I can only climax from oral or manual stimulation. Is this normal?

Pamela Stephenson Connolly
I enjoy sex, and have had long-term partners, but I have never experienced an orgasm from penetration. I’m a 35-year-old woman and have never been able to orgasm from penetration. I have had a few partners, some long-term, and I enjoy sex, but can only climax from oral/manual stimulation. Is this normal? Sometimes it’s hard to explain to a partner that I do enjoy it if they do it right (they think there’s something wrong with them or me if I don’t climax from penetration) . And sometimes with a newer partner I’m too embarrassed to ask for what I really need. But I don’t want to fake it . For you – and for most women – the most heightened sensations of sexual pleasure emanate from stimulation of your clitoris. Vaginal penetration will only bring you to orgasm if the nerve endings in your clitoris are sufficiently engaged. But many people do not know this, and the politics of sex and gender have meant that incorrect beliefs have prevailed, and feelings of inferiority and frustration remain widespread. There is nothing wrong with you; your sexual response is completely normative. From now on, take charge of your pleasure. Try to find ways to receive more direct clitoral stimulation during intercourse, perhaps manually (your partner’s hand or yours) or through experimenting with different positions, styles or toys. But if you prefer, just relax and allow yourself to be brought to orgasm separately the way you like. Educate your partners and show them exactly what you need. In most cases they will be grateful for the clear instruction, and you will more profoundly appreciate them – and yourself. .Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders. .If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms . .Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.

I’m a 35-year-old woman and have never been able to orgasm from penetration. I have had a few partners, some long-term, and I enjoy sex, but can only climax from oral/manual stimulation. Is this normal? Sometimes it’s hard to explain to a partner that I do enjoy it if they do it right (they think there’s something wrong with them or me if I don’t climax from penetration). And sometimes with a newer partner I’m too embarrassed to ask for what I really need. But I don’t want to fake it.

For you – and for most women – the most heightened sensations of sexual pleasure emanate from stimulation of your clitoris. Vaginal penetration will only bring you to orgasm if the nerve endings in your clitoris are sufficiently engaged. But many people do not know this, and the politics of sex and gender have meant that incorrect beliefs have prevailed, and feelings of inferiority and frustration remain widespread. There is nothing wrong with you; your sexual response is completely normative. From now on, take charge of your pleasure. Try to find ways to receive more direct clitoral stimulation during intercourse, perhaps manually (your partner’s hand or yours) or through experimenting with different positions, styles or toys. But if you prefer, just relax and allow yourself to be brought to orgasm separately the way you like. Educate your partners and show them exactly what you need. In most cases they will be grateful for the clear instruction, and you will more profoundly appreciate them – and yourself.

•Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

•If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

•Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.