Dear Alice,

I am heterosexual, healthy, attractive, and very intelligent. I have amazing orgasms from masturbation but I find it almost impossible (although it happens occasionally) to have an orgasm through oral sex or manual stimulation from my very caring and supportive boyfriend of 9 months (or any other man I've ever been with). At this point I am so full of resentment--against my boyfriend for being able to derive pleasure from MY body; against other women who can orgasm in ANY way other than through masturbation; against men who view women as objects to be used for their own physical gratification; against the social conditioning that makes me feel so ashamed and humiliated when engaging in any type of sexual activity; and particularly against myself for being stupid enough to be affected by these influences and not just enjoy what I logically know is a natural, healthy and (supposedly) wonderful mutual act.

I suppose I have 2 questions: 1) how common is it for a woman capable of having frequent and satisfying orgasms from masturbation to feel no sexual pleasure from intercourse; and 2) would seeing/speaking to a counselor on this subject really help in any way? I am appalled by the thought of lying on a couch discussing theories on my Electra-complex towards my father; my inherent penis-envy; and whether I dream of cucumbers, bananas, and other long cylindrical objects. (I'm not a big fan of Freud). I'm pretty self-analytical and intelligent and have thought about and considered at length probably everything that a counselor could ever suggest--inability to orgasm because of fear of losing control, looking foolish, being vulnerable, letting my physical take over from my intellectual side, getting pregnant, etc. etc. etc. I'm afraid I'll only get impatient and even more frustrated than I am now for discussing very private and personal issues with someone who knows nothing about me and thinks they have the answers.

Do you think counselors would help? What sort of things might they say or suggest that could possibly be of use? What other avenues, if any, do you suggest? I'm terrified of some of the stereotypes associated with support groups (touchy-feely "Men are Scum" gripe sessions between overweight housewives...); I can't afford (and don't think it's worth) paying a psychiatrist for 3 years; and I find it almost physically impossible to discuss my body or sexuality in any specific details with my boyfriend (I feel humiliated and physically sick and terribly unhappy when I do so), so I resort to being totally detached and analytical about it which reduces the whole thing to some sort of intellectual, distant problem that seems to have no connection to ME. Anyway, I'm rambling. If you have any suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them.

—Freud Hater

Dear Freud Hater,

Even with a willing and supportive partner such as yours, you may, as a woman, feel a deep inhibition about asserting your sexuality openly and proudly. Remember, there is absolutely nothing wrong with proclaiming your erotic needs and wishes. Allowing yourself to communicate fully with your partner—and perhaps a counselor—may help you to focus on what the real problems are and to begin working on enhancing your sex life.

About half of students will see a counselor, therapist, clergy, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional during their time at Columbia. Seeing a counselor may help you work through some of your issues and explore why you have the feelings that you carry so heavily. Not all therapists or counselors are psychotherapeutically trained (a.k.a. Freudian), but they are all highly qualified. You can even request a female therapist, if you choose. Also, it is not clear whether you experienced any sexual trauma in the past. It is not uncommon for such events to affect a person’s sexuality later in life. You may want to explore this issue with a counselor.

Moving to the bedroom: It is highly common for women to experience sexual pleasure through self-exploration, but still face difficulty reaching orgasm through intercourse or stimulation with a partner. You may want to try physically showing your partner what you do when you masturbate. Teach him how you like to be touched, where pressure should be applied, or what drives you wild. Some guys like to watch a woman masturbate, and they can easily take the hint and often are eager to try to please you the way you like it. If discussing it makes you sick, why not try showing him while you are intimately engaged in sexual activity? You may want to check out Easing orgasms for women for a discussion of common barriers to achieving an orgasm, and more related questions for suggestions on how to maximize your sexual pleasure.

Also, think about the patterns of how you make love. Do you do the same things each time—kissing, to body touching, to intercourse? When people get caught up in performing in a specific way sexually (even just by believing that you should be having an orgasm each time you have sex), it can lead to a psychological detachment, where one becomes more of a spectator than a participant. Instead, you can try thinking about what aspects of sex give you the greatest sense of intimacy and pleasure and focus on them.

You owe it to yourself to find someone you can talk with and work with to help you understand and resolve your feelings. Though it may seem challenging, there are ways to help you work through your sexual questions—and ultimately increase your sexual confidence and satisfaction.


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