Some of my patients count orgasms. Sometimes they count their own, but more often, they count their partners’.

Both men and women do this.

“When my wife doesn’t climax, I feel I haven’t done my job,” says Max. “When a boyfriend doesn’t orgasm, I figure it’s because I don’t turn him on enough,” says Maria. “I want to totally satisfy my husband every time, says Claire. “I don’t want LaShonda to think I’m selfish, or that I don’t care,” says Marcus, “so I try to make her cum no matter how long it takes.”

Listening to people say such things, you can imagine the pressure they feel.

Even under perfect circumstances, no one can possibly guarantee that they’ll orgasm every single time they have sex. Therefore, pinning our sense of adequacy or masculinity or femininity on whether someone else climaxes (or we climax) is a big mistake. It makes sex more like work—with a high-stakes gamble built in—and less like play.

And that kind of pressure, paradoxically, makes it harder to orgasm.

How Men Work

When men are young, they often ejaculate quickly, way before they want to. If they want their female partner to climax from intercourse—or if she wants to—this makes it almost impossible (indeed, if it’s possible at all; most women can’t climax from intercourse alone no matter how long it lasts). The solution, of course, starts with focusing on non-intercourse ways for women to climax. But many women and men resist this, thinking that’s not “real sex” or “normal sex.”

In contrast, as men age they’re less likely to climax at all. By 50, a man may only climax half the time he has sex, or may only do so via a hand, vibrator, or with anal stimulation. If someone’s partner (female or male) feels personally insulted by this “failure,” there’s always trouble. Who feels worse—the guy who doesn’t cum and feels he’s disappointing his partner, or the partner of the guy, who feels inadequate?

The answer is both.

What can make an orgasm more likely for an older guy? Relax and focus on what feels good rather than imagining something sexy. And instead of trying to drive up the excitement by working harder (and possibly getting a numb penis), think of orgasm as the bottom of a valley of relaxation, instead. Fall into the orgasm rather than working hard to get it.

How Women Work

Women rarely have that come-too-fast thing when they’re young—or when they’re older, for that matter. Some women start climaxing regularly in adolescence; other women report that it takes years to learn how to climax—especially if they’re used to partners who are impatient, lazy, or narrow-minded.

The key factors in female orgasm are self-acceptance (few of us have perfect bodies) and self-knowledge (for most women, the clitoris is the primary sex organ, not the vagina; and every clitoris has its preferences and idiosyncrasies). When one or both are in short supply, so are female orgasm. If a woman is trying to perform for her partner, of course that makes it even more difficult.

And for most women, the ability to tell a partner “I like this rather than that,” and to gently insist that it be part of most sexual encounters, and to gently encourage that a partner learn to enjoy, not merely tolerate, the stuff they need to climax, is essential.

So…

Simultaneous orgasm? Forget it. If it lands in your lap, and if you enjoy it, great. For most people, it never does. Some people work hard to get this elusive experience. For most people, I think it’s rarely worth the effort. If you love it, and you can easily arrange it, great. If not, skip it as a goal. If your partner demands it, educate them: “Honey, that’s not how my body works.”

Most importantly, both men and women should enjoy sex moment-by-moment, because there may not be an orgasm at the end. If you’re not enjoying sex moment-by-moment, there is no orgasm big enough to have made getting there worth the effort.

Orgasm Equality?

I have a patient who talks about “orgasm equality”—that he should “give” his girlfriend an orgasm for every one that he has. He says it’s “only fair.”

I respectfully disagree.

Of course, a reasonable person wants their partner to enjoy sex. But how shall we measure that? The number of orgasms in a session, a weekend, or a month is not a very good way. And what about tonight? She may be in the mood for sex, but not to get completely wound up; she may be in the mood to cum, but her body doesn’t cooperate; she may not enjoy the pressure of making things “even.”

And remember, no one can promise they’ll climax, and no one can promise they’ll make you climax.

But of course a reasonable person cares about their partner. So I suggest we should go for “attention equality”—because that’s something we can control. While you can’t promise your partner an orgasm every time, you can promise your full attention every time. And you can commit that if you don’t want to give your full attention, you’ll say so. If your partner says they’re OK with less than your full attention, you can both proceed; if not, you two can do something else.

I recently had a patient who knows a lot about baseball, so I explained it this way:

Even the best ballplayer can’t promise he’ll always get a hit, or that he’ll get a hit on any given occasion. And he can’t promise he’ll always make a great catch, or that he’ll make a great catch on the very next ball that comes his way. But he can promise that he’ll pay close attention every minute of every game. As Pete Rose said about giving 100% effort, “Hitting is sometimes in a slump, fielding is sometimes in a slump, but hustle should never be in a slump.”

And that’s what we promise our partner: not an erection, not lubrication, not our orgasm, not their orgasm—but our attention. Because any time you initiate sex or agree to sex, attention should never be in a slump.

Posted in Making Sex Better, Sexual Intelligence Blog