Illustration by Jim Cooke/GMG.

Right around puberty, I discovered the glory of an orgasm. In 9th grade, it happened for the first time with a guy. We didn’t have sex but everything else had been enough. I remember thinking that I didn’t know what just happened or how, but I wanted it to happen every freaking day for the rest of my life.

As I got older, it became more complicated. Suffering from crippling insecurities, I barely kept my eyes open during sex for the first ten years. So telling a guy what I needed in order to have an orgasm was out of the question. Besides, on my own, I needed to squeeze my legs together rhythmically while lying on my right side. How the hell was that supposed to translate to sex with someone else? It’s been hit or miss throughout my life— I can make it happen on my own, but it’s still tricky if someone else is involved.

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I’ve talked to my 20-year old stepdaughter Lauren about (almost) every element of human sexuality. But I did not know how to talk to her about orgasms. Why would I stumble on clueing her in on the very thing that I have hang-ups about? I called Lauren up and we dove into why it’s hard to talk about it, why the guys have it easier and why the female orgasm is like a big bad monster.

As always, I like to start off with getting a refresher on how I handled the topic we’re discussing. I don’t think I ever talked about orgasms with you.

Let me think. It was definitely later than everything else we talked about. Probably high school? It wasn’t really about what an orgasm is. It was more about how I should know my body well and be able to communicate my needs to a partner.

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That sounds like I gave you a lame talk. Why on earth is it so hard to talk about orgasms? I was keeping it real with you about everything! But talking about orgasms seems so—

It’s not just that it’s an orgasm. It’s the female orgasm. No one talks about it in pop culture and stuff. You can hear sly references to male orgasms even in a sitcom. But the female orgasm is the big huge monster.

And why is that?

Too complicated. Too mysterious. Too… whatever. We’re taught that sex ends when a guy orgasms. So that’s how they act. I got the message right away that if I was going to be in a heteronormative relationship—your partner is not going to care whether you have an orgasm.

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Have you found that to be true?

Mostly, yeah.

Let’s go back. How soon did you experience an orgasm?

A full-on orgasm or a tingly feeling?

Both.

The tingly sensation was super early. I knew I probably shouldn’t talk about it. I felt the need for secrecy. But it was there. That was 8th grade.

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That’s not super early at all. I don’t know numbers but I’d suspect that’s not early.

And then maybe a year later was like, oh so THIS must be an orgasm

9th grade for me as well.

And for a while, having an orgasm on my own was enough. I didn’t want to have sex. Wasn’t interested in those two things interacting.

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What about when you did start having sex? Was it important to you? Was it important to him?

I lost my virginity, as awful a phrase that is, with a wonderful person. We talked about my wants and needs before during and after. And like, it’s hard for a woman to have an orgasm from a traditional scenario. So it’s easy for a typical guy to give up. Sure, we might not orgasm in seven seconds. You might need do something before during and after!

They are not taught to even consider what would help us get to an orgasm. Partly because a lot of times we’re not really sure either. That’s why it was so hard for me to talk to you about it. I was a grown woman and I still had so many questions!

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I know a lot of girls from high school that can’t orgasm—on their own or with someone else.

Are sex toys considered—

They’re still in a weird space for my age group. I feel like we’re not using them to learn. We use them after we already know.

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Your high school was pretty liberal when it came to sex education. What did they say—if anything—about orgasms?

So weird. The boys got the whole thing. You might orgasm in your sleep. This is masturbation. This is an erection. You might feel a sensation here if you do this.

So basically, Orgasm 101.

And we got: these are your ovaries, these are your labia, this is your vagina, here are your fallopian tubes. Not one word about masturbation.

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Now, your sister is 10.

Yup.

I always ask you how you would handle the things we talk about if your sister approached you—-

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This would be the hardest one so far.

If your sister has questions…

Now? At 10?

Yes.

Ack. If she was older it would be so much easier…

Welcome to my world.

Devin Anderson has written professionally since 1998 and currently works as a full-time freelance writer for various outlets. She’s also written five books, three non-fiction and two novels. The name Devin Anderson is a pseudonym. The writer is changing her name to protect the innocent, the guilty—and her mom.