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Sexual Response & Orgasm: A Users Guide

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Many people think of sex as a zero-to-sixty drive towards orgasm that can be accomplished by following a glib set of directions that work in the same way for every person: with one set for men and another for women. Many people feel there are particular things that everyone will automatically enjoy, things that will satisfy every person every time. Sorry Charlie, but while we're all human, and plenty of people identify as men or women (and plenty are also male or female), that doesn't mean we all function the same way sexually; not even close.

It's not too hard to understand why people ask things like, "What makes a girl orgasm?" or "What do guys like?". The 10 Things That Drive Men to Absolute Orgasmic Lunacy kinds of articles are the sort of things that let people make millions selling magazines and books with the titillating promise that they can make sex "easy" or have all the "secrets." However, those tips are often useless as a whole, and can only serve to cause more frustration, dissatisfaction and confusion. They don't really solve your problems or answer your questions well, and you're also out the money you spent, ya big sucker.

The truth is that it's much more complicated than people want it to be, and we think that's really pretty cool.

Think about it this way: if eating were simply about getting the nutrients we needed into our bodies, we could all eat the exact same meal, three times a day every day. We wouldn't care that it all tasted the same, and we'd never crave any one particular food or another. We would all like to eat the exact same kinds of things, and we'd all be perfectly happy with that all the time. If our bodies all operated identically, we would all need exactly the same diet and nutrients, get hungry at the same times, and like and dislike the same foods.

Not the way it works, is it? In fact, if someone told you it was supposed to be that way, you'd think the idea was pretty ridiculous. Sex is pretty much the same way. We are all different, even though we share the same basic physiology.

But there are certain physical, hormonal and psychological mechanics that typically come into play for most people, and understanding those is what we all need to lay the foundation for understanding how sex works for ourselves and for our partners. Once we understand how our bodies work when it comes to sexual response, we've won half the battle of learning how to enjoy that and incorporate it as a healthy part of our lives, both alone and with others. No, none of us can "make" another person enjoy sexual activity or orgasm. We also can't insist that someone "give" us an orgasm or "give" us good sex. Our sexual appetites, impulses, and responses aren't out of our understanding or control. Sex is something we have to learn on our own by understanding ourselves and our bodies. Only then can we communicate with a partner about what we like and what we need, and really get a grasp on the whole of our sexual life.

The Process of Sexual Response

The Masters and Johnson model of sexual response (one which has been well supported over time, but isn't always right for everyone) explains that any sexual experience, for people of any gender, will involve some or all of five different basic stages, often called sexual desire, arousal, the plateau phase, orgasm and resolution. None of these stages are superior to others, and all should be pleasurable.

For each of them, the stage proceeding can be vital to moving on to the next one. Not everyone can skip around randomly through them -- though we can sometimes toggle between -- they usually tend to follow on some kind of continuum, just like we have to learn to stand up before we can walk, but often enough, we can toggle back and forth between them once we start from a place of desire. One critique of this model is that it doesn't account for the fact that many people assigned female sex can sometimes move from arousal to orgasm (skipping plateau), for example. Another flaw in the model is that it doesn't account for interpersonal issues, like safety and satisfaction in relationships. So, while we can safely say that for pretty much everyone, everything has to really start with desire or arousal, and that people rarely experience these stages in order, it's sound to leave room for the fact that sometimes we might skip past one stage and land at another.

Desire, in a sexual context, is the strong physical, chemical, intellectual and/or emotional wish or want to participate in any sexual activity; to experience a desire or urge for some kind of sex. Desire for sexual activity is like being hungry in order to eat: if you aren't hungry, eating doesn't tend to feel good. It's a matter of having a sexual appetite at a given time. If you don't have a feeling of sexual desire, sex of any kind, either with our self or a partner, isn't going to feel very good. We achieve desire any number of ways, but it is generally not primarily (and certainly not solely) physical, but instead also sensory -- based in all or any of our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste - emotional, intellectual and, when we're talking about sex with someone else, interpersonal.

We must usually experience desire to feel sexually aroused. People sometimes describe sexual desire as feeling "hungry" or "horny." We may feel sexual desire towards a particular person, or we may feel it simply in and of itself, a kind of free-floating feeling of wanting to be sexual.

Arousal is a state of sexual excitement that sends messages to your brain which create physical changes and sensations in your whole body as well as your genitals, "readying" us for sex of any kind.

When we're aroused, our blood pressure rises, our heartbeat and breathing quicken, and our body becomes far more sensitive and receptive to touch. Sometimes users write in to us saying they just "aren't feeling anything" with various kinds of partnered sex or masturbation: if and when that is the case, chances are that person just isn't all that aroused. We can be aroused by physical stimulus as well as by intellectual, emotional or hormonal stimulus, and arousal is usually about a combination of those things. We can be aroused by all of these things, or only some of them, or even just one of them at any given time, with or without physical stimulation. For instance, we might become aroused by being kissed or touched, but we may also become aroused simply by the sound of someone's voice, our own thoughts or our creative imagination.

It's important to note that we don't all experience the same things as seeming sexual. We're also not all aroused by the same things. What seems sexy or arousing to any one of us differs from person to person based on our individual personalities, our life experience, our particular body sensitivities, and what we were raised to interpret as sexually or sensually exciting.

But when we are aroused, we all usually have some fairly similar bodily responses.

One of the primary physical responses to arousal is called vasocongestion, which means the increased flow of of blood to the genital tissues (and/or breasts and nipples), and the condition of those tissues becoming swollen with blood. This is how the penis becomes erect, and how the clitoris and labia also become erect, and the vagina produces a slippery lubrication. As arousal continues folks with a vagina, the uppermost third of the vaginal canal also expands and loosens a bit, which can result in an emptier or larger feeling inside the vagina.


How can you tell when you or someone else is aroused? Sometimes, we don't have to ask. It's seriously obvious. We feel it and express it. But some typical changes, most of which are physical and noticeable, when a person is probably aroused include:
• Flushing of the face, lips or chest
• More rapid breathing
• An elevated pulse
• Hard nipples (when we aren't just cold) and/or slightly fuller breasts
Erection of the penis (though this can also happen without arousal)
• A loosening as well as erection (often experienced as a "puffiness") of the the mons, labia and clitoris; the inside of the vagina and the whole vulva becoming more sensitive
• Vaginal lubrication or pre-ejaculation
• Swelling, tightening or elevation of the testicles
• Expansion of the back of the vagina and elevation (pulling back) of the cervix
• Tightening of the foreskin or the foreskin moving back
• A strong feeling of desire to be sexual
• Someone telling you they're aroused

If we continue to be sexually excited, and continue sexual stimulus of some kind that feels good, our arousal may then progress to a plateau phase, where sexual stimulation continues and we are kind of hanging out, being aroused and excited in our bodies and minds. Many people experience this phase as a feeling of being "on the edge." Our bodies will feel increasingly sensitive, we may get flushed, or feel our heartbeat more strongly. Imagine how you feel after running a lap or jumping up and down a bit: it's kind of like that.

Orgasm is a brief -- even when it feels like longer, it usually only goes on for a handful of seconds -- peak of sexual excitement which begins during and follows the plateau phase. Orgasm for someone with a penis often involves involuntary contractions of the prostate gland, vas deferens and seminal vesicles which usually (but not always!) also cause the ejaculation of semen. Orgasm for those with a vagina often involves a series of involuntary muscle contractions around the vagina that may or may not produce an ejaculate or a vaginal secretion. For all people, throughout the whole body there is an increase in muscle tension and relaxation, especially around the pelvis, and orgasm also creates chemical changes in the body in terms of inducing hormones like endorphins. We also know that orgasm, quite literally, alters our brain: the limbic system (the part of the brain about emotions) is very involved in orgasm: orgasm can tend to trigger emotions and visual and other sensory memories.

It's really tough to describe what an orgasm feels like. Not only does it differ from person to person, one person can experience any number of different sorts of orgasms that vary with every sexual experience, from day to day. Orgasm can feel like a tickle or a hiccup, but can also feel like a very heavy head rush or wave of dizziness through the whole body. Joani Blank once described it in a sex book for kids as feeling similar to when you really, really have to pee and then finally urinating. Overall, having an orgasm is a bit like being a balloon: your body fills up with pressure, then releases that pressure when it gets to its fullest point, much like a balloon does when it pops.

The last stage, called the resolution stage, is a relaxation of the muscles as well as a psychological relaxation and sense of wellness which occurs following orgasm. All the blood that has been pooling in the genitals and other sensitive body parts will drain out slowly, usually causing genitals to return to their "resting" state. If we've reached orgasm, resolution will feel like a release of tension and stress in our bodies. The resolution stage can also happen without orgasm: if we simply stop being sexually aroused, our bodies will gradually return themselves to their normal, everyday, non-aroused state. It is perfectly okay for this to happen, and it cannot hurt you in any way.

The latest edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves (The Boston Women's Health Collective) adds an alternative model to consider with the Masters & Johnson model, Gina Ogden's model which expresses the sexual response cycle as "three dancing spheres of energy," composed of pleasure, orgasm and ecstasy, which people can experience separately, or altogether, and which describes sexual response aspects as not just physiological but also as emotional, intellectual and spiritual. As well, sex researchers Beverly Whipple and Karen Brash-McGreer developed a circular model of sexual response in which the stages are described as seduction (desire), sensations (arousal and the onset of sexual activities), surrender (orgasm) and reflection (resolution).

There are more than two or three models for the sexual response cycle, but even with these -- and your own experiences -- you can likely see the common denominators and understand that the sexual experience tends to be more than one-note or a clear, linear progression where every element has the same flavor or leads us to the same place.

The Miracle of Masturbation

Now that you understand those stages, try and apply them to yourself. Can you recognize feeling all of those things? Think about what sorts of things make you feel desire, and what sorts of things arouse you, strictly in your mind, from verbal, visual or psychological cues. What sorts of touching do you like? What parts of your body feel sexually good when you or someone else touch them?


Be creative! If you don't like the words used in sexual response cycle models, or feel like a given model speaks best to your experiences, by all means, self-invent to self-express. Maybe <your< i=""> sexual response cycle seems best described as hungry - tasty - thirsty - so full I could pop - food coma. Or maybe it's more like wake - dance - trance. Sex is about personal expression, so if you want the terms you use to be the same way, knock yourself out.

Knowing when you feel desire and arousal is really important when it comes to your sexuality. It can help you to be aware of when you are interested in sex, help to make clear when you should be having sex with a partner and when you should NOT be having sex with a partner. It can also help make you feel more in control of your own body and sexuality.

We do ourselves a disservice when we think our sexuality starts the first time we engage in sexual activity with a partner. Our sexuality really starts from the day we are born, in many different ways. Our first sexual experiences not only usually are, but really SHOULD be the ones we have all by ourselves. The best way -- as well as the safest both physically and emotionally -- to start exploring and understanding your sexuality is with your own two hands. No one else can do it for you. While most people say abstinence is the only safe sex, around here we say that masturbation is the only safe sex, since abstinence is NOT having sex. Masturbation is sex you have with yourself, and it is sex.

Betty Dodson, Ph.D., the author of Sex for One, says that, "I used to say masturbation leads to sex, but now I know masturbation IS sex. The next time someone asks 'When was the first time you had sex?' the appropriate response would be your first memory of masturbation, not the first time you had [sex with a partner]."

Not only is masturbation a safe and healthy thing to do, it is the very best way to get some concrete ideas about what you do and do not like when it comes to sex, and it's important if you want to work on enjoying sexual pleasure and on achieving orgasm. It also gives us a chance to figure out a lot of important things about how we feel about sex, sexual pleasure, and being sexual people.

Even people who already understand how the body works when it comes to sex can have problems with enjoying sex and achieving orgasm. More times than not, it isn't just about what they're doing wrong physically, but about how they feel inside and how those feelings come into play during sex. If we feel that sex is dirty, wrong, sinful or unhealthy, it is going to be nearly impossible to enjoy ourselves and experience pleasure when we're wracked with guilt. If we're having sex with partners we don't really want or which doesn't feel right to us at any given time, that sex is unlikely to be physically and/or emotionally gratifying for us.

Masturbating can be a wonderful, no-risk way to figure out how you feel most comfortable and healthy being sexual and feeling sexual pleasure.

By virtue of the way our minds and bodies are, we are sexual beings who usually feel sexual desires. How we choose to BE sexual beings is completely up to us. In other words, while we cannot control our urges, feelings or desires, we certainly can and do control what we choose to do with them.

Start by making yourself comfortable. Find out what puts you in a space where you can relax both your mind and your body. It's important that you are in a physical place where you can BE comfortable. It's very difficult to feel relaxed and free to be sexual if we think someone may walk in on us. You need privacy. Seek it out. Allow yourself to have whatever sexual fantasies you like. Again, you don't have to worry about hurting anyone's feelings: it's all in your head, and no one is having sex right now but you. Sexual fantasy is a big part of arousal, and because it's just in our heads, and not in our actions, all sexual fantasy is okay, as long as you're okay with it. Observe what happens when you have feelings of sexual desire, and what happens as you get aroused.

Once you're there, in body and mind, as they say with the yellow pages, let your fingers do the walking. Because you're the only one involved, you can do whatever feels good and you feel comfortable with: don't pout any pressure on yourself where there need be none.

People often ask what the "right" way is to masturbate, but the truth is that the only "right" things to do are the things that feel good to you. When it comes to genitals, many people enjoy stimulating their penis and testicles with their hands by rubbing or stroking them slowly and working up to a quicker pace or rubbing or stroking the clitoris and other areas of the vulva with the hands and fingers, with running water from a water source like the shower or faucet, or with a vibrator. You can use saliva on your fingers as a lubricant when you masturbate, or you can use your own sexual fluids or a water-based personal lubricant. Lubrication can help things feel better to you. Remember that not everyone wants genital stimulation every time or even at all. You can have plenty of sexual pleasure and even orgasm without necessarily stimulating the genitals. Again, do what feels good to you.

Masturbation may or may not bring us to orgasm, and we may not even want it to. It depends on what we want. Sometimes, it feels good just to get aroused and then stop, and there is nothing bad for you about any kind of sex without orgasm. If you want to experience sexual pleasure without orgasm, but feel an uncomfortable pressure in your body afterwards, that can be relieved by some simple exercise or rest, or even with a couple of aspirin or ibuprofen. That pressure feeling, which can sometimes feel achy or throbbing, is the same phenomenon that happens when you have a headache: there is lots of blood trying to get through tiny blood vessels, and it can be uncomfortable unless you can help dilate (open wider) those blood vessels so the blood can flow. Relaxation, physical exercise, or plain old over-the-counter headache remedies can help.

On the other hand, if you want to achieve orgasm, just keep doing what feels good. You'll find that certain ways of touching yourself will trigger more excitement than others. Follow those cues, and just keep doing what works for you. The more you masturbate, the more you'll get to understand what arouses you and what triggers orgasm for you.

Understand that we can't always orgasm when we want to. Our bodies are complex systems in which our genitals don't work independently. If we're sick or stressed out, tired, preoccupied, or feel guilty shameful or upset, it's hard to feel sexual pleasure, let alone orgasm. Cut yourself a break when that happens. Go do something else you enjoy. Honor what your body is trying to tell you it needs. Just like it's not a good idea to eat when you aren't hungry, it's not a good idea to have any sort of sex when you're not interested or when your body isn't up to it. The beauty of sexuality is that it is with you your whole life: you can't miss out on anything. You have your whole life to enjoy it.

On this note, we want to add that masturbation is an excellent tool when it comes to finding control and balance with our sexuality. Sometimes, when they're feeling sexual or sexually aroused, people will say that they just HAVE to go "get laid" or "get some." When we feel like that -- towards no one in particular, but simply feel a high level of desire within ourselves -- it's better to masturbate than to have sex with a partner, where sex should be about MUTUAL needs and about wanting to be with someone else. Masturbation can help us in that way to be in charge of our own sexuality, without pressuring others to get involved. No one else needs for us to feel sexually satisfied -- when we feel like we need to have sex, we're the ones who need something, not someone else. Also, no one is responsible for our sexual pleasure but ourselves.

Masturbation also is a good tool to have on hand if you are abstaining from sexual intercourse for any reason. It is a good way to give yourself an outlet that can't hurt anyone, a way to help keep your impulses in check so you don't find yourself doing something you don't really want to do or aren't ready for.

Over all, masturbation is an excellent way to realize that sex is not just penis-in-vagina intercourse, and sex is not just what you do with a partner. Knowing that you can control your sexual pleasure with masturbation is something that can transform anyone's experience of sex into something that is always positive, pleasurable and never limited. Ultimately, what sex is is loving and pleasuring ourselves, and when we engage a partner, sharing that pleasure and care with others.


Taking it On The Road: Sex With a Partner

So, if you understand how sexual response works in general and for yourself, and have a good handle on what pleases you and makes you feel good, you've got a great start in bringing that to a partnership, if that is something you are interested in doing. It should go without saying that because sex is a multifaceted thing which is mainly based in ourselves, no one HAS to have a partner to be sexually satisfied, and some people don't want a partner, either for certain periods of time, or permanently. However, we may want one, or may have a partnership in which sex evolves as a natural part of expressing love and attraction for our partner.

Silly as it may sound, the best analogy I can make to having sex with a partner is that it is nearly identical to learning to dance with a partner. When we dance alone, we feel the rhythm on the music in our bodies, and move as feels natural. But if we add a partner, sometimes the way we move doesn't always mesh with how THEY move, and we can both end up with a lot of bruises and sore toes.

If we know how we "move" in our own sexuality, it's easier to work with someone else. The way that we can make our different styles, movements, desires and preferences work together is by communication and by simply paying attention and being respectful of one another. If we use masturbation when we feel nonspecific desire, and are with a partner because we want to be with that particular person and share our energy and care with them, we've got a great head start.

A good way to handle the start of any sexual relationship is to talk about it. Discuss your limits. Are there things you like and don't like? Are there things you are and are not comfortable doing? Get all of that stuff out in the open. It's hard to respect someone's boundaries if you don't know what they are. That doesn't mean you need to know them all walking in, however. Often, only once we are with someone do we get a sense of what is okay and what isn't, but if we've already developed a relationship where we can talk about sex freely, it's pretty easy to pull back the reins and say, "Whoa!" when we need to without anyone getting upset. Sometimes talking about sex with someone else can be a little awkward, but it's okay to be nervous or get the giggles.

Working out sex with a partner is surprisingly similar to working it out with yourself: the only real difference is that you need to talk out loud and you need to take someone else's feelings, desires and needs into consideration and make them work with your own. Just like with masturbation, you need to make sure you both feel -- and really ARE -- safe and secure. If you're avoiding pregnancy, you need to be using a reliable birth control method that works for you both. You also need to be practicing safer sex to keep you both safe and healthy, you need to be consistently taking care of your sexual health with regular clinic or OB/GYN visits.

Being physically safe has a lot to do with feeling emotionally safe. Just as important is that you both feel emotionally safe together on others levels. Can you trust each other to respect limits and boundaries? To think of the both of you, not just yourselves? To listen and ask questions to find out what feels good and what doesn't? All of those things are important, and you should establish them all long before you get sexually involved.

Again, think of it just like learning to dance. Do what feels good to you both, where you can both enjoy yourselves. Talk about the steps that you like. If your partner doesn't know one of them, teach him or her how! You may find you learn things with a partner you didn't on your own, or that some things feel different than they do when you do them by yourself, and that's the beauty of sex with a partner. There's no shame in having something be new or unknown. We all have to learn, and learning can be enjoyable. In fact, if you've got it all going, every single time you have sex -- no matter what you do or do not do -- with yourself, or with someone else, should be a new and wonderful experience.


Sexual Response Q&A

What is multiple orgasm, and can only women experience it? Multiple orgasm is when someone has more than one orgasm in one sex session -- as in, you and yours go to bed for the afternoon, you do this sex activity, then maybe another a half hour later, have two orgasms, that's a multiple. OR, in the process of one given sexual activity, a person has more than one orgasm. So, if you have an orgasm, and you then either take a little break and stimulate yourself again, or keep going with your stimulation and have another, you have experienced multiple orgasm.

It isn't unique to women, though it is more common for people assigned female sex to be multiply orgasmic, both due to the lack of a refractory period which people with a penis need, and/or because the type of sex many people with penises have is solely or mostly just about stimulus to the penis only.

How come I can't orgasm when my boyfriend and I are having intercourse? What is wrong with me? Nothing is wrong with you at all. Around 70% of ALL women do not usually (or sometimes ever) experience a sexual climax from penis-in-vagina intercourse alone.

As was said before, intercourse is not sex, but can be part of sex for some people. In order to enjoy sex and experience full arousal, plateau and climax, you need to stimulate more than just your vaginal canal. Perhaps you and your boyfriend aren't giving you enough other stimulation to your whole body or the whole of your genitals before or during intercourse. Maybe you need more time before genital sex to feel turned on in your head. Perhaps you just aren't in the mood: maybe you're crabby, ill, just really want to be alone, or you and your body just aren't in good touch with each other that day. Take stock of what you are and are not doing when you don't climax or enjoy intercourse, and compare it to the things that DO please you, then incorporate them into your sexual intercourse.

For more on this, see, The Great No-Orgasm-from-Intercourse Conundrum.

Why didn't my boyfriend orgasm from oral sex? No single sexual act can guarantee intercourse for everyone, nor can something which brings us to orgasm on one day necessarily bring us to orgasm the next. Talk to your boyfriend: ask him how he's feeling, what he enjoys, and what feels good to him, and think beyond orgasm. Again, sex isn't about orgasm. Sometimes, when we try and practice sex with orgasm as a goal -- rather than pleasure -- we make orgasm harder to achieve rather than easier.

How can I make my partner orgasm? You can't. But your partner can help you to do the things that often bring him or her to orgasm by showing you or talking about what things they enjoy, how they like to be touched, and so forth. The best thing to do if you want to please your partner is to focus on their pleasure, not an impending orgasm. If everyone is feeling good, it's much less of a big deal whether they orgasm or not.

Do women ejaculate? Some do, sometimes.

During arousal and orgasm, the vagina produces more vaginal fluid and lubrication. This is the most common kind of sexual fluid that women produce. But this is not considered an actual ejaculation. Some women find that sexual stimulus for them results in a thin, watery, whitish fluid from the urethra, the same place from which males ejaculate. That IS considered to be an ejaculation.

Not all women ejaculate (and not all who do orgasm right with ejaculation, either), even with targeted (usually via fingers or toys, but sometimes with intercourse or other activities) G-spot or clitoral stimulation, which is how it occurs for many. Not all women who are capable of having this kind of orgasm have it all the time. The amount of fluid that is ejaculated can vary greatly from person to person, as well, when these kinds of orgasms happen in women.

For more on female ejaculation, click here: Squirt: On Female Ejaculation.

Is it bad for you to get sexually aroused and not orgasm? Is it bad for people to abstain form sex or be celibate their whole lives, or even for a little while?

No and no. Sometimes getting highly sexually aroused, especially if you have been stimulating your genitals can be uncomfortable, a little or a lot. This is because the blood that rushes to the genitals when you are aroused and sexually stimulated gets trapped as your blood vessels constrict (get smaller), and then it is difficult and time-consuming for the blood to drain back out, a process which orgasm accelerates. It's extremely similar to the process that causes tension headaches. If this happens and you find it uncomfortable, you can either try and masturbate and have an orgasm, or, as we mentioned before, take a walk, a nap, or a few ibuprofen or aspirin tablets. In men, sometimes people call this sexual congestion "blue balls," but it isn't harmful. For some men who find it highly uncomfortable, using an ice pack in addition can be a great relief. But it isn't bad for you, and can't do any permanent damage.

The same goes for sex of any sort. Even if we don't masturbate (and most people do), we won't get sick or unhealthy, and our bodies don't store up sperm or sexual fluids. Our bodies constantly replace dead cells of all types, including blood, sperm, vaginal fluids, and most other kinds of cells we have to keep the level of functional cells constant. You don't need to masturbate in order to get rid of "excess" semen or sperm any more than you need to bleed out excess blood, because there is no such thing.

What's bad for you is to have sex when you don't want to, or to try and force your body to orgasm when it just isn't in the right state. Needless to say, it is also exceptionally unhealthy to try and force or pressure a partner into sexual activities by saying we'll get sick or feel bad if they don't participate in them with us. Our bodies don't really know the difference between a hand and a vagina, a finger or two and a penis -- only our minds do. If we're feeling sexually pent up, we can and should relieve that on our own through masturbation when our partners don't want to participate.

Is sex better when both partners orgasm at the same time? Not necessarily, and in fact, most sex therapists advise couples against aiming for simultaneous orgasm.

Trying to have sex like synchronized swimming isn't such a great idea because it makes it harder for both people to focus on simply enjoying themselves, therefore making any orgasm at all more difficult, let alone doing it at the same time. When it happens on it's own, it's pretty neat, and is a very nice moment, but it's more likely to happen naturally than to be forced. More times than not, when people try and force it, one or both partners ends up faking an orgasm, which sets a bad sexual pattern, and isn't any fun for anyone. Plus, a lot of sexual partners find that they prefer to take turns with orgasm, anyway -- one partner doing things to bring the other to orgasm, then vice-versa.

What if I just CAN'T orgasm? Then you just can't right now, and that's totally okay.

Again, sex isn't about orgasm, it's about pleasure, and it's hard to experience pleasure when you're trying to get past the finish line with little care for running the race. You know how people say "It isn't if you win or lose, it's how you play the game?" Same holds true for sex: it's a process, not a product.

First, make sure that you're getting involved in sexual activities when your mind and body really want to. You can't skip all of the stages of sexual response to get to the end. If you aren't desiring sex, or aren't getting aroused -- for whatever reason -- you cannot orgasm. Maybe you aren't in the mood. Maybe you're tired, or maybe you've overstimulated your body. If you're having trouble with a partner, maybe you're not communicating what you need, or maybe there is some stress in the relationship that has you preoccupied. Maybe you just aren't there yet at this phase of your sexual life.

Remember that sex isn't about getting points or prestige, or about being "mature" or impressing anyone. You can't do it "wrong" if you're respecting yourself and others, practicing it safely and sanely, and you and your partner (if you have one) are enjoying one another. No one is a "sex master," and thank goodness, or else sex wouldn't be very exciting or enriching. Sex is a normal and natural part of life, and like the rest of our lives, is something that is always growing and changing alongside us as we grow and change. We get to know our sexual selves the same way we get to know all of the other aspects of ourselves, and that isn't something we can or should rush -- it's what we've got our whole life to do.

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