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When I'm fingering her, she seems completely unaffected: what's the deal?

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Stevenmagee asks:

I have fingered my girlfriend quite a few times now. I can only get one finger up there and she never seems to react, just stands there as if nothing is going on. Am I doing something wrong?

Heather Corinna replies:

The best person to ask that question of is....

(drumroll please)

... your girlfriend! She's the one who knows the answer to this question.

When you're doing something sexual with someone, and they're not reacting in any way or don't seem to be fully along for the ride, the first thing to do is to stop what you're doing.

Then you can let them know -- kindly, without expressing frustration -- that you feel like they're not enjoying what you're doing, and that their enjoyment is central to you, and ask if you're right in that presumption.

If they say they are enjoying it, then you can voice that you're feeling uncomfortable without them participating more actively, as people who are enjoying sex and want to be having sex tend to do. Now, some folks are quieter than others, less expressive than others during sex, but if your partner looks like she could be doing homework in her head during sex, that's not about her being more quiet, it's about her not wanting to be there at all and feeling like she can't say no or ask for something different, about her not feeling so comfortable, or about what you're doing just not feeling in any way exciting or compelling and them not being truthful. You can also ask a partner to try and be a little more verbal or physically demonstrative -- within the bounds of what feels authentic for her, you don't want to make her feel like she needs to put on an act or a show -- so that you know what to keep doing and what to stop, and know that they want you to keep doing what you are.

Some partners can also need reassurance that it's okay for them to express themselves verbally or physically during sex. Women in particular are often given messages that "good girls" don't enjoy sex or that asking for something specific -- or to express that what they're doing isn't very exciting -- isn't okay or safe to do with male partners because you're supposed to let men be in charge with sex. We'll often hear from young women here who are convinced something must be wrong with them simply because they don't enjoy what their male partners do or think they should. So, it never hurts to make clear that what you think your partner should enjoy is nothing other than whatever it is that she DOES enjoy, and that she's the expert when it comes to her pleasure, not you.

If she says she's not enjoying it, or won't give you a straight answer (in which case she probably just doesn't want to hurt your feelings or feel like a freak for not enjoying something she feels like she should be), then you get to ask what she might like better, or if she'd just prefer doing something else entirely, like having a cuddle, a talk or going out with friends.

But if she's otherwise excited about sex with you and asks to do manual sex with you, and is still (not) reacting this way, and you're just kind of sticking a finger in her vagina and moving it up and down or in and out and not doing anything else, some of the issue may well be with what you're doing and how you're doing it. A lot of people have ideas about the female sexual anatomy and vaginal sex that aren't so on-target.

For example, know that most of the vaginal canal itself isn't that full of nerve endings, so many women really aren't going to have the best time ever with a finger or two in the vaginal canal and nothing going on anywhere else. Her clitoris, on the other hand, has more sensory nerve endings than any other place on the male or the female anatomy, so, if she's like a majority of women -- and she does want to be having any kind of sex, period -- she'll probably enjoy you exploring that more than her vaginal canal, or stimulating her clitoris with your hands first before her vagina, or doing both together, which plenty of women like, since it can make clitoral stimulation feel fuller by stimulating both the external and internal portions of the clitoris at once (I'll leave you a link at the end here which explains the female sexual anatomy, including the whole of the clitoris). Or, she just may not get off on hands at all so much, no matter where they're put, and want something else altogether OR she may just enjoy you moving your finger or fingers differently than you are. She may also need some extra helps, like the addition of lubricant or the addition of her own hands.

One of the bonuses with manual sex -- fingering or handjobs -- is that because so many of us masturbate with our hands, we usually have some idea of what we like and can just show partners what we do. So, you can always ask a partner to show you their specific areas of genital sensitivity as well as what movements with hands and fingers work for them when they use their own. Mutually masturbating can actually be a great way to both get a better idea of what to do with partners with your hands and it can be something which is really intimate and exciting for both partners.

But I do have to toss one really important thing out there: when someone is initiating or having any kind of sex with someone else and it just seems like nobody is home, you always want to stop. Don't keep going with any kind of sex with someone when they are just standing or lying there, disconnected from you and what you are doing. Ask yourself if, when you were excited and really wanting to be having sex with someone else, if you'd just be standing there as if sex wasn't going on. Probably not, right?

Someone not reacting in any way at all has become not someone you are having sex with, but someone you are doing sex to, and that's not cool. Check in to be sure that person wants to be having that or any other kind of sex at all, making clear that you ONLY want to be engaged in sex with them if they want to be doing it with you. I'd also be sure you're not the only one initiating sex: it should be pretty close to 50/50 with partners, so if you aren't giving her the chance to be the one to bring her sexual desire to the table when it happens, step back a little and allow her that opportunity more often. You want to be sure she's not doing what she is with you because she feels obligated to, or just because you want it, but because she, like you, is feeling a strong desire to be sexual with you.

If she never initiates sex, then either she really doesn't want to be having sex or she doesn't feel comfortable with you or her sexuality enough yet to really be in a real-deal sexual partnership, and in either case, that's not a person to be having any kind of sex with, or continuing to bring sex to the table with. That's someone you want to step back with when it comes to sex, and give the relationship and them more time to grow and develop first. Let that person make the next move next time, when it's something they want enough that they will be assertive about that desire.

Here's that link I said I'd give you with a few more to help you out:

written 10 May 2008 . updated 11 May 2008

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