Accounting for orgasmic absence: exploring heterosex using the story completion method

Hannah Frith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Orgasms are central to academic and lay debates about sexual ‘normality' and ‘dysfunction' and are culturally constructed as the peak of heterosexual sex (Potts, 2000). Conversely, sexual interaction without orgasm is positioned as ‘only foreplay', a failure or dysfunctional. Examining how people account for orgasmic absence during heterosex using a story completion method, this article addresses three key themes: (1)‘reciprocity, blame and the orgasmic imperative', which places obligations on both men and women to elicit or deliver an orgasm to another; (2) ‘sex work, technique and the orgasmic imperative', which indicates the growth of a ‘performance imperative' in which both men and women must work to improve their sexual skills and (3) ‘honesty and dishonesty in sexual communication' in which open communication is positioned as difficult but key to solving sexual difficulties. Collectively, these themes demonstrate how gendered discourses of sexuality coalesce to produce an orgasmic imperative that provides different entitlements and obligations for both men and women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-322
Number of pages13
JournalPsychology & Sexuality
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


  • orgasm
  • heterosexuality
  • reciprocity
  • performance
  • communication


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