As a sex therapist, I know that we all struggle with our relationships with sex, and I like to operate from the perspective that empathy and education can cure most issues. But there’s been something bothering me for quite some time now, and there’s no light way to approach this particular topic—one that comes up with relative frequency in my own sessions. If you’re a man who sleeps with women, here’s my plea to you: Stop pressuring your partner to have orgasms for the benefit of your ego.
Some men do this in really egregious ways. Some are more subtle about it. Some men don’t even realize they’re doing it at all. But an awful lot of men out there do it, knowingly or otherwise. In the last year or so, I’ve seen the issue of women being pressured to orgasm more and more frequently in my sessions, to the point where my work requires me to talk about it on a daily basis.
The women I hear from really want to learn how to orgasm, but they have preconceived ideas stacked against them. They’ve been socialized to believe that their bodies are “weird” and “complicated,” that female masturbation is “dirty,” and that giving pleasure is much more important than receiving pleasure. On top of all of that, some have to deal with partners who are making them feel guilty for not yet knowing how to orgasm. It’s even gotten to the point where a single orgasm isn’t enough; women feel that men want them to have multiple orgasms or squirting orgasms to show their enjoyment, again, for their partner’s benefit, not their own.
Here are some of the ways my clients have described this dynamic:
“I want nothing more than to be able to orgasm for my boyfriend’s sake. He gets so angry and annoyed that he ‘can’t make me feel good.’ I really want him to be able to feel like he’s doing a good job.”
“My boyfriend says he’s so frustrated he’s not sure if he can stay in this relationship much longer. He says he’s never had an issue making past partners orgasm.”
“What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I give him that satisfaction?”
“I have stopped even trying to have orgasms during sex because it just makes my partner feel worthless when I don’t. I just fake it every time.”
Even rereading these comments makes my blood boil. Their self-blame shows that they have been pressured and guilted into feeling more concerned about letting their partner “have the experience” of giving her an orgasm than about her own experience actually orgasming. The female orgasm has become a badge of honor or a prize, and a lot of men get offended, frustrated, or upset if they can’t pat themselves on the back for a job well done.
Listen, it’s great to be a kind and generous person who values his partner’s pleasure. Of course we all want to feel like we’re doing a good job in the bedroom, and an orgasm is a clear and obvious gold star. But you cross a line when you stop caring about your partner’s pleasure for their sake, and start caring about it for your own. You cross a line when you make her feel like her body is there for your ego, not for her enjoyment.
So let’s get really crystal clear on how to avoid sending this message:
- Don’t throw a hissy fit if you don’t make her come. No getting up and storming out of bed, no giving her the cold shoulder, no rolling your eyes.
- Don’t pester her with constant check-ins during sex—avoid phrases like “Are you there yet?” or “Are you almost finished?”
- Don’t interrogate her about why she doesn’t or hasn’t come.
- Don’t let out loud, obvious sighs while you’re going down on her or fingering her.
- Don’t tell her you “need her to come.”
- Don’t tell her you’ve “never had this problem with past girlfriends.”
Instead, try to help her get comfortable:
- Apologize if you’ve been pushy in the past. Tell her, “I’m sorry I got overly invested in making you orgasm. I promise to be more supportive from here on out”
- If a new partner tells you she has a hard time orgasming or has never had an orgasm before, let her know you’re happy to explore and experiment with her, but that there’s no pressure.
- Before touching her, going down on her, or having intercourse, tell her, “I’m going to keep going until you tell me you’re ready to stop.” This helps take the pressure off her to orgasm, and gives her the agency to tell you when she’s finished.
- If you’re feeling self-conscious or curious about your performance, ask her for feedback in the moment. Try two different strokes and ask what her favorite is. Or ask her to compare two different levels of pressure or speed.
- Give her feedback in return, and talk to her about what you need to reach orgasm. Help dispel the myth that female orgasm is more “complicated” than male orgasm.
The best thing you can do is focus on her pleasure instead of her orgasm. You’ll take the pressure off of her to “perform.” You’ll allow her to keep her focus on her own body instead of your ego. And you’ll give yourself a more productive and rewarding goal to work towards; you can give her pleasure for hours on end, but you can only give her an orgasm for about 10-20 seconds. You’ll have done a good job simply if you made her feel good. Everybody wins.
Vanessa Marin is a sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist based in San Francisco.