Baby Steps

There’s nothing like embarking on fertility treatment to find out just how much your husband masturbates.

I mean, I knew he did it, but good lord, I didn’t realise a four-day hiatus would be so traumatic.

‘What am I supposed to do for four whole days?’ he says, quite seriously, on Tuesday afternoon.

‘The doctor said four to seven days,’ I tell him. Being the sort of kid who always handed in their homework two days early, I am now the sort of adult who would see four days as the bare minimum required, and therefore the preserve of losers.

‘There’s absolutely no way I could wait seven days. Four’s as many as I’m willing to endure.’ We are clearly entering uncharted territory here.

‘Well, I’m away all week, so at least there’s no temptation to have sex.’

‘Hah!’ snorts Herbert, ‘that only makes it worse. What do you think I do when you’re away?’ Um, a little light needlework? Macrame? Sugar craft?

Hang on, am I married to a compulsive masturbator? I simply had no idea it was this embedded in his routine. I do hope he’s not rubbing himself inappropriately up against the cats in my absence.

As the week progresses (jollied along by unhelpful texts from me, e.g. ‘Hurrah! You’re now 75% through your non-wanking marathon! Your’e a tiger!’), Herbert develops a more pressing concern: how to transport his sample to the hospital.

Semen samples must be kept at body temperature and should be tested as soon after ejaculation as possible. Our local hospital, sadly, does not offer a special room for the job.

After mulling over the prospect of knocking one out in an NHS toilet cubicle, H decides that he’d prefer his first post-abstinence wank to be at home. The man from the pathology department therefore helpfully suggests he keeps it under his armpit until he reaches the hospital. Herbert and I are not sure this is possible without straining something or crashing the car.

After much indecision, on Thursday night he decides to practice driving home with the empty bottle clenched between his thighs. It is declared a success. We are all ready for the Friday morning payload.

In the meantime, I am occupying myself in other ways. I decided, quite suddenly, that I ought to be taking special pre-conception vitamins, just in case, y’know, I fall pregnant in a so quickly that I haven’t had time to stockpile folic acid. I take a trip to Boots, where I find a brand that’s so expensive I imagine they must contain micro-bots that swarm up my fallopian tubes and gently massage my ovaries into submission.

I buy them. And while I’m there, I also purchase a breathtakingly expensive box of ovulation sticks, as I figure I might be able to catch my body sneaking out an ovulation when no-one’s looking. I suspect that peeing on a stick every day will keep me occupied, particularly in conjunction with swallowing a vitamin pill.

Because, really, as soon as this process starts, the obsession kicks in. I may be ambivalent about what a baby will do to my life, but I am not in the least bit ambivalent about the process of conceiving it. Conception is a task which, properly managed, can be robbed of some of its uncertainty. Or at least, that’s what I have to believe if I’m not going to crack under the strain. If it all fails, I don’t want to be left with the nagging doubt that I didn’t do quite enough.

At eight o’clock this morning, I text H:

The time is upon us!

H: Ten minutes to go.

Me: In my head, you’re standing with your hand poised over your penis, like a gunslinger in a spaghetti western.

H: You worry me sometimes.

But the deed is done. He produces his sample (I don’t enquire), drives it to the pathology lab on the way to work, and then texts me to say:

It wasn’t a very big sample in the end. I’m a bit disappointed. I expect they’ll want another one now.

FFS, how much do you think they need? I reply.

Do you know the worst bit? says H, I just looked it up online. Two to four days of not ejaculating is usually considered enough. Your GP is a sadist.

Ah well. I suppose we all have to find ways of managing the little stresses in life.


The Science Bit. Concentrate*

On Thursday morning, I wake up to find that Herbert has already gone to work. Checking my phone, I find that I have a text:

2 minutes 51 seconds, sent at 00.53 the night before.

Ha! I text back, I reckon I can easily beat that.

Does that count as flirting? comes the reply.

Yes, I type, although possibly I am mistaking competitivity for arousal.

This is all the fault of Mary Roach’s Bonk, which I reviewed on Thursday. Bonk is a fascinating book about the science of sex, and it made me wonder if we couldn’t attempt a sexual experiment ourselves. I suggest this to Herbert.

‘I’m not measuring my knob so that you can post it on your blog,’ he says. ‘Not unless you’re willing to measure the capacity of your vagina, too.’

Although I am diverted by this possibility (in particular, how would one achieve it? My vote goes to a condom, a funnel and a jug of water), that is not what I had in mind.

‘No,’ I say, ‘I’ve already had an idea. I thought we could time our orgasms.’

‘Why?’ says H, not unreasonably.

‘Well, we’re obviously both much slower to orgasm when we’re working together. I want to find out what the difference really is. I even have a hypothesis.’

‘Which is?’

‘I reckon I’ll be as quick as you when I’m masturbating alone…’ (H: ‘I doubt that very much) ‘…but much slower than you when we’re working together.’


Cut forward to Thursday evening. Herbert’s 2 minutes 51 seconds is in the bag. I place a stopwatch next to the bed and tell Herbert not to think about it.

‘I’m not sure that’s going to be possible,’ he says.

‘Aha!’ I say, ‘The Hawthorne Effect! The experimental results are affected by the presence of the observer!’

‘Hm,’ says Herbert, which I take to mean, ‘that didn’t help.’

Of course, the problem with this particular experiment is that both of us are invested in the results coming out a certain way. Herbert does not want to look like he’s a premature ejaculator. I, on the other hand, would prefer to not come off as the sort of woman who requires hours of torturous ministrations in order to come.

‘We have to just go for it,’ I say to H. ‘As fast as possible. Agreed?’

‘Fine,’ says H.

The initiative, therefore, is very much mine to take. I’m convinced that I climax much faster if I’m taking an active role in sex, rather than lying back and waiting for an orgasm to occur. I start the stopwatch, place it on the bedside table, and then, mentally counting the seconds that have already elapsed, leap on top of Hebert and begin rubbing myself enthusiastically against his manly bits.

I don’t think we’re usually this vigorous. Soon, I am sweating and panting with the exertion. Herbert groans and holds onto my breasts as if they’re life-floats, and I regret putting the stopwatch so far away. He’s bound to come first, and then I’ll lose my stride dismounting and fetching it. I gasp this to Herbert.

‘Don’t worry,’ he says, ‘after I’ve come, I’ll start counting.’

I very much doubt the scientific validity of this approach, but then I do find that my orgasm is a cumulative affair, and I fear having to start again from scratch if I get distracted in this way. I bounce on, trying to ignore the nagging thought that I’m doing all the hard work here. Actually, though, I’m really enjoying the franticness of it all. It’s as if there’s no space for arousal-destroying thoughts to creep in.

And then, quite suddenly, I feel the genesis of an orgasm way down in my belly. Sensing victory, I bear down on it, and then draw up my pelvic floor muscles until it erupts in me – a small orgasm, but a definite one nonetheless. Now I’m the one who starts counting. How long is it seemly to wait before I check the stopwatch?

‘Do you want to go on top?’ I say casually to H, and while we change positions, I reach over and check the watch. 16 minutes 40 seconds. I reckon at least half a minute has passed, so I’m calling that a 16 minute orgasm. A whole minute after Tim Ferris would have given up the ghost, but none too shaming.

Herbert, however is still going. It’s not for the want of trying. We shift from Missionary to Doggy, and then he suggests I finish him off by hand.

Wow, I think, that’s surely the most unreliable of methods. But I enthusiastically grab hold, and after that it doesn’t take long for H to shudder into orgasm. This time, the stopwatch is in my (other) hand.

‘20 minutes 4 seconds,’ I say. And then, although I don’t mean to, ‘I can’t believe I beat you! I’m so chuffed.’

‘Yup,’ says H, ‘and I feel like a sexual marathon man. It’s a win-win.’


This morning, I wait until I hear the toaster click on downstairs and then dive onto the bed with my stopwatch. After a fair amount of effortful masturbation and heavy breathing (I love Abby Lee’s term ‘bully wank’ for these moments), I manage a reasonable, if grudging, orgasm.

1 minute 56 seconds. I run downstairs, dressing gown flapping open.

‘Oh my god,’ I say, ‘I beat you on both counts.’

Hebert looks me up and down for a few moments in a mixture of awe and resentment.

‘That’s nothing,’ he says, ‘You should see how fast I am when I use the Flip Hole.’


So, if I was to write up a research paper on this (a really rubbish one with completely invalid, non-representative data that would get crucified at the peer review stage), what would I conclude? Well, the female orgasm is not necessarily as elusive as we’re led to believe, particularly if, like me, you’ve, er, practised a lot.

Moreover, I think we’ve demonstrated that sex a deux is a highly inefficient way of achieving an orgasm. It’s a hit and miss affair, and observation seems to inhibit orgasmicity (is that a word?). In the light of my findings, I foresee a whole new movement towards streamlining sexual pleasure. Cutting out the middle man leaves you free to fit more orgasms into your day, or to take up a useful hobby like gardening. Maybe I’ll pitch my ideas to Tim Ferriss.

Or does that possibly miss the point?

*Is that reference actually completely obscure? Was I the only one who found it memorably amusing to be patronised by Jennifer Anniston?