As an intimacy coach, my time is spent immersed in topics of dating, relationships, and sexuality. Aside from working directly with clients, I keep up on relevant research, articles, books, opinion pieces, and the occasional well-thought-out blog. A variety of evolving attitudes and perspectives informs my work and feeds my passion. Half of what I read is inspiring and encouraging. The other half…not so much.
A recent piece in NYMag.com relayed the experiences of a group of female college students—a diverse population of smart, savvy, autonomous adults, who feel chagrined and victimized by a widespread epidemic of bad sex. The premise of the article is that this “vast expanse of bad sex—joyless, exploitative encounters that reflect a persistently sexist culture” needs to be acknowledged. The question is, by whom? If, like me, you’re thinking the dissatisfied women’s partners, of course, you’ll want to read on.
Here are a few key (read: bizarre) points from the article:
The above sampling of learned helplessness is not an anomaly. I hear this stuff from women all the time—daily in fact, in person and online. I’ve been hearing it since my teens. (I’m currently 49.) I could write a book on this topic, and someday maybe will. For now, my question is where is the accountability? Where is any woman’s attempt to take personal responsibility for her choices, behavior, and sex life? Where is any indication these women understand they have as much control as the man in bed—exactly as much as they choose to wield, in fact—and with that control comes not just the power but the duty to be as “good in bed” as they expect him to be?
My next question is, what is this nebulous force “campus feminism” and why is it tasked with addressing these women’s frustration? Why aren’t the sexually dissatisfied women—presumably feminists themselves—addressing it with their individual sex partners? (I hate to point out the obvious, but honestly, I feel like I just solved their entire problem.)
The following quote is most illuminating. A 29-year-old editorial director of a well-known feminist website has just described her longstanding unsatisfying sex life.
To be clear, this thing she pines for yet can’t imagine happening, is a fairytale scenario, akin to waving a hanky for a prince to ride up on a white horse to save her. Is this what we’re calling empowerment now? Is this how “campus feminism”—or any feminism—works? (No, it’s not. It’s absolutely not.)
The “burden” of learning what brings a woman sexual pleasure belongs to her alone. The burden of conveying that information to her partner(s) is also hers alone. It’s not only unreasonable to place the burden on men, it’s illogical. Even more absurd, is an outspoken, influential feminist stating on record, without a hint of irony, that she can’t be expected to experience sexual pleasure until it’s presented to her, by a man, on a silver platter.
This isn’t how feminism works. More importantly, it’s not how good sex works. Yet the willful obtuseness is pervasive.
A few examples off the top of my head:
The above anecdotes were shared amongst women only, after the fact. More recently, I witnessed an online verbal attack directed at a man. On a popular feminist blog, in the comment section, a thoughtful and sensitive young man expressed insecurity about his general datability and sexual performance. He then made a casual observation suggesting women have it easier in bed (since women, more than men, are given the option to be passive during sex). He was 100% correct. It didn’t go over well.
He was verbally abused, rudely shut down, and blatantly denied the space to share his honest experiences, simply because they weren’t in-line with the going narrative, constructed by female commenters—a narrative, I might add, about the male experience. One reply in particular, struck me as exceptionally insensitive. An angry, accusatory young woman refused to believe this man (or any man) could be effected by expectations beyond that of his current partner. She said all he had to do was find an understanding girlfriend and “boom.” He’d cease to feel stress, pressure, or self-doubt about his manliness. She insisted societal expectations weren’t a “thing” for men. They’re only a thing for women. This, on a website known for long thought pieces on rape culture, internalized misogyny, fat shaming, cat calling, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and bullying in all forms. (Well, almost all forms, it would seem.)
It is stressful for a man to enter every sexual scenario believing his “man badge” is on the line. Why is that hard to believe? (Especially by women who find it overwhelmingly stressful to say anything along the lines of “please touch me differently.”)
A man’s entire life is comprised of win/lose moments. They’re raised to be competitive, to earn their stripes by impressing the rest of The Pack. These rigid masculine roles are so ingrained as to be systemic. Men are bombarded from all directions, by parents, peers, society at large, and their own internalized image of what “real” men are. Of course some women are ambitious too and prioritize career success, but in our society that’s considered their option. For men, it’s an expectation. It’s placed on them at birth.
That burden is integral to the male experience. Men labor (literally) under the belief they’re 100% responsible for every success or failure in life, including every sexual encounter. That’s how sex becomes about scoring points and being a stud, versus sharing intimacy and pleasure with a partner. Complicit in this skewed vision of what constitutes “good sex” is every woman who wanted something different—more foreplay, a softer touch, less tongue, more tongue, or whatever special (or banal) thing happens to turn her on—and failed to convey those specific desires to her partner.
It’s time for archaic gender roles to be put to bed (so to speak). But if men are to shift their perspective—if we expect them to drop the “stud role,” with its performance-oriented approach to sex—what then? As is made clear in the NYMag article, women can’t or won’t state their needs, much less take charge in bed. If they’re so unhappy with the way men are doing it, when will they ever speak up? When will they become participants in bed, instead of passive, silent, disgruntled audience members writing scathing public reviews after the fact?
The dissatisfied women in the article cited power imbalances as the cause of all their problems. In a way, I suppose that’s true. Yet women can reclaim their power at any time by 1) finding their voices and 2) using them. And not to freelance journalists or to each other, but to their male partners.
Women who cannot ask for what they want in bed, shouldn’t even be having sex. They’re better off in a tower somewhere, waving a hanky out the window, awaiting a fairytale prince to save them.
Premature ejaculation (also known as unintentional or early ejaculation) is the most commonly cited male sexual issue. It’s been reported to affect 20-30% of the male population, however with most of those cases turning out to be "occasional" or "situational," current thinking puts the prevalence of treatment-worthy PE closer to 8-15%.
For those who have it (or whose partners do), early ejaculation can be confounding and stress-inducing. On average, most couples engage in intercourse for five to six minutes. And while no set amount of time is innately adequate or inadequate, with PE it could be fifteen seconds or two minutes, at which point both parties agree something isn’t working. Left untreated, this can lead to guilt, shame, insecurity, and relationship conflict—all reason enough for a man to seek help. And yet most don’t, due to embarrassment, confusion, and/or lack of awareness about available treatment options.
Sometimes the issue goes away on its own, sometimes it does not. It can be temporary or lifelong. For the latter group, PE occurs during puberty or their first sexual experience, then continues to throughout their life. While most men will actually experience it at least once in their life, treatment-worthy PE is a pattern of unintentional ejaculation, occurring sooner than intended, usually within the first few minutes of sexual activity or intercourse. Whether ten seconds or two minutes, the determining factors are that it's (1) an ongoing loss of control, and (2) significant enough to cause distress.
Most doctors do little more than prescribe antidepressants and recommend sex therapy before ushering the afflicted out the door. Progress for the patient becomes piecemeal, through trial and error or bits of information gleaned from online forums and Google Scholar. Surrogate Partners offer experiential therapy and have an excellent track record. Some intimacy coaches and somatic body-workers do too, yet these niche modalities aren’t available in every US city. Nor is PE a one-size fits all issue. PE’s causes are complex and most often stem from a combination of factors.
The causes of premature ejaculation are varied. More research is needed (and on men of every sexual orientation) but factors in play can be psychological, behavioral, cognitive, developmental, hormonal, genetic, neurobiological, and environmental. The following list is incomplete, but gives you the gist.
There are four types of premature ejaculation: acquired, lifelong, subjective, variable. For the purposes of this discussion, I’ve listed only the 3 pertinent types below (because subjective PE isn’t actually PE) plus a few other broad / overlapping terms.
Acquired PE can have physiological or psychological causes. It should be checked out by a medical doctor as a first line of defense. Psychological issues, such as relational stress, trauma, or anxiety, can spark acquired PE at any age (though is more prevalent in younger men). Acquired PE can manifest as situational (variable) or generalized PE. It is treatable with a variety of modalities and techniques, many of which have excellent success rates. Lifelong PE has not been well understood in the past, yet new research suggests a strong genetic component, specifically certain issues having to do with serotonin receptors.
As you can see, premature ejaculation is complicated—again though, also quite treatable. In order for treatment to be effective, determining the correct, most targeted approach for your individual issue(s) is obviously recommended. The average family doctor, or even your urologist, my not be up on the latest research, tests, and treatments.
I am continually disappointed by the myopic, incomplete, dismissive care clients receive in regard to their sexual health. Some MDs are woefully incapable of frank talk on sex entirely, and what they don’t know about the latest hormone replacement research could fill a football stadium.)
I am continually disappointed by the myopic, incomplete, dismissive care my clients receive from their MDs in regard to sexual health. Some doctors are all but incapable of having a frank, open talk about sexual function, and what they don’t know about the latest hormone replacement research could fill a football stadium. So I recommend finding a highly qualified functional medicine specialist (I have a local list for Austin), then insist on the most advanced, comprehensive tests available. The following is an incomplete list (I’ll be adding to it soon) but a good sampling of available tests to consider. (Not every individual will benefit from everything on this list. Do your research and discuss with a highly-qualified doctor.)
There are many ways to address unintentional ejaculation. Among the most basic is to reduce the man’s level of pleasurable sensation. Think about that for a minute. Should this really be our go-to approach?
I don't think so either. It not only requires tremendous restraint on his part, but the results are inconsistent at best. Counterintuitive as it seems, increasing one's capacity for pleasure is a far more effective approach. Not the same thing as pleasurable sensation, his “capacity for pleasure” can be expanded gradually, through a series of exercises during which the client learns to accept, feel, embrace, and enjoy a higher degree of bodily pleasure overall. Acquired PE tends to respond well to this, especially when due to psychological issues. Men with lifelong PE can benefit from this type of embodiment practice as well, although APE and LPE generally require type-specific, highly-individualized protocols. The goal is overcome PE by healing, repairing, and otherwise addressing the (myriad of) emotional and physical issues causing it...not to disguise it or temporarily override it (which is the only thing most past methods really do.
Some older treatment methods that have fallen out of favor (for good reason):
Other minimally effective methods, mostly short term, stop-gap measures that don’t address the core issue, and can actually worsen it longterm:
More effective, comprehensive approaches have come to light, resulting in sustained improvement, and in some cases complete eradication of PE issues:
A client recently asked me how to fix his broken “picker.” He’d had a string of explosive breakups with women he discovered (too late) to be immature and melodramatic. “I get caught up in the infatuation phase when everything is new and exciting,” he said. “The sex is so great in those early days it blinds me to my partner’s true character. With hindsight I see all the danger signs I'd ignored early on, but how can I do better in the moment so I don’t waste time on the wrong women?”
I see this issue frequently and the remedy is to date with discernment and awareness. It’s called conscious dating, and sometimes means putting pen to paper.
When I was 30, on the advice of a wise mentor, I wrote out a long list of character traits my ideal future mate should have, things like empathy, ambition, creativity, humor, sensuality and integrity. The idea being, if I started to fall for a man who was missing one or more of those traits, perhaps I shouldn't consider dating him at all. This list saved me time and heartache by guiding me away from men who’d surely disappoint me in the end. Whenever I felt strongly attracted to a man I checked him against my list to see how he measured up. Better to spot conflicts early, versus later on when untangling a committed relationship becomes much more difficult and messy.
Writing the list is vital. Infatuation and lust tend to scramble one’s brain, making a mental list worth as much as the paper it’s written on. When caught up in the early stages of dating a (seemingly) amazing partner, it’s easy to forget how important a few missing traits will be later on. You may even discover the object of your affection possesses every trait on your list ... only to later realize your list is too short and is missing a few, crucial, romantic partner qualities.
As soon as you start to spark with someone, pull out your Ideals List and ask yourself:
One answer to #3 might be that you don’t quite love yourself enough, which is perfectly normal. Dating should make us feel attractive and appreciated, which in time helps us love ourselves more. Dating also illuminates our shortcomings and areas where we don't quite measure up. So bad dates and breakups are prime opportunities to examine our own character traits to see where there's room for improvement.
I had a client once who couldn't understand why all his past girlfriends were conniving social climbers. I pointed out that nowhere on his Ideals List were the words self-reliant, spiritual, charitable, or family-oriented. Also that the bustier and more beautiful his dates were, the less he referred to his list at all. Then I pointed out that by dating women of lesser character, he wasn't living up to his own standards. Where was his discernment, higher ideals, healthy boundaries, and self-respect? How could he blame his dates for their shortcomings when he wasn't bringing his best self to the table? If he wanted a woman who didn’t use him for his wealth and social status, perhaps he should base his choices on more than beauty and bust size.
My point is, an Ideals List works both ways. Measure your date’s character with it, but also use it to measure your own. Everything that attracts, excites, and fulfills you should be right there in black and white. Traits like self-awareness, compassion, confidence, kindness, humility, patience, curiosity, playfulness, dependability, nurturance, wisdom, sensuality, softness, toughness, open-mindedness, emotional intelligence, the capacity to forgive, and ability to be intimate.
There's nothing wrong with being (or dating) a work in progress, as along as you're striving to be a better person and partnering with someone who’s striving to, too.
“Tell me what you like…” and “What do you want me to do to you?” are common questions men ask women during sex or at onset of foreplay. When women tell me these stories it’s usually framed as a complaint. Counterintuitive as it seems, they don’t want to be asked for guidance, claiming it “ruins the moment” and makes a lover seem clumsy.
If you didn’t know any better you’d think these women expect all men to instinctively know how to pleasure all women all the time. In truth, many women simply find voicing sexual needs and desires to be awkward and anxiety-inducing.
It starts in childhood. Girls, much more than boys, are raised to prioritize the needs of others—to the extent their nurturing instinct can get stuck on overdrive. By adulthood it’s automatic. The average woman goes through life putting everyone else first: parents, partners, bosses, coworkers, kids, and even neighbors. That conditioning combined with a general societal demonizing of female sexuality are why women struggle to vocalize their desires. Cultural shifts are coming, but in the meantime our sex lives are suffering. And by “our” I don’t just mean women.
If they’re aware of it at all, most men would be shocked at the pervasiveness of this issue—that many a woman’s capacity to tolerate unpleasant touch far surpasses her aptitude for making it change or stop. When a man says, “Tell me what you like,” and she replies, “Whatever you want,” he’s usually unaware that her agreeableness masks discomfort—sometimes extreme discomfort—or that he’s asking her to focus on herself in ways she was never taught to.
There’s no worse time for an awkward moment than the onset of sex. It brings up feelings of shame and inadequacy, not to mention blame and finger-pointing at men just for asking relatively innocuous questions in bed.
So where does that leave us? Are men to simply forge ahead like wordless cavemen? Won’t that lead to more vilifying? Besides, no two women are alike. Expecting men to be mind-readers, James Bond, or some kind of sexual superheroes is unfair. Men put too much pressure on themselves already.
We have an epidemic of performance anxiety in this country.
Intimacy takes courage, and the inherent vulnerability in any man’s appeal for sexual guidance is something to be admired. A few words of instruction needn’t take longer than unbuttoning a blouse or putting on a condom. The relief it provides—to have one less obstacle between himself and his goal—is no small thing to a man.
And therein lies another problem.
As an intimacy coach I see time and time again clients so concerned with satisfying their partner they dissociate from their own sexual pleasure. Their so stuck in their heads trying to “do it right” they’ve lost touch with their own bodily sensations, those natural instincts that are the true pleasure compass and (ironically) the best sexual guide any man could have. Instead, sex becomes another thing to achieve or win at, as opposed to a sensual celebration and/or intimate union. A man who’s hyper-focused on his partner may get an ego boost from her satisfaction, but it comes at the cost of his own.
One-sided intimacy is a contradiction in terms.
If women are raised to put themselves last, men are raised to always keep score and out perform everyone else. Whether in a ballpark, boardroom, or bedroom, men are goal-oriented, including in their sexual relationships. If, in every encounter, a man is more concerned with ringing his woman’s bell than experiencing the spectrum of erotic delights available to him, performance anxiety results, often in the form of erectile dysfunction or inhibited ejaculation (inability to orgasm). As an intimacy coach I see a lot of both.
The solution is improved communication and sensate focus—learning to touch for pleasure versus performance.
Just like women must practice stating their needs, men should practice embodiment. When we connect with our own inner erotic energy, everyone wins. Modern lifestyles confuse our best natural instincts. We’ve forgotten how to be present. We place limits on our enjoyment. All that can be changed, sometimes in an instant. Asking for what we want and allowing ourselves to experience it can end women’s silent suffering and men’s Superhero Syndrome.
The first thing to know is that every woman is different. Preferences for style of touch vary vastly from woman to woman, though a handful of select techniques will cover most bases until you learn your partner’s faves. Mainly, know the basics, keep lines of communication open, and be willing to adjust to her needs.
Though not all women like cunnilingus, most do when it's done well. That said, a woman who hasn't explored her own body will usually be harder (even impossible) to please. If that's the case, it's honestly not your fault. Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own orgasms and it's vital you and your partner understand that. A woman who has experience masturbating and the ability to concentrate for an extended length of time (however long she needs, whether that's 30 seconds or 30 minutes) is at least trying to do her part. Also, for the record, orgasms aren't the only way to experience sexual pleasure (roughly 10% of women don't orgasm at all).
There is so much information on the Internet it can be overwhelming. I'll recommend a few resources and leave it at that for this piece: the book She Comes First, the website OMGYes (simple yet detailed—and beautifully shot—video instructions for a variety of techniques), and (for more advanced techniques) The School of Squirt.
In the interest of keeping it simple, my top 3 cunnilingus tips (with elaborations below):
1. START SLOW & SOFT
I mean this in two ways. First, consider taking your time getting from “Nice to meet you” to being naked and between her legs. Once there, don't immediately target her clit with your hand or mouth, which can be jarring and a shock to her system. In fact, don't put your hand anywhere on her genitals until you've taken time to stimulate nerve-endings all along her inner thighs, outer labia, and pubic mound.
From there, move slowly inward (meaning toward the center of her genital area: inner lips, clit, and vagina), careful not to tug, yank, or swipe her delicate moist flesh with dry or overly aggressive hands and fingers. It's not a crime to be a bit clumsy, but once you've triggered a woman's pain response, her guard will automatically go up. Once her guard is up, any impending orgasm of hers will go from merely elusive to completely MIA.
The key word here is "tease." You both know where your tongue & fingers are heading, so let her indulge in a little anticipation. Don't rush it, but instead make her ache for direct contact. Everything you do from that point on will be more intensely pleasurable for it.
Finally, intensity of pressure is a personal thing. Some women prefer a touch as light as a gentle breeze, others require significant pressure, but it’s always less jarring to start with a light touch, then intensify as needed. Start out too rough and no level of touch will feel light enough afterward (because she won't trust you not to hurt her, by then).
2. DEDUCE PARTNER PREFERENCES, THEN STICK WITH THEM
Whether your partner is an expressive, skilled communicator or not, you should eventually figure out which style of touch she responds to best. When I say "stick with it" I mean with whichever general pattern elicits the most positive feedback.
Options include circles, flicks, figure eights, paint-brushing, and a host of others. Types of touch include vibration, sucking, gliding, pressing, rubbing, feathering, and others. As for areas of contact, there's over the hood, under the hood, a combined technique, and ways of stimulating it indirectly through surrounding areas steering clear of the clit entirely. Some women prefer clockwise motions, others counterclockwise. For many women, one side of the clit is more sensitive than the other (hint: try the 2 o'clock position, which tends to be quite popular).
As she becomes more aroused, you'll (most likely) want to intensify your speed and pressure, while sticking with the same pattern. Meaning, if she's a circle girl, stick with the circular motion. If she likes the flicking, stick with that. Combos are popular! But that's for you two to work out. I can't begin to describe the varieties of touch or how light & slow or fast & hard to be with each individual woman. They all like it a little different.
3. GET FEEDBACK
Because individual preferences differ, good sex requires communication (in and out of bed). It doesn't hurt to ask "yes or no" questions ("Do you like this move? Do you like that speed and pressure?") but you'll have more luck with an "either/or" format ("Do you prefer it THIS or THAT way?")
Please note, it's rarely helpful to ask "Are you close?" since most women (and men) will hear "Why is it taking you so long to come?" Instead, at the beginning of a sexual encounter, make an agreement that your partner will announce when she's close. Also that she'll announce the need for a different type of touch, whether softer, harder, faster, or some other new way—a way she then must explain! Because while it may initially feel awkward it will also be empowering, not to mention more effective.
If you've tried everything and she can't seem to explain how to do what she likes, ask her to show you, either on her genitals and clit, or on your hand (using your knuckle like her clitoris, and two of your fingers as if they were her labia).
Above all, be patient and understanding, especially if she starts to get tense. Women get performance anxiety too. Pleasuring her isn't about feeding your ego. Women aren't video games where orgasms are points to be racked up and boasted about to your friends. When men take that egocentric approach women sense it, and (justifiably) shut down their arousal.
As for why women don't speak up about what turns them on, most men should know that women worldwide struggle to state their needs and ask for what they want, nowhere more so than in bed.
Hopefully this knowledge alleviates some of the stress and self-blame men feel when their partners don't orgasm. I also hope it motivates them to help their partners open up and have fruitful talks about sexual desire and techniques.
It's not men's job to read women's minds, but in the interest of good sex, it's helpful to understand this incredibly common struggle and find ways to support them through it. When women feel safe, they're more likely to open up about what they like, which creates a win-win (read: more orgasms) for everyone.
I’ll get right to the point with my top 3 thrusting tips (elaborations below):
1. USE YOUR HIPS
By this I mean engage the "hinge" in your pelvis. To help locate and loosen it up take some yoga classes. (You'll thank me later and so will your partner.) Some men have never isolated their pelvic hinge, which severely limits them in bed. They use their entire body to project their penis forward and pull it back again, usurping all their energy while also providing less stimulation than thrusting from their pelvis would.
I teach pelvic thrusting in session, but I also highly recommend this video for a visual of what I mean (start at 5:40). Practice on your own in front of the mirror, then get horizontal and practice some more.
2.MIX IT UP
Most women enjoy variations in depth, speed, rhythm, and angle. That said, most women also have very individualized preferences (see "Get Feedback"). You'll first want to know what feels best to you, then gauge what's working (or not) for your partner. A bit of teasing can be hot, so if she likes it fast and hard, slow down now and then. When you speed up again it will feel twice as pleasurable.
Jack-hammering, by the way, can be big fun in small doses. When I say "mix it up" I don't mean every three seconds or some crazed drunken circus act. Just be careful not to zone out with overly repetitive motions. (Caveat: when approaching orgasm, steady & repetitive can be ideal—even necessary—whereas "mixing it up" risks sending all that built-up arousal right off the rails.)
Develop your own style, whatever feels good to you, whether jack-hammering, fancy circular stuff, or the wave-like thrusting of a mermaid/merman swim (think: breast stroke motion). Be creative, but above all work on loosening your hips! (Trust me, that last line is the best thrusting advice you'll ever get.)
3. GET FEEDBACK
Individual preferences differ. Good sex requires communication (in and out of bed).
It doesn't hurt to ask "yes or no" questions ("Do you like this move? Do you like that speed?"), but you'll have more luck with an "either/or format" ("Do you prefer THIS move or THAT one?")
SOME FINAL TIDBITS:
Some women love circles. Most like grinding. Combining these moves can feel incredible.
Ins and outs needn't be the same speed during a single thrust (push in hard & fast, pull out slow & deliberate, or vice versa ...again, experiment).
Know which moves push you to the brink. Which make you come or enables you to hold off. Give yourself the power of choice, because the best thrusting moves are the ones that work for you as much as your partner.