Dear Sex Counselor,
The subject of orgasms has been a very touchy subject for me. I get embarrassed when it is mentioned to me. The reason for this is that I have never had an orgasm. The few men that I have slept with begin to wonder why I cannot orgasm. In the past they have never asked me about it, but when our sex life came to an end I figured out why. But even I don’t truly know why.
I currently have a new boyfriend that I have been together and sleeping with for quite a while now. Every time we have intercourse my vaginal area always seems to be dry. We use lubricants, but it’s not the same. He always seems to please me, and when I don’t have an orgasm he thinks it is his fault. I hate to even talk to him about it because I don’t even know why. I sometimes get really depressed thinking about it. I hope you can help me figure out why I have not had an orgasm or give me some suggestions on how to achieve one.
Thanks for having the courage to write this question. It is a very common question, and one that none of us has ever gotten any guidance on unless we work very hard to find the answers. I hope you don’t mind a long answer, since it is a very complex question you ask.
First I want to explain about women’s anatomy, and why it is so hard for us (and men) to understand. Most of the sensitive tissues for women are located in the lips surrounding the vagina, the first two inches of the vagina, and in the clitoris, the little bud at the top of your vulva which may or may not stick out when you are excited. These tissues need to be stimulated consistently in order for a woman to be able to have an orgasm. For many women this means up to 45 minutes or more of stimulation; this is a significant difference from men, who know exactly what to touch on themselves, and who take from 2-10 minutes to orgasm (that’s from starting to touch to ejaculation).
Some questions I suggest you ask yourself: "Do I enjoy sex as I am experiencing it now?" If your boyfriends were not stuck on your ability to have an orgasm, would it matter to you? If your answer is that you enjoy sex and don’t need to make any changes, then you will want to learn to explain that to your partners and let them know that you are not finding them deficient, and that you don’t feel deficient for not being able to have an orgasm. Often, men are worried that they are not doing something right, and that you are not enjoying the sexual contact. Reassuring them can be helpful.
If you truly feel you are not experiencing enough pleasure, then read on. The first task is for you to locate those areas which give you the most pleasure when they are stimulated. The type of stimulation that most women enjoy is stroking the lips of the vulva, stroking the opening of the vagina, and stroking the clitoris - sometimes on the side, and sometimes directly on the head. It is often true that women do not have orgasms through sexual intercourse; we need that consistent stimulation of our clitoris and vulva, and intercourse does not achieve that.
In order for a woman to lubricate enough to enjoy intercourse, she often needs extended stroking of this area before attempting penetration. Lubricant is helpful, and I suggest you find one designed for sexual use such as Oasis Silk, Slippery Stuff, Sliquid Organics Natural or Uberlube Silicone (these are available from our store and our website, and may be available in your community from a pharmacy or condom store), and use it to lubricate your vulva at the start of manual contact - not just for intercourse. A silicone lubricant may be the best choice because it does not dry out or soak into the skin quickly. The best way to determine what kinds of touch you like is to try touching yourself first, without the pressure of a partner’s expectations.
I am guessing from your letter that you do not masturbate, or if you do, that you don’t do so to orgasm. I want to suggest that you start learning how to pleasure yourself. That may be very difficult and scary for you; many of us are told that it is not okay to give ourselves pleasure. What I can tell you from years of working with women around pleasure and orgasm is that it is very difficult for women to have an orgasm with a partner without having first discovered what works for themselves. If you are able to stimulate yourself to orgasm, then you have some information to share with your partner about what feels good, for how long, and at what intensity.
One thing to know is that you may not be able to have an orgasm during intercourse, or you may only be able to have an orgasm during intercourse with additional stimulation of your clitoris by either you or your partner’s hand or a vibrator. There is nothing wrong with this; most women require that extra stimulation in order to have an orgasm during intercourse.
The other thing which may work for you during partner sex is cunnilingus - his tongue licking your labia and clitoris for an extended period of time. This is often a successful way for women to achieve orgasm. However, it takes a lot of communication so that your partner knows where you like to be licked, how hard, and how fast, so you should feel comfortable talking with him explicitly before embarking on this.
There are several resource books for you if you want to explore this topic further. One is For Yourself, by Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D. It is a good book for women who are not orgasmic and want to be. Another book for women who want to learn how to have orgasms is The Elusive Orgasm. This one is focused on teaching women more about their bodies and how they can become orgasmic during masturbation and during partner sex. You’ll find good exercises there to help you on your journey. A book geared towards couples on expanding the creativity of their love play and increasing pleasure for both people, is entitled Red Hot Touch and could be an enlightening read.
You deserve to experience pleasure, so I hope you find a way to explore your body some more and learn what gives you the most pleasure. Remember that this is one of the most common concerns both women and men have about their sexual lives, so you should not feel alone or unusual.
The Sex Counselor