Here’s the truth about orgasming with a partner, for vulva-havers
Words: Gigi Engle
Why can’t I orgasm with a partner?
This question pops up in my inbox more than any other. Well, besides the old 'does penis size matter?' question, but still. But it isn’t just sexual novices who shoot this query my way, I am regularly asked how someone can have orgasms with a partner (usually meaning vaginal orgasms), even from friends who I consider sexually 'woke' people.
This can be a bit frustrating for a sex educator. No matter how many times I’ve written about this (and I have extensively), people do not seem to grasp the concept that these 'elusive' vaginal orgasms are not happening for them… because that is just not how the vast majority of vulva-owning people experience the stimulation needed in order to experience orgasm.
Why aren’t we having orgasms with partners?
This lack of partnered orgasm is thoroughly entrenched in heterosexual relationships especially. A 2014 study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that heterosexual cis-women orgasm 63% of the time with a familiar partner, whereas heterosexual cis-men orgasm 85% of the time. A 2017 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found an even more imbalance, with straight cis-women reaching orgasm 65% of the time and straight cis-men reaching orgasm 95% of the time.
Why is this? A lack of proper sex education. Young women and clit-owners are not taught about their own bodies. Do you remember the word 'clitoris' being used during your sex education class (assuming you even had one)? I’m going to guess ‘definitely not’.
The clitoris is the center of female orgasm, but we aren’t even taught that it exists. The vast majority of female orgasms are clitorally-based, either directly or indirectly. The external clitoral glans—that small pearl-like nub you see at the top of the labia—has more than 8,000 nerve endings. The vagina, on the other hand, has nearly zero touch-sensitive nerve-endings. It has pressure-sensitive nerve-endings, but these are also connected to the internal clitoris, which extends into the body, under the labia.
Don’t me wrong, while penetrative sex (with either a toy or penis) may feel good, the external clitoris almost always needs to be directly stimulated in order to experience orgasm. It’s time to pull back the curtain on this 'mysterious vaginal orgasm' once and for all and declare it dead.
Long live the clitoris.
Get some toys.
The most direct route to orgasm is bringing sex toys into your bedroom. Sex toys are not just for masturbation, or for single girls or sad girls. Sex toys are for everyone. They are specifically designed to help give you the right amount of external stimulation that you need to get to orgasm.
Sex toys are a true gift to clitorises everywhere and we should all be using them. Check out the shop at Self and More for all your vibrator needs. Don’t let the sex-shamey culture we live in deprive you of enjoying your most vibrant sexual self.
Before you bring a sex toy into the bedroom, it’s important to be very comfortable with the orgasms you have on your own. Many of us can have orgasms alone, but when it comes to bringing a partner into the mix, we lose the wind from our sexual sails.
Bringing this up with a partner might sound intimidating. The sad truth is that there there is a deeply felt insecurity around sex toys that, while tired and outdated, still exists. Some partners take the notion of bringing sexual tools into their sex life as a direct insult to their sexual prowess. This should not be the case.
Make the conversation about both of you. Your partner wants you to have orgasms. If you come equipped with information about your body, there is no reason why this can’t be a fun and explorative way to discover what makes you tick.
Orgasm is also linked to our psychological state
If you are stimulating the clitoris and are still not orgasming with partners, this likely has to do with your psychological state. Our brains and bodies are completely, inextricably linked. Desire, especially for vulva-owning people, is born from a biopsychosocial response. I know, that’s a complicated word right there. What this means is that sexual desire is connected to your emotional state, your relationship with the person you’re engaging with, and your physical arousal.
Problems with orgasm start to occur when your brain and body don’t match up, when your brain isn’t turned on, but your body is (or visa versa). This is called arousal non-concordance. Arousal non-concordance happens all the time. There's only about a 10% overlap in what vulva-owners genitals find sexually relevant and what their brain finds sexually engaging.
Being able to experience orgasm not only takes the right physical stimulation, it also requires being in the right headspace, one where you feel safe, confident, and focused on the present things happening to your body. If you find yourself wrapped up in body-issues, the stress of the workday, or all the responsibilities you need to get through tomorrow, it’s pretty damn unlikely that you’re going to come.
This may sound like an insurmountable set of obstacles, but it’s not. Experts suggest practising mindfulness and meditation as a way to connect with your body and mind. Being able to bring yourself into the moment through breathing, connecting, and relaxing into pleasure takes practice, but it’s very doable. A recent study found a direct connection between meditation and sex, determining that women who meditated had higher levels of sexual satisfaction. Check out apps like HeadSpace and Ferly for sexual wellness meditations.
Gigi Engle is a certified sexologist, educator, and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @GigiEngle.