Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

anonymous on September 1, 2011

I can orgasm from masturbation but not from intercourse. What’s going on?

I’m a woman and I can’t orgasm during intercourse, although I can achieve orgasm by masturbation. My partner and I love each other a lot, but our lives have been really stressful lately. I have a low sex drive and I’m feeling depressed about unemployment. How can I enjoy sex with my partner again?

answered by Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD on September 1, 2011

Thanks so much for your question. I can understand how an inability to orgasm during intercourse may be adding further stress to an already stressful situation. I’ll try to offer some thoughts on what typically influences women’s ability to orgasm from intercourse. But to make sure there isn’t a physical problem, I also encourage you to visit your doctor for an examination of your symptoms.

First, let me assure you that not being able to orgasm during intercourse is a relatively common problem for women. In fact, according to a study byresearchers at the University of Chicago, only 29% of women always orgasm with sexual intercourse (in comparison to 75% of men). That means that you may be well within the norm of women who have difficulty achieving orgasm during intercourse.

Still, stress can decrease libido (sex drive) and arousal. You mentioned that both you and your partner are currently under a lot of stress, including unemployment. When one or both members of a couple are unemployed it can add a lot of financial stress to their lives...andfinancial as well as other stressors are known to decrease interest in sex.

So, why can you still orgasm during masturbation? For starters, masturbation is asolo activity, allowing you to focus only on yourself. You can entertain your own fantasies and do exactly what you need to orgasm. In a sense, then, there’s no pressure to perform…or to attend to the needs and expectations of your partner. In fact, masturbation may actually relieve some of the stress you’re feeling.

As you know, sex with a partner is a different experience in which you may feel overly responsible for pleasuring someone else. And, when life is stressful, you may lack the energy and interest to fully engage with your partner in this way.

One more thought on this topic:

You mentioned that you can only orgasm through masturbation…but let’s consider for a moment that what you’re really saying is that you need a little extra manual stimulation of your clitoris to orgasm. Many women meet this need by either rubbing their clitoris (or asking their partner to do so during intercourse), or by using a vibrator. You might also consider squeezing your butt cheeks when you feel close to orgasm, which sometimes carries women over the edge.

What else can decrease a woman’s sex drive? Among other things, hormonal birth control, medications, depression or even high blood pressure. If you’re taking any medications, going through menopause, or if you think you may be depressed, it’s important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

A different dosage or a new medication altogether could make a big difference…not only in your ability to achieve orgasm during sex, but in your overall outlook and well-being.

Bottom line? Stress may be disrupting your sex life, but there are things you can do to get back on track…including communicating openly with your partner, your doctor and – if needed – a couples counselor or sex therapist.

Along these lines, you might want to consider practicing techniques that may deepen trust and communication with your partner. For example, try simply touching each other without the goal to having sex or reaching orgasm. Just touch and caress each other, avoiding the genitals at first. You can build up to touch each other’s bodies all over as you describe to each other what feels good, bad…and great. You might even want to show your partner what you do during masturbation that works for you.

I hope these tips offer you a good starting point in answering your question, and I wish you and your partner courage and good health as you work through this stressful time in your lives.

Related info:

Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD, PhD

Dr. Owens is an AASECT-certified sexuality counselor. Her areas of expertise include the medical aspects of human sexuality and sexual problems, as well as the impact of STDs ⎼ and other diseases, illnesses and disabilities ⎼ on sexuality. Dr. Owens was educated at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

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