The big O

Cat O Dowd explains how a little help can go a long way for women struggling to achieve orgasm.

Suzy* had never orgasmed with her boyfriend. She came to see me after her doctor recommended she see a sex therapist. Her doctor couldn’t find any medical problems so together we worked to find the source of her “inorgasmia”. She was able to orgasm through masturbation but not partnered sex.

In therapy sessions we explored her attitudes to sex, her sexuality, her body, genitals and her relationship. Suzy had been brought up in a strict religious family where she was taught that women should suppress their sexual appetite. Cultural ideas that demonise and repress sex have a profound influence on women’s ability to orgasm and can block women’s sexual potential. Suzy felt guilty for masturbating and thought her vulva was ugly and sinful because of her upbringing.

Suzy’s homework exercises were to look at her naked body in the mirror, regularly masturbate, sleep naked and and have a good look at her genitals under a proper light with a mirror. She had never done these before and they increased her sexual awareness and acceptance of her body.

Art therapy and positive sex education helped view her sex organs as cherished and beautiful. We explored Suzy’s childhood to discover unconscious blocks. Her father abandoned the family when she was four and was sporadically available for a few more years before disappearing from her life altogether. The pain from this abandonment kept her imprisoned in a knee jerk response of emotional control whenever she felt vulnerable. She was scared of letting go and surrendering to her partner. Hypnosis and meditation helped Suzy to start to ‘let go.’

We looked at how her intimate relationship functioned. Research consistently shows that a woman’s happiness in her relationship and whether she feels ‘safe’ are directly connected to her ability to orgasm. Emotions are more important when it comes to orgasm with a partner than with masturbation.

There were power and control issues in her relationship surrounding the expectation that the man in a relationship is rightfully the sexual ‘boss’. Suzy didn’t want to offend her boyfriend by asking for what she wanted. She wanted to ask for more foreplay and clitoris stimulation but was scared he might take it personally and feel like a failure. Her husband rushed foreplay and had only received sex education through pornographic films. They didn’t use lubricant so the condoms caused Suzy pain. Lots of lubricant is essential for safe sex.

We worked on healthy communication styles where Suzy could vocalise her sexual preferences and share sex education resources with her partner. I set sensual “homework” exercises for the couple that started with non-genital caresses. They had to practice touching each other in ways that focussed on pleasurable sensations instead of orgasm.

By the end of our sessions Suzy had achieved her first “coital orgasm” and had showed her boyfriend how she liked to be touched. They’d opened up their sexual repertoire to pleasure and intimacy as the goal rather than orgasm and improved their communication. Suzy had challenged her own internalised beliefs, accepted she was entitled to sexual pleasure and reclaimed her sexual power.

*Not her real name.

Cat O Dowd: Sex Therapist, Relationship Counsellor, Art Therapist.