If one more female friend calls on a Sunday night to tell me about the unbelievable orgasms she had the night before, I'm going to yank my phone out of the wall. I don't have a problem with a little bawdy play-by-play, but the downside of the new female sexual openness is that it's created a culture of female braggadocio. The powder room has become the new locker room.
Which is why, while watching Margaret Cho's latest concert film, Notorious C.H.O., I felt that I'd finally found a kindred spirit. "I have them," she says of her orgasms, "but it takes me a little extra time. And I need some things. I need an extension cord. I need some trail mix." Later in the act, she riffs on her struggles to find her G spot, moaning that "it just sounds like I'm trying to unlock my car door with a coat hanger" and finally concluding that "the G stands for 'Gotcha! Made ya look!' "
Cho, 33, who has been doing stand-up since she was 16, made a name for herself in 1995 with her short-lived ABC sitcom All-American Girl. In 1999, she created a one-woman Off-Broadway show, I'm the One That I Want, later released as a film, which chronicled her harrowing experiences on the show, her body-image problems, and her drug and alcohol addiction. In Notorious C.H.O., she addresses anthrax and drag queens, but the best material is an extended rant on what goes on inside her bedroom.
In person, she is far more low-key than her onstage persona would suggest, but she gets riled up when talking about men who don't care about women's orgasms. Over dinner at the East Village health-food restaurant Quintessence, we dish about our stories of O.
"It's not easy," she says. "To get off is a huge production. I guess my sexuality doesn't operate in that way. I'm sort of Tao about it."
"You mean you have energy orgasms instead of regular ones?"
"Oh, no," she says. "But that's how I justify never getting off. It's hard. Most men would like to think that it's just as easy for us as it is for them, where they don't have to do any extra work."
"Have you ever faked it?" I ask.
"I faked it right across the street," she says, pointing to an ex-boyfriend's apartment next to the Russian baths. "I made a career out of faking it for years, and then I thought, Why am I doing that? It's stupid."
"I think a lot of women fake it," I say. "And they ruin things for the rest of us, because they make the men think it's easier than it is. Do you think the act of sex is illogical, given that most men can come from just having sex and most women can't?"
"I think it's unfair," she says. "But maybe we're better off in that we can come a lot of different ways and that women have multiple orgasms, which men don't have. The whole G-spot thing, though, that to me is really the big fallacy."
I ask how her female fans react to this. "There have been lesbians who have said outright, 'That's so true. I don't have one either, and I'm pissed off.' Then there have been women who have said, 'Oh, no, you're wrong, there is totally one. You're just not applying yourself.' Like I'm lazy."
Whether because of or, perhaps, in spite of her sexual frustrations, she has done her share of experimenting. She's gone to S&M clubs, dated a leather guy for a while, and has had several relationships with women. "One was a telephone-repair woman," she recalls. "She had a hard hat and was totally butch. We had really fun sex. But often with women, it's not about that. We love each other, but we don't have sex. It becomes very Heavenly Creatures."
I ask her to tell me about her famous boyfriends, like Quentin Tarantino. "He has a pretty big one," she says.
"Did he know how to use it?"
"Yeah. He was great. Very tender."
"What about Chris Isaak?"
"Huge one. Too big. Unpleasantly big. But really masterful. He knows a lot about women and about sex." The restaurant seems very hot all of a sudden. "He was very romantic and played songs in bed. He had a ukulele on the wall, and he would pull it off and play it."
"Oh, yeah. He was adorable. But I could never relax because I had loved his music for such a long time."
With thoughts of a naked Chris Isaak dancing in my head, I take her to the female-friendly sex shop Toys in Babeland. The lighting is soft and Lauryn Hill's on the stereo. There's a counter with vibrators of all shapes and colors, and Margaret picks them up and names them. "This one's a pencil case. This one's Bart Simpson" -- it is, but just distorted enough that Matt Groening can't sue. "This one's like a big thumb in a cartoon, like when someone gets hit with a hammer."
We find one that looks like a miniature car (the switch is a wheel). I turn it on, and it starts thrashing around, banging loudly. People turn to look. We start giggling. "Could you not let it bounce against the counter?" a saleswoman asks. Margaret struggles to find the off switch but can't. I try, and I can't either. Desperate, I toss it to the saleswoman. She gets it off instantly.
Then the manager, Dana, introduces herself. When Margaret tells her she thinks the G spot doesn't exist, Dana launches into a detailed explanation of where it is and how it works. "This is something that I've been told a hundred million times," Margaret murmurs. "She's oversimplifying. It's not that easy."
After perusing the prosthetics, I select a curved silicone thing that attaches to a device I already have at home. I pick purple, my favorite color. Dana gives Margaret a goody bag (celebrities get swag everywhere, even in sex shops) that includes lube, a G-spot vibrator, and The Good Vibrations Guide: The G-Spot.
Outside, I ask if she's excited about her goody bag. "I want this to happen," she says. "But it's got a whole goal-oriented, in-box/out-box feeling to it."
She's hit the nail right on the head. Margaret, like someone else I know, is an alpha girl through and through -- competitive, aggressive, striving to be the best -- and in her professional life, it's brought her great success. But in the pleasure arena, those same go-getter skills make the goals all the more elusive. You don't get better O's the way you get your own sitcom.
Nor, as she points out, do you get better O's while watching sitcoms. "Plug-in vibrators make the TV fuzzy," she says. "You don't even have to be using the same outlet. If you're in the same room, it's impossible to watch TV and do it at the same time. So what's the point?"