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Orgasms: From Solo Sex to Partnered Sex

Use masturbation to strengthen skills that can help you orgasm with a partner.

Source: MBLifestyle/Shutterstock

The other day at Starbucks, I began chatting with a woman waiting in line for a caramel macchiato. She asked me what I do for work, so I told her that I am a relational and sex therapist. Her eyes widened, and her face lit up as though she had already had her coffee.

Then she leaned toward me and said: “I have no problem having orgasms when I’m masturbating, but I can almost never have them when I have (partnered) sex. Is there anything I can do about this!?”

You may be thinking this was an awkward conversation between strangers in a Starbucks, but I love that people feel comfortable enough to ask questions like this, given the opportunity. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help this woman during the time it took to make her caramel macchiato, but her question is one I am asked all the time, from across all genders and ages. The answer is, yes!

During masturbation, you may be able to relax and connect with yourself in a way that allows orgasms to happen. You may not yet know how to relax and connect the same way when you are with a partner.

There are many possible reasons that having partnered sex complicates things. During solo sex, there is no pressure to perform, or to have an orgasm, or to have an orgasm quickly, or to wait to orgasm until the other person orgasms. There are no distracting thoughts about your body, or your partners’ bodies, or what your partners are thinking.

However, when having partnered sex, there is more to think about. These thoughts distance us from our bodies, making it harder to focus on sensations, making it harder to sink into them slowly, to connect with them, to allow them to wash over us, leading us on a journey of pleasure (and maybe an orgasm).

Orgasms aren’t everything by any means. I’m a huge proponent of pleasure-focused sex, rather than goal-focused (orgasm-focused) sex. But if you’re able to have orgasms during solo sex, it can be very frustrating not to have them with a partner. If that is your goal, there are skills you can practice and strengthen during masturbation that will help you orgasm with a partner. By practicing these skills, they will then be easier to access when you have sex with a partner.

Practice the following skills while masturbating so that you can access them when you have partnered sex:

1. Pre-masturbation meditation: Before you begin touching your body and masturbating, do a deep relaxation meditation. I recommend using a guided meditation that leads you through a body scan. Being deeply relaxed increases the possibility of orgasming.

The link between anxiety and sexual dysfunction has long been established. If you are anxious, your mind will have many thoughts pulling you away from your body’s sensations and other elements of the present moment. Also, your body will be tight and tense, which interrupts the flow of sensations being created through touch and rhythm.

In order to be truly relaxed, your body needs to soften to allow sensations to flow and deepen. Your mind needs to be in a quieter state so that you can focus on sensations. Spending 5-10 minutes meditating before you begin masturbating will calm your mind and body.

2. Sink into your sensations: As you touch yourself, practice experiencing the sensations, rather than thinking about them. Thoughts about the sensations, such as, “That feels nice,” or “That doesn’t feel good,” are useful to guide you. However, it’s important to be able to be with the sensations without thoughts. This takes practice!

Allow the sensations to fill your body. Just notice them, and try to allow them to wash over you as you connect with them. Notice where they are, and follow along with them as they move and change. Try to allow them to be where they are, without judging them or evaluating them—other than to guide your movements. Practice sinking deeper into the sensations.

3. Release tension and tightness in your body: As you are touching yourself, pay attention to your body. Notice areas of tightness. You may notice that you are holding your shoulders up or back. You may notice that your breath is shallow. You may notice that your stomach muscles are tight.

While touching yourself and experiencing sensations on and/or in your genitals, repeatedly check in with your body. When you notice tightness or tension, take a deep breath, let it out with a sigh, and literally sink into the bed, couch, chair, or floor beneath you. Let yourself be held by what is beneath you, rather than trying to hold yourself with tightness and tension. Practice allowing your body to let go of tension and soothing yourself with a few deep breaths.

4. Practice shifting back into your body again and again: Each time you notice that your mind has wandered to thoughts, it is an opportunity to shift back to experiencing sensations in your body; it is a chance to reconnect and sink into yourself.

Your mind will wander, as that is the nature of our minds. Noticing that you’re thinking, letting go of the thoughts, and shifting back to sensations is the practice. The goal is not to stop your mind from wandering. It is to be willing to bring your attention back to your sensations over and over again, without judgment.

If you’re a porn lover, that’s great! But for the purpose of strengthening these skills, it is necessary to turn off the porn so that you can practice being entirely present with yourself. If porn really does it for you, and you don’t like the idea of turning it off, I suggest that you practice masturbating without it at least every other time you masturbate. On the alternate time, bring back the porn.

Once you’ve strengthened these skills during masturbation, you will be able to access them more easily with a partner. These skills will make it more likely for you to have orgasms with a partner by helping you stay present, connected with your body, and relaxed! It will take time to build these skills, as is the case with any new skills you are working on. Practice, practice, practice!