Help, I Can’t Have an Orgasm During Sex!

I am a 48 year old heterosexual.  I’ve been having sex since I was 16 years old. In my early 40s, I went through a long period of celibacy and started using vibrators. I’ve had varying success with masturbation.  The problem is that I’ve NEVER been able to have an orgasm with a man, no matter how hot the sex is, no matter if we’re in love or just in lust, it never happens.
The man I am with now suggested a small vibrator we could use during sex if I am on top.  Do you think that would make a difference?

I hope what I have to say will be useful for you. The fact is, the majority of women do not orgasm during intercourse (frequently, or ever)—about 70%. Some women do have better luck with oral sex, or partner play with fingers and toys. But your situation isn’t very unusual, to say the least. There are a variety of reasons why it might be hard to orgasm at all during any kind of partner sex:
*For some of us, it can just be difficult to relax enough. We might feel self-conscious body-wise; worry about when it means to have sex with this person; there might be kids in the other room so we can’t let go; there are many variations on this.
*Related to that is a specific issue: We stay up in our heads, which blocks our ability to feel it to a certain extent. Sex therapists call this “spectatoring,” and often it has to do with us worrying about whether we will come or how we’re performing. This kills our ability to orgasm!
*Having a history of difficult sexual experience (nonconsensual sex, abuse…) can be connected to this problem—but is not always.
*Not getting aroused enough, which can be related to all of the above, getting through sex too fast and not taking the time you need to build up to climax, and having a partner that doesn’t do the things you respond to most.  
*Sometimes we don’t even know what we would respond to most strongly. If there are things you fantasize about but have never tried, that might be a clue.
*If someone has been brought up in an atmosphere of shame about sex, if can affect them throughout adulthood unless they look for ways to deal with that and change the script.
*There are hormonal and pharmacological things that might affect ability to orgasm, from perimenopause to birth control pills and anti-depressants.
*A little “party atmosphere” (a drink, etc.) may seem to help get you in the mood. Too much affects your ability to orgasm! So does a diet heavy in fatty foods, and too little exercise. Also: cigarettes. They affect blood flow and hamper arousal.
I don’t know whether any of those things will ring a bell for you, but if any do, you might have part of the reason for your lack of orgasms in partner sex. Also—partner sex is distracting! It can be fun and sexy and wonderful, but it is not the same experience as focusing on our own sensations as we would during masturbation. And you mention that masturbation doesn’t always work for you, which might reinforce the idea that one of the above issues is impacting your sexual response.  
The possibility that a vibrator would be a plus is definitely one to explore, for a couple of reasons. I assume you sometimes do respond to vibration. Having clitoral contact and vaginal penetration all at once (assuming you are turned on and lubricated enough for the latter to feel good) is a terrific way to boost response and potentially give you what the sex therapists call a “blended orgasm”—two erogenous zones working together. And it might be a plus if you’re on top; if you generally like that position, it can be helpful because it lets you move. Movement and thrusting your hips rather than lying still can build arousal.
Here are more things that might be useful to try or think about:
*Touch your own clitoris during intercourse.
*Make sure you’re warmed up enough before vaginal or clitoral contact starts.
*Talk to your partner about times you have gotten the most close; there may be clues there re: what you like and respond to. Communicate in the moment if you want him to do something different, or to say “don’t stop” or whatever.
*Erotic talk, porn if you like it, and similar “extras” can help boost arousal.
*Enough time to respond with an orgasm is key! If it takes you 20-30 minutes to come, and sex goes on for 10-15, you won’t come. So think about whether that is happening and if there are ways to extend the pleasure. It need not just be intercourse. Oral, caressing, and toys can all play their roles.
This book link–The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone–is one I wrote (with my old friend Shar Rednour); it has a lot of information about arousal and orgasm and you might be interested in checking it out.

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

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1 Response

  1. Frank McGinness says:

    These are all good points. Yet one big point is missing. When the male is working with less penis, then less results are going to happen. Foreskin is for her pleasure as well as his. Having his primary penile sensors means he needs less movement so tends to keep close with more contact to the woman’s mons pubis. Grinding more common and with short strokes instead of long distant strokes. Mechanically foreskin provides less friction against vaginal walls and retains lubrication instead of pulling it outside. For these reasons women are much more likely to orgasm, especially achieving vaginal orgasm. With due respect to Dr. Carol Queen, “Sex As Nature Intended” outlines this well.

    Ref. on penile sensors: “The foreskin has two main functions. Firstly it exists to protect the glans penis. Secondly the foreskin is a primary sensory part of the penis, containing some of the most sensitive areas of the penis.” – The Royal Australasian College of Physicians

    Note genitally intact societies know men and women are mutually multi orgasmic. The USA knows that only women are blessed with multi orgasms by unnaturally missing the point.