Ask the Doctors: My Husband’s Penis Lacks Sensitivity

My husband has a lack of sensitivity in the penis. I don’t know if it is from bicycle-riding or something else. He is not circumcised. He has a lot of foreskin. I have become disappointed in our sex life because he can only achieve orgasm by vigorous masturbation. He seems to enjoy intercourse and oral sex but does not have an orgasm this way. Can you suggest any products or practices that might help with this condition? Also, do you know if adult males ever get circumcised and if this is successful?

You will note that I, his wife, is the one writing to you and not him. This is also part of the problem. I have asked him several times to write to you and he will not. He feels embarrassed and does not want to deal with the issue. If you have any suggestions regarding this aspect of things I would appreciate it. Thank you for your help.

— Anticlimactic

 

Unless your husband’s situation has changed during your relationship (or he reports to you that it has changed since, say, his teens), his lack of orgasm during intercourse may just be the way he’s wired. As I explained in a different context yesterday:

“Orgasm is a reflex response, but the conditions that lead to that reflex being triggered are in a sense learned. Whenever we develop any skill or habitual response that involves our nerves, the nerve pathways grow to support that activity, whether it’s throwing a softball, knitting a sweater, or having an orgasm. That’s why you can get better at something over time (nicer-looking sweaters, more easily-achieved climaxes, etc.). But it also explains why the way you began to have orgasms remains a very strong pattern \’ for some people, the only pattern that seems to work for them.”

So it does not seem to me from what you tell me that his penis is insensitive, unless he is clear that there has been a change; if he were, he wouldn’t enjoy the sensations of oral and intercourse as much. Just because someone cannot achieve orgasm in a particular way doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the activity — as many, many women know! Because we are so very convinced that men are easily orgasmic and that it’s “natural” or “normal” for them to come during intercourse, we tend to ignore the experiences of the guys whose sexuality follows a different pattern.

Adult males can and sometimes do get circumcised, but please do not think that this is a fix for your husband’s lack of orgasm during intercourse. If anything, circumcision may  make men less sensitive, not more. The inside of his foreskin is mucosal, like the inside of a mouth, and is very rich with nerves. The tissue is somewhat comparable to the sensitivity of the inner labia. Circumcision changes the neurology and might have the opposite effect than the one you intend; there are certainly many guys out there who feel that circumcision has taken something important away from them, sexually speaking.

You two might want to have a discussion based on these thoughts: for you, why do you find it problematic that he does not ejaculate via intercourse? And for him: does he also find this to be a problem, or is he mainly concerned about it because it concerns you? He may be embarrassed only because he knows it upsets you, and perhaps he is not reaching out for help because deep down, he does not feel he needs help. If this is the situation, the challenge is: can you accept him as he is, and enjoy the sex life you two share? Put another way, what is it about this situation that impairs your own pleasure?

Now, if he is concerned about this, or if the two of you decide to experiment together to see whether you can affect his usual response, there are a couple of things you can try. First, he can wait a longer time between ejaculations. I can’t tell you exactly how long; if he comes once a day now, maybe he waits three days and maybe a week; if he comes once a week, perhaps he waits two weeks. The increasing pressure to ejaculate can help him come under different circumstances than he’s used to.

Another thing you might try is to have him get close to coming the way he usually does, and then switch to intercourse. Now, this means you should have your fun before he starts masturbating! But it may gradually begin to become part of his response that he knows he can come inside you, and it may become more likely that he can do it. This may take some time; don’t just try it once and then give up if it doesn’t work. Any attempt to change a core sexual pattern takes time.

He may also appreciate extra stimulation; if you have not explored nipple play, erotic movies, sexy talk, or anal plugs, any of these might be the additive stimulus that gets him over the top. I know a man who cannot come inside a partner unless he’s engaging in intense fantasy play which overcomes his usual pattern; you and your partner might have a very erotic time indeed exploring the various possibilities!

If this is a change he’s noticed in his adult life that is unexplained by any other information (like having gone on antidepressants or other medication that might affect his sexual response — what you have described absolutely could be caused by this), you might wish to suggest he speak to a doctor about it. Any unexplained change in a body system is worth exploring to understand what changed it, and to make sure there is not an illness at its root.

And since you ask about biking, I want to add that biking can indeed affect pelvic floor neurology; if he bikes a lot, get him a cushy seat.

Finally, some therapists see a situation like this as deriving from an emotional cause: it might be, they’d opine, the response of a man who at some point was very worried about getting a woman pregnant, perhaps, or for some other reason is afraid to let go during intercourse. Even if it were the case, he would likely not be consciously aware that these factors underlie his pattern, but a sex therapist might be able to help.

All the best to both of you–Dr. Carol Queen

 


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Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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