nora Harlow, author of the book Lover to Lover, and her husband, Dr. Gene Abel, the director of the Sexual Behavior Clinic of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, do not like the word frigid. "First of all," says Harlow, "there is no such thing. The word is wrong. There is no such condition. There are women who are cold as hell and can have orgasms in two minutes. Frigidity does not exist. We ought to talk about what does exist."
"What exists," says Dr. Abel, "are women who have deficits in their ability to fantasize, in their ability to learn how their bodies should be touched and to teach others how to touch their bodies. There are women who have difficulty teaching themselves how to orgasm and, therefore, teaching their lovers how to bring them to orgasm. There are women who have these deficits. We don't argue with that." The Abel's apartment is on riverside Drive and is painted white, and Harlow is dressed in white and Abel is in gray with a greenish tie; they are a handsome pair. Harlow is an expert on desire, and while we are talking I am thinking about Harlow and Abel in bed and wondering whether Harlow has any deficits and Abel any desire.
"Let me tell you something about biology," says Harlow. "So you have your woman who is all ice. She has never had an orgasm in her life, right? She owns 20 cats and is hostile to men. OK. Now, let me tell you what happens when she goes to sleep. Her vagina fills with blood and she lubricates six times a night. And every woman is exactly like her."
"Just like men," says Abel, "who can't have erections during the day due to behavior factors; they have six erections during the night in the rapid-eye-movement stage. All men do." "So frigid women do not exist," says Harlow. "However, 47 percent of happily married women do have difficulty having orgasms. Almost half of married women! It is surprising. It is not only surprising, it is unbelievable, because it's so easy to change. Sex therapy is the only area of medicine where we have cures and people do not use them. It is perfectly phenomenal."
"And the reason people don't do anything about sex problems," says Abel, "is that they're dumb. Dumb. I'm sorry."
"Thirty-five percent of happily married men say they have premature ejaculations," says Harlow. "You can cure premature ejaculation in a matter of hours. It should be extinct. Nobody should have it. And there is a high correspondence between women's having sexual difficulties and lowers who ejaculate quickly."
"The flash is," says Abel, "it is relatively easy to correct problems. That's the flash." "Now, one of the biggest problems women have is lack of desire," says Harlow. "This has nothing to do with whether they're hot or cold. When couples first get together and they're really, really getting it on, they start out with a hundred erotic activities. And then, as time passes, they being to feel that they just want to get right to it--'Honey, I'm so wild about you, I just want to do it'--and that's fine and that's great and that's how we get into this very fast sex, but it does something: It wreaks havoc with the erotic system. Because desire, we have now discovered, comes from behavior. From activity. So if lovers cut right to getting to it very quickly, the woman's desire level is going to go down, down, down, down."
"It is like this," says Abel. "New lovers start out with sexual activities A through Z. Then they begin just doing what they enjoy best, and that's X, Y, Z--those things closest to orgasm. So they drop A, B, C and D. And those things don't get associated with orgasm anymore. Instead, just the things very close to orgasm occur. But if they do just X, Y, Z again and again and again, they lose interest. If you like Haagen-Dazs Swiss-chocolate-almond ice cream and you eat
a quart every day, you think, Hey, this is really great, the first week; but two months later, you won't like it."
"And there's another reason women lose desire," says Harlow. "It's because their actual body sensations change. If they had an erotic experience that drove them crazy on their honeymoon and try to have the same erotic experience on their third anniversary, it will vary, because they do not have the same body. That's a mistake lovers make. They think, I found it out once, and I know everything about her, but they don't. That person has a new body. You have to find out what that lover's body feels like right now."
Harlow is a very pretty woman with dark, curly hair and rosy skin, and a person can listen to only so much of this.
"Do you still desire Dr. Abel?" I ask. She smiles and looks away from him. "Of course. I mean, I'm no fool."
"And when you met, was it love at first sight?"
"Were you sexually attracted?"
"I don't like the direction this is going," says Abel.
"No, it's all right," I say.
He smiles and pulls his tie between his thumb and forefinger. "Do you want to turn that off?" he asks, looking at the tape recorder. "No."
"Oh. You're not going to turn it off?"
"Then you're not going to get any information."
"I'll bet you two have a fantastic sex life."
"Well--" Pause. "I don't like the direction--"
Harlow's brow is pure. Her eyes are lifted. A vein at her temple stands out and throbs, throbs, throbs. "If you know techniques that make you more passionate," says Harlow, "what idiot wouldn't use them? I mean, is Richard Simmons thin?"
"We've been to other shrinks," says Nicole after talking about the foot massage. "Rich was sleeping nude, and he would really be all over me, which I couldn't stand. God! He was creepy. His hands were nervous. His body was sticky. I hated the way he touched me, so one of the shrinks said maybe Rich should wear some clothes, so we went home, and pretty soon I had him completely covered. From his head to his toes, every inch, so I would not have to touch him...anywhere."
Nicole's attractions are huge. Her voice has a sudden drop to it and she is tall and powerful-looking and has dark brown-black hair and straight, dark eyebrows, and there is an expression in her eyes that says, I have nothing to offer but my own confusion. "But I loved him," she says, "insanely. I had just graduated from Radcliffe and had started modeling and was in a lot of magazines and men were throwing themselves at me, and Rich came along and was cool, and intellectually it was a great match. Physically, we were in mortal combat. The first time we made love, it was over before I knew what was going on. He was very fast at it. He said it would get better. I believed him. He was a shrink, my God!
"But then he started telling me that women didn't want foreplay. He said there was something juvenile about all that. He knew that I liked to do it. He knew that I'd spent a lot of time doing it when I was in school, and I had, and I loved it; but Rich thought now that I was an adult, it was a stupid thing, and it was probably a little weird. He sold me on that for a long time. I really wondered if I had had an abnormal adolescence.
"So the first year we were married, we had sex four times. There were certain places where he didn't want to be touched. His nipples, for one thing. He hated his nipples' being touched. He wasn't very good at telling me what he liked. He treated it as if it were something disgusting and gross I was doing. I thought, Well, maybe I am not attractive to him. Maybe I should do something. So I went to Bloomingdale's and bought this black nightgown, this very sexy black nightgown, and I washed my hair and took the gown out of the box and put it on in the bathroom, and meanwhile, Rich was in bed, reading. Something on mental disease. Propped up in bed. So I came in kind of nervous, and in order to get into bed I have to crawl over him, because there's no room on my side, and I came walking in, frightened, excited, you know, thinking, This is going to be it. And he looked up at me. He put down the book on mental disease and looked at me, up and down, and I said, 'What are you trying to prove?' I was standing there in a see-through black nightgown--a see-through black nightgown!--and I stood there a long time. And in that time, every part of me that had any relation with sexuality completely shut down."
The person I want is sitting in front of a rubber female he has taken out of a drawer to show me where this is and that is, and the truth is, I don't know much about female bodies, even though his finger disappears into places that ring a bell.
I am here to ask him why some women don't like sex. He is here because he is Sherwin A. Kaufman, M.D., attending gynecologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City, author of Sexual Sabotage and a collaborator on Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan's The Evaluation of Sexual Disorders, and he has the look of a man who rarely fails to give satisfaction.
"Well," he says, "there are a few reasons. Fear of pregnancy, fear of disease, fear of pain, fear of pleasure, fear of being naked, fear of male impotence, fear of not reaching orgasm, fear of reaching orgasm, fear of penetration, fear of sin, fear of looking fat, fear of looking small-breasted, fear of not lubricating, fear of smelling bad, fear of not exciting the male, fear of losing the male's respect, fear of guilt, fear of faking orgasm, fear of being caught, fear of surrender, fear of letting go." "Thank you, doctor," I say.
"You're welcome. This interview, I must say, has been very pleasurable for me."
Bob is nice-looking but blocky, and it was almost love at first sight for Lisa, except for the first couple of minutes, when she was afraid he might be a professional athlete, but then it turned out he owned a big advertising agency. "I was screwing around a lot," says Bob. "I was in a period of not forming any attachments. I was amazed that Lisa was so attracted to me. I mean, she is the type of girl that gets a tremendous amount of attention."
"Well, Bob was very sensual," says Lisa.
"Very animal," says Bob. "Very animal," says Lisa. "Very sexy. We moved in together right away. But we had a very stormy first two years. When we made love, I wasn't having orgasms. I was lubricating. I was doing everything. Except I was holding back. I liked sex. I loved Bob. I am the classic case. I think my lovers before just assumed I was having orgasms. I was putting on a great show."
Lisa is tall, bosomy, 28, works in interior design and has been with Bob five years. "She is so totally attractive," says Bob, who is 38, "the level of envy that my friends feel is just incredible."
"But I couldn't climax," says Lisa. "Whenever we had sex, it was like my genitals and I were separated. It was like they belonged to another person. My legs felt like wood. It was like a shield closed over my pelvis."
"It was very frustrating," says Bob. "When Bob massaged my breasts, it would be like it was happening to another person," says Lisa. "The times when I'd really start to feel it, whenever it got to the point when I felt it was time to climax, something would happen to me. No man, no hand, nothing could get me to climax."
"I would watch her fighting herself," says Bob. "When we reached that edge when things got very steamy, I could see her fighting herself, and it was like she wanted me to help her fight."
"So trying to have an orgasm got to be a huge drama," says Lisa. "The more I focused on having an orgasm, the harder it became. I was afraid. I did not trust myself. I could not let myself out. I did not know what was going to happen to me. I thought it might kill me or swallow me up."
"And as we got closer and closer," says Bob, "I would get upset that she wouldn't orgasm. I thought it was a rejection of me." "And, of course, it was," says Lisa. "I would lie there afterward completely frustrated while he snored. But I finally got to the point where I said, 'Why am I doing this to myself?' There was a lot of rage there, but I didn't realize it. I was a very nice person. I was a very agreeable person, very sweet. Sweet is the word I'm most often described as. Nice and sweet. And who can orgasm under those circumstances? I didn't have what it took to hold up my end. I didn't have any sense of what I was entitled to. I thought, As long as the man comes, that's the important thing. That real old-world kind of shit. Well, I had been under the bed long enough already. It was time to come out."
Bob is getting excited and wants to tell the story about how Lisa started going to a class called the Self-Expression Workshop, but I interrupt him. He is a fervent, openhearted man and doesn't need to be asked many questions, but there is something I long to know.
"Have you ever run into this before?" I ask. "Why, yes," he says. "My ex-wife, right after we divorced, said she'd been faking orgasms for seven years."
Women have two notions, among others: One is that there is nothing better than being cold and having no sex and the other is that life would be a little less loathsome if they had sex all the time. Dominique, the co-owner of the Harmony Theatre, New York City's only legitimate burlesque hall, and a professional photographer and New York State mud-wrestling champion, is wearing jeans and a bed jacket and has a really extremely pretty face and rubs her breasts as she asks me to name her one guy who doesn't want to fuck a broad, and says that's all they want to do--and that she herself was nearly fucked to death and that every guy who looked at her wanted to fuck her and they still want to fuck her, but now that she's 36, she doesn't want to fuck anymore.
So that's why she said, "Fuck this shit, I don't want to get laid all the time." So I say, why not? And she says she wants only one guy. She wants a total relationship or nothing, and that's why she stopped fucking; it was too much of a drain on her, it really was a horrible drain, because you go to bed with somebody and then you grow fond of him and then he's not fond of you anymore, because when guys like to fuck you, they get all the fucking that they can get and then they move on to the next one, so she says it's too much for her to deal with; fucking interferes with her work; fucking interferes with her making money and she earns a vast amount of money, and money is what really makes her happy, and she says when guys just fuck the belly off her and then say goodbye, she's a woman and she gets emotional over that.
"So how are things going now?" I ask.
"Well, ever since I stopped fucking and got into making money, I'm very happy," says Dominique.
Bret Lyon, director of the Self-Expression Workshop in Santa Monica, California, guesses that about 70 percent of the women who take the class are having difficulties with sex. One of his students was Lisa. Lyon says she had a lot of tension, and he got her to be more aware of her body.
"She got very sexual in the classes," he says. "She started getting into these wonderful animal like interactions. You see, the main thing I do is get people to accept pleasure. I get them to the point where they can just allow things to come out. We start with subtle movements of the body. Then we work on breathing, involving all the muscles. Then we deal with sound, allowing whatever sound that wants to come out, to come out. Both men and women usually start with little sounds. Then they build very quickly to a lot of sound and a lot of emotional release. A lot of crying. A lot of laughing. A lot of hysterical laughing. Hysterical laughing happens to be my favorite."
Lyon and I are talking long-distance. I don't know what it is I want from this interview, but I assume that I'm listening to a California nutball and yearn for the icy tones of Nora Harlow to hail down on me. But Lisa says sex therapists were advising her to use a vibrator, and she tried vibrators, and they didn't feel good. And with a psychotherapist, all she would have done was talk about it. "But in Bret's class, I really got to do things," she says. "I was rolling these guys around on the floor. I was growling at them. We'd be trading sounds back and forth, and I might start hissing or moaning or laughing or screaming or whatever. And these scenes would evolve. Fight scenes, love scenes. Coming close and pushing away. So I got to experiment with that. Nowhere else in the world could I have had a chance to experiment like that. I learned to be vulnerable. I learned to be angry. It was scary at first, but it broadened my repertoire of what was possible.
"I went into the workshop with this vision of having the big O. That it was a tremendous feat. That it was like breaking through a brick wall. And it felt like that. But Bret Lyon said, 'No. It is not a brick wall. It is papier-mache.'"
When women have had enough of either not having sex or having a lot of it, it always ends up being too much or too little, because with sex you can never reach the point of absolute gratification. Just when women think they've had enough, they seldom have. A Manhattan publisher, wealthy, blonde, small, fluffy, has enjoyed more than 1000 men in her time. She once kept track, she says.
So how long did she not have sex? I ask, and she says she can't quite remember, but it was very interesting to say to a man, "By the way, I want you to know I don't have sex." So why did she stop? I ask, and she says she was tired of men who weren't worth taking her clothes off for and says she felt that after 600 or 700, why bother? So she didn't have any relations at all? I ask.
"Well, eventually, I hired a masseur," she says.
"And what did he do?"
"He would arrive every afternoon, give me oral sex, I would come, then he would take his money and leave." "You call that not having sex?"
"He was a big Polish guy."
"Your idea of not having sex is having oral sex with a big Polish masseur?" "Yes," she says with an amazed glance. "So what? I wasn't going to bed with anybody and taking off my clothes and being disappointed."
"It was amazing!" cries Bob. "It was incredible! The first really striking thing was how much angrier Lisa started getting at me. It used to be I was a good yeller. I would yell at her and she would run and hide in the bed. And then she started the class and began yelling back at me twice as loud. She started to stick up for herself. At first, it really freaked me out. I felt very threatened. Very confused. But the side benefits were so high. The sex! She'd yell, and then we'd end up making love like crazy! Then she started being much more explicit about what she wanted. My God! She was totally changed! "And the sex became much more exciting to me. Before, she used to want me to lick her and I'd do it, but it was like a chore. It didn't feel good. I wasn't attracted. And then she started heating up. I mean, she literally became warmer. And I found myself at her all the time. I was drawn. The whole area became like a magnet.
"And then she had her first orgasm as I was caressing her--then it happened with my mouth, then with actual intercourse. It was wonderful! I think I was more thrilled than she was."
"It seemed a lot bigger in his mind," says Lisa. "After my first orgasm, I wondered what all the fuss had been about."
"Well, it was very important to me," says Bob. "I wanted us to have gratification together. I had always felt something was missing. It was like she was holding things back from me. The orgasm was the symbol of it. Not orgasming was the symbol of not being fully with me. I used to feel vaguely abusive. I didn't feel I was abusing her, but somehow she was being abused. I felt bad about it. Then came the orgasm. It was unbelievable. I felt I was a better person. I was able to be good to her in ways I couldn't be good to her before. In love relationships, we have a real need to be good to each other. And if we can't fulfill that, if the other person won't let us be good to her, we can get very upset. So now do you understand why I was so happy? It was wonderful to feel her so much closer to me."
Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the tiny sex therapist who is on Letterman and The Tonight Show and who is the author of Dr. Ruth's Guide to Good Sex and a consultant at Bellevue Hospital and an adjunct associate professor at New York Hospital-Cornell University and an associate fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine, has a red dress on, a dark, flaming-red color flaring and swishing as she walks across 73rd Street to Jack's restaurant, where we are going to have a bite. "I've never worn such a thing," says Dr. Ruth, laughing gaily. "I put this on for PLAYBOY. " Jack's kitchen is closed because it is only five o'clock, but Dr. Ruth says she can't talk about sex on empty stomach, so the waitress says she'll see what she can do, and meanwhile, Dr. Ruth has a Perrier and tells me how young I look and I turn up the tape recorder, because this is more or less what I like to hear, and then Dr. Ruth sits forward and bends her mind to the business at hand.
"For me, there is no frigid woman," she says. "There is a woman who doesn't want to give herself permission to have an orgasm. In our society, about 30 percent of women have orgasms during intercourse. Another 30 percent have orgasms with masturbation or with their lovers' touching their clitorises during intercourse. Then there is another 30 percent who have no orgasms or much difficulty having orgasms. Another five percent are so depressed or have some other problem that it is impossible for them to have orgasms. I send them to psychiatrists. Then there's five percent who can just have erotic thoughts and tighten their thighs and have orgasms."
"They are having a very good time," I say. "That's right," says Dr. Ruth. "Now, first, I would like to say loud and clear to the PLAYBOY reader that the adage 'There are no frigid women, only lousy lovers' is incorrect. That I, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, sex therapist, blah, blah, blah, do not agree with that."
"The best lover in the world cannot give an orgasm to a woman against her wishes. First, she has to learn to give herself an orgasm. Now, that doesn't mean she has to masturbate the rest of her life. She just has to learn to give herself pleasure. Then she has to take her lover's hand and just say, 'This is how it is good.' Now, women have been trained not to let men know these things. So I would say to the PLAYBOY reader, take her out to dinner. Then say to her, 'Tonight, let's do something different. Tonight, you are going to show me. Tonight, I don't even want to have an orgasm. Tonight, all I want is--I am so interested in you and I really like you and I really love you--and tonight all I want is for you to show me where it feels good.' "Now, some women are afraid to tell men what they want, because they are frightened of hurting the male ego. I don't care about the male ego so much. I am not so concerned about the male ego. I don't really think the male ego is so fragile or--Oh! Ah! Ahhhhhhhh!"
A man in a suit has brought out a tray of cheese and raspberries. Behind him stands the young chef.
"Terrific!" cries Dr. Ruth, turning the tray around in front of her. "Where's the chef? Where's the chef? I want to give him a hug! Holding out her arms Come here! Bend down! Bend down! Kissing him You have saved us! We were starving!"
The young chef is very tall and good-looking and dark red and his hat has been knocked over one eye, and when he goes back to the kitchen, I ask Dr. Ruth if she thinks women come from birth knowing how to build an destroy the male ego. "No," she says.
"Women don't do it naturally? For protection?"
Dr. Ruth is small but her legs are strong-looking, and she steadily and earnestly swings the left or the right, I don't remember, when she makes a point.
"Did you learn it as a girl?"
She shakes her head. Her leg is shapely, like a majorette's.
"I can't talk about me," she says, smiling. "I'll tell you why. I was raised in a very conservative Jewish Orthodox home. Before I became a professor and a sex therapist, if you had told me I would sit here with PLAYBOY in a red dress, and that the chef would personally prepare something to eat for us, and that I would talk to you in a restaurant about orgasms, I would have said to you, 'You had better go and have your head examined!'"
She motions me toward the raspberries, but I lavish the whole plate on her, I love her so.
"And then I divorced Rich," says Nicole, "and met Tom. Tom is a longshoreman. He and I made love more times the first night than Rich and I did the first year. And it was wonderful! And Tom has a body! And then I started having orgasms. Oh! I didn't believe it. Stuff I didn't even know existed! And what's more, my ex-husband is living with a seamstress and she loves the way he makes love! She hates foreplay. She hates kissing. Just loves to screw. But listen! Tom and I. What's been happening lately is Tom brings me up to a peak and I start to orgasm and it just goes on...and on...and on...and on...." And so it goes.
Bob says Lisa is much nicer now that she's not so busy being nice, and that makes me wonder about a little matter, so just before we end the interview, I ask Lisa if she likes fellating Bob.
"Oh yes!" she says.
"Did you like to before you started having orgasms?" I ask.
"Well, actually, I did it more before I became orgasmic."
"I don't think it would be real good to print that," I say.
"I was overcompensating," says Lisa.
"I don't think PLAYBOY readers are going to love hearing this," I say.
"But I did do it more before."
"Well, thanks for your time."
"It's just personal taste. I still enjoy it."
"Right. Right. Thanks again."
"It's just that now I love to make love thoroughly."