Get Real! I Don’t Want to Spend My Life Never Being Satisfied by Sex

How do you reach orgasm from a given kind of sex when you just can't? And how do you feel satisfied by sex if you're not reaching orgasm?

How do you feel satisfied by sex if you're not reaching orgasm? Attractive woman grieves via Shutterstock

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kt21 asks:

I’ve done my reading and I know this problem has been addressed several times … but I still do not have an answer! Until I read this site I thought I was the only girl who couldn’t reach orgasm from sex (so thank you!) I now realize I am not, and understand that nothing is wrong with me, but it still sucks! I don’t want to spend my life never being satisfied by sex. It is extremely frustrating for me, as well as I know it is for my partners who spend so much time and effort trying to satisfy me. I know it is hard to generalize because all women are different and enjoy different things, but aside from the common “find out what you enjoy” answer, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell me anything that may be able to make a person like me orgasm from sex! I just want to be able to enjoy sex, and when you know you’re not going to be fully satisfied it gets boring pretty quick. I feel like I am always being teased! Yes, men can make me come from outer stimulation, but it takes a very long time, and we all know boys are impatient. So because I very rarely get to fully enjoy sex I am getting all excited just to be let down. At this point I am considering giving up intercourse all together! Please help me! I don’t know what else to do!

Heather Corinna replies:

There is a lot to unpack here, but I first want to make sure we’re on the same page with some basics, particularly since my sense is you don’t have an answer to this because you’re not asking yourself the right questions.

You’re saying you can’t have an orgasm from sex, but want to. You’re also saying that there are kinds of sex where you do reach orgasm. Sex can be a whole lot of things. When you’re saying you don’t reach orgasm from sex, you actually appear to be talking about only one kind of sex, vaginal intercourse. You’re saying you want to reach orgasm during that one kind of sex and, so far, you can’t.

You’re using terms like enjoyment or satisfaction interchangeably with orgasm. That’s a problem, because they’re not the same things, even though they can be, and often are, interrelated. Someone can enjoy and feel satisfied with a given kind of sex, or their sex lives as a whole, but not reach orgasm sometimes or at a given time. Alternately, someone can reach orgasm, but find they don’t feel satisfied and/or didn’t enjoy themselves. By all means, for many people, experiencing orgasm is part of enjoyment and satisfaction with sex. Orgasm is only one piece of those things, and also doesn’t have to be a piece sometimes at all. For sure, orgasms can be seriously awesome. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with wanting to orgasm and liking orgasm. Rather, I’m saying that orgasms alone are not likely to mean a person feels satisfied by sex or their sex lives or enjoys sex or their sex lives.

Even though it might seem silly, let’s clearly define those terms for our purposes:

orgasm: the conclusion of the plateau phase of the sexual response cycle, or the neurological/physiological peak of sexual response. It’s controlled by, and largely takes place within, the involuntary nervous system. It usually includes quick cycles of muscle contraction in the lower pelvis and muscular spasms in other areas of the body, and a general euphoric sensation. Orgasm and those sensations usually last a handful of seconds (though that euphoric feeling can continue for a little while longer than that).

satisfaction: the sense of feeling satisfied; the fulfillment or gratification of a desire, need, or appetite; pleasure (enjoyment, bliss, happiness) or contentment (feeling happy or pleased) derived from such gratification. When we talk about sexual satisfaction, we can be talking about feeling satisfied in a given moment, with one specific sexual encounter, in a given sexual relationship, and/or with our sex lives and sexuality as a whole.

enjoyment: having a good time, having fun, to take pleasure in or with.

Though it might seem sillier still, I’m going to tell you something about my house.

In order to heat the front of it, I need to make a fire in my wood stove. If I don’t, not only will we be very cold, but if it’s really cold outside, our pipes might freeze, which would be seriously bad. I can’t just flick a switch to make that happen; there are things I need and need to do to make that fire. It takes specific stuff, and it takes my attention and effort.

I need the stove, obviously. I need a lighter or matches. I need wood—both logs and kindling—and some kind of paper to get it all started. The wood has to be dry enough, and the flue of the stove has to be open. I also need at least a little bit of time to do all of this, and this particular wood stove has its own particular ways of behaving, so unlike other stoves I’ve had before, for instance, it needs a little more direct attention, and is very specific about how the wood is arranged.

So long as I have all of those things, I can usually make a fire. Not always—sometimes there’s still a fluke—but usually. So, when I have all of that and get it all going, I can make that fire, warm the house, and keep the pipes from freezing. I can achieve that particular goal, get that task done. That’s good stuff.

But what’s even better stuff is when it’s not just about making the fire to heat the house, when the task of making a fire is much more than a task, and the way I do it isn’t so goal-oriented. What’s even better, what’s really lovely, is when I have the time and am in the frame of mind to really enjoy, savor, and devote energy to the whole process, and when what I’m doing isn’t and doesn’t feel like a task, but is and feels like a great way to spend my time with something that feeds my senses, engages my heart and mind, and becomes a wonderful practice in fire-making.

When I go about making a fire that way, I might start by putting on my favorite sweater and boots and walking outside into the crisp air to get wood. That air smells and feels good on my face, plus my sweater keeps me warm and cozy. Looking at the trees all around reminds me of where the wood comes from, how grateful I am for it, and how beautiful the world I live in is. I’ll probably stand out there for a few minutes to soak it all in. Then, I’ll gather the wood in my arms, which will engage my muscles and make me feel strong. I’ll bring it inside; sort all the things I need; settle down in front of the fire; arrange the kindling, wood, and paper inside the stove; and light the paper aflame, which is pleasing to my eyes. Pieces of the wood will start to pop and crackle. I love that sound. The colors of the fire are magnetic, energizing, and calming—all at the same time. I start to smell the fire getting going. I love that smell, and I know that later on, it’ll be in my hair and on my sweater for me to enjoy all day.

I blow into the fire to really get it revved up, which feels good to my mouth, my face, and my lungs. I focus on my breath and what it can do, which relaxes and centers me. I’m patient with the fire, which also makes me feel good, because I’m one of those folks who does think it’s a virtue, so I feel thoughtful, relaxed, and virtuous.

In time, and how much time always varies, the fire usually winds up roaring. It’s beautiful. The heat feels great on my skin; the smell is fantastic. Sitting near it with my coffee afterwards adds to my enjoyment. The coffee even tastes a little different, because of the smell of the fire. I don’t rush away, I sit and relax, revisiting the whole process in my mind, enjoying where it is now in the moment. I got the fire I wanted and needed, I accomplished that goal, but I also just had and made a whole bunch of really lovely things happen that were not only great all by themselves, but which made the matter of having a fire, of that task, about a million times more wonderful and feel much less like a task and much more like a treat.

Not having an orgasm won’t freeze your pipes or land you with hypothermia, but all the same, my fire is your orgasm. It’s the most basic goal, and like orgasm, it’s also something that can’t just happen any old time without whatever specific things my particular fire needs. That goal is part of your enjoyment and satisfaction, but only a part of it. The process of getting to that goal—if you even do get there—is what’s much more related to sexual enjoyment and satisfaction. My process of really taking the time with fire-building, and engaging all my senses, is like the kind of sex that people tend to find most often leaves them feeling satisfied and where they really enjoy themselves, even without an orgasm.

For sure, if I needed a fire and couldn’t start one up, that would be frustrating, but it’d be a lot more frustrating without having engaged in all those steps and enjoyed them. When I do all of that, even if I walk away fire-less and need to try again later, I feel pretty OK because I still got some things that felt good out of the process. If I tried to do it all kind of halfway, in a big rush, or when I just wasn’t in the mood, and couldn’t make a fire then, I’d feel a lot more frustrated, and I’m willing to bet this is part of why you’re feeling so frustrated too.

On the whole, people who go about sex in a way we call goal-oriented, or product-oriented, not only tend to orgasm less often, they tend to feel less satisfied with sex and their sex lives. People who tend to be more process-oriented in the sex they have, with partners and on their own in masturbation, tend to be more orgasmic and also tend to feel more satisfied. If you’re going to have a goal in sex, and want sex that really is enjoyable and feels satisfying, the goal needs to be engaging in that whole process, not just a given or final product or outcome, like orgasm. And if you’re not interested in the whole process, or find you don’t like it, even if and when you made orgasm a goal that you reached, you’re probably going to still feel unsatisfied.

When it comes to sex (not just intercourse) and feeling satisfied, that usually involves a whole bunch of things. When we listen to people talk candidly about sex or look at big sexuality surveys like the Durex Sexual Wellbeing survey or the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, we can see that feelings of sexual satisfaction are about way more than orgasm. Orgasm is often a piece of that picture, but all by itself? Meh. One study found that only 40 percent of people of all genders reaching orgasm reported that that alone left them feeling highly physically and emotionally satisfied (Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, 1994).

The big picture of what satisfaction is and what makes people feel satisfied sexually is a lot bigger than orgasm. It includes things like being in good mental and physical health, personal and emotional self-expression during sex, feeling emotionally connected to a partner (not just for women, either!), and being satisfied with the relationship you’re in overall, such as by having real chemistry with your partner, feeling cared for and respected, good communication, creativity, humor, spontaneity and variety (even with one partner, and this also means doing more than just intercourse), having sexual fantasies, feeling relaxed and not stressed, having sex as often as one would like, engaging in one’s own masturbation, good body image and self-image, and more. Our life histories even play a role, including what our first sexual experiences was like, how we were reared in terms of sexuality and our interpersonal relationships in childhood and adolescence, and even whether or not we’ve had good sex education.

It’s possible that you, like most people, feel you need to reach orgasm with any kind of sex as part of being satisfied or to enjoying yourself. That’s OK, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, just like with my fire, people tend to need particular things to reach orgasm most of the time, and can’t just orgasm any old way, with everyone, or from everything. You already read enough to know that most women do not reach orgasm from intercourse all by itself consistently. You also seem to already know at least some ways you can reach orgasm. One thing it seems like you’re not getting is that if you need to reach orgasm from every kind of sex you have, especially without the things you know get you there, that’s not going to work. It seems like you also aren’t getting that the reason you feel dissatisfied, bored, teased, or impatient when it comes to vaginal intercourse probably isn’t about not reaching orgasm. People enjoy and feel satisfied with loads of things they don’t reach orgasm from, and usually like participating in many sexual activities that do not, all by themselves, result in orgasm for one or both partners, unless they’re only in sex for the orgasm or really don’t want to be doing whatever it is they are doing with whomever they are doing it with.

What I hear you saying is that you feel like intercourse is boring or unsatisfying for you, because you either don’t know if you’re going to orgasm or you know you are not. Yet, with any kind of sex, even kinds where we or others have reached orgasm before, no one can ever count on reaching orgasm. Even if we orgasm from a given thing every time for years, at some point or another, chances are we’re not going to reach orgasm that way. As well, if we make the “goal” of sex orgasm, we’re often not going to reach that goal, and even when we do, it can feel half-arsed, especially in sex with partners. I suspect you’re not bored because you’re not reaching orgasm, but because of other issues, and because product-oriented sex tends to be pretty darn boring, period.

You say that “we all know boys are impatient.” The thing is, I’d not say that we all know that at all. That’s not everyone’s experience. Impatient or hasty lovers come in all genders, as can patient and responsive lovers. If you’re finding that your sexual partners are impatient, I think you might want to consider that that’s not because they’re men, but instead because you’re perhaps not choosing the best partners for you. I also suspect their impatience may be connected with your own or to them feeling desperate to engage you because you’re not very engaged with them, which can feel awfully uncomfortable in sex with a partner.

It sounds to me like you’re impatient yourself, even though you’re expressing your partners as the ones being impatient. They may very well be impatient too, but I think this is also your issue. You say you feel like you’re being teased, only to be let down. Sexually speaking, drawing out pleasure and desire is usually pretty fun and exciting. Of course, for it to feel that way, we have to enjoy what we’re doing, and when we’re having sex with a partner, really want to be with that partner—rather than masturbating—enjoy that person and like being sexual with them. If we aren’t really into all of that, it’s no wonder we want to race toward the finish line and just be done with it. The good news is that you get to choose your partners and interactions and choose what goes on in them. If sex feels boring with someone or with all your partners, you get to choose not to have sex with those partners or any partners, or take the time with partners to find out what you feel excited by with them.

You sound like you also are short on patience for experimenting with partners in sex. That’s a problem, because often enough, it does take a good deal of experimentation and patience to find out what we like and what works for us alone and in any given sexual partnership. I also wonder if when you’re having sex with partners, you’re really engaging with them. If you’re bored, I’m guessing not. If you’re not connecting in a real way—not just with your genitals—this might be part of why your partners want to please you so badly: They may be trying to find a way to engage you, to have you be all there.

That pressure to orgasm or be pleased needs to stop. That’s something else that simply doesn’t create the kind of emotional and psychological environment where any of us can really enjoy ourselves and just relax in the sex we’re having so that we are likely to both reach orgasm and feel satisfied. Feeling desperate doesn’t feel good, whether it’s about being desperate to please someone or being desperate to be pleased ourselves. Partners driving themselves up a tree to try and please us all the time can give us some clues about what they feel they’re not getting, what we might not be giving them (hint: it isn’t usually orgasm), or about if one or both of us is really in the right space to be sexual together. If we’re all freaking out and desperate, we can know we are not in the right space, at all.

I have a strong feeling that the biggest reasons you’re not feeling satisfied with any given kind of sex or enjoying any given kind of sex are not really about orgasm. Instead I think it’s more likely about things like not really doing things that turn you on and feel good, pushing yourself to try and like kinds of sex or partners you really don’t, not doing or asking for sexual activities in a way that feel good to you, not fully engaging and connecting with partners and communicating with them, possibly being with partners you’re not actually all that interested in being with in partnership in the first place, and maybe even being with partners before you’re yet in the right place in your own personal and sexual development for partnered sex to be enjoyable or satisfying for you (and them).

Here’s my advice, which is only that: my advice. I’d first strongly suggest you take time off from sexual partners and be your own sexual partner, all by yourself, for a good while. In other words, that you make masturbation your sex life for now. I just don’t think sexual partners sound like the right choice for you right now or what you want.

With your own masturbation—which is the way most people learn to be orgasmic—you can have an environment for sex without pressure; better identify what you like, want, and need; and get to know your own body and sexual self better. I suggest you come to your masturbation not thinking about how to learn to orgasm, but about how to learn to enjoy yourself in the way I do when I take the time to build my fire and savor that whole process. If you’re of age to purchase sex toys, you might invest in a vibrator and a toy for vaginal insertion. In combination with those two and your own hands, you’ll probably be able to get a better idea of what you like and what you don’t. With vaginal insertion, you can also find out what you might need to be happening before you begin any of that and also during. You may discover that that kind of stimulation can feel good and/or bring you to orgasm, but only when you’re in certain positions, when it’s very targeted (as in, not something more general like intercourse, but something more like fingers) or when it’s in conjunction with external clitoral, vulval, or other body stimulation at the same time. You may even discover that when you are way more turned on first, feel really comfortable and are in a different headspace than I suspect you’ve been in, that you can reach orgasm sometimes with only intravaginal and internal clitoral stimulation alone.

I’d also strongly suggest you invest time and energy into thinking about your sexual partnerships, what you’ve had in them, and what you haven’t. How do you feel about them? Are you really into them and are they really into you? Do your knees knock and does your head feel dreamy just being around them without sex? Do you feel relaxed and comfortable with them, and do they seem to with you? Do you love spending time with them and love being sexual or sensual with them, even with things like kissing that probably don’t result in orgasm? When you’re sexual with others, are you feeling really turned on before anyone’s clothes come off? Are you openly communicating what you want to them, and are they doing that with you? Is their pleasure just as exciting as your own? Do you want sex to last longer, rather than hoping you can just get off and get gone? Are you as invested in their feeling satisfied as you are in your own satisfaction? Are you connecting in ways that aren’t just sexual? Are you choosing partners who are patient, and who you also feel patient with yourself?

If and when you go back to sex with partners, I’d suggest you first make sure you’re only choosing partners who, when you ask yourself those kinds of questions, the answers are all yes. Those partners are always harder to find, so this is another place where you may need to learn more patience.

When you do connect with a partner like that, take your time getting to intercourse. Heck, take your time getting to any kind of sex at all. Enjoy those feelings of sexual anticipation. When you do start getting to genital sex, go slow. Take your time, both each time and overall. I have a feeling you haven’t been as turned on as you could be with any kind of sex, so stretch things out and see if you don’t feel how your body probably feels a little different than it has in the past. Communicate with each other. You know that, so far, intercourse isn’t the way you orgasm. So, put that out there, making clear that who knows if that will always be the case, but that for now, you know it’s not. If you know there are sexual activities you really like and others you think are ho-hum—a list like this might help you to clarify those—put that out there. Share your sexual likes and dislikes with each other. Since you’ll hopefully have identified more of what you think you need to feel satisfied with sex—physically, emotionally, interpersonally—before you come back to sex with partners, communicate that as well, and ask your partner to share what makes them feel satisfied, too.

If at any time with a partner, you find the process feels like a drag and you’re just wanting to get to the end, check in with yourself and check in with your partner. Don’t just lie around waiting for sex to be over and hope for an orgasm. Make sure you’re not having sex with a partner when what you really want is masturbation, or just to get yourself off. Only choose to have sex with others when feeling engaged the whole time feels awesome, is enjoyable, and where all the moments of sex, not just an orgasm, feel satisfying.

If the whole lot of this, even with time given just to masturbation, even with making different choices around partners, still feels like a drag or not all you hoped for, then it may be that other parts of your life and self need to be more exciting and satisfying, not just sex. Sometimes people are looking for sex to fill in for other things in their lives that are missing, or to provide all the excitement and satisfaction in their lives. Sex can’t do that, though, because it’s just one part of who we are. If the rest of our lives suck or feel blah, or we’re not giving our whole selves enough energy and attention, sex won’t fix that, even if it’s the best sex on earth.

I’m going to leave you with a few pieces I think will help you out. Then, I’m going to go build a fire, one enjoyable step at a time. I strongly suggest that whether it’s about your wood stove or your sex life, that’s what you go ahead and do too.