Most female-bodied people don’t orgasm from penetration alone and require some kind of clitoral stimulation. But sadly, it’s all too common for a female partner to believe that there’s something wrong with her because she’s not experiencing orgasm when she has penetrative sex with her partner–when in fact the only issue is that they’re not incorporating the activities and sensations that are most likely to bring her to orgasm.
When you’re working with a couple in this boat, a good start is to use psychoeducation to try and halt the negative meaning-making. Make sure they know that most people with clitorises require 20 or more minutes of direct clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. Also, of course, everyone’s body is different, and it can take some experimentation and creativity to figure out what feels best, and what kinds of stimulation are likely to lead to orgasm. If it isn’t easy to reach orgasm, orgasm doesn’t happen at all, or if orgasm doesn’t happen with penetration, nobody has failed. Only about 30% of women reach orgasm from just penetration, so there is really no reason to expect it. And it is always possible to shake up the sexual repertoire a bit to incorporate activities that involve more clitoral stimulation, with or without penetration at the same time.
One of the most effective remedies for orgasm difficulties is to work a bit of self-pleasure into the picture, alone and together. It is often much easier to reach orgasm from self-stimulation, and it can be a very sexy addition to partner sex. So could going to a sex toy shop, in person or online, and investigating vibrators and other toys, lingerie, or erotic literature. Oral sex and hand-to-genital sex are both very effective ways to experience pleasure, and reach orgasm if desired.
A happy sex life requires flexibility and openness, and often a hefty dose of vulnerability. This is where things get challenging for many couples. They will need to build skill at being forthright about what feels good and what doesn’t, and get good at holding steady through the discomfort that often comes with intimate disclosures. They will have to be willing to switch up activities during sex, and accept that things won’t always go as planned. These are the kinds of relational challenges that call upon couples to grow emotionally, get curious and creative, and focus on having some fun rather than focusing on outcomes like orgasm, or penetration. It can be a challenging process, but the reward is not just better sex, but a stronger relationship. And the learning curve can include having a lot of fun!