You’re not alone if you find it easier to orgasm when you’re masturbating than during partnered sex. After all, you know exactly what technique, speed, pressure, and fantasies to use. But just because orgasms may come (pardon the pun) more easily when you’re alone doesn’t mean you can’t have them with a partner.
“It's quite common for a person to be able to orgasm on their own but not with a partner,” says Vanessa Marin, sex therapist and creator of Finishing School: Orgasm With A Partner. The most common causes of this issue are self-consciousness about receiving attention or taking up time, difficulty giving feedback, inadequate stimulation, and a history of faking orgasms (which can lead to fear of being honest).
“When one is alone, there are fewer distracting thoughts,” explains Laurie Mintz, PhD, psychologist, sex therapist, and author of Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It. Plus, she adds:
“When one is alone, one can touch their genitals in the exact way that one needs to orgasm, but when with a partner, this often entails providing instructions. Also, people with vulvas often have an especially difficult time orgasming with new partners with penises due to our cultural over-focus on intercourse as the main and most important sex act — and the fact that the vast majority of people with vulva’s don’t reach orgasm from intercourse alone.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t translate what you can do alone into sex with a partner. Here are some ways to start having your first orgasms with a partner, or orgasming with a partner more easily and frequently.
1. Know you’re normal.
Feelings of shame or anxiety around not orgasming can impede orgasm, making the issue a self-perpetuating cycle. But a lot of people struggle to orgasm with a partner, so you don’t have to be embarrassed.
One study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, for example, found that only 6% of straight women, 66%of bisexual women, and 86% of lesbians orgasmed every or almost every recent time they had sex.
“Realize that it's really normal and common to struggle to get there with a partner,” says Marin. “Sometimes, just that knowledge can be a huge relief.”
2. Talk to your partner about it.
Telling your partner you have trouble orgasming in an open but light, casual manner will allow them to help you work through it without feeling too much pressure.
“You don't have anything to apologize for or be ashamed of,” says Marin. “If anything, your partner may actually be relieved that there's not an expectation for them to make you orgasm immediately. You can say something like, ‘Just so you know, orgasming with another person is a challenge for me. But I'm excited to explore with you.’"
Alternatively, Mintz suggests this script:
“I have something to talk to you about that is scary for me. But I love you and love our sex life, and so I want to bring it up. That is, I’ve never had an orgasm with a partner before, and I trust you and want you to be the one this happens with for me. I’d love to work on this together with you. Are you willing?”
Read: Sex Communication 101
3. Show your partner how you masturbate.
The easiest way for your partner to bring you to orgasm is for them to emulate what you do yourself. “The absolute best way to start orgasming with a partner is to show your partner what you do when you're on your own,” says Marin. “If you already know how to get yourself off, you have a treasure trove of information about what your body responds to.”
Ask your partner if you can show them how you masturbate, then have them watch you and take over themselves. Give them feedback to let them know if there are any adjustments they can make to better replicate what you do. Or, to give them very direct instruction, Mintz suggests putting your hand over their hand and guiding it over your genitals in the exact way you like.
You can also touch yourself as part of sex with a partner — for example, you can rub your clitoris during intercourse if that feels good to you, says Mintz.
4. Practice mindful awareness.
“It is necessary to orgasm to be able to shut off one’s thinking brain,” says Mintz. That’s easier said than done, but one way to start is to practice mindfulness in your daily life. Try, for example, paying attention to the sensations you’re feeling in the shower, or noticing your surroundings when you’re walking from place to place.
“Mindfulness is putting your head and body in the same place/space in time, rather than having your body in one place (being pleasured by your partner) and your head in another (wondering if they are getting bored),” Mintz explains. “It’s also being able to bring your thoughts back to the present moment — your bodily sensations.”
5. Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Even though orgasming with a partner is a great and attainable goal, an orgasm doesn’t make or break a sexual experience. It’s really about the whole journey, and it’s by enjoying all the sensations you feel throughout the experience that you get to an orgasm. So, try to let go of the goal and pay attention to what you’re feeling in the moment.
“Focus on feeling as much pleasure as you can,” Marin advises. “Remember that an orgasm doesn't just pop out of nowhere; it happens because you're feeling pleasure.”
6. Know you deserve it.
A lot of people, especially women, have been taught that their pleasure is a burden or an afterthought. But your partner likely enjoys pleasing you, and if they don’t, it’s time to reconsider whether they’re worth being intimate with.
“Know that you deserve an orgasm,” says Marin. “You deserve the time, attention, and effort.” In that vein, Mintz suggests repeating this mantra to yourself: “Sex is fun! My orgasm is important!”
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