How to Do It

I’m Pretty Sure Everyone Is Lying About the “Best” Part of Sex

A man and a graphic of a hand.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich. Twice a week, they’ll tackle their most eye-popping questions yet in short, fun, informative episodes. Subscribe to the podcast now wherever you listen.

This episode transcript is available exclusively to Slate Plus members. Join today—your first month is only $1.

Dear How to Do It,

I’m a straight man in an overall happy, long-term relationship. Our sex life is probably sparser than most, but it works for us.

My question is about orgasms. That is, my orgasm is far better when I get the there with my own hand than by anything I’ve done with my partner. It happens faster, lasts longer, is more electrifying, the whole nine yards. I can’t figure out why this would be.

To rule out some obvious stuff, my girlfriend and I are very much on the same page when it comes to what we want to do, both in frequency and variety. This isn’t a case of me wanting something in particular, but her not wanting to do it and me being left unfulfilled. For all intents and purposes, I get to do what I want, but the climax is lacking compared to what I can do on my own in two minutes’ time.

I don’t consider this to be a full-blown problem because I’m honestly not the most sexual of people and sex with my partner remains satisfying for other reasons like intimacy, pleasuring my partner, and so on, but it does weigh on my mind enough to type up a letter. Is this how it is for most men?

— Better Without Her

Rich: I don’t know how it is for most men, but I do know that orgasm intensity can vary, not just in terms of masturbation versus partnered sex, but also within partners. Like sometimes I’ve had way better orgasms with some people than others.

Stoya: And it can vary interaction to interaction, with the same structure.

Rich: Yes. So there is that almost like, randomness to it. I think some people do it for you in a way that other people don’t. And that doesn’t mean that they’re not good sex partners. I think a lot of it can be just sort of innate, like someone’s sucking style or fucking style can just complement what you enjoy in a way that this other person who’s perfectly wonderful and hot, et cetera, just doesn’t.

Stoya: And I’m not a man, but I find that if I masturbate in a very specific way, I can have an orgasm very quickly and it will be very strong. Do I necessarily always want that? No, not at all. And that kind of orgasm for me can be the same way a person with a penis has a refractory period—I might get a pussy cramp and then we’re done with sex on me for a while. We might be done entirely if it super hurts. So I don’t necessarily want partnered sex to be as intense and provide orgasms that are as strong, as quickly, because then I probably won’t be able to have sex for very long.

Rich: Right. What I wonder—we’re given no background on this—is this a lifelong situation or is it specific to this partner? Is this a recent development? Did you notice this? Because it really could be one of these inevitable things that we’d chalk up to chemistry, let’s say.

Also Ian Kerner, who we’ve talked to before, his most recent book, So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex, which is basically just like a modern sex manual—it covers so many bases. He talks about idiosyncratic masturbatory style, which was a term coined by sex therapist Michael Perelman. This is what Kerner says about this: Basically, a person with a penis can get so used to a degree of pressure and friction on the penis during masturbation, that isn’t precisely replicable during partnered sex, so it can become harder to achieve the momentum necessary to reach the point of ejaculatory inevitability. So this is a little bit of a different problem; this is somebody who can’t get off, let’s say. But I think given everything exists on a spectrum, there is probably something to be said for ‘nothing does me as well as my hand,’ you know?

Stoya: Yes.

Rich: Whether that results in orgasm or not.

Stoya: Because, regardless of gender and parts, we can become habituated to a certain sensation that, as Kerner quotes Perelman, can be unreplicable by partnered sex. Also [with masturbation], we can respond immediately in the most minute ways without the delay of verbalizing to our partner, them hearing and then changing what they’re doing. So we can shift what we’re doing minutely second to second. And I think that’s a very large factor here.

Rich: A hundred percent. So Kerner’s solution for this is to take a short masturbation break and/or masturbate with your non-dominant hand. So it’d be about re-habituation. Now look, you might hear that advice and say, I’m actually going to keep going with what I love, what’s really, really working for me, which fair enough. But just understand that you do have some leeway to change things. It’s just a matter of whether you actually want to. This writer says that it is not a full-blown problem, and it seems like he’s doing fine.

Stoya: Yeah, but the “I’m honestly not the most sexual of people,” is sticking out to me. I’m wondering if they don’t have a lot of desire for any partner.

Rich: Right. And thus our gleaning that the attendant perks that come with sex, like the intimacy, the cuddling that comes afterwards [matters for this writer], where the main event is actually maybe even not the main event.

Stoya: Yeah. I get it: If I just want an orgasm, I have a great vibrator for that. And having sex with people requires, like showering and sometimes leaving my home, at least going to the door and letting them in.

Rich: Right, it’s a process.

Stoya: If I’m doing that, it’s because I want the whole package—with the connection to a person, and yes, I want the snuggling before and after.

Rich: Yeah. So you choose your path. It seems to me like things are just fine the way that they are. But give Kerner’s suggestions a try if you want to shake things up and see if you can habituate yourself.