Hi Yana!

I am a 21-year-old cisgender female living with my partner of 1.5 years. I’ll make it simple: a partner has never been able to make me orgasm. Either I do it solo or I do all the work for myself during sex with a partner.

My partner and I communicate about sex all the time and I enjoy sex with him otherwise. I’ve tried a number of ways to ask him to put in a little more effort in making me feel good and he still doesn’t really try. His excuses are that I take too long to climax, he doesn’t feel like it, etc.

Am I ever going to be sexually satisfied? I love this man and plan to spend my life with him … but I feel like I’m settling in the sex department. Am I doomed to a life of masturbation?

During conversation about the topic I try my best not to make him feel inadequate but he makes me feel like there’s something wrong with my body by his reactions. I understand orgasm isn’t necessarily the most important part of sex but will I ever be able to effortlessly lay back and let another person take me to that level?

I appreciate your advice,

-Very Anticlimactic

Dear Anticlimactic,

Let’s talk numbers for a minute. The University of Chicago did a study that found that 31 percent of female participants had never felt an orgasm. Seventy-one percent of women surveyed for the same study reported that they did not consistently orgasm with a (in this study, male) partner.

Over 70 percent of people with vaginas require direct, consistent clitoral stimulation in order to have an orgasm — period. Whether that’s alone or with a partner. And the vast majority necessitate at least 20-30 minutes of clitoral stimulation of some kind before reaching climax. That number can get shorter as we get more familiar with our own bodies, our partners, and our orgasm cycle but 20-30 minutes is the average.

Now that we’ve got those pesky facts out of the way that (hopefully) demonstrate that you’re not broken, slow, or alone in your orgasm experience — let’s talk about your boyfriend. First thing’s first: a sexual partner who consistently treats you in a way that makes you feel unworthy of effort, pleasure, and sexual care is … let’s go with “lacking.”

Let me be clear: a partner’s struggle to provide you with the sexual pleasure you hope for (orgasm, in this case) is 100 percent understandable, forgivable, and workable. Our education around how to directly communicate about sexual pleasure, anatomy, and how to work with clitorises, vulvas, and vaginas more specifically is seriously deficient in this country. This is something we can learn, that we can help our partners learn, and is part of exploring and growing as sexual people.

I’m not appalled because your boyfriend isn’t sure how to pleasure your body or provide you with an orgasm; I’m appalled because of how few shits he seems to give about it. From your description at least, it sounds like you go out of your way to make sure he doesn’t feel inadequate or hey, even slightly inconvenienced, by your efforts to communicate your dissatisfaction and desires. His response seems inequitable at the very least.

Of course you can’t and shouldn’t force anyone to do anything, but if this type of disregard for your hopes and happiness was happening about a non-sexual topic, such as your career, hobbies, or shared time spent together, would it still feel as okay?

I cannot recommend enough that you read Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski and I’d basically call it required reading for your boyfriend if he wants to try taking responsibility for his sexual role in your life. And if refuses and continues to put you down? I’d say that’s a real important piece of information worth paying attention to.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.