In an increasingly non-binary, gender-diverse world, I realize that some readers may be unhappy about the focus of this blog post: orgasm issues in heterosexual relationships. If you are offended, I apologize. Yet, while I have self-identified gay, lesbian and bisexual clients, much of my work currently involves cis-gendered women and heterosexual relationships. And, many of the topics I address in this blog are indeed more broadly applicable. I do hope all of my readers find this blog helpful.
“A major theme among the women I treat is their difficulty in asking men to do this or that, to touch them in a certain way. Women are very tender with the male ego. They're afraid of offending their partner's pride because men like to think they know how to perform.”
― Avodah K. Offit, The Sexual Self
Oh, the many faces of female orgasm. That sublime moment of loss of control, impassioned release, momentary oblivion, and utter bliss. Or—that sense of futility or failure, something frustratingly just beyond reach, underwhelming and stressful. At times, orgasm is easy and delicious and at others, it is complex and illusive. Each woman’s relationship with orgasm is unique. Some women reliably have orgasms throughout their lives, others struggle to have an orgasm at all, or orgasm inconsistently. Significant events such as childbirth, menopause, relationship discord, disability or illness can substantially disrupt orgasm either temporarily or permanently. A severely restrictive religious upbringing, lack of sexual self-awareness, and/or an aversion to masturbation and self-exploration can derail a woman’s connection to her orgasm before she ever even has one. It’s an understatement to say that orgasm is complex in this culture!
Both partners in a relationship bear responsibility for the outcome of a sexual liaison. While some men fall prey to the “Performance Myth,” falsely believing that they are solely responsible for the success of every sexual encounter (a true recipe for performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction), some women lack sexual self-awareness about how they like to be touched or need to be touched in order to experience orgasm. Absent effective communication, it’s easy to understand how couples can experience disconnection, discord and lack of satisfaction around their sex lives. Below, I will review three themes I see around a male approach to female orgasm, identifying how each can impact their partner. I will then outline how both partners can work individually and together to create a more satisfying sexual outcome.
Theme #1: Indifference to Partner’s Orgasm
In this theme, a couple typically shares very little pre-intercourse activities. They may move quickly from flirtation and some kissing to a bit of touching on the vulva, to intercourse, with the entire encounter taking 10-20 minutes. Once he ejaculates, he’s done, leaving his partner asking, “Is that it?” His partner is left in any one of a number of states: 1)relief that it’s over quickly; 2)irritation that she did not have sufficient arousal to get close to orgasm and that he doesn’t seem to have any awareness about her pleasure; or 3)she masturbates herself to orgasm while he snores at her side, also feeling irritation at his seeming indifference.
Possible causes: Men with this style typically may have any one or more of the following issues: 1)religious shame: they want to get the sex act over quickly because they feel shame in having sex; 2)lack of awareness of women’s bodies: many men today have learned about sex through watching porn and have no real awareness of how to pleasure a woman’s body. Porn is “entertainment” bearing little resemblance to real sex between men and women. This mindset can lead to general cluelessness or a more misogynistic indifference; 3)belief that women’s pleasure isn’t important; 4)lack of awareness of women’s bodies unrelated to porn: let’s face it, sex education doesn’t cover pleasure. Some men simply don’t learn about women’s arousal at all and may feel shame over their lack of prowess with women due to the incorrect cultural messaging that it’s all on men to make the woman’s experience “perfect.” It takes two empowered, self-aware and informed people to create great sex!
Possible solutions: For the woman who wants to experience pleasure and orgasms with her partner, she must learn to speak up about her needs and desires. In a culture that still shames women’s pleasure, it can be challenging for women to admit that they want and enjoy sex—but know this: nothing will change unless women have the courage to set aside shame, to ask for what they want and to teach their partners how to touch them to achieve orgasm. On the flip side, men have to set aside the sense (based in shame) that they’re “supposed to” know all things about how to please every woman and to become a curious partner in exploring her body together.
Theme #2: Overly Concerned with His Partner’s Orgasm Response
In this theme, the male partner is highly vested in his partner’s orgasm and he isn’t going to quit until she comes. His ego is on the line: if she doesn’t come, he views it as his personal failure. In a lesser version, he simply experiences more joy if his partner has an orgasm; he’s persistent, but it’s truly not an ego thing. For her part, she may feel any number of ways: 1)she’s happy with the encounter, typically has orgasms but just isn’t feeling it that day—she’s ok with not having an orgasm every time; 2)she’s nowhere near orgasm and just wishes he’d let it go; 3)she dreads every sexual encounter and begins faking it to satisfy his ego and to get him to stop.
Possible solutions: Again, it begins with a conversation with the woman partner sharing information about what works and what doesn’t—and a commitment to never fake orgasm. When a woman fakes an orgasm, all she does is teach her partner how to touch her in a way that will not help her to experience an orgasm! Talking about one’s relationship with orgasm to a partner is critical. If you are a woman who doesn’t feel the need to orgasm with each encounter (and yet you enjoy the sensual touch and intimacy of penetrative and non-penetrative sex) let your partner know. If your partner’s technique isn’t effective, work together to figure out what works. This can include scheduling hands-on practice sessions and reading wonderful books together such as Sheri Winston’s Women’s Anatomy of Arousal. In addition, it will help the male partner a great deal to shed two limiting beliefs: 1)that he’s “supposed to” know how to bring every woman to orgasm at all times; and 2)that a “successful” sexual encounter hinges on his partner having an orgasm. Getting the ego out of the way is critical to resolving this scenario.
Theme #3: The Happy Middle Ground
In this theme, the male partner wants his female partner to experience optimal pleasure and orgasm, he’s willing to pleasure her to orgasm, yet he respects when she says she’s ok not having an orgasm. He does not take it personally in any way if she either chooses not to orgasm, or can’t get there on a given day. He doesn’t see the encounter as a “failure” if she does not come. Does this scenario seem far-fetched based on your lived experience? Trust me, in a healthy sexual relationship with effective communication, partners can certainly achieve this level of authenticity and honesty!
If either Theme #1 or Theme #2 feature prominently in your relationship, sex coaching can help! I’ve worked with countless couples to help them improve communication, share authentically about needs and wants, to develop effective touch practices and techniques, and ultimately, to learn how to share pleasure together in a way that satisfies both partners. If you and your partner are in a loving relationship yet are tired of frustrating sexual encounters and dissatisfaction over orgasm, get in touch. I look forward to working with you.