Ask Professor Foxy: I Just Can’t Cum!

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.

Dear Professor Foxy,
I have what is a common problem, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out why: I don’t orgasm. I never have. Not with my lovers (who have devoted considerable effort), not through masturbation (which I do nearly every day).
Thing is, all the reasons why women usually have problems achieving orgasm just don’t apply to me.
I’m pro-sex. I don’t have hang-ups about sex – I enjoy it, I have it when I want to (and I don’t when I don’t).
I don’t equate sex with love, and I’m not scared of intimacy.
I am confident and fun in bed. I’m playful, explorative and open.
I don’t have major insecurities about my body — I take pride in my curves and I’ve gotten tons of positive reinforcement from my lovers that they love my body, too.
I don’t sleep with selfish partners; most of the relationships I’ve been in have been with people who would go down on me for *hours* when I’ve wanted them to. I love it when we spend hours touching and teasing and savoring each other.
I’ve been masturbating (though not to climax, unfortunately) since at least junior high. Usually every day. And I’m 31, so why the hell wouldn’t I have figured this out yet?
Yet even though I’m confident, have a healthy attitude towards my own body and towards sex itself, and have lovers who take tons of time giving me pleasure – I just can’t come. Oh, I get close. I get to a point where I feel more and more intense sensations, my hips start thrashing around — but then I just get to a point where it just… stops. Like, I’m climbing up a ski slope and then instead of getting to the top and whooosing down the slope, I all of a sudden sort of stop right before the top of the slope. I never go over. I never experience anything other than the climb. Never experience the big release everyone talks about, where you feel a total loss of control, where you’re flooded with sensation and pleasure, where you can’t imagine stopping, where you can’t imagine anything feeling as good as that… I just don’t know what that feels like.
I can’t figure out what the hell is wrong. It feels like a physical block. I just can’t get over the hill. And I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s psychological, because I enjoy sex and everything about it, and none of the usual psychological causes I’ve read about apply. Honestly.
It just bugs the hell out of me that I’m not able to experience what should be my natural right. So, my question is: WTF? Why can’t I come? Could it be medical? When I was in college I asked the college health center’s doctor, but she brushed me off and said I was young and needed to spend more time exploring. What a crock — I’d been masturbating nearly every day for six or seven years by that point, and had a couple of lovers who were giving it more than the college try — what I wanted was medical advice. But without health care at my non-union job (thanks, union busters) I don’t have a trusted doc to ask. And whenever I’ve read up on female orgasm problems the answers are always about psychology (women with insecurities or hang-ups or fear of loss of control, none of which apply to me), or inexperience (also not my issue — I’ve been there, done that), and no one really talks about any medical issues that would impact a young woman’s ability to achieve orgasm (aside from menopause).
So, what can you tell me? Do you know any medical causes that would prevent a woman from EVER having an orgasm, even though she gets aroused, wet, and enjoys sex up until that point?
Frustrated in Chicago

Hi Frustrated -
Up until this point in this column, I have been wary of medicalizing women’s bodies. Too often our bodies have been reduced to parts and I firmly believe our largest sex organ remains not the one between our legs, but the one between our ears.
First, let me apologize for the people who have brushed you off in the past and put their assumptions of your sexuality (too young or inexperienced) over your actual experience. Let’s talk some medical possibilities and let’s talk some other options.
Since you eliminated many, many of the things I would have suggested as a problem and since you are concerned that it may be medical, I went to a doctor. Here is what she told me:
“I am a physician specializing in women’s health at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. Believe it or not, I have had many women have these concerns.
It is actually not too uncommon that young women do not have orgasms. You have mentioned several things in your detailed letter already that helps rule out many causes including some of the most common reasons being attitude towards body and sex. Another common cause of this is medications. I doubt this is the case with you since you have had this concern since your teens. If you are having a normal level of libido and excitability it is not a problem with your hormones (especially your testosterone level). Most women I see with an inability to orgasm do not have medical problems.
Having said that, many women orgasm differently. Some women orgasm with clitoral stimulation, some only orgasm with g-spot stimulation. Even the need for clitoral stimulation is different for every woman. Some will orgasm with light flickering touch, some will prefer deep slow grinding motion. Some will only come with vibrators, penetration, grinding, or nipple stimulation. Some women masturbate with water; some need anal stimulation to orgasm. I would encourage you to think about the times you have been able to come close to it and think about what it was that you enjoyed and go explore that some more. The other encouraging thing is that most women report that their sex is better as they get older! ”
Ahh. . . a sex positive healthcare provider is a wonderful thing. I would second everything she said. Try all the different things she suggested, including having your testerone level checked.
I would also suggest to stop thinking about how you cannot cum. Often times we set ourselves up for failure before we even start. I would also try doing Kegel’s, these exercises may give you an increased level of control over your vaginal muscles.
I hope that some part of this advice works for you. Best of luck,
Professor Foxy

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55 Comments

  1. amandahelen
    Posted June 1, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Until recently, I have found myself in a similar situation. I had tried everything from oral contraceptives, the the ring, patch, shot, etc. for my birth control method and everything was the same, I was to the point where I thought that maybe I wasn’t that sexual . . . but I feel very sexual. My issue was hormonal birth controls–the very item that was helping me to prevent pregnancy was also preventing me from enjoying sex! Turns out that my body was always having an issue adapting to the hormone levels in birth control, and this is a problem I have encountered since I had become sexually active. At first my doctor was hesistant b/c I am so young, but we decided given the circumstances that my best option was a non-hormonal IUD. Since then I have never looked back. It took a few months for all of the hormones to leave my body, but since then I have not had a problem.
    Also, many of my vegatarian and vegan friends saw a heighten in their arousal when they switched their diets by not incorporating products with hormones . . .
    I wish you the best of luck! And when it does happen, you’ll know.

  2. LurkerJen
    Posted June 1, 2009 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    About the doctor not bothering to tell you about that side effect– that really pisses me off. I also sexual problems, and I also am on antidepressants. I have been since around the time I was just starting puberty. Now I’m afraid my problems may be permanent.

  3. Erin
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    Judging by your username, this might be a very useful piece of advice. The Chicago Women’s Health Center (http://www.chicagowomenshealthcenter.org/) is located on the north side of Chicago and provides amazing woman positive, body positive, sex positive, queer positive, awesome positive health services to women on a sliding scale. If you have no insurance coverage, they ask you to pay what you can for their services. That would be a great place to start to check on your health and sexual health generally. (Full disclosure, I am NOT affiliated with the clinic in any way except as a happy patient!)

  4. fillefantome
    Posted June 2, 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    I’m also 31 and uncertain about whether I have ever had an orgasm. As with you, this isn’t an indication that I haven’t felt sexual pleasure–I’ve been masturbating regularly since I was young (I don’t remember “discovering” the concept, but do have great memories of hiding out in my room for hours as a teen and exploring my body.) I’ve just never felt that “big release” sensation. In my case, I think that I have actually experienced orgasm, but it’s been very much like your description, a ramp up of pleasure that doesn’t really lead anywhere–like I’m stuck on a plateau at best, and while there is some spasming, it’s mostly linked to further clitoral stimulation, which just arouses me more/again (I really have trouble describing this), and eventually it just stops feeling good, without there being any sense of completion. To make me even more insecure about this, I’ve had multiple people tell me that if I’m not sure I’ve had an orgasm, then I definitely haven’t.
    When I’m masturbating, whether I am or am not having an orgasm doesn’t much bother me, as pleasure is pleasure, but it becomes much more problematic with a partner. I definitely wouldn’t say I’m without hang-ups about my body, being “normal” (where the goal of sex is to reach orgasm) etc, and my couple of sexual relationships (both with female partners) have been marked by my anxiety about “taking too long” and control issues/inability to turn off my over-analytical thought processes and be physically in the moment with my partner, partially fueled by this question of whether or not I am able to orgasm.
    This isn’t something I’ve ever talked with a doctor about because part of me thinks I just need more practice (or something), and while I’m very sex-positive, it’s also something very personal and a significant point of insecurity. I don’t know that I have any helpful solutions/thoughts, but I just wanted you to know that I was found it beyond comforting to know that there are other women out there in a similar situation to me in some way—almost an assurance that whether I don’t have orgasms or just have “weird” ones, it’s another kind of normal. So, thanks for writing this post.
    On a sort of side note, I was interested to read the comment that some women had found pot helpful in achieving orgasm. I am an extremely occasional pot smoker, partially because I find the loss of control that I feel when I smoke (much more marked than when I drink alcohol) disconcerting. But, it’s occurred to me several times that the judicious (therapeutic) application of marijuana to sex (obviously, with someone whom I trust implicitly) might help me learn to relinquish control and just “be in the moment” sexually. Whether that would lead to an orgasm or just more comfort with myself as a sexual being, it’s occurred to me that it might be a useful tool. Who knows if it will ever happen, but I do enjoy the idea of a whole different kind of medical marijuana….

  5. Jessica
    Posted June 24, 2009 at 11:06 am | Permalink

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