Dear Rhonda,

After a party last weekend my girlfriend and I ended up playing around for a bit. Although we started having sex, we gave up on that after a while because I struggle to keep a good erection after a big night of drinking. However, we did play around for a while with oral and finger stimulation. By the end of it I had her gasping and shuddering. After a while she seemed satisfied. I called it a night soon after since I could tell my erection wasn’t going to return that night. When I made a comment about that, she mentioned that she didn’t orgasm either. Although I didn’t discuss it further at the time, this comment really confused me, since I thought she did. It’s also made me question previous experiences with her. Although she’s not very loud, she does usually gasp and shudder when she climaxes, so going by that it seemed she was climaxing. Her feedback has made me question past experience as well — if she didn’t climax this time, have I been getting it wrong the whole time? I’m somewhat upset if she’s been ‘faking it’ or if she just hasn’t ever provided me with this feedback before. I feel like I should discuss it with her more but I don’t know how to bring this subject up. Where do I go from here?

–Young and Naive?

Dear Young and Naive?,

You’ve recognised that you and your girlfriend need to communicate more, which is great.

Many people feel pressure to perform and end up faking it for all kinds of reasons, for instance to please their partner, to conclude the sex more quickly, or because they don’t want to admit they’re not making it. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the illusion that all men and women climax all the time, and there is something wrong if you both don’t cum. This then sets up unrealistic expectations and adds even more pressure, so more people feel the need to fake it.

Only your girlfriend can tell you whether she ‘faked it’ on that occasion, whether she has been ‘faking it’ on a regular basis, or if she has been expressing genuine pleasure, and whether she climaxes. She is also the only person who can tell you why.

It’s probably a good thing this has happened because it gives you the perfect opening to have the conversation. You could start with, ‘You know the other night when neither of us got off, I’m just wondering if that’s typical for you or if we should be doing something different to help get you there?’ This is your chance to tell her that her pleasure is important to you (assuming it is) and that you want to make sure she’s having a good time, and her chance to tell you what she wants and needs.

It’s also an opening to talk about what is important about sex for you both. Maybe it isn’t about reaching orgasm for her. Sometimes focusing on climaxing detracts from the experience and creates undue pressure. Do you still have a good time when you don’t climax? Do you enjoy being close and sharing your bodies?

Maybe this was a one-off and all that gasping and shuddering is evidence of your girlfriend climaxing, she just didn’t quite get there this time. Maybe she made some encouraging motions because she was hoping to spur you on when it looked like you weren’t getting there.

If it turns out she hasn’t been getting off, or hasn’t been honest about enjoying the sex you have, ask her to show you how she likes to be pleasured, so you can watch and learn.

Remember, too, that pleasure and orgasms aren’t just mechanical — a lot of what happens is in the mind. Your girlfriend might not feel at ease or might need different stimulus, like talking dirty or role-play, to tip her over. If she has difficulty reaching orgasm because she doesn’t feel comfortable, then this is something you can work on together. Be patient with one another and keep the dialogue going.

It’s a shame you haven’t talked about this already, and it’s a huge shame if she has been ‘faking it’, but it’s great that you want to take the initiative and start the conversation. Ultimately, you need to ask the question because you can’t assume what someone else is thinking and feeling.

Best of luck, and let me know how you go!

xx Rhonda

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