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Why does getting fingered feel better than sex?

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SheGlimmerz asks:

When a guy fingers me, its amazing. I really enjoy it. But when it comes to sex, I don't feel much. None of the guys I have been with have been small. Sometimes when they go faster I feel a little bit but I should be feeling more. I don't know what to do about this. Why does getting fingered feel better than sex? Is this normal? Is there a way to fix this problem?

Heather Corinna replies:

Assuming that you're engaging in manual sex -- hands or fingers engaged with your genitals, fingering being one term for that -- to express or explore your sexual feelings or desires, fingering IS sex. Just like intercourse can be sex, just like oral sex can be sex, just like full-body massage can be sex.

What is and isn't sex isn't so much about what body parts are doing what, but about what people involved in given activities are feeling and seeking to express, as we explain here:

When we say "sex," what we mean is any number of different things people may or do freely choose to do to tangibly and actively express or enact their sexuality; what they identify or know to be their sexual feelings and sexual selves.

If "sex" was the answer, the questions would be things like "What am I doing to try and feel good sexually or to express feeling good sexually? What am I doing that feels sexual to me (or to me and a partner)? What am I doing that feels like a way to express my sexuality, or my sexual desires and/or feelings about myself or others?"

Most of what I hear with a question like yours is this: so far, you find you enjoy this one kind of sex -- fingering -- more than another kind of sex you're talking about, where you find you get little to nothing from it. I assume you mean physically, but you could also mean it's not feeling like much in other ways, too. Given you brought up penis size, and a lot of people say "sex" when they mean intercourse, I assume you're talking about vaginal intercourse. In other words, so far, you've found you have a preference around each of these kinds of sex: you like one more than the other.

There's nothing that isn't normal or typical about that. It's highly common for people to find they don't experience or haven't experienced the same enjoyment or excitement from all the possible sexual activities we can engage in. There are people who engage in both manual sex and intercourse who tend to prefer manual sex, on the whole, or find that usually or always feels physically or emotionally better to them. There are people who are the opposite: who prefer intercourse to manual sex. There are people who don't find either of those activities particularly exciting or enjoyable, and there are people who really enjoy them both.

People having sexual preferences isn't a problem. It's a basic part of human sexuality. Just like we don't all like the same kinds of foods, we don't all like the same sexual activities, and just like some of us have foods we wish we could eat every single day, foods we find okay, but not amazing, and foods we strongly dislike, the same is often true with sex and sexual activities. Something very core to healthy, happy human sexuality and sexual lives is an acceptance that we don't all like the same things, or everything equally, and room always being made for our sexual diversity.

A lot of people have the idea there are "shoulds" with this stuff, but there really, really are not. Even when our world, communities, culture or partners might make it seem like there are shoulds, and like those shoulds are sound or true, they rarely are. You can know that anytime anyone presents what people like sexually as a universal that they are massively oversimplifying human sexuality and sexual experience: that is just not reflective of how very different we all can be, both as individuals, but also from partnership to partnership, and from one phase of life to another.

This probably has little to nothing to do with a partner's penis size, though it seems like you've identified that when you are enjoying intercourse, you prefer it when things move a little faster. If this is a sexual activity you want to see if you can't enjoy more and feel more with, you can certainly try changing things up, like with different positions, angles, speeds, amounts of depth or pressure, or different interpersonal dynamics (for instance, some people don't like a given sexual activity with a partner not because of the physics, but because of what is or isn't going on with the behavior of anyone involved, like how they talk about it or don't, like how they are or are not emotionally connecting during or around that activity). You can also see how it feels if you engage in a sexual activity you know you tend to really like for a while before or after intercourse, or by adding that activity or part of it during intercourse. Intercourse doesn't have to be ONLY intercourse when that's happening, just like, say, when you engage in manual sex, that doesn't have to be all that's going on. You or a partner can get their fingers involved during intercourse, too, if that feels good to you.

You'll notice I left room there in case this just isn't something you really want to do or explore.

You don't have to engage in vaginal intercourse, just like your partners don't have to do anything they don't want to, don't like, or don't feel excited about. Again, not everyone likes intercourse or wants to engage in it, just like not everyone likes receptive anal intercourse or oral sex or any other sexual activity. You haven't said here if intercourse is something you feel a strong desire to engage in, so I'm not going to make any assumptions about that. All you need to know is that when it comes to any kind of sex, no one ever has to do anything they don't want to, aren't into or don't enjoy, no matter what that activity is, even if it's something other people like and want. If and when anyone does feel obligated in a sexual interaction or relationship to do things they don't want or things they don't like, we're usually looking at someone in a sexual relationship that isn't a goodie for them or for their partner: people really into their sexual partners and into being a bonafide partner don't tend to enjoy an activity themselves that their partner doesn't enjoy or want.

Now, I know that with sexual activities that are presented as normative -- like things everyone is "supposed" to do or like -- it can feel more uncomfortable or socially awkward to nix them. It's one thing when you don't want to do something or don't like something a partner also doesn't want or like, or something all or most of the people you talk with about sex, or hear or read present as weird or gross or taboo. Intercourse can certainly be one of those things presented as "normal" and what everyone likes, especially for heterosexual people, even though we know there are plenty of people for whom it doesn't feel normal or who don't enjoy it.

The good news is, though, that you don't have to have sex, of any kind, with Cosmopolitan magazine, the whole world, or with anyone where what each of you wants and likes doesn't feel like a pretty good fit. You, like the rest of us, get to choose to only pursue or stick with sexual partnerships or interactions that fit who you are and what you like well. We all get to have our preferences and we all get to seek out sexual relationships that really work with our individual sexualities, and walk away from any that don't.

When you're with sexual partners with whom you're pretty sexually compatible -- who want and like similar things as you -- and who also have the maturity and the care to understand that when there's more than one person involved with sex, what goes on has to feel good for everyone, and work with everyone's preferences, not just their own, this isn't the big deal it might seem like it can be.

Of course, not everyone we like, love and feel sexually attracted to is going to be a good fit for us as a sexual partner. There are a lot of pieces to that puzzle, including things like if a person is kind to us, how they talk about sex, if they are on board with the kinds of safer sex and contraception we might want or need, if they want the same kind of relationship we do, but that also includes us having enough common ground between our sexualities so that the sex we have is enjoyable for everyone involved.

For you, right now, it sounds like a partner who really, really wants and likes intercourse and really doesn't like fingering wouldn't be the best fit for you. And that's okay, even if it can be a bummer not to be a sexual "fit" with people we're into and wish we did fit with. We're not always going to find sexual partners who are a great fit for us right off the bat: I'd say that's pretty uncommon. But all the diversity in human sexuality means that finding partners, over time, where we are compatible, and who do want and like the same sorts of things we do, isn't usually that hard. No harder, anyway, than finding people who are a good fit for us in all the other ways that matter, right?

Don't forget, too, that how sexually excited we feel tends to play a big part in how things feel physically. You clearly really like manual sex, so chances are good that when you know that's going to happen, you start that activity feeling very excited. That's probably part of why that feels so good for you. If intercourse, on the other hand, isn't something you really want or feel excited about, then it is going to feel less awesome no matter what. Mind, when we're talking about anatomy and the physics of sex, vaginal entry with fingers can tend to provide a different kind of stimulation than intercourse for a few reasons, including that it's a lot easier for you or a partner to stimulate the parts of your genitals which are the most sensitive -- like your internal and external clitoris -- and tend to respond better to fine touch than to the more general pressure which intercourse offers.

This is one of several reasons why so many folks with vaginas -- not all, but a substantial majority -- don't reach orgasm from intercourse alone, and why plenty just don't find it to be their favorite thing ever, period, especially all by itself.

If you don't feel really excited about doing something sexual, just don't do whatever that thing is until or unless your feelings change. Stick to what you do feel very excited about. And of course, create that same kind of space for partners, where they know and feel that the same should be true for them.

How about for the time being, if you're really not feeling it when it comes to intercourse, especially if it's not something you feel excited about doing from the get-go, you put it on the shelf, and instead take the time with any partners to only do what you both really like? If you find that over time with a partner, you both do develop a strong interest in intercourse and it is something you want to explore, then you go there, but not before then. Some of what isn't working for you with this might be going to intercourse too early in the relationship, before you and someone have really taken the time to explore other things and find out together what you really like and how that can be incorporated into intercourse. By all means, too, if you're only engaging in intercourse because it's what someone else wants, you might need to slow things down sexually in relationships, period, so you can develop the assertiveness we need, and sometimes the trust, too, to have sexual interactions be about mutual wants and pleasure, rather than feeling like we have to fall in line with what the other person wants, even when it's not what we do.

Again, maybe what you'll find out sometimes is that there's little or even nothing you have in common with someone sexually, but when that happens, you just nix exploring that as a sexual relationship or interaction. Now and then, just like you're not going to connect with people emotionally or intellectually, or find people attractive, you're not going to connect with people sexually, and vice-versa. When that does happen, and it usually will, it works a lot better to just accept that and move on than for you or anyone else to keep trying to do things you don't want to, don't feel into, or do not feel excited about.

So. You have some preferences, like most people do. That is so completely okay, and is utterly human. There's nothing right or wrong about preferences like this, they are what they are. Your sexuality is unique to you, just like everyone else's sexuality is unique to them. You get to like what you like and not like what you don't, whether those likes are lifelong or shift over time, and whether those likes are the same as someone else's or different. You get to experiment with intercourse if you want to or nix it if you don't, now or later.

I'm going to leave you with some links that I think might help, starting with a Yes, No, Maybe list. I think going through it might be a good exercise for you, and that it can help you clarify what you really do want and don't; what, so far (because who knows, in a decade or three, you might like totally different things: sexuality is something that can shift many times in our lives), you enjoy and don't, or, for things you do want and enjoy, what other things you may want or need to make them most enjoyable for you. Having that kind of big picture can be really helpful.

I've also included a piece to help with sexual communication. I'm not sure if you need it, but if you've had a hard time asking for what you want, and nixing what you don't, it'll probably give you a boost to make that easier for you.

written 15 Nov 2011 . updated 31 Aug 2013

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