What I Learned From No-Orgasm Sex

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When a longtime friend and I started sleeping together several months ago, our sexual connection was electric. I’d never felt so comfortable sharing my fantasies with another person — or so adventurous in bed. I couldn’t get enough of him, nor he of me. The problem: While sex with this guy felt amazing, he never climaxed from it. Ever.

It is by now common knowledge that not every woman orgasms from vaginal sex alone; indeed, only a quarter of women can. Plus, 10% have never climaxed under any circumstances. But, even for those who come regularly, it’s an accepted fact that the female climax can take time and patience to achieve, whether the woman in question is flying solo or having sex with one or more partners. What we don’t talk about: the fact that the male orgasm doesn’t always happen when we want it to, either — an issue I’d never given much thought to before I had to face it with my own partner.

I’d gleaned my understanding of male sexual dysfunction mainly from those suggestive, late-night commercials starring a Clooney-esque man who can’t get it up until Viagra shows up to save his marriage. To me, male sexual dysfunction meant an inability to get hard, not an inability to orgasm. And, it was a problem relegated to older men — not healthy men in their 20s.

To be clear, my partner had no problem getting hard. The problem was that we’d have great sex — and then more sex. And then more, until eventually one of us would say “Well, babe, how about a break?” I’d suppress a sigh and fall silent. I knew in my rational mind that I was doing nothing “wrong,” and I believed my partner when he told me how sexy he thought I was. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t bringing him to climax. I’d been so accustomed to defining sex within the limits of the (male) orgasm that I was disoriented by intimacy that didn’t build to that conclusion.
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When I spoke with San Francisco-based sex therapist Vanessa Marin on male anorgasmia, she confirmed that my guy wasn’t alone. “I’ve seen a rapidly increasing number of younger men with orgasmic problems,” she told me. “Most of us tend to think of male orgasm as straightforward and foolproof, but the reality is it's subject to as much difficulty as female orgasm.”

Suddenly, I found myself with a new understanding of men’s frustration with their female partners’ inability or slowness to orgasm — frustration I’d always dismissed as misplaced and even self-centered. Recently, in her column for R29, sex expert Stoya told a woman who was anxious about her inability to come: “You do not owe your sexual partners the pleasure of watching you have an orgasm, or the satisfaction of feeling responsible for one.” I’d always nodded in agreement with this genre of advice, considering it practical and even feminist. But, then the tables were turned.

My partner assured me that it wasn’t my fault, and that — as attractive as he found me — he could only finish when he used his hand on himself. He traced his difficulty back to a previous relationship with a woman he described as “critical” and “unsupportive” of him in bed (and in life). The amateur psychologist in me thought this made sense; so many sex issues are tied up in anxiety, insecurity, and control. Marin corroborates: “A lot of men have been feeling sexual anxiety for years, but keep trying to ignore it or push through it,” she explained. “By the time they finally recognize that it's a problem, their anxiety has snowballed out of control.” Still, as a sex partner, I couldn’t help feeling that part of the problem was my fault.
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Over time, though, my thinking shifted. When I stopped expecting my partner to orgasm, I started thinking of sex as a process rather than a race to the finish. There was something to be said for enjoying the sensation of my partner inside me without worrying that he’d come too soon, or that he wouldn’t come soon enough. When I focused less on bringing him to orgasm, I focused more on how I was feeling — and what my partner could do to make me feel even better. I became more vocal about my desires; if something wasn’t working for me, I’d say so without feeling concerned about bringing his potential orgasm to a grinding halt. It reminded me of the way I used to make out with my teenage crushes, entwining clothed body parts and exploring each other’s mouths with our tongues for hours on end — because, in that moment, neither of us expected anything more.

The brain is the most important sex organ, and that’s true of men as well as women. We do men a disservice when we assume that they're all ready to have sex and then to come, whenever and wherever — or that their sexual experiences don’t benefit from emotional intimacy with their partners. As my partner and I deepened our connection and communication, we both relaxed our control over our physical responses to one another, and he began to climax from sex with me — regularly.

It’s wonderful to experience my partner’s orgasm as tangible evidence of how good I make him feel, but I recognize that its delayed arrival to our sex life doesn’t mean that he wasn’t into sex before, or that he wasn’t into me. What improved our sex life wasn’t new lingerie or gymnastics-inspired positions, but a mutual willingness to create a safe space in which neither of us felt pressured to do anything but enjoy the moment. Are there sexual experiences we still want to share? Absolutely. But, we plan to enjoy the ride, judgment- and anxiety-free.