“Blue Balls,” Sexual Pain Disorders, and “The Point of No Return”

[content: sexual pain and mild talk of genitals, masturbation; compulsory sexuality, pressure to have sex, manipulation]

I want to talk about “the point of no return” in sex, and feeling unable to withdraw consent.

Certainly, there are cultural narratives promoting this idea–the “rudeness” of interrupting, the notion of “blue balling” someone and causing actual physical discomfort by denying release/orgasm.  Many folks have done excellent take-downs on how these are myths that reinforce compulsory sexuality and rape culture.

However…well.  I personally, experience an additionally complicating factor. I do get “blue balled.”  Or, rather: I experience pain from continuous arousal, if I don’t reach orgasm.

It’s complicated. Probably some form of dyspareunia, maybe restless genital syndrome/persistent arousal disorder. Which, yay, dysphoria and aceness don’t help with (and, along with dismal sex ed, mostly helped obscure even self-diagnosis).

And no, lubrication doesn’t magically fix it, nor does fucking hydrocortisone, and once it sets in it prevents reaching orgasm. It’s very painful, chafes, and makes it difficult to walk (and especially to work, as if nothing’s wrong). It can last for over 24 hours. And it’s mostly caused by reaching a certain level of arousal, then stopping.

(Insert awkward anecdote about teenage years, genital itching, how trying to address the itch made it hurt, and how I was led to believe this was your average teen’s start of masturbation. Ahhuh, sure.)

Miraculously, I have never wielded this as a pressure over a partner, as an obligation that they must help me finish. Checkmark for being a basic decent person, huzzah.

What this experience has done is affected how I conceptualize “no return” for other people.

I’ve prioritized getting other people through the rises and falls of sex (and kink), precisely because for me it is jarring and potentially physically painful to ‘disrupt the process.’ I have all these ethical guards in me against causing someone else pain, both the usual emotional kind and the apparently-not-so-usual physical kind.

I don’t think I even realized this was an abnormal thing, until a few months ago upon discovering vaginsmusandsexuality’s tumblr.  I thought everyone truly, legitimately could be over-stimulated and over-aroused and “blue balled” and experience lasting, physical pain if not gotten to orgasm, with no do-over after a certain literal “point of no return.”  Internalized pressure to “finish what I started” and not withdraw consent, check check.

Sure, I knew cis dudes (and some trans dudes now that I think about it) liked to play up “blue balls” as a way to pressure, manipulate, exaggerate to get what they want. And that it was often an excuse or shorthand for misogyny. No sympathy for male tears here.

But I thought there was something behind the misuse of the phrase. Some actual physical pain. Something like mine.

If I’d known…well. Going forward, I sure won’t be prioritizing anyone else’s orgasms over my dissociation or triggeredness or even ‘just’ wanting to stop.

Ace community: we have got to do a better job of including sexual dysfunction, and especially sexual pain disorders, in our basic education and advice. There are aces with these experiences! It can be extra challenging to figure out what’s going on when ace, and/or dysphoric, and/or neurodivergent! It can make us more vulnerable to internalizing compulsory sexuality!

And no, “it’s okay to be sex-repulsed” is good but does not suffice for people who want to know what’s going on with their bodies. “It’s okay to have psychological problems with sex” is good but obscures the fact that there can be physiological problems, disabilities even. (And it’s okay to have those, do nothing about them, seek tons of treatment, all those options.)

I found Elizabeth’s 2010 interview of K on the subject. It’s very good, as are (most of) the comments, and I like the disability model a lot. FeministsWithFSD also have some great archives (although, where is the non-binary and trans competent wordage and resources? I’m sure they’re welcoming, inclusive even, but (cis) female-centric is still potentially alienating–it is for me).

We need more. More interviews, links, articles, blogposts opining. More ace advice that’s competent for, y’know, survivors, dysphoria, sexual pain disorders, other sexual disorders, being autistic or otherwise neurodivergent. Being not white. Of course we need more.

Here, now, I’m asking that when we talk about “the point of no return,” we address sexual pain and what it means for consent and internalized pressure. That when we talk about the myth of “blue balls,” we address sexual pain as well as manipulative rhetoric, include whatever resources we can find for help managing sexual pain and also meaningful consent in the context of sexual pain. That we address the reality of sexual pain and how it still doesn’t negate consent.

Let’s debunk and fight compulsory sexuality, and let’s bring sexual dysfunction along with us.


3 thoughts on ““Blue Balls,” Sexual Pain Disorders, and “The Point of No Return”

  1. Yes! Fully on board with this. That interview post I did is actually the one with the 2nd-most comments, so it clearly is a much-needed discussion.

    Part of the problem with getting these discussions going is the difficulty of asking others to talk about it, I think. It’s kind of like going up to someone and saying, “Hey, you should take all your clothes off in public while also talking about this thing that you have a legitimate problem with that everyone still gives you shit for anyway!” (And that’s the best case scenario.) I was fortunate to find K, who was already doing a lot of activism about it and totally willing to talk to me. It really has to be a discussion that people are ready to have, not just something the more privileged folks tell them to have. Talking about it at all is a big risk, and we have to acknowledge that.

    Making efforts not to erase ace people who have any kind of sexual dysfunction in our visibility efforts will help to make people in that intersection a bit more comfortable talking about it, though it certainly doesn’t remove the risk. Since 2010, I’ve seen more of that happening, but not enough. Partly, I think that’s because some of the people invested in doing basic 101 awareness stuff now weren’t that involved in the community back then, and tend to be isolated from these discussions even now. I don’t really know how to penetrate that bubble, though–especially since I’m pretty removed from them myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, hmm. I’m very in the dark about all this (so thanks for writing about it!). Now I’m thinking about how this relates to how I used the phrase “point of no return” in that social cost post… Like you said, it shouldn’t be used to manipulate people, but it does complicate matters.

    Liked by 1 person

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