Heather Corinna replies:
I am in my late twenties and have never had an orgasm.I have only become sexually acquainted with my body in the last couple of years and can now get myself to the brink which is really intensely pleasurable but I get no sense of release I would expect to associate with an orgasm. Am I just expecting too much? Am I having orgasms but they are just not what I expect? It has the potential to impact my current relationship as he gets frustrated he can't make me come. Have I orgasmed?
It's really tough to say. Ultimately, the only person who can know for sure if they've reached orgasm is the person who is having one.
For sure, often people's expectations of orgasm can be off-base, especially if they're primarily based on fictional depictions of orgasm. While sometimes orgasm can be head-spinny, cat-screechy, headboard-bangy intense, at other times it's a lot more mild, kind of like a genital sneeze. Orgasm is rarely the same for anyone every single time. Too, you will very often feel some sense of release, relaxation or a certain feel of sexual finality afterwards (and often hypersensitivity in your genitals, too), but now and then, it's more subtle than obvious. Too, because of what happens chemically with orgasm, after you've had one, your mood generally will feel at least somewhat elevated. It's also normal for the orgasms we have at the start of our sexual exploration to be different than those we have as time goes on. For many women, deeper, richer orgasms happen later rather than earlier in their sexual life.
When you get to that intensely pleasurable point, does it feel like any sort of apex or climax? Or do you feel like you're there, and then it just slowly dies down, or you're just cut off in the middle somehow? Are you feeling any kind of pelvic pain or light cramping afterwards? If you are feeling cut off and/or having cramping, then it's not likely you're having orgasm. On the other hand, if those things are not happening, and that point of intensity sort of feels like it pushes through some sort of ceiling, even a small one, and leaves you feeling in some way satisfied or satiated, you may well be having orgasms.
But it should be noted that it's pretty common for people who effectively have any sort of delayed sexual development, or rather, exploration, to simply not be in the habit of the kind of "letting go," that's required to reach orgasm. For those of us who started masturbating as children, and kept masturbating (and also for those who began sexual partnership sometime in there), it's often pretty intuitive, because it's something we learned before we even knew or understood exactly what we were learning.
Often, it's easier to achieve that at first yourself through masturbation than with a partner, simply because there are not the kinds of vulnerabilities and social pressures involved. So, I'd encourage you to keep exploring yourself with solo sex that's based 100% on what feels best to you., not someone else Even alone, though, it can just take some practice and time to really relax during all of sex, and basically surrender -- it's tough to find words for this stuff sometimes -- to what you're feeling.
One other important thing to know is that trying to reach orgasm, rather than simply aiming to do what feels good and enjoy yourself, without your eye on the prize, as it were, is one of the biggest barriers TO reaching orgasm. When we go batty doing everything we can to reach orgasm, and think more about that orgasm than letting all that go, it can make it pretty touch to really get relaxed and aroused enough to get there, let alone really enjoy whatever sex we're having. If we add a partner doing the same to that? Sheesh: that's just too much pressure.
I also don't know what your partner is doing with you sexually: in case it's nothing but intercourse or primarily intercourse, you may already know that that's not likely to result in orgasm for a majority of women, or even be all that satisfying for most. Since vaginal intercourse is the LEAST likely way you'll reach orgasm, and doesn't usually feel that satisfying for women all by itself, you may need to remind your partner that it's best to really keep sex activities varied, and engage in the activities that really give your most sensitive spots the most airtime.
Certainly, when we're really into our partners, we want them to feel as good as they can -- and it makes us feel good to be part of that -- and their pleasure and orgasm is a serious rush. It can be a bit of a bummer if they aren't feeling as good as we'd like them to. But if we're getting so frustrated that it's causing relationship problems, we can be sure that's not just about us bumming that they aren't having the peak pleasure they can: it's about US feeling lesser because we see their orgasm as some kind of medal for our performance. Not so cool.
I'd suggest talking to your partner to make clear that any pressure he's exerting and frustration he's showing is only going to hurt, not help. And really? That you're enjoying yourself should be his primary concern, not your orgasm. Your orgasm is about YOU, not about validating him in some way, so if he needs you to orgasm to prove something to himself, he's got to ditch that mindset, for both of your sakes. Not only will it incline you less to orgasm, it can really inhibit real intimacy and just plain having enjoyable sex on both sides. Your orgasm should be about what makes YOU feel good, not about filling his self-esteem needs. You also need to realize that if relationship problems are happening here, it's not because you aren't reaching orgasm: it's because your partner is invested in your orgasm for the wrong reasons. He may also just need you to be very clear with him that your lack of orgasm isn't about him, nor do you hold him responsible for it (unless, of course, he's just not being responsive to what you're asking for and like, in which case, he should make some adjustments no matter what).
The best book I could suggest for you particularly is Sex for One by Betty Dodson. It's the very best primer I know of for women on masturbation, and Betty's style and approach is one that's particularly great for adult women who are "late bloomers" in this regard.