Sasha: Female arousal and pony play

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Dear Sasha,

I am a 34-year-old queer woman. I was delighted to find that in my early 30s my orgasms became more intense and deeper, without my doing anything different. Lately, however, I seem to be having the opposite problem. Both with lovers and through masturbation, my orgasms have all the physical patterns I'm used to, with none of the climactic pleasure. So there is a mounting of intensity, a plateau and vaginal contractions, and no rush of bliss. Nothing in my emotional life is all that different, though of course I do have ebbs and flows of stress like everyone else. It also doesn't happen every time I come. What do you think could be causing this change?

Bliss Less

"You have no idea what a perplexing mess is female arousal," says Mary Roach in her book Bonk. Though these words may seem discouraging, they are at least based on accurate information. "For centuries," she writes, "medical texts included long discussions of a condition called hysteria, a sort of a vaguely defined sexual dysfunction based on spectacular misrepresentations of female anatomy and sexuality."

Believe it or not, plenty of people in the science and academic community continue to treat female pleasure as an invalid or pointless subject, and many studying it have long had trouble finding sufficient funding and respect for their work -- especially if the end goal is not beneficial to the pharmaceutical industry. As Rachel P. Maines writes in her book The Technology Of Orgasm (Johns Hopkins) of one of her critics, he "considered my article as written more to titillate than to enlighten, apparently rejecting the possibility that both could happen simultaneously."

Jim Pfaus studies physiological and psychological factors that influence sexual desire and behaviour. Though I've always assumed that my own rigorous masturbation regime has had a positive impact on my sexual response (I ascribe to the whole use it or lose it theory) Pfaus says, "One thing to recommend is for her to not masturbate or have sex with a partner for a week and see what her orgasms might be like when she resumes. If she is masturbating more frequently, she could be putting herself into a more continuous inhibitory state that is lowering orgasm quality from both masturbation and partnered sex."

He also wonders (and this is actually something that happened to me when I became clinically depressed last year and couldn't give a rat's ass about anything) if you are experiencing a lack of reward or pleasure for other things like eating good food or listening to music you generally enjoy. "If so, she is experiencing a kind of anhedonia that may well be indicative of some kind of brain disorder, in which case she should definitely have an MRI done."

On that note, are you on any anti-depressants? If you are, have you recently switched medications? "I am particularly worried here about SSRI antidepressants, which can KO her orgasms," says Pfaus. The possibility also exists that you are suffering from a hormonal imbalance, in which case an endocrine check-up is in order. It wouldn't be a conversation with Pfaus without his completely geeking out about some implausible Mission Impossible-style chemical reaction, so let's just let him get that out of the way: "It sounds for all the world like someone has slipped her an opioid receptor antagonist drug that would block the rush but leave all the other peripheral sensations intact. I am sure no one has done that, so I would definitely rule out those other factors before looking deeper into her brain and spinal cord function. Yeah, she may well have to be poked and prodded."

But, then, to echo Roach's sentiments, it could just be a passing thing "and just spontaneously come back with a different partner or different masturbatory habit. How 'habitual' is her sexual activity? If habitual, perhaps it has gotten boring? Maybe do it in a different place or in different types of activity? Maybe hold off for a while and then do a nice role play? I always worry about something physiological first, and want to rule that out first before getting into anything deeper psychologically," Pfaus concludes.

Just know one thing, Bliss Less: you are not alone in tussling with fluctuating sexual response. My advice, having gone through a profound hormonal change myself last year, is to keep on top of current sex-positive information about female arousal, be firm with your doctors that this is something you have a right to be concerned about and find community to share and gather information.

Stay Gold

Dear Sasha,

I have a large farm property with an indoor equestrian arena close to the city. Economic times being what they are, horse boarding isn't as profitable as it once was. I was wondering if I could keep the wolf away from the door by running a "pony play" weekend once or twice a month.

What do you think?

Pony Boy

"I am not sure what the pony play population is like here in the GTA and surrounding area," says Carrie Grey from Aslan Leather (aslanleather.com), "but I am pretty sure it isn't big enough to support a biweekly or monthly pony play weekend. My suggestion would be to hold one with at least three months of lead time to get the word out. See how it goes, and get an idea from the attendees to see what the likelihood is of having a successful regularly scheduled event."

George Giaouris from Northbound (northbound.com): "We get a couple of people into pony play who attend our parties, but I've never hosted an equestrian event. Most of Northbound's parties are hosted at a more central location because it's more convenient to transport equipment."

Still, Giaouris says your location, "sounds like a dream" for a party that's properly promoted in advance, is open to the broader fetish community and includes the possibility of camping overnight -- meaning facilities to shower and sleep indoors or camp. "I'd be willing to talk to him if there's any crossover," says Giaouris. If you are aiming to turn this into a business, it would be prudent to seek legal and accounting advice as well. I don't know which daily came up with the term bondage bungalow" (I'll put a dix on the Sun), but I'll guess you do not want to go down in Canadian history as Oh! Macdonald.

This column was originally published in NOW Magazine. Ask Sasha:

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