Wanting more

I've given myself pleasure, but orgasms during intercourse with a man I love are elusive to me, even after 13 years of marriage and a lover.

Published December 17, 2003 8:26PM (EST)

Dear Tracy,

I'm not inorgasmic but I have never had an orgasm during sex/intercourse with a man.

I have always enjoyed "pleasuring myself," which I learned to do very young. I think I must have started masturbating intentionally when I was about 3. So the parts work, and I can rule that out as my problem.

And it's not that I'm gay, and am deluding myself. I know I'm straight. I did all the required experimenting and anguishing over it back in college. Not a dyke. So I am making these attempts at orgasm with the correct gender for me.

I am in reasonable -- not great -- shape. I don't have any problems bending and twisting into the normally requisite sex pretzels.

I've been married to my husband for 13 years. The sex was terrific when we got together and persisted terrifically -- but with no orgasms for me. Then about six years ago he lost interest in sex. Two years ago, I handled that problem by taking a lover.

My lover is amazing in bed. The chemistry is mind-bending. He's a devotee of long foreplay, making out, oral/genital stimulation, etc., but still I can't orgasm when we are having sex!

What am I doing wrong? All I want is the chance to come at some point during a lovemaking session with the man I love. I don't believe in or care about the myth of the simultaneous orgasm. I don't expect multiples since I can't even get there once right now. Are there techniques, tricks, workarounds I might not know about? Do you have any suggestions for relaxation techniques, or mental exercises that might work?

Or should I just give it up, have my orgasms alone, and be content with the pleasure (and, oh boy, there is pleasure!) that I get from sex that only results in an orgasm for him?

Want More

Dear Want More,

In real life as in fiction, women are intrigued -- sometimes quite secretly -- by this question. In Colette's short novel "The Innocent Libertine," a turn-of-the-last-century adulteress searches for pleasure she can't define -- but knows it when she sees it. In "Four Blondes," Candace Bushnell describes a smug modern blonde who doesn't believe women can really come during intercourse. A character in Mary McCarthy's novel "The Group" is told by her lover that she's unusual because she does come this way. And then, of course, there's "Sleeping Beauty," which could be a metaphor for your situation. Everything from the fanciful to the bitchy has been said, I suspect, about this topic. How much of it is true?

Is it the way we're built, individually? Just a question of anatomy? Some women swear by specific positions: I have a friend who is convinced that being on top during intercourse is the key because of the way she's designed. But then she wonders if it might be "because it happened the first time that way, so now I don't trust any other position."

But maybe it's the man we're with? The special chemistry between two lovers? I know more than one woman who switched partners because having an orgasm during intercourse made her feel that she was finally in bed with Mr. Right. I also know a woman who prolonged a relationship with Mr. Wrong because her partner possessed this special ability. She saw it as his ability, not hers, and that's what she has in common with women who identify their partners as Mr. Right. These women cede the ability to a man, acknowledging that it makes them less self-sufficient. That's a troublesome feeling for some women and it might be a desire for self-control that stops pleasure from turning orgasmic during intercourse. Then again, there might be a really good reason for holding back -- perhaps your body is reacting to something your heart knows about a particular man.

I have a friend who insists she can come this way with any man if she simply deprives herself of satisfaction for long enough. "It has nothing to do with meeting Mr. Right," she assures me. "It's all about timing and where you are in your life." She discovered this when she was living with a man who deprived her of sex. "It was awful and I felt miserably rejected. When I started having an affair, I was so starved for physical contact that it just happened -- for the first time -- with my outside partner. So the awful thing turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I finally knew what it was to be desperate for sex. The satisfaction was intense but that doesn't mean my lover was Mr. Right. He was just there at the right time. You can simulate desperation if you stop masturbating." And sometimes she does that, even now.

I'm actually a member of the Mr. Right school of thought (though I also believe some women are destined to have many Mr. Rights while others will probably meet just one). But my friend has a point: Sometimes, masturbation gives us too much control of our own pleasure, and we don't let the body follow its mysterious, unstated agenda. I can hear the uproar! "Masturbation is a boon to womanhood! We have to find out how our bodies work!" That's true. But masturbation is easy for you and for many women, which makes it readily available. There is something enticing about the pleasure that can only be given by a sex partner, experienced by chance, withheld and offered. It's like a really delicious meal cooked by someone else -- and you're not sure what all the ingredients are, even though you are yourself a very accomplished cook.

So why does it happen to some women the very first time they have sex (as it did with another friend of mine at 16) and why do some women get there over a period of time by experimenting with different lovers? (This particular friend was beset with teen guilt after that orgasmic debut and she has not had orgasms during intercourse since then, despite a long list of bed partners.) Why do some women yearn for this kind of orgasm, while others simply don't care -- they're happy to have one and the "how" of it doesn't matter. Maybe you're trying too hard -- trying to will some feeling into existence that wants to surprise you. And maybe your body would like to acquire more experience. What's to prevent you from supplementing this affair with additional companionship?

On a practical level, an orgasm during intercourse is probably different from the orgasms you give yourself -- if you're comparing the sensations of intercourse with the sensations of masturbation, you might even have an orgasm without recognizing it. The best "plan" is to have as many different orgasms as you can -- whether from oral and manual sex or with various toys. Just getting used to a variety of orgasms is a first step to overcoming the notion that you "can't" come this way -- or you "only come" that way. I hear too many women and men insisting that they are limited to one kind of orgasm, as if their bodies have fixed and finite abilities. We can always learn new things about our bodies. Your body has a past (which you know about) and a future, which is mysterious. Who knows what may happen to it next? The orgasm you sometimes dream about is likely to occur when you don't expect it to.

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By Tracy Quan

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