“ARE YOU CLOSE?”
“ARE YOU THERE?”
Christine was hooking up with a guy from the club who was determined not to come unless she did—so determined, in fact, that he repeatedly asked how close she was to orgasm. For Christine, who often has trouble getting off with new partners, the sex wasn’t anywhere close to enjoyable. It was stressful.
“It was like he’d watched a whole series of pornos and compiled a list of positions,” she recalls. “He kept asking me, ‘How much do you like this? Tell me exactly how much!’ I was like, ‘What do you want me to say, 8.34 out of 10?’” As he tracked Christine’s progress—or lack thereof—he called for five-minute breaks in the action, lest he climaxes before fulfilling his duty.
The man was on a mission. And it didn’t matter that Christine was miserable.
It’s easy to see why some men approach to sex this way, says sex educator Lawrence A. Siegel. “[It’s] what we teach men to do: be goal-oriented, conquest focused. Everything has to have a clear, winning goal.” Research suggests that men can feel less masculine when their female partner doesn’t orgasm; when they think about failing to get a woman off, they feel embarrassed, distraught, or inadequate.
And, to be clear: Guys should care about their partner’s orgasm, not just their own. By now, you’ve probably heard about the orgasm gap, the undeniable reality that women get off far less frequently than men during heterosexual encounters, possibly because the men they’re with—be they hookups or husbands—aren’t listening to their needs.
But men sometimes take that mandate and warp it into terrible sex like Christine and Club Guy’s, insisting that the woman has to come—and often come first—even if that might not be practical or desirable for her. This creates what researchers call an “orgasm imperative,” a belief that any sex that doesn’t end in climax for both parties has been a complete failure.
Nothing sucks the fun and passion out of sex like a guy who’s angling for a gold medal in the Orgasm Olympics. Women say it puts undue pressure on them to get off, which can make it harder not just to get there but to enjoy sex at all. Sex therapist Renée Burwell, L.C.S.W., says both partners end up in “a cycle of shame and anxiety that decreases connection and enjoyment of sexual experiences.”
So let’s throw out the orgasm checklist and think about closing the pleasure gap instead. “Removing the goal of orgasm can reduce pressure and return—or introduce—the fun of being sexual,” says sex educator Lisa B. Schwartz, Ph.D., L.M.F.T. The less pressure she’s under, the more she can actually enjoy the experience. Ironically, letting go of the orgasm imperative might even make women’s orgasms more likely.
First step: Stop with all the asking. Mid-coitus is not the time to inquire about her orgasm. Instead, have that talk before you get busy, says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. Let her know you’re game to do whatever makes her feel good—as long as it’s within your own comfort zone—and that you’d like to get her off but are totally fine to stop what you’re doing if she says she’s had enough.
Then, during sex, you can focus on enjoying the experience. Elisabeth Lloyd, Ph.D., a leading scholar on the biology of the female orgasm who helped pioneer the concept of the orgasm gap, says you can still check in with each other, but with non-insistent questions like “What feels good or would feel good to you right now?” rather than “How close to coming are you?”
The two of you can also make bucket lists of things you’d like to try in bed. It can be as simple as spending a certain amount of time on massage, gentle touch, or deep kissing, says Lloyd. That way, you can concentrate on exploring that new activity together instead of fixating on orgasm, which takes the pressure off both of you.
If you’re still having trouble prioritizing pleasure over climax, there’s always Siegel’s idea: Don’t come at all. “Go on an orgasm ban, so that everything you’re doing with and for and to each other is for the sole purpose of experiencing pleasure,” he says. There’s no set rule for how long your ban should last—try it for a few days, or a few weeks. “Sometimes we just have to create a new picture of what we are expecting until the behaviour sets in,” Siegel says.
A ban on the big O might sound scary, but there’s a lot more to sex than ten to 20 seconds of orgasm. Many women find intense—even complete—pleasure in the intimacy, passion, and playfulness of a sex session. Focusing on the orgasm alone is like “eating an ice cream sundae and focusing on the cherry,” Burwell says. “The cherry is great, but the greater experience exists in the ice cream.”