Orgasm alone, but not with partner

Originally Published: September 1, 1993 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: March 16, 2015
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Here's a question that I bet a lot of women have — I certainly do. As a relative newcomer to sexual experience, I don't seem to be having transcendental orgasms (like Sally in the coffee shop, or other such movie scenes). The guy seems to have it much easier — it's all he can do to keep from coming right away, but I can't focus enough to get there. I think it must be psychological, because I can masturbate to orgasm when I'm alone, but when I'm with my partner, I can get lots of good feelings, but never the "real thing." This problem is often a source of tension between the two of us — I resent that he can come, but he feels guilty that he's experiencing this pleasure, and I'm not, and it makes us both very sad. (I know it's not a relationship problem — we're definitely in love).

—Waiting for ecstasy

Dear Waiting for ecstasy,

Many women share your frustration with achieving orgasm during sex. If you're searching for ecstasy, looking beyond vaginal penetration may be helpful. Of course there are endless ways to reach your own version of Sally's show-stopper, but involving the clitoris in the fun is often the key.

Only 30 percent of women orgasm through penile thrusting (or other forms of vaginal and/or anal penetration) alone. This is not about failure; this is about anatomy. Consider this: when a man masturbates, he stimulates his penis, which is loaded with nerve endings. Vaginal and anal intercourse stimulates his penis in a similar way. For a woman, the nerve endings (6,000 to 8,000, in fact) are concentrated in the clitoris. During sex, her vagina may be  stimulated, but her clitoris may get little attention. The typical missionary position also does little to stimulate the woman's G-spot, a pleasure center inside the vagina. During vaginal sex, try tilting your hips or shifting into a sexual position which is more amenable to stimulating the clitoris or G spot. If that doesn't do the trick, you or your partner may need to take matters into your own hands. Rubbing, pressing, or massaging your clit or G spot during intercourse may provide an extra dose of pleasure that sends you over the edge. During anal sex, encouraging your partner to stroke your clitoris may make the experience more enjoyable for both of you.

Since you orgasm through masturbation, have you thought about playing show and tell with your partner? Many couples enjoy masturbating in front of or with each other. Watching you pleasure yourself may be a big turn-on for your partner, and it gives him the opportunity to learn just how you like to be touched. Like any new sexual activity, masturbating with your partner may feel risky or embarrassing at first, but you both have a lot to gain by showing him what makes you tick.

As for your partner, you mentioned that he often comes right away, leaving you little time to rev up your engine. Would it help you both feel more relaxed if you slow down the pace during intercourse? One option for vaginal sex is a woman-on-top position so you can control the speed and depth of penetration, or you can try an interlude of mutual masturbation or oral pleasure to prolong your lovemaking session. For more ways to help your partner put off getting off, see Prolonging arousal/Lasting longer in the Go Ask Alice! Sexuality archives.

Lastly, you may be on the right track by guessing that your difficulty orgasming during intercourse is partly psychological. Like love, orgasms often arrive when you least expect it. Rather than trying to "focus" on reaching the "real thing," perhaps you could try concentrating on every pleasurable sensation during sex, no matter how small or fleeting. Just letting go is easier said than done, but you may find yourself pleasantly surprised if the end goal of having sex is just to have a good time, not always a race to the finish.

To delve further into the female orgasm, try reading Our Bodies, Ourselves; Our Sexuality; or the Good Vibes Guide to Sex. Also, check out Debby Herbinick's book Because It Feels Good. Although women always seem to orgasm onscreen, ecstasy is not automatic. Sex is a learned art, so have fun practicing!