Photo: iStock Photo; Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
We love chatting with Stoya — writer, thinker, onscreen-sex haver — about all manner of sexual, sensual, and feminist topics. In fact, we had so much fun talking with her, we asked her to write a monthly sex-and-relationship advice column. Have a burning question? Send any and all queries to firstname.lastname@example.org. (No dick pics, please.) Questions may be edited for clarity. This month, Stoya takes on the female orgasm.
"I am a 22-year-old girl, and I had sex for the first time two years ago. I have never had sex with someone regularly, but every time that I do now (which is somewhat infrequently), it really, really hurts. I'm not sure what to do, and I feel ashamed because I haven't been enjoying it. Is there something wrong with me for not enjoying it?"
"I'm 18 and very sexual when I'm by myself. I think about sex almost constantly and have a very healthy relationship with my vagina. My problem is that when I'm having penis-in-vagina sex, I hate it. It hurts, and I can never enjoy myself when someone is inside me — no matter how badly I want them. Am I just not meant to have two-person sex? Am I a solo kinda gal for life?"
The first thing to do, especially if your vagina, vulva, or cervix is hurting during sexual activity, is to get yourself to a good gynecologist. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. In this case, it could mean anything from an irritated remnant of your hymen to seriously dangerous stuff like pelvic inflammatory disease or cancer. Even if you aren’t experiencing pain, difficulty achieving orgasm or becoming aroused can be caused by medical issues, like certain medications or diabetes.
If the pain you’re experiencing is friction-y, you might want to look into different types of lubricants. I’d still encourage you to go to a doctor because decreased vaginal lubrication can also be a sign of all sorts of wacky stuff. Your pain might also be caused by general or sex-specific anxiety or some kind of psychological trauma. Are you anxious about something? Have you experienced something traumatic involving sex? That might be part or all of the cause as well, but you’re going to have to examine that possibility for yourself or see a therapist. There’s no easy answer that can be given based on a couple of paragraphs of information.
Maybe you’re totally thrilled with the function of all your body parts and are just reading this for fun — it’s still generally a good idea to get looked at by a gynecologist once a year anyway. If stating it plainly doesn’t convince you to make time for reproductive organ checkups, google image search “infected vagina.” I apologize in advance for the haunting imagery.
Photo: WoodyStock/Alamy; Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
"I can't orgasm. Well, I think I can (I think I can, I think I can...), but it just won't happen. I don't want to blame my partners, but I don't know what to do if I blame myself instead! I've tried to find out what I like, but I'm sincerely confused, and then I get impatient with myself." — C
"I love having sex with my boyfriend even if I don't orgasm. The way he feels inside of me is amazing, but I haven't been able to reach completion if I don't also manually stimulate myself, even if he goes down on me. I want my hands to be free to touch and caress him and not tied down there trying to reach orgasm. I know it's common for women to need clitoral stimulation, but I feel like I rely on that too much! Any advice on hands-free fun?"
N, try penetrative sex where you are on top and facing forward to get clitoral stimulation from your partner’s lower abdomen, or when you're on your knees and he's behind you, angle your head and back down so his testicles may provide a tapping sensation on your clitoris. You can also ask your partner to do exactly what you do to yourself while you caress him.
The second thing is to realize that you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are no less valuable as a person or partner than people who easily orgasm from a handful of penetrative strokes. You do not owe your sexual partners the pleasure of watching you have an orgasm or the satisfaction of feeling responsible for one. Any blame for anorgasmia (the technical term for inability to orgasm) should be attributed to the way that human bodies work. Blaming yourself for having difficulty achieving or an inability to orgasm is like blaming yourself for having naturally dark hair. Relying on clitoral stimulation to orgasm is like relying on a sweatshirt to keep you warm. If you need it or like it, why not just use it?
Photo: Image Source/REX USA; Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
"I consider myself a sexual person — that is to say that I enjoy sex a lot and even have myself a few toys. Though, I've had the persistent issue of not being able to orgasm. I want to, and I semi-frequently masturbate — but without climaxing. What would you recommend? I understand the ways in which women orgasm are as diverse as women themselves. Though I'm interested in any advice you're able to give. I know this could be psychological, but I don't know how to make it better."
Culturally, we tend to see orgasm as the goal of sexual interaction. It’s really cool that female orgasms are considered important, but we’ve framed them in such a way that their achievement can sometimes eclipse all the other fun to be had. I almost added “on the way there” to that last sentence, as though orgasm must always be the end destination — which directly contradicts what I believe — proof of how pervasive our internalized ideas around female orgasm truly are.
I’ve heard orgasms discussed in ways that seem as though sex is a competition or a pass/fail test — when a partner asks how many, how hard (harder than ever before?), or expresses a feeling of failure for being unable to cause them.
Take the pressure off and relax. For some people, this involves a bubble bath surrounded by candles. For me, it means turning off my phone and reminding myself that a full laundry basket is not a four-alarm emergency. Now dig around in your brain. Examine what you believe about sex and your sexuality, and think critically about why you believe it. Maybe this process is completely internal, maybe talk out loud to yourself or write it down, maybe you have a conversation with a platonic friend or sexual partner.
I suggest that you then reset your expectations about various stimuli and start exploring from scratch. If an urge to dry hump your partner’s ankle strikes you, or you are suddenly curious about what it would feel like to masturbate while your head is in a bowl of ice water, go for it — just remember to keep consent and basic safety in mind. Try the old standards touted by ladies’ magazines, too: the Hitachi and poking around to find the sensitive parts on the front wall of your vagina. Follow your impulses, and get weird with it.