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it. Conventional sexology ignores the difference, and assumes
that sex begins with sensations of lust for everybody. But if a
lesbian couple wait around for lust before beginning to make
love, neither it nor they will come.
"Joanne Loullan, in her book Lesbian Sex, describes
willingness to make love as the first stage of lovemaking for
lesbians. I extended that concept so that it applies to all
women," says Cass.
Elusive Orgasm breaks new ground not only in its content
but also in its inclusive style. Cass integrates references to
lesbians and other women with differences into the body of
the text, creating a world of rich diversity in which we all
"Most sexology writers make the assumption that there is
this average woman we talk to. Then there are those little
separate chapters saying 'for disabled women' or 'for
lesbians'. I find this quite patronising. It marginalises women
who are different. Actually, there is no 'Ms White Average'.
Everyone is unique. I thought it must be possible to write a
book that included everybody."
Cass re-read her first draft five times, on each occasion
adopting the perspective of a different kind of woman:
menopausal, lesbian, young, disabled or from a non-Anglo
culture. She talks to the reader warmly and easily, as if she
were engaging in an intimate chat over a kitchen cuppa. She
repeats herself often -- a normal part of spoken language, but
a no-no for most writers. Her conversational style and
inclusivity result in the literary equivalent of the Mona Lisa --
no matter where you stand, you will feel that Cass is talking
directly to you. She encourages a healthy independence of
mind when it comes to conventional medical attitudes to
Cass notes that some paraplegic women report
experiencing orgasms with hard stimulation, even though
spinal ner ve damage means they have little genital sensation.
Doctors dismissed their claims until Dr Beverly Whipple, the
researcher who discovered the G-Spot, worked out that
paraplegic women were able to orgasm because the vagus
ner ve had taken over the spinal cord task of communicating
arousal from the genitals to the brain.
Women must trust themselves as experts on their own
sexuality, she concludes.
If Cass does not go deep enough into exploring
unconscious issues or underlying problems such as no longer
finding your partner attractive, this is a small gap in what is
other wise essential reading for any lesbian who has the
remotest interest in orgasm -- or loves someone who does.
Cass has a finger in many pies and I caught her in a rare hour
between patients, speaking tours and the demands of her own
publishing company. I asked about her 'eureka' moment in
discovering the six stages.
"A young woman came for counseling who hated her
attraction to women. I had no idea how to help her. When she
left, I stood at the door of my office, wondering 'What is going
on that she hates herself so much, but that I don't?' I began to
listen very carefully to the gay people who came to see me. One
day I was sunbaking, and I realised that I was hearing the same
phrases from them again and again. I wrote them down. There
were six. Suddenly I realised 'there is an order to these'. Certain
phrases couldn't come before others. The order was based on how
accepting they were of themselves."
In those days, female sexologists were suspect. "People
thought I was a nymphomaniac," she explains. Add homophobia
to the mix and it's not surprising that Cass battled to get her
research accepted as a suitable topic for her Ph.D, despite overseas
acclaim. When the irresistible force of Cass's determination met
the immovability of academic prejudice, ultimately the prejudice
had to shift, and Cass completed her doctorate at Murdoch
University. "I felt deeply from the inside the stages were right, that
it is what people needed. I feel that about this book too, that it's
what women need to hear."
Like her work on the stages of coming out, Elusive Orgasm
offers a quality of original thought distilled into the profoundly
practical. Lesbians are more likely to masturbate than heterosexual
women are. Consequently they have less trouble orgasming, but
even if you are orgasmic this book is more than an absolute winner
at a lesbian dinner party. It is a very useful manual for improving
the quality of your sexual experience.
Many lesbians get stuck in set orgasm patterns like only being
able to come with a particular kind of stimulation or fantasy.
Cass makes it clear that there is nothing wrong with this, but
if you want to expand your repertoire she provides easy to follow
exercises you can do alone or with a partner.
While orgasming may not be a major lesbian problem,
remembering to go there with a spouse is. Sex happens in stages.
For women in ongoing relationships, lust generally arises from
touching and being touched. For men it is the other way round --
their first step is a physiological sensation of lust, then they go for
The Elusive Orgasm, by Vivienne Cass (Brightfire Press $35).
Visit www.brightfire.com.au for more info and email
Contact@brightfire.com.au to order a copy.
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I HAD NO IDEA HOW TO HELP HER. WHEN SHE LEFT
I STOOD AT THE DOOR OF MY OFFICE, WONDERING
'WHAT IS GOING ON THAT SHE HATES HERSELF
SO MUCH, BUT THAT I DON'T?' I BEGAN TO LISTEN
VERY CAREFULLY TO THE GAY PEOPLE WHO CAME
TO SEE ME.
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