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How do you tell when women are done having sex?

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Liam asks:

I know for a guy, sex is over once he ejaculates. But when is the sex over for a girl? Because I've always been told in sex ed that the guy is "finished" once he cums & that girls don't always ejaculate during sex. But I never really thought to ask about when a girl is "finished." So when does a guy know the sex has finished for both, if the girl doesn't always "finish off" like guys do?

Heather Corinna replies:

For men or women, sex is over when one or both partners don't want to have it anymore, either because they both feel satisfied with the sex they had, or just because one partner or both, even if the sex didn't result in orgasm, or feel like they wanted it to, just feels done with the whole works and not very interested in sex anymore.

Obviously, some partners may decide for their partners that sex is over just because THEY are have gotten what they wanted out of it, but since partnered sex is supposed to be about two people, not one, that's not an approach I'd advise for a sex life of any real quality for everyone involved.

Sex isn't just about orgasm, or about getting one or both people to orgasm, and having that be the whole point. Sex is about the people involved experiencing physical and emotional pleasure together throughout, with or without orgasm, before, during and after. Ideally, during sex, we're both checking in with our partner to tell them what feels good and to ask if they are feeling good. We ask what our partner wants throughout sex, and that communication is part of sex. We don't need to just guess or wonder, nor assume that because one or both of us has reached orgasm, sex is or should be over.

One thing to understand is that men and women alike can reach orgasm more than once: just because a person reaches orgasm once or ejaculates doesn't necessarily mean they're all done. Now, not everyone can ejaculate or orgasm more than once, nor can people who can do those things do them every day or even want to every time they have sex. But often enough in your sex life, you'll probably fine that reaching orgasm once, for you and your partner, doesn't automatically turn off your or their desire for more sex or other kinds of physical intimacy.

As well, just because one person reaches orgasm doesn't mean sex is over or done: what you were taught in sex ed, in fact, may have been biased. For a very long time, through much of our history, women's sexuality was all but dismissed, or made to only be about satisfying men. Many, many women have been taught that what determines when sex is over is when a male partner says that it is or reaches orgasm. But just because a guy feels done doesn't mean his partner does (that's huge with vaginal intercourse, since while most men will orgasm with that alone, most women will not, and additionally, on average, it takes women longer to reach orgasm than it does men), nor that, even if he can't get another erection, the sex has to be over: sex isn't just about genitals or erection, for men or women. We can and do have sex with more than a penis or our genitals: we have hands, mouths and all kinds of other body parts which are sexual for both of us. Too, a lot of the way people approach sexuality when teaching it is based around reproduction, even though not only is sex not about that for everyone, even for those trying to reproduce through sex, it's still usually also about pleasure and about sharing something intimate together. By all means, when a male and female couple is having sex to try and reproduce, once the male ejaculates, that's all that's needed to make pregnancy possible: a woman doesn't have to orgasm or ejaculate to become pregnant.

Women with male partners do often know when their partner has an orgasm, but not just because he ejaculates (if he does: men sometimes do not ejaculate when they orgasm: they're usually related, but separate, events). Sex is a pretty goopy, wet enterprise, and often, a woman isn't going to specifically feel that her partner has ejaculated if his penis is inside her vagina, which is also a wet place. With oral sex, because semen has a taste, you can tell, and with manual sex or mutual masturbation, you can see ejaculation. Often, whatever the gender of our partner, if our genitals, mouths, or hands are around or in their genitals, we can learn to feel the contractions which usually happen with orgasm, and have a pretty good idea of when a partner is having one. All the same, women usually know best when their male partners have reached orgasm because they say so, as in "Holey moley, that orgasm rocked!"

You're right: some women do ejaculate with sex or some kinds of sex, and some women do not. But for many who do, ejaculation doesn't always happen with orgasm: sometimes it happens considerably before orgasm. Women who ejaculate also usually don't with every orgasm, and more women than men can have multiple orgasms. So, as is the case with male partners, knowing when a female partner is done is going to be about when she says she's done, or asking her if she feels done.

Of course, not all men or all women will reach orgasm with intercourse or any other kind of sex all the time. So, men don't always "finish off" in that way, either. It's not just women who don't always orgasm. Sometimes, too, a woman might feel done with sex before a male partner reaches orgasm or ejaculates, just like men might have that experience. Obviously, when we're having sex with a partner, we want to try to each do our best to please the other person, but if either of us just doesn't feel like having sex anymore on a given day, no one should feel they have to keep going when it's a drag. After all, we all have ways of getting ourselves to orgasm, too, for those times when our partner is not feeling well, has lost the mood or is just plain tuckered out.

What it all boils down to is that men and women are more alike that it seems when it comes to all of this, and ejaculation isn't a good way to tell that anyone is finished with sex.

One more thing? Our feeling of being "done" isn't always just about our own pleasure.

Sometimes, even if we've had several orgasms, and don't really feel like we can handle or are up to more being done with our bodies, we might see that our partner is still up to more. Since partnered sex is about giving pleasure as well as receiving it, and a lot of our excitement is about our partner's pleasure, we might not feel done if we have the opportunity to please THEM more, even when in one respect, we're done. In fact, sometimes we may want to have sex with a partner that is entirely about pleasing them, about their bodies and genitals more than our own or exclusive of our own altogether. We can be in the mood for that kind of sex sometimes and not others where it's more about both of us having genital or other stimulation.

Not all people feel done with sex just because they reached an orgasm, either done for their own pleasure, nor done when it comes to their partner. In other words, it's not a race where whoever comes first wins and the other partner is S.O.L. If you ask me, when any two (or more) people are sexually active together, if everyone is doing it for the right reason and really invested in each other, none of us is really going to feel done unless we both feel done. As I explained a bit earlier, it doesn't always work out that way. We're human, and our moods, relationship dynamics and the way we feel in our bodies tends to vary from day to day. Sometimes, we just aren't connecting enough physically or emotionally to continue with sex, we get distracted and lose the mood, or just aren't feeling well or energetic, even if we really wanted to be sexual at first. It happens, and it's okay that it does now and then. But for the most part, our feeling of pleasure and being "done" should be interconnected with the way our partner is feeling.

Hopefully, that fills in the gaps for you. And by all means, if your sex education had a gap like this you saw, you might want to pipe up and say something. I get that group sex education in school can be awkward, so it's not always so easy to interject in class, but you could certainly tell your teacher privately afterwards where they had a blind spot or left something as critical as this -- as the sexual experience of more than half the globe, and a more realistic idea of what sex between people is like -- out. Who knows, you may wind up being the person students in the future have to thank for getting that information from the get-go, and for getting a sexuality education that's not only more realistic, but about everyone sitting in the classroom!

Here are a few extra links for you which may fill some additional gaps in your education:

written 14 Jul 2008 . updated 21 Jul 2008

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