Hi Yana,

I’m a cis-woman in college and I’m in a new relationship with a girl I really like! We have sex a lot and it’s wonderful but there’s one big problem: she can’t make me come. We have tried everything we could think of, but it always ends up as me taking over to get myself to an orgasm.

I have struggled with this with past partners of all genders as well. Is there something wrong with me physiologically? I’m worried that I’ve trained myself to only be able to come in one way (via masturbation); is this possible?

I’m worried that I’ll never be able to reach climax from a partner!

— One Trick Pony

Dear One Trick,

Orgasms are commonly talked about as something one person is in charge of: either a partner is able to “make me” do it or I end up “taking over” the Oh-peration. This framing of climax is unhelpfully competitive rather than collaborative. Framed like this, instead of one person’s pleasure being a mutually satisfying and creative endeavor, it becomes something that was either achieved or abandoned, won or lost, something wrong with you or something wrong with her.

But, there’s nothing wrong with you, regardless of your number of tricks and when it comes to pleasure, collaboration is key! For most people with vulvas and their chief erogenous zone, the clitoris, it can be very challenging to a) figure out what kind of touch makes you feel good in the first place and b) find the words to explain how to replicate said touch to your partners. (Quick tip! OMGYes is an interactive resource that digitally walks users through various vulvar stimulation techniques — a futuristic way to bridge the communication gap).

Let’s try some new perspectives. One is, okay so what? You’re the best at getting you off! Just because you’re touching yourself during partnered sex doesn’t mean that you’ve suddenly seceded from your sexual union and are now isolated from your partner — it just means you’re incorporating what works for you into your sex life.

Include your partner in you masturbatory moments: have them use an insertable toy on you when you touch your clit, dirty talk into your ear to kick up your climax, incorporate a deep make-out session, kinky restraint play, or other creative ways to make masturbation more part of the partnered experience rather than some sort of interlude from it.

Explore mentally untrapping yourself from the idea that “I can ONLY come in X, Y, Z way — and that is IT. NOTHING else will EVER work!” For many people with vulvas it can be a long road to finding the self-permission to explore pleasure, to experience climax, and to perfect the process of doing so. Because of this, sometimes when we find the way that works for us we can get locked into the idea that this is now the Only Way. However, one of the cool things about partnered sex is sometimes our partners might bring something new or different to the table in terms of touch, technique, or a new turn-on. If we stay open to exploring rather than overly-focused on achieving The Goal, we might just learn something new about ourselves.

This also applies to your fear that you’ve overly-trained yourself to only climax from your ol’ reliable masturbation routine. For some people this is a favorite sex toy on their favorite setting, a certain combination of pressure and rhythm from fingers, or a specific scene from their go-to porn. For most people, though, it’s the Hitachi rechargeable, set to low. (Kidding — or am I?)

Seriously though, people are frequently scared of becoming addicted to their favorite climactic course-of-action. While it is true that your sensitive body parts can get used to this course and therefore climax more reliably from it, it’s not true that you can become forever incapable of orgasming from some other way. Don’t confuse the easiest way for the only way. Take the pressure off to achieve orgasm as the goal of every sexual experience. Instead, set a new goal of curiously exploring pleasure and maybe, but not mandatorily!, orgasms, and see what may… come… of it.

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.