Why doesn't my girlfriend enjoy sex?

tazzy
asks:
Hi, me and my girlfriend are dating for almost 2 years now, we met when she was 19 and I was 21, we love each other and our relationship is going great, with only one exception - sex. We had our first sex few weeks after we have met and the problem was that she didn't feel almost anything during it, and we are dealing with this problem since then. We both had some sexual experiences before and she claims that she has never had experience like this, only that she hasn't reached orgasm every time but at least felt pleasure during it. So it looks that the problem is in me, but I don't know where. I don't think that my penis is so small (I've had around 20 sexual partners before her and never noticed such problem) plus when i finger her with just one finger, she likes it. It is similar when I touch her clit, she is able to reach orgasm very quickly this way, but when I touch it during sex, she says that it's a very little bit better but still nothing special and when I try to touch it after we try to have sex she doesn't feel anything at all. Long story short, she only liked having sex with me twice and only for a short time, so it is clear that we are very desperate about it but still cannot find solution. I have tried to google this many times and have never found a similar problem.
Amanda S replies:

I'd like to start by addressing your use of the word "sex." Sex can mean anything from masturbation (aka "solo sex"), to manual sex ("fingering"), to oral sex, to anal sex, and of course to what many people mean when they just say "sex" (and what I'm guessing you're referring to in your question): vaginal intercourse. Penis-in-vagina intercourse is often treated like the "gold standard" when it comes to sex, but unless two people are trying to conceive, vaginal sex is not inherently better than any other kind of sex. It can definitely be awesome, but overemphasizing it within your sexual repertoire may result in you or your partner(s) feeling a little bit "meh." Think about it in terms of other things you enjoy: you wouldn't want to eat your favorite food for EVERY meal, no matter how awesome it is, and trying new foods can be a fun and exciting experience too. The same idea applies to sexuality.

You say your girlfriend enjoys manual sex? Great! Enjoy that together, when you are both in the mood to do so, and continue to spend time exploring each others' bodies to find other ways of giving and receiving pleasure. And of course, communicate with one another about what you enjoy, and what you don't. After all, no one is a mind-reader, and pleasure isn't one-size-fits-all: each person will experience it differently, and even differently at different times. This means that setting up certain expectations for yourself or your partner about how your bodies should respond and when is bound to create frustration, and even feelings of shame, guilt, and inadequacy, all of which can be damaging to the intimacy you experience with a partner. Strict expectations can also create a sense of anxiety around sex that likely makes it harder for you or your partner to experience pleasure or reach orgasm, even if, in your head, that's what you want most of all! Avoid thinking of yourself or your partner as a "problem" and instead focus on increasing positive, open-minded communication, which will ultimately lead to more pleasure and satisfaction. Scarleteen's Sexual Inventory Stocklist can help you get started with that.

Of all of the kinds of sexual activities, vaginal intercourse can be one of the trickier ones because of all of the social "baggage" people carry about it. Beliefs related to gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, religion, etc. can weigh us down with a lot of "shoulds": how pleasure "should" be given and received, how peoples' bodies "should" look or act, when and how often we "should" be sexually intimate with a partner, etc. We are constantly bombarded with messages about what "should" should happen in heterosexual relationships--via movies, TV shows, our families and communities, advertising, pornography, etc. All of this baggage can result in anxiety about trying to live up to expectations that are not only unrealistic, but that can actually be harmful to our relationships; for example, strict gender roles and expectations about body shape and size. Shame that people feel related to the "shoulds" can shut down open and honest communication between partners, stifling intimacy.

One of those "shoulds" is the expectation that women "should" experience orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone, but studies have shown that only about 20-30 percent of people with vaginas do. So your girlfriend is actually in the majority! It's unlikely that she doesn't feel anything at all during intercourse, but it is very likely that the experience is not as intense or pleasurable as when her clitoris, especially the external clitoris, is stimulated directly, which makes a lot of sense considering the clitoris is the organ that's more associated with stimulation (primarily due to how dense it is with sensory nerve endings) and sexual pleasure than the vagina! Even pleasure experienced through vaginal entry (which varies from person to person) is not separate from clitoral stimulation: the most sensitive place in the vagina for many people is about two inches inside, and it is where the internal portions of the clitoris make contact with the vaginal wall.

I'd also like to address some of the penis anxieties you mentioned in your question. Questions about penis size are one of the most common kinds of questions Scarleteen receives. These questions go back to those expectations and "shoulds" I was talking about before related to bodies and sexuality. In reality, the most sensitive part of the vagina is about two inches inside, so if providing pleasure to partners was truly the only concern people had, any penis two inches or longer would be considered totally adequate. However, penises are not only sexual organs; they are often thought of as symbols of masculinity and power, and in this way, penis size is another one of those "shoulds". In other words, when we're talking about penises and men, a man with a larger penis is often thought of as more manly, powerful, and it is assumed that a man "should" have a penis of a certain size to be considered sexually worthy and capable. This means that most people's penis concerns are related to gender roles and expectations rather than pleasure. I don't mean to invalidate these concerns: gender is a large part of most peoples' identities and feelings of worthiness, and so penis size continues to be a concern for many people, but your partner's pleasure truly doesn't depend on the size of your penis.

Finally, there are a variety of reasons that your girlfriend could be experiencing sex differently now than she did in the past. People experience ebbs and flows of desire and arousal over time. Sex might be super important to someone at a certain point in their life, and less important at other points. There's not much we can do to change these feelings, and trying to do so will likely be frustrating for everyone involved. Certain external factors may affect desire and arousal too, like stress levels; lifestyle factors like sleep, diet and exercise; physical and mental health; medications; weather and climate, etc. Hormonal birth control can also have the effect of lowering libido for some users.

I would encourage you to try and re-frame your sense of frustration with the current situation as an opportunity to connect with your girlfriend in other ways, particularly by opening up to each other and having honest conversation about your needs and desires, sexual or otherwise. The most important part of good sex is good communication, especially when there are expectations and "shoulds" that need to be broken down in order for people to truly be comfortable being themselves sexually with their partner(s).

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