Every fall semester, I stand at the podium with over 150 college students staring at me and introduce myself and the course content for The Psychology of Human Sexuality. I tell my students that one of my qualifications for teaching this course is that I’ve been having orgasms longer than they’ve been alive. Amidst my students’ surprised laughter, I continue on, using words like “penis” and “clitoris” matter-of-factly, as if introducing content for a math class and telling students they need to purchase a calculator.
What I’m actually doing is laying the groundwork for the simple but often ignored solution to sexual problems: the ability to talk about sexuality. This ability is absolutely essential when it comes to (no pun intended) closing the orgasm gap (the finding that women are having way fewer orgasms than men). Research shows that among women who tell their partners how they like to be touched, the vast majority have orgasms.
Conversely, when women fake orgasms (which research shows about 70 percent of women do), they are training partners to do precisely what doesn't work for them. Most women fake orgasms during intercourse, based on the false belief this is how they "should" orgasm. Yet, one recent study found that only about 18 percent of women orgasm from penile thrusting alone. In polls I've conducted with over 500 of my students (and detail in my recent book), even fewer (about 5 percent) say that thrusting alone is their "most reliable route to orgasm." The other 95 percent say their most reliable route involves clitoral stimulation, either alone (e.g., oral sex) or coupled with intercourse (e.g., using a vibrator during intercourse).
If you're one of the 95 percent, below you'll find some tips for communicating with your partner about the clitoral stimulation you need, both in and outside of the bedroom. I've also included some pep-talks along the way, especially for those showing new partner's what they want, as many women report feeling especially awkward about this.
During a sexual encounter, you can:
- Let your fingers do the talking: Stated simply, you can put your partner's hand in the right place, guiding it with yours. Indeed, whether it's the first of the fiftieth time, you can guide your partner's hands to touch you the way you like. As the authors of the awesome website OMGYes say, "It's impossible to already 'know the moves' with a new partner or with the same partner on a different day." What every woman needs to orgasm is a bit different and what one woman needs can change from one encounter to another. Thus, unless you provide guidance on the type of stimulation you need, you aren't likely to get it.
- Offer brief instructions: You can use words to convey your sexual desires, such as to touch here or there, harder or lighter. “More,” “faster,” “slower,” and “harder” are words that can be quickly and efficiently used. Of course, such simple instructions can result in miscommunication. You could say “faster” and your partner could think this means “harder.” So, it’s important to be willing to continue to give ongoing instructions. And, then, when a partner hits it just right, you can give positive feedback, saying for example, “That feels great, “Yeah. Just like that,” or “Oooh. Keep doing that.” If giving such instructions sounds awkward or uncomfortable, you aren't alone. Women commonly worry that telling male partners (especially first-time partners) how to touch them will be perceived as pushy. However, just the opposite may be true. In one study, men said they’re turned on by women’s requests for clitoral stimulation. The men in my class say that they feel relieved when a woman gives them instructions for clitoral stimulation. They also say that they genuinely want to give women pleasure, but are often at a loss for just how to do so. And, again, the fact that every woman needs something slightly different to reach orgasm makes it even more important to tell a new partner what you like. Even if the relationship doesn’t go past one night, at least it will have been a good one!
- Combine these skills: These sexual communication skills are best when combined. For example, couple your words (“faster”) with your hand coaching (put your hand on top of your partner’s and demonstrate what fast means). Once your hand is removed, if they have it right, use words or moans and other sex sounds to give positive feedback.
When not having a sexual encounter, you can:
- Have a "kitchen-table" sex talk: These are the talks that partners have about sex when they aren’t having it. Of course, these talks don’t literally have to be held at the kitchen table; they can occur in any non-sexual venue. They can be general, positive discussions of things you want to try to make good sex even better. Or, they can be used to solve problems. In fact, it’s best not to bring up sexual dissatisfaction or any other difficult topic in bed; the danger is creating a negative association to a place that you want to be exciting and positive. No matter where you have such talks (e.g., on a walk, in the car, at the actual kitchen table), when having problem-solving sex talks, the key is to use the good general communication skills, such as "I statements" rather than accusatory "you statements." Say, for example, “I think it would help me get turned on if..." rather than “You don’t know how to turn me on.”
- Show, not tell: If you want to teach your partner exactly how to stimulate your clitoris something that works wonders is to masturbate while your partner observes. While this idea initially sounds embarrassing for many people, those who’ve tried it mostly give it rave reviews. As stated by a man in the book, I Love Female Orgasm, "I’ve watched my partner masturbate—it was very helpful to me… Really watching her do it was a turn-on as well as an educational experience. And after watching, I could imitate the things she did to herself." Of course, if this feels too out there for you, another option is to:
- Take them to the movies: You can watch a realistic (aka, not porn) female masturbation video together. In fact, I’d suggest the many videos at OMGYes. One of my clients and her husband watched several of the videos together and she said that “Even after four years together, we both learned new things. I found new ways to touch myself and he seemed to truly get the hang of how to touch my clit.” Continuing on, she said, “I mean, he’s always been a really great lover. But, now, Oh My God! Yes!” she laughed. No doubt, taking your partner to the movies—specifically the movies about clitoral stimulation—provides entertainment that lasts well beyond the show!
- Take them to the Library. Give your partner something to read. I recently recommended that a student of mine and her female partner read the lesbian sex passages from The Hite Report together—and she reported that doing so really helped them both get more comfortable talking more directly about the specific type of clitoral stimulation they each wanted. One of my other clients recently came to a therapy session very happy, reporting that her boyfriend was reading and trying out the instructions from Ian Kerner’s how-to oral sex manual (She Comes First). My own book, Becoming Cliterate, has a chapter specifically designed to teach male readers all about the power of the clitoris for the female orgasm.
In sum, the vast majority of women need clitoral stimulation to orgasm. This is a fact we need to start talking about, both generally and with our partners in specific, be that a new or a long-term partner. When my students tell me that they'd find it awkward to talk about sex, I semi-jokingly ask them if it's more awkward than having bad or unsatisfying sex. Or, I quote the opening line of the communication chapter in Becoming Cliterate, taken from blogger Corey Silverberg: "Communication isn't always about talking, but I can promise you that one of the keys to great sex is an ability to talk about it. I can also promise that it's easier to learn to talk about sex than it is to learn to read minds."