Ever found yourself wondering how to introduce a new sex act to your partner, or how to have orgasms that really hit the spot? If so, you’ve come to the right place! The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health will be publishing a monthly question and answer series for all your sex and sexuality-related inquiries. From sex toys to fantasies to safer sex, we’ll be doling out advice to keep your bedroom romps fresh and your inner sex kitten purring.
This month’s column is by staff member Yvonne Yu. Email your pressing sex questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, where they will be kept confidential!
Question: “Is it normal to be a female who has never orgasmed with a partner?”
Based on the wording of your question, I’m going to assume a few things: that you have a vulva/vagina; that you’ve been able to experience orgasm by yourself, through masturbation; and that when you talk about sex with a partner, you’re primarily referring to acts of penetration. (Note: penetration is obviously not the only way to play with a vagina, but as it’s most commonly discussed in the context of partnered sex and orgasms, I’ll assume that’s a large part of what you’re typically experiencing.) Now, lets dissect your question:
Is it normal to never orgasm with a partner?
The quick & easy answer: Absolutely. But lets dive a little deeper.
Shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Gossip Girl” can send the message that everyone’s having sex – and by implication, orgasms – all the time. Magazines can do the same thing, with articles like “50 Ways To Cum Like A Banshee” suggesting that it’s an easy and simple occurrence. However, studies reveal that 75% of sexually active women cannot orgasm from vaginal penetration alone, and 10-15% have never experienced an orgasm at all. If your partnered play has revolved around vaginal penetration in an attempt to orgasm, then your lack of success is hardly an anomaly — in fact, you are the norm.
Vulvas can tend to be more temperamental than penises when it comes to figuring out just the right combination of strokes to get them off, which often leads to frustration and self-doubt on the part of their owners. The Kinsey Institute reports that 79% of men consistently orgasm with their partners, while only 29% of women report the same. This may also be due to differences in societal standards, where many vulva owners are taught to be ashamed of their burgeoning sexualities and therefore may never have explored their own pleasure centers with the same … enthusiasm … of their penis-owning peers. Backing up this idea is the fact that older vulva-owners have higher orgasm rates than their younger counterparts, suggesting that familiarity with their bodies and sexual experience over time can make it easier to reach orgasm.
Also keep in mind that depending on how you are used to getting yourself off, orgasms may feel different with a partner as they arise from different types of stimulation and play: Orgasms that are achieved through external clitoral stimulation alone, for example, feel different from those achieved primarily through internal stimulation of the G-spot/G-zone.
Okay, great. But do I just have to deal with my lack of climax? What can I do to fix it?
If you’ve been able to orgasm alone, that rules out medical issues such as anorgasmia, meaning that you should theoretically be able to achieve orgasm with any partner. So what’s a frustrated gal to do?
The bounty of sex trivia and rigorous research that is the Kinsey Institute also reports that in general, vulva-owners are more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts, and when oral sex or vaginal intercourse is included. So if you’ve been pretty straightforward about your lovemaking to date, consider spicing it up! For inspiration, try filling out a sex activity list with your partner, like the one you can find here. Incorporate play that strokes all parts of the body, not just the genitals, seeing what sensations you enjoy, and then combining those activities with other ones. There’s no need to confine yourself to the ol’ in-and-out when there are multiple paths to orgasm, much like an R-rated Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Talking with a partner about your sexiest fantasies also leads in to one of the key components of partnered sex: communication. While we often hone directly in on the genitals when we think about sex, the brain is an organ that should require just as much if not more attention. For people of any gender, mental state plays a huge role in ability to achieve orgasm, and concerns or stressors of any kind can be major barriers to pleasure.
A lot of us find ourselves paralyzed by insecurity or worry when imagining how other people think of us in public — these fears can be understandably amplified when butt-naked and straining toward a gushing, gurgling climax. Folks who experience insecurity about their bodies also report less sexual self-esteem and lower sexual pleasure. Being comfortable with your partner is therefore extremely important. After all, as much as I can give general guidelines to how vulvas and vaginas typically like to be stimulated, there is such a variety of bodies and preferences out there that the best way to figure out what makes you hum is to constantly communicate with your partner about your likes and dislikes. If you don’t feel good in a certain position, let them know: you can make it clear that this isn’t a personal condemnation of their sexual skills, but simply an incompatibility with how your body works. Allowing yourself to feel comfortable with this kind of dialogue will facilitate not only a healthier sexual connection, but also the freedom to relax and enjoy discovering each other. They’re already willing to jump into bed with you — chances are, the flaws you seem to perceive in your own body don’t even register with them.
Keeping in mind that most vulva-owners orgasm most easily through clitoral stimulation, try focusing on the clitoris alone or combining it with penetrative play. If you’re not using a good lube, pick one out: don’t let friction rub away the fun. Regardless of how wet you usually get, using lubricant is associated with higher amounts of sexual pleasure. The options here are endless! Your partner could use their mouth on your clitoris while penetrating you with their fingers or a body-safe sex toy. If they have a penis (either biological or strapped on), they can penetrate you with that while either one of you uses your fingers to stimulate your clitoris. Vibrators are another great option for clitoral play, as they deliver strong, targeted vibrations, and can make it easier for you to relax and focus on the feelings in your body. You may want to try stacking a pillow or two underneath your lower body when being penetrated in the missionary position, as this can create a more comfortable angle for G-spot/G-zone penetration. (For more ideas, consider reading The CSPH’s Q&A: Sex Positions For Vulva-Owners)
When you’re first starting out, I’d recommend you take charge of your own clitoral stimulation; you will be more aware of the nuances of what your body wants, and your partner can also take it as a valuable chance to observe exactly how you like to be touched. Work with whatever feels good: circular motions? ‘Windshield wiper’ swiping back and forth? Some people like to stimulate the clitoris directly, while for others this is too sensitive and they prefer to rub it through the clitoral hood. You can also place your hand on top of your partner’s hand, guiding their movements; this will allow you to direct the stimulation in a way that is still sizzling and intimate.
These are all techniques and approaches that can hopefully help you reach the same kinds of spine-tingling heights with a partner as you do with yourself. But I do want to stress that while orgasms can certainly be the very happy ending to a good romp, people often miss out on the plethora of pleasures that sex provides even without the presence of an orgasm. At The CSPH we prefer to talk about “pleasure-focused sex” as opposed to “goal-focused sex,” focusing on sex as an entire ride of great sensations instead of a means to an end: the goal of an orgasm. Once you stop thinking that you have to orgasm in order for sex to be good or successful, you can focus on what’s happening to your body at all points in time, enjoying the things your partner does that feel good no matter what the end result is.