I’m a 40-year-old woman, he’s a 35-year-old man, we’ve been together for fifteen years. We met young, and I was his first serious partner. In the beginning, sex was fun, but I’ve never had an orgasm with anyone, ever. We had a ton of other things in common and we stayed together because it mostly worked. Fifteen years later, I have two big issues: I can’t orgasm — that’s issue number one — and even if I could accept that, the sex I have with my partner is unsatisfying and has been for years. He’s a caring partner, but he’s not good in bed. My attempts to explain to him what gets me excited were ignored. When I finally told him I couldn’t keep having unsatisfying sex, his self-esteem in bed was completely destroyed. Now we don’t have sex at all.

Neither of us wants to end the relationship. We still cuddle, and we’re a great team. We have shared hobbies that take up 95% of our time (mountain sports), no kids (by choice), a decent income (finally!), and an otherwise rewarding life. We’ve also never demanded monogamy from each other but living in a small town in rural Canada makes seeking out other partners extremely complicated. I sometimes wonder if exploring my sexuality with someone else — maybe even a woman (I’m pretty sure I’m bi) — might help me get my playfulness back and inspire me to try again with my partner. We talk about these things very openly, so it wouldn’t be cheating. Has that ever worked?

About never having an orgasm: it’s not just him. Nothing I’ve ever tried — toys, masturbation, different toys, more masturbation, pot, alcohol, porn — has helped. I just can’t come. Arousal builds then abruptly ends before I come. People say, “just masturbate more,” but I’ve been doing that for years and nothing changes. I’m frustrated and wondering if I should just give up. But if I break up with my partner over this and I can’t orgasm with the next person I fall for, what was the point of breaking up? Years ago, I had a super-hot summer fling with a very attractive guy — which my partner knew about and encouraged me to enjoy — and still zero orgasms. Am I just broken? Has anyone who never orgasmed finally achieved one? What worked?

Sadness Over This Inability Ruining Entire Days

“Pleasure is why people are motivated to have sex,” said Dr. Lori Brotto, a Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of British Columbia. “When pleasure is absent, it’s not surprising that motivation and desire fade.”

Now, it’s certainly possible to have a pleasurable sexual experience without coming — because of course it is — but if you never come and the sex isn’t pleasurable and your partner doesn’t make an effort when you suggest ways to make sex slightly more pleasurable, sooner or later you’re gonna give up or blow up.

But even if you decide to give up on sex — which you have for now — Dr. Brotto, who is also a sex researcher and sex therapist, doesn’t want you to give up on orgasms.

“Most people assigned female at birth cannot reach orgasm during insertive vaginal sex — 80% of females — but most can reach orgasm on their own during clitoral stimulation,” said Dr. Brotto. “SOTIRED mentions needing her mind needing to be very present, which is not only normal but required for high arousal and orgasm in females. Thus, having her mind ‘totally there’ is an excellent skill, and I’d encourage her to build on that.”

Dr. Brotto isn’t just telling you to “masturbate more,” SOTIRED, she’s telling you not to lose hope.

“But if, despite experimenting with all types of stimulation and focusing her mind on sensations in the present moment, SOTIRED still isn’t reaching orgasm during masturbation, more may be going on,” said Dr. Brotto. “I would want to rule out any physical causes like vulvo-vaginal pain, skin dermatoses, nerve damage from an injury, diabetes, or neurological issues. I’d also ask a physician to review the medications she’s on — and was on previously — to see whether there’s something pharmacological blocking climax.”

As for your partner, SOTIRED, Dr. Brotto thinks you should see a sex therapist with him.

“A good sex therapist can reframe ‘working on it’ in a pleasure-focused way,” said Dr. Brotto. “And a therapist could perhaps convey to SOTIRED’s partner that learning to give his partner pleasure will directly benefit him as well. And since many sex therapists offer virtual appointments, living in a small town is no problem.”

And now, at the risk of making myself deeply unpopular in the comment thread this week, I rise in defense of your dense partner.

If you pulled your punches when you first tried to talk to him about your dissatisfaction… if you prioritized his ego over advocating for your own pleasure because that’s what cis women are socialized to do… your partner may not have known you were this unhappy. If you were gentle and opaque, SOTIRED, if you said something like, “Things are great! But this [small change, vibe shift, sex act] would make things even better,” he may have come away from those conversations thinking, “Things are great,” not because he’s an irredeemably insensitive asshole, SOTIRED, but because he was socialized as a cis man. Many cis women (and most gay men!) will find (and obsess about) the tiniest criticism hidden under a mountain of compliments; many cis men (and some gay men!) will miss the mountain of criticism because they can’t take their eyes off the single, half-hearted compliment perched on top.

Being confronted by a deeply dissatisfied romantic partner — being told you suck at sex by the person you’ve been having sex with most of your adult life — won’t leave a scratch on a selfish asshole who couldn’t care less about his partner’s pleasure, SOTIRED, but it has the power to devastate a decent person who was too dense to hear what his partner was trying to tell him. So, the fact that your partner was hurt when you finally blew up at him is a good sign. Which is a very long way of saying I agree with Dr. Brotto about seeing a sex therapist and giving your partner a chance to make the sex work.

And, again, don’t lose hope.

Continue reading this week's column here!