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We waited two years for good sex together... and even after sex, we're still waiting.

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Jennifer asks:

I only started having sex about 3 months ago. I'm 20 and I made my fiancee wait almost 2 years. The problem that I noticed is that I never orgasm when he's inside. He has no problem with using his fingers on me but why can't I when he is inside. I mean I can feel it coming and it feels great but it never happens it's like I get sooo close and I'm on the edge and then I just stay there and I know he's frustrated cause he thinks it's his fault so he tried harder and harder each time to try to find positions I like and such. We are trying to use more foreplay to see if maybe if I'm close beforehand, and it will make things easier but I'm still waiting. It's soo frustrating cause I enjoy the closeness of sex with him but it's not very fulfilling.

Heather Corinna replies:

I absolutely DESPISE the term "foreplay." Let me tell you why.

That term states or suggests -- structurally, it means "before sex" -- that vaginal intercourse is capital-S sex and that every other kind of sex either isn't sex, or should only exist to help prime the pump, as it were, for vaginal intercourse. It denies that all those other sexual activities are no more or less sex than intercourse is. More than anything, I can't stand the term "foreplay," because I very much want for people to have a sexuality and a sex life which is positive, authentic and wonderful for themselves and their partners, and I think that term and idea is a huge barrier to all of that.

The thing is, the kinds of sexual activities usually classed as foreplay -- oral sex, manual sex, masturbation or mutual masturbation, sensual massage, making out, frottage or petting, the works -- are a lot of people's favorite or most enjoyable kinds of sex. For some, those activities are the only kind of sex they choose to engage in or like, which certainly often includes gay men and lesbian women, meaning that for so many people who are same-sex partnered, the sex they're having and enjoy isn't considered to be sex by some folks. Too, for a majority of women (of every sexual orientation), as well as some men, those activities are the ones through which they experience orgasm. You can have a read here to find out about how a majority of women simply do not reach orgasm through intercourse alone and find out the reasons why that so often is. In a nutshell, though, defining only intercourse as "sex" is a pretty huge dismissal of the sexual reality of millions and millions of women.

The idea of many kinds of sex as "foreplay," was an idea that had, and still has, an awful lot to do with both heterosexism as well as defining what sex is and isn't based on what heterosexual men want to define sex as based on their own desires or pleasure -- leaving so many women's experiences and sexualities out in the cold -- and/or on conflating sex with reproduction. In other words, vaginal intercourse is the only "real" sex because it's the kind which presents a risk of pregnancy, or is the only "real" sex because a majority of men get off on it.

What I see in your question is two people driving themselves batty, and potentially missing out on an otherwise enjoyable sex life, because you're both trying to meet a norm that isn't even a real norm in the first place. It's an ideal, and both not one everyone shares, nor one which most often results in a particularly stellar sex life for a whole lot of people. Sex is about personal expression and uniquely authentic experiences: what people find they enjoy is more diverse than Madonna's hairstyles, and if and when any given person finds one sexual activity is the be-all-end-all for them (which is fairly rare), what that activity is varies, and is not limited to intercourse.

I think it's safe to say that what any two people seeking out pleasure and intimacy with sex usually want is for both people involved to experience both physical and emotional pleasure, and for both people involved to be having sex in such a way that it is an authentic expression of themselves and their relationship, as well as a way to grow and seek out or find closeness. It's mighty hard to meet those aims if we get hung up on trying to make any given activity "work," or to try and meet someone else's ideals or ideas about what sex is or should be.

In the interest of furthering that aim, here are the suggestions I'd give you both:

1) First things first, I'd encourage you to throw out the idea that any kind of sex besides intercourse is merely "foreplay."

All of those other kinds of sex are as much sex as intercourse, and for some folks, more so. What sex is and is not -- as I was just explaining in this answer the other day -- isn't about what exactly we're doing, but what we are feeling and bringing to the table when we're doing it.

When you toss out that term and idea, then you can more easily see that when it comes to sexual activities, you're looking at a menu on which everything on it is or can be sex for you. Just like when you're choosing what you want to eat off a menu at a restaurant, such is the case with this. You choose what you do based on what sounds good to you at that time, and you can mix it up how you like, and add whatever appetizers, side dishes or desserts you like. What your main dish is can be whatever you want it to be, not just one thing, and sometimes, we do want breakfast for dinner, want a combination of things which might seem odd to someone else, or to have dessert first. That's okay.

For example, on one day, you and yours might go into sex together being really into your mouths: you might spend a lot of time kissing your lips or other parts of the body, then make oral sex your main course. On another day, you might want to run the gamut in an order that just feels natural to you both, even if it seems backwards based on certain ideals or what's presented in popular culture: you might start with vaginal intercourse, then move into manual sex, then oral sex then make out for a while. On another day still, you might both choose masturbation and mutually masturbate while also choosing to verbally share fantasies at the same time. Just like you're unlikely to order the same dinner every night, you're probably not going to be choosing to have the same kinds of sex all the time, either: what you do is going to depend on your collective mood and state of mind, as well as what is feeling best in both of your bodies that day.

2) Don't get too hung up on the idea that this is a matter of finding some perfect physical position for intercourse that's going to suddenly make it equal instant pleasure or orgasm for you both.

By all means, experimenting with positions -- for any given sexual activity -- is something we're usually going to do, both to assure we're all comfortable (it's hard to stay excited when your knees feel like they're about to give out, your bladder seem to be in your throat or you've a cramp in your neck), and getting the kinds of stimulation we like, genitally as well as in terms of our whole bodies and all of our senses. You are likely to find that certain positions may do more for you than others, but the notion that you two are just going to light on one magic angle that "fixes" all of this is one you're going to need to let go of.

3) There is no "best" way to reach orgasm, nor does not reaching orgasm with a given sexual activity mean that there's no point or that we have somehow failed.

Now and then, with any kind of partnered sex, someone -- or both someones -- just isn't going to reach orgasm. But that's okay, because while orgasms can be fantastic, they're not the whole point of partnered sex, and not reaching orgasm doesn't keep us from experiencing pleasure or closeness. If you enjoy intercourse, but just don't get off on it and want to reach orgasm, then you do it together for as long as you are enjoying it, then shift to something else where you know you're more likely to have an orgasm. Most of us will have one or two things we do often orgasm from: if you haven't discovered what those are yet, then you can do some more exploring to make those discoveries both via your own masturbation (bear in mind that a majority of people first have orgasms alone before they do or can with partners, so if you have not yet explored masturbation, doing so is likely to make a big difference) and the two of you trying a world of different activities together, giving them as much time, intention and emotional investment as you have been giving intercourse.

4) Trying to have an orgasm is one of the surest ways NOT to have an orgasm.

In order to reach orgasm, we have to be feeling a strong sense of desire and arousal, we have to be able to get a little lost in the moment, and it is mighty hard to do that when we're trying to make something happen rather than going with the flow. Getting frustrated with ourselves and our partners is a very effective way to put a serious damper on desire and pleasure: stress interferes with arousal and becoming more aroused. And if we find that we experience stress or frustration with sex routinely, we're likely to even start out less and less aroused because we come to the sexual table expecting frustration rather than pleasure and fulfillment.

In order to not only reach orgasm, but to even experience earnest pleasure, we've just got to be pretty relaxed about it, with our minds open to finding out new things and experiencing surprises, and be quick to let go of preconceived notions or things that just aren't working out. We've also got to be pretty unattached to having an orgasm. If we stop seeking out orgasm, and just start seeking out pleasure and intimacy, not only are we more likely to also experience orgasm, those times when we don't will tend to be just as enjoyable as the times when we do.

5) I think it'd be a good idea for the two of you to have a long, loving talk about all of this, including reminding one another that no one has failed, that there is no need to be frustrated anymore, and that intercourse not meeting your expectations isn't anyone's fault, save that both of you may have had unrealistic expectations before now. We live, we learn, we adjust our mental latitudes. Give each other some comfort about this so that you can start to approach sex differently without bringing all your old baggage with you. Get whatever negative feelings about all this you have had off your chest and then be absolutely done with them. Talk about all the things you'd like to try together now, and about what has felt good, rather than what hasn't. Positively affirm together what you want out of sex with one another, and what you also want for your own sexuality.

You might even make a fun date out of heading over to a bookstore and sitting in the sexuality section with a couple mochas for an afternoon. There are a lot of good books out there which can give you more information on the kinds of things I've mentioned here, and perhaps some sexual ideas you didn't have before. Some good ones to start with are Anne Semans and Cathy Winks' The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, Betty Dodson's Orgasms for Two, Paul Joannides' The Guide to Getting It On, Margo Anand's, The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, and Dr. Jack Morin's The Erotic Mind. You might also get some good use out of my own book.

I know, particularly if you have been holding off for intercourse with high hopes, that it can be tough to hear these things.

When we set something as a lofty goal, it can be so easy to put it on a pedestal, and figure that when we get there, it's going to knock our socks off. Sometimes, the longer we wait for something, the more of a disappointment it can be when we get there, since our expectations can get more and more elevated as time goes on. But as I've explained, the big trouble with that when we're talking about intercourse is that while intercourse all by itself clearly has an excellent marketing team, for so many people, it doesn't tend to be all it's hyped up as being. While I know that might feel like a disappointment, I'd posit that it only is if you and yours are unwilling to explore a more holistic sex life that, over time, is likely to be all you wanted it to be.

(And when I say over time, bear in mind that three months is a very short time to be sexually active for. Our sexuality and sex lives are a lifelong learning process, often filled with many discoveries, shifts and changes. As the months, years and decades go by, you're going to be able to see and experience -- so long as you and your partners are open to it and flexible in how you approach sex -- that learning process, and get a better sense of how time alone can tend to make a big difference. If I had just started writing three months ago, it'd be pretty nutty for me to expect that I'd be at the same level of comfort, skill and personal style as I am now, having been writing for thirty years or so. The same goes with all kinds of sex: you two are going to want to be sure you're being patient with one another and with yourselves, and that you try and honor where you are, not just where you want to be.)

This doesn't have to be a big bummer: this can instead be about a pretty fantastic discovery you might not have otherwise made. A sexual life full of variety, creativity and flexibility is a very good thing, and what makes for a great sex life, not a tragedy. When you can start to explore sex that way, I think you'll very quickly find that you both start to develop the kind of sex life you really want, rather than just finding a way to make one given activity "work."

P.S. You say you "made" your partner wait two years, but I'm guessing that you didn't make him do anything. He chose to wait for two years, likely because he wanted to be with you, and also respected your limits and boundaries in regard to sex. He may even have chosen that in part because he, too, wanted to wait. Whatever the reason, he made his own choice, and likely made it out of love: you didn't make it for him. I point this out because I want to assure that you don't feel like you owe him anything because he waited, or feel like you have to deliver perfect sex, or only the kind he wants, because he chose to wait, okay?

Here are some extra links to take with you as you move towards the good stuff:

written 19 Nov 2008 . updated 30 Jan 2009

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