After speaking at a marriage event, I spent time with couples who wanted to ask a question or share a comment. A young couple sat patiently and silently until everyone else had left the auditorium. As I sat down to talk with them, they could barely get the words out. The young man began, “This is really embarrassing, but we don’t know where else to go for help. Umm, we’ve been married for, umm, six years and umm….” His wife quietly finished his sentence, “I don’t know how to achieve an orgasm.”
As I encouraged them to share more, the husband admitted, “I just feel like I must be doing something wrong.” His wife added, “We get so frustrated. I don’t even want to have sex anymore because I feel so much pressure of disappointing him and feeling like something is wrong with me.”
Research shows that about 75% of women find it difficult to climax through intercourse alone and about ten percent never experience orgasm. This young couple had the courage to ask a very common yet unspoken question.
Many articles and even books have been written about the elusive female orgasm; I don’t expect to solve this mystery in one blog. However, here is a primary mental shift for a couple struggling with this frustration: Orgasm isn’t something you achieve, but part of the experience of sexual intimacy.
Some studies suggest that, in spite of the sex positivity movement and information on female sexual response, the percentage of women who can’t climax has been increasing. Unrealistic expectations perpetuated by pornography and Hollywood is one reason cited for this escalation. Couples expect to always climax without effort. Mutual and multiple orgasms have become the definition of “great sex.”
While God created both the female and male orgasm as part of sexual intimacy, He didn’t design them to be the purpose of sex, nor the mark of “success.” Sexual intimacy is about much more than orgasm. It is a journey to be shared and experienced as a husband and wife learn to celebrate and love together with their bodies.
If you are among the many women and couples who think of “achieving” orgasm rather than experiencing God’s gift of sexual pleasure, here are five things to encourage you on your journey.
Learn to enjoy each other’s touch.
Have you ever spent hours preparing a gourmet meal only to have your family wolf it down in a few minutes? God created food not just for nourishment but for enjoyment. In our fast-paced world, we sometimes have to remind ourselves to slow down and enjoy the taste of food, wine, or coffee. We walk right past flowers we don’t smell and birds we don’t hear. Achievement is the enemy of experience because the journey gets lost in pursuit of the goal.
One of the most helpful suggestions for couples is to go back to the beginning, relearning to enjoy and savor touch, even non-sexual touch. Do you remember the electrifying feeling of first holding hands? The sensation of tender kisses or a shoulder massage?
Sex therapists recommend a series of exercises called Sensate Focus to help couples reawaken to the sensation of physical touch. Cliff and Joyce Penner’s book Restoring the Pleasure* is a wonderful Christian resource that walks couples through similar exercises.
Address the barriers.
Imagine that you are walking down a nature path, enjoying a beautiful day when you run into a big yellow “no trespassing” sign. This is what it may feel like on the “road” to climax. Sex is a mind and body relational experience, meaning a lot of things can go wrong. Body image issues, fear of losing control, physical pain, feeling insecure in your marriage, medications like antidepressants, body memories from past trauma, and fatigue are just a few of the barriers that can stop you dead in your tracks.
You may not even be sure what “cocktail” of relational, emotional, or physical problems contribute to the “no trespassing” sign. Regardless, I encourage you to reach out to a Christian sex therapist that can help you identify and address these barriers.
Rethink the “goal.”
Women who struggle with climax often ask me, “Should I just fake it? My husband doesn’t want sex to stop until I climax. I keep telling him it’s not that important to me, but he takes it as a personal failure if I don’t orgasm. Sometimes I just want to be done with it and go on with our day.”
The purpose of sex is not orgasm. While they may enjoy the pleasure of climax, many women report they are more satisfied by the feeling of closeness during sex. The purpose of sex is a shared journey of intimate knowing. Exploring and enjoying each other’s bodies doesn’t always have to mean intercourse. To take the pressure and expectations off of having an orgasm, husbands and wives need to communicate and, potentially, even redefine the purpose of their sex life. This includes sharing the disappointments they have about sex and learning how to work toward intimacy and mutual pleasure together. If you need practical help talking about sex, our Date Nights In video series is a great place to start.
Learn the basics of anatomy.
The number one source of sex education is online pornography, and porn is a horrible educator for many reasons! Because young men and women “learn” about sex at such young ages, they often believe they know more than they actually do.
Female sexuality is complicated. Her anatomy is hidden, and her sexual response continually fluctuates with hormones and her environment. Most women don’t understand their own bodies, so how can we expect their husbands to be experts in female sexuality? Sex is designed to get better with time as husbands and wives learn together. While his sexual response is likely to be more predictable, hers provides the mystery.
My friend Dr. Jennifer Degler has great resources for both husbands and wives to learn about a woman’s anatomy and sexual response. You might also want to check out Cliff Penner’s book The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex.*
Move from passive to active.
While orgasm is not an achievement, sexual arousal and response is something that requires a woman’s active participation. It doesn’t just “happen” for most women.
Sometimes, women perceive their role in sex as passive. He initiates, he provides the foreplay, he penetrates, and she just lies there. While it may be counterproductive to pursue orgasm (because it becomes a goal), it definitely helps to go after sexual arousal in your mind and body. A man can’t make a woman climax. Her own thoughts and response to stimulation play the key role in her sexual arousal. Many women need direct clitoral stimulation to climax. A woman often learns this first by touching herself and then teaching her husband what is most pleasurable to her. Without her participation and open communication, couples may stay stuck in the rut that becomes all about his arousal and climax.
Some women feel as if it is somehow wrong to become sexually aroused or to initiate sex. The lies that feed this belief can be a major roadblock to entering into the pleasure of sexual intimacy. I was in my second decade of marriage before I made this shift in my own thinking. A mentor, Linda Dillow, challenged me to study the woman in the Song of Solomon. It was then I realized that God actually wants me to experience sexual pleasure. At some level, I had always assumed that sexual pleasure was primarily for husbands.
No matter what challenges you may be walking through as a couple, God’s design is for sexual intimacy to invite you into a deeper “knowing” of one another. Great sex isn’t defined by the couple who always climaxes together, but by the couple who accepts the invitation of authentic intimacy through every challenge of marriage.
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