“I’ve never had an orgasm during sex with my partner. Am I broken?”

This question came into my Instagram messages more than a year ago. Originally, it said “I’ve never had an orgasm before. Like, ever.” But after speaking with the person for a bit, it turned out they had been having orgasms β€” just not with their partner.

When sex was over, they would go β€” unsatisfied β€” into the bathroom to quickly masturbate. They would have an orgasm, then they’d go back to bed as if nothing had happened.

You might be thinking that this sounds extreme β€” and it is β€” but it isn’t uncommon. Many people (especially cisgender women, like this person) don’t experience orgasm during partnered sex.

Only 65% of straight women experience orgasm during partnered sex. And if that sex is happening with a casual partner, the number drops to around 40%. On the other hand, 95% of straight, cisgender men say they experience orgasm every time they have sex.

The orgasm gap is such a thing that entire books have been written about it.

Not experiencing orgasms doesn’t mean that you’re broken. Often, a discrepancy in your experience of pleasure (maybe orgasm, but maybe not) during sex can often be attributed to a communication problem.

The sex narrative that women are taught says “You are here to provide pleasure. It is gross, bad, and selfish for you to experience pleasure.”

People of all genders experience shame and anxiety around asking for what they want or what makes them feel good during sex. But women are especially likely to not ask for what they want, and their partners (if they aren’t women) are especially not likely to ask outright.

But here’s the thing: You’re spending a lot more energy and effort hiding this problem than it would take to solve it. And something like this can build resentment, inhibit trust-building, and cause friction in relationships.

You deserve to experience pleasure. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and centering your needs in that way isn’t a bad thing (as long as it doesn’t infringe upon another person’s boundaries).

So, if you’ve been faking it with your partner, I have 7 tips to help you out.

1. Take a Quiz

Sex questionnaires are a great way to figure out and communicate what you’re into. Autostraddle has a worksheet that you can print out. Mojo Upgrade has one, too, but note that it will make assumptions about your genitals based on the gender you mark down. We Should Try It is another online survey provider.

If you mark “yes!” on one behavior and your partner marks “nope, no way” on it, both Mojo Upgrade and We Should Try It will only show you the things you matched positively on. So, if you’re feeling a lot of anxiety about being judged for what you want, this is a great place to start.

2. Plan a Dinner Date

Talking about your desires and fantasies when you’re in the middle of actually having sex (or getting ready to have sex) can amp up the nerves really quickly. I always recommend taking those conversations out of the bedroom, at least to start.

Plan a dinner (or coffee, or tea, or whatever) date to talk about what you like and don’t like. Set up some ground rules in advance β€” like “Don’t yuck my yum” β€” to help you feel a bit safer.

3. Start with a List

Not sure where to start? Write up some questions in advance before you completely forget how to speak. Some questions to get you started might be:

  • What makes you feel sexy?
  • When am I sexy to you?
  • What is your ideal environment to have sex?
  • Are you interested in using toys? What types of toys do you like to (or are you interested in) using?
  • What’s your favorite lube? (If you’ve never used it, try some together!)
  • Are you interested in dirty talk?
  • What is something you want more of in our sex life?
  • What is something you want less of?

4. Plan Your Framing

If you’ve been sleeping with someone for a while and they don’t know that you aren’t having orgasms, this conversation might be a bit of a shock. Set aside some time in advance to plan how you want to start out the conversation. Maybe you know that you’ve been holding back from talking about your desires because you feel embarrassed or are experiencing internalized shame. Maybe your partner hasn’t asked.

Ground the conversation in your experience so that your partner understands where you’re coming from, including why you haven’t talked to them about it earlier, if applicable.

5. Decouple Orgasms from Pleasure

In the United States, we have a tendency to believe that orgasms are the only way to validate a sexual experience. “If I didn’t have an orgasm, why even bother having sex?” we say.

That mindset gets in the way of us being able to experience sexual pleasure.

Orgasm-focused sex tends to be focused on a goal, not on the experience as a whole. Pleasure-focused sex asks, “What feels good to me? What feels good to my partners?” without necessarily expecting that “feels good” = orgasm.

Decoupling pleasure from orgasms can significantly reduce the amount of anxiety that can come with sex. Instead, it helps you focus on what you and your partners are experiencing in the moment, which can also make you more attuned to shifts in the mood and other subtle signals.

6. Go Shopping Together

Maybe it’s for lingerie, maybe it’s for sex toys, maybe it’s just for a new type of barrier method. Shopping together can help you talk about what you want in a lower risk environment, and it can also help you incorporate a feeling of playtime into your sexy time. Try on outfits for each other, ask a clerk to talk to you about toys that you might be interested in, and see if there’s something that makes you both feel a spark of interest.

7. Write (or Read) It Out

If you’re struggling to articulate what you want in conversation, try writing it in a journal or in a letter. Writing relieves some of the pressure of a face-to-face conversation and can help get your creative brain going.

If writing isn’t your jam, try reading some erotica β€” even fan fiction will work. What about the texts you’re reading makes you blush? What makes you say “mmm, not for me”? Try reading aloud to each other or asking your partner to read a book that turns you on.

Sexting is also a great option that feels more accessible to some people. Practice talking about what you want or what you’re thinking about, and get a conversation going from there. Before you start firing away some risquΓ© texts, though, ask your partner. That way, you can avoid someone’s parent or boss seeing a private message come through.

If all these things aren’t working, consider if you and your partner have a larger communication or power dynamic problem.

Maybe you are struggling to communicate needs in other ways, or maybe they aren’t listening to you. If either is the case, it may be time to seek outside help or to reevaluate the relationship.

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