Get Real! The Great No-Orgasm-from-Intercourse Conundrum

On Get Real!, Heather responds to the dozens of teens who ask about young women and orgasms.

Editor’s Note: We’re delighted to bring Get Real!, Heather Corinna’s
popular sexuality advice column, to you on Rewire, now every week!

Way too many people ask:

18, female and my boyfriend and I had no previous sexual relationships.
I’ve been engaging in intercourse about a month now, and I was
wondering why I haven’t orgasmed yet. I’ve been able to orgasm through
masturbation but not with my boyfriend doing the work. What do you
think is wrong? Is it normal? Or are we just too inexperienced? If so
how do I tell my boyfriend about it?

Heather replies:

get a LOT of questions like this, every single day, and have for as
long as we’ve been online. Here are just a few more recent ones:

I have been with my boyfriend for the last three years,
and just last May we had sex for the first time. I was a virgin, he was
not. We have had sex on a few occasions, but I cannot reach orgasm
through oral or vaginal sex. This can be very frustrating. I able to
reach an orgasm through masturbating, but nothing else. Could it be
that I am far to used to masturbating that I cannot reach an orgasm in
any other way? We love each other very much, but this one thing is
proving to be… well challenging. If I masturbate and do not touch my
clit, I get nothing. Many help sites suggest to find a way of reaching
orgasm through masturbation first, but if I cannot do so… is getting
one through sex impossible?

I am 18 yrs old and currently in a relationship that has
lasted around 3 years. I love him and he loves me, but we have the
classic problem of not being able to make me orgasm. I am sexually
attracted to him and am not ashamed of my body and I have orgasmed
before but only on my own. Until recently, the only way I could get
myself to orgasm was by using a vibrator or allowing allowing water to
run over my vagina in the bath. However, I am really trying to get to a
point where I can orgasm with him without any sort of stimulation from
a vibrato,r etc. We thought that if i got to know myself better through
masturbation that would help. I can now bring myself to orgasm through
my own stimulation, but only when I read about or see something sexual.
We are both really trying and I would love any sort of outside help.
Thank you for all of your help!

I’m an 18 year old girl who use to have sexual feelings
by just watching porn or just thinking but since I started having sex I
never felt horny or neither do I ever enjoyed sex, I just feel a little
pain and nothing else. I want to enjoy sex. What can I do to enhance my
sexual feelings to the maximum? I don’t care if I feel horny every day.

We say this often around here — to the point that I’m certain no
one reading around is missing it — but I’m going to start by saying it
again here.

The majority of women — according to most studies, at least 70% —
do not and will not reach orgasm through vaginal intercourse or
vagina-only stimulation (like "fingering" that’s only about vaginal
insertion) only.

Again: most women do not reach orgasm through intercourse alone. Given
that’s a majority, we can safely say that it is most normal NOT to
reach orgasm through intercourse alone, or only do so infrequently.

That’s really not very surprising. The vagina, all by itself, is not
all that rich with sensory nerve endings. The sensory nerve endings it
has are not only within the first couple inches of the vagina (the
reason why penis length really is a non-issue for women who sleep with
men), but they tend to be more responsive to very targeted stimulation
rather than the more general stimulus vaginal intercourse usually
provides. For sure, plenty of women still enjoy vaginal intercourse.
From a physical perspective, that feeling of fullness can be nice, and
can also provide some stimulation of the internal clitoris.
Some sexual positions for intercourse — like women being on top, for
instance — can also provide more direct clitoral stimulation. From an
emotional perspective, intercourse has a lot of good publicity as
something that is important and brings people closer (and even just
thinking it so can make it so sometimes), risking pregnancy tends to up
the emotional ante, and just being face-to-face with any sort of sex
can create a feeling of closeness. Plus, since unlike women, a majority
of men do reach orgasm through intercourse, pleasing one’s partner has
its own excitement and intimacy.

But overall, if and when women want to reach orgasm when intercourse
is involved, they’re going to have to be doing something else WITH
intercourse to get there — such as manual clitoral stimulation from a
partner, using a vibrator, masturbating — or having intercourse be
part of other sex they are having before or afterwards. A lot of the
time we get asked about this, the person asking does already know at
least one thing — and usually more than one — which does work for
them when it comes to what feels great and gets them to orgasm. When
that’s the case, there’s no problem: that is the thing that you’d then
add to intercourse (or do instead, whichever), either yourself, by
showing a partner how to do what you do that works for you by yourself,
or by having them do whatever it is they do that feels delicious.

If that’s still confusing, think about it this way: women have, on
our bodies, the only organ on EITHER the male or female body that
serves no other purpose but to provide sexual pleasure: our clitorises.
Our vaginas are really about reproduction more than anything else when
it all comes down to it. With men, for the most part, their bits are
more all-in-one: the penis is both a reproductive organ and a primary
organ of sexual pleasure. They have something else, too, that isn’t the
penis or within the penis, the prostate gland. While the male prostate
does serve a purpose other than sexual pleasure, it’s a bit more like
our clitorises, save that most men will be able to reach orgasm without
direct prostate stimulus: it’s just that that stimulus often provides
longer, stronger orgasms.

All of that really only has to be a bummer if you and yours make it
one. The facts of how our bodies do and don’t respond to orgasm isn’t a
problem: our bodies aren’t the problem. Thinking that they are is
effectively a body image problem, just like thinking your thighs or
breasts aren’t the right size, or you’re not the right weight. Your
body is how it is and accepting it as-is is not only good for your
mental health, it’s good for your sex life.

It’s unrealistic ideals and expectations which are the big problem
here. In a lot of ways, when we’re talking about sexuality, especially
female sexuality, the world gets it backwards in how it presents what
real-deal sex and isn’t. The activities which are usually most likely
to be completely satisfying for women are called foreplay, and the one
that isn’t sex. Some of that backwards-thinking has to do with
long-time ignorance, some of it with patriarchy, some of it with
heterosexism, some of it with how some folks really, really, only want
sex to be about reproduction. But all of it is pretty bunk, no matter
what perspective it’s coming from. What "real sex" is is the sex anyone
is having which is stimulating, exciting and satisfying, and for women,
that tends to be either things other than intercourse or intercourse
which is combined with other things. Making it a goal to reach
intercourse through orgasm alone not only isn’t a realistic goal, it’s
probably going to keep you from having sex you really enjoy. Sex
between people should be about finding what unique things and dynamics
work for those two people, not about meeting anyone else’s ideals, or
unrealistic daydreams about how sex should be… were our bodies not
exactly as they are in real life. Again, for most women, making it a
goal to reach orgasm during intercourse is a bit like making it a goal
to find that elusive pot of gold held by a cute little leprechaun at
the end of the rainbow.

That isn’t to say that any other activity guarantees anyone will
reach orgasm, either. Not everyone will orgasm from oral sex or manual
sex, or won’t every single time. What works for you will tend to be
pretty individual, may vary from partner to partner, and from year to
year, and that’s all okay. Getting hung up on what’s "supposed" to work
is a good way to prevent yourself and your partner from finding out
what does.

I also often get the impression that people forget it usually will
take women longer to reach intercourse than men, and that when people
do talk about "foreplay," they don’t mean doing something for a few
minutes so that a woman is in the mood enough to say okay to
intercourse. While most men can reach orgasm through intercourse for
just a few minutes, plenty of women are going to need 20 minutes —
sometimes more — of a kind of sex that really revs her engine, and
that often will include more than just touching her genitals or
breasts. Heck, even men benefit lot when sex is about the whole body
and more than one activity.

Another common response I get is that women can get sooooo close to
orgasm, but then pull back because things feel too intense. Orgasm IS
intense. Not always crazy-intense, but it’s intense, and that’s a lot
of why everyone wants to have one so bad. If you’re feeling really
close, but like one more touch will make you lose your mind, that’s
when you keep things going, not when you stop: getting over that hump
tends to be what gets you to the orgasm. Too, though, if you’re feeling
suddenly HYPERsensitive, and just can’t take any touch at all, it’s
likely you HAD an orgasm already. Sometimes, people have unrealistic
expectations about what orgasm even feels like.

Let’s also remember that what does and does not "work" for us
sexually isn’t just about the physical, nor just about if we are loved
by and feel love for our partners. It’s not even just about if we find
partners attractive. If we have real chemistry matters, and sexual
chemistry is a crazy, sometimes random thing. We can have it with
people we don’t like very much, and not have it with people we do. We
can love someone to death, be in love with them, find them attractive,
but just not feel fireworks when we get sexual, and that doesn’t tend
to be something anyone can make happen. It’s usually either there or
it’s not. As well, things like what the dynamic is when we’re having
sex — like if a partner is very emotionally distant when we want
closeness, very gentle when we want something more aggressive (or
vice-versa), one of us is very passive and the other active, if a
partner likes to talk about sex during in a way they find sexy, but you
find either hilarious or grotesque — matters. Some kinds of sexual
dynamics that work for one person may not for the other — for
instance, for people who prefer BDSM dynamics, "vanilla" dynamics often
won’t cut the mustard. Someone who wants very tender, slow sex but
whose partner is only interested in battering-ram quickies isn’t likely
to be satisfied. If someone is mostly attracted to women and only
sleeping with men, it’s no shocker sex isn’t that exciting for them; if
a person identifies their gender in one way, but their partner treats
them in ways that gender-wise don’t fit that identity, it can feel like
you’re not really present, for obvious reasons.

Something else you’ll want to bear in mind is that sex is one of
those things that tends to take time and practice to get really
awesome. Sure, every now and then the stars and everything else will
just happen to be in some kind of perfect alignment that we wind up
having drop-dead-amazing sex without having spent time with a partner
or ourselves, or without doing what we usually need to do to reach
orgasm and/or feel satisfied. But those times are the exception, not
the rule. Usually, it’s just going to take time — and when I say time,
I mean years in a lot of cases, and in some respect, a lifetime of
learning for all of us — for a person to learn to really get
themselves there alone. It’s going to take time for any two people to
experiment and explore one another, learn to communicate well about sex
and respond accordingly, get over hangups and be comfortable enough
together to seriously let it all hang out sexually and have sex be
total gangbusters.

In general, younger people — particularly women — also don’t have
orgasms of the same quality or with the same frequency as their older
counterparts. Much of that just boils down to time again: the time it
takes to get to know your body, the time it takes to get to know a
partner’s body. Other issues are probably at play there, too, like just
really feeling comfortable having sex at all, accepting one’s body as
it is, doing what feels good, not what you think you should be doing,
as well as hormonal issues. If you’re not there yet, it should be okay,
because what you are doing should feel good and be pleasurable, even if
and when it doesn’t result in orgasm. If it doesn’t feel great —
physically and emotionally — even without orgasm, that’d be a problem
even if you did come.

But there’s another big difference between older women and younger ones a lot of the time, and that’s plain old assertiveness.

For instance, check out the findings of this study at The Guttmacher Institute: Almost
20% of women believed that they never have the right to make their own
decisions about contraception, regardless of their partner’s wishes; to
tell their partner that they do not want to have intercourse without
birth control, that they want to make love differently or that their
partner is being too rough; and to stop foreplay at any time, including
at the point of intercourse. Many sexually active young women perceive
that they do not have the right to communicate about or control aspects
of their sexual behavior.

They used a pretty small sample for that study: based on what I’ve
observed in talking to young women about sex for the last ten years,
I’d say that way more than 20% of young women have a tough time being

If you want to have satisfying sex and orgasm, you usually have
got to be able to speak the heck up about what you want and need, about
what feels good and what doesn’t, without reservation.
If we’re
close enough to and comfortable enough with someone to be having sex
with them, it really, truly should be no big whoop to say things like,
"Hey, try that a little to the left," or "Can you move a bit more
slowly," or "Let’s switch to this position," or "It feels even better
when you rub my clitoris while we do this," or "Don’t stop doing
exactly that, I think I’m going to come." Personally, I’m of the mind
that if saying those kinds of things isn’t easy-peasy, then it’s best
to slow down with sex and develop that comfort and communication FIRST.
That’s something you can do as you move to sex gradually, too, and one
good way to know if you and yours are really at a point where sex is
going to be likely to be beneficial for y’all.

I know that plenty of young women who come here were reared with the idea that they shouldn’t have
to do that, or that being sexually assertive is somehow unfeminine or
unacceptable, but I’d encourage you to leave that rubbish at the door,
particularly if you’re invested in sex that is satisfying for you. Why
is saying what you want when you want something to avoid, or wish you
didn’t have to do? Channel your inner broad, says I. Speak up, gals.

Know what else? Women aren’t always alone in having these concerns.
I hear plenty of young women worried about boyfriends being responsive
to them if they DO speak up, do voice what they want, do really want to
experiment and explore to find what works, but often enough, we get
letters from boyfriends who are just as concerned as you that you don’t

Take a look at a couple examples:

My girlfriend has never had an orgasm, and I’ve never
really had a problem pleasing ex-girlfriends. It seems like I can get
her almost there, but then she makes me stop because it hurts. I tried
gentle oral sex, but it just seems like right before she is about to
orgasm her clitoris get so sensitive that it has a painful burning
sensation, and i have to stop before she gets there. It will take about
2min before I can touch her without it hurting. After that it just
repeats, and I can never seem to get her to orgasm before her clitoris
becomes over sensitive. I was just wondering what is going on, or what
I can do to help her. I don’t know if it’s psychological or just
physical, but I definately want to fix it for her. Any advice at all
would be much appreciated.

I’ve recently begun dating a young woman in her early
twenties who has been sexually active for several years, since she was
16. She confessed a few days ago that she has never had an orgasm. As
her most recent partner I am almost intimidated by the fact that she
openly knows that she will not orgasm during sex. I foreplay
incessantly to try and maximize her chances of an orgasm, but with no
effect; she says it’s not me, she’s always been like that. My question
may sound ignorant, but it goes like this: Is there anything that I can
do as a partner to maximize, and really maximize, the chances of giving
her an orgasm, or is there a limit to what a partner can do?

See? You can talk to these guys and tell them what feels good. They want to know. Seriously.

And if you don’t know yet, your partners should be open to you
simply saying you want to try a lot of different things to find out.
Since that exploration and experimentation is one of the best parts of
sex, that should be exciting for anyone, not a drag.

And guys, if you’re reading and want to know how to help? Pass some
of this stuff on to your female partners. Let them know you want them
to tell you what to try, and let them know that you’re more than open
to experimenting. Ask a lot of questions and be responsive to the
answers. Reassure them that your goal is pleasure, and that if it feels
good for them and is also something you want to do, you’re down with
it, even if it doesn’t result in orgasm, now or period. Let them know
that your esteem is not so miniscule that you have a problem with her
using her own fingers or a vibrator as part of the sex you have; your
sense of self so underdeveloped that her suggesting one thing feels
better than another isn’t going to upset you. Remember that sexual
activities outside of intercourse really aren’t "foreplay," they’re
other kinds of sex, and more often than not, the kind that are most
satisfying to most women.

For everyone: please remember that sex is really supposed to be fun.
That’s one sexual ideal that isn’t unrealistic. Certainly, it is also
about intimacy, about closeness, often about love, about personal
growth, but just having a good time has a place in all of that, and
just having a good time is going to get you a lot closer to orgasm than
stressing out about it.

And with that, I leave the lot of you with a few links to help — hopefully — put this puppy to bed: